Student-instructor run Chez Lena a first-rate restaurant in Grand Junction

QUICKREAD

WHAT: Chez Lena.

WHERE: 2520 Blichman Ave.

CONTACT: 970-255-2641.

HOURS: Lunch only, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; restaurant is open seasonally (tailored to students’ schedules), so call first; reservations recommended.

PRICE: Entrees under $10; desserts under $3.



Chez Lena doesn’t make a lot of noise about itself.

It’s not in a prominent location. There is no sign out front. They don’t advertise. You wouldn’t know it exists but for word of mouth.

But inside the nondescript Building B on the campus of Western Colorado Community College is a first-rate restaurant run by the students and chef/instructors of the Colorado Culinary Academy of Mesa State College.

The Denver Post said of Chez Lena: “This classroom-cum-restaurant may offer the best lunch deal in the state.”

It’s a hatchery for new chefs and food-service professionals.

Students learn every inch of the restaurant world, from folding napkins to crunching numbers, to creating five-star meals, to facing ethical and sustainability questions, such as whether to serve sea bass.

And the culinary arts program has made something of a name for itself.

On a recent lunch visit, program director Dan Kirby pointed out students lured to Grand Junction from Alaska, Wyoming and Osaka, Japan.

The kitchen was awhirl with student chefs spinning from one task to the next. The “too many chefs in the kitchen” adage didn’t seem to apply. They worked together seamlessly under the direction of chef instructor Jon St. Peter.

Seated at my table, white linen napkin in hand, I started with a mocktail. Each student takes a turn at bartending and must come up with two original drink creations.

I ordered the watermelon lemonade, which came not with a margarita-style salt rim, but with a rim of colorful Pixy Stix granules. The colors reminded me of a tequila sunrise. Very cute and refreshing.

Choosing an entr&233;e was more daunting. The menu is limited, but loaded with good stuff: sauteed chicken scaloppini with lemons, capers and roasted garlic cloves; pan roasted duck breast with dried cherries and blue cheese; steak frite and Kennebec potatoes with chimmi-churri sauce.

Finally, though, I couldn’t resist ordering the rare Ahi tuna steak with chick pea fritters, poached baby artichokes and salsa verde. The dish was spot-on and sublime, and not at all what I usually expect out of lunch.

I took home two desserts to share with friends: a strawberry rhubarb shortcake with Chantilly cream and a classic chocolate cream pie. They tasted as good as they looked, and they looked like little works of art.

Chez Lena, despite its low profile, is well-known in the local foodie world. Diners around me noshed and chatted, mostly about their common passion, eating.

It’s a good place to do it.

FIVE CANDLES: Kannah Creek brewery, which has won two gold medals in The World Beer Cup, is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Tip a pint at 2005 prices, $3, or $2 during happy hour this weekend. 1960 N. 12th St.; www. kannahcreekbrew ingco.com.

THE SITUATION: If you’ve seen the incessant TV commercials about Del Taco’s “Jersey Shore” taco deal, forget it. The closest Del Taco is in Durango.

COMING TO A STORE NEAR YOU: Florida-based Duda Farms has introduced a strain of red celery it created by cross-pollinating regular green celery and old-world heritage celery root. The 20-years-in-the-making celery is pinky red and reported to be milder.

QUOTE: “And I find chopsticks frankly distressing. Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites and any number of other useful objects ... haven’t yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?” — Bill Bryson

Send tips and ideas to tess.furey@ gjsentinel.com.


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