Spring. A time of rebirth, regrowth…and allergies. I apologize to all two (is it 3 yet?) of you who religiously follow my blog. I have been beaten down, dragged by the heels and left for vultures with this year’s bloom. Suddenly the fuzzy little buds on the trees don’t have the same fuzzy-ing effect inside…unless you count fuzzy vision I get from bloodshot eyes when I opt to wear my contacts. The sweet perfume from the streets only work to corrode my nostrils and make me sneeze. And my lungs, they’re the worst. A night doesn’t pass without a few puffs of the inhaler.
I have taken a hiatus from wine, to be honest. I can’t smell the darn stuff, let alone describe it. I went from a nasty cold straight into allergies. All I’ve tasted is Nyquil, Mucinex, tea and Benadryl. Mmmm…
Well, that’s not completely true.
I have managed to find myself in a number of Denver’s finest new and old restaurants these past few weeks. Not because I love torturing myself when I’m nearly on a respirator gripping a Kleenex over stemware, but because there were friends in town and plans to follow through on regardless. Honestly, it lifted my spirits tremendously. For what I found is that Denver’s culinary scene is growing more exciting by the month.
It’s true, my schnoz may not be the best judge, but based on those with whom I dined, the service and the presentation, I am quite certain that I will be returning more than a few times to these spots:
Bittersweet (Alameda and Logan): A bottle of rose was the perfect way to start this warm spring meal. I reveled in a fresh herbal Alsacienne Tart of vegetables and Haystack goat cheese followed by a few nibbles of chicken before I was too full. I eyed the rack of lamb with English peas and mushrooms to my right and admit I was a bit envious. Alongside our entrees was an ’03 I Clivi Merlot from Friuli. Couldn’t have been more than $55. It was a thoughtful, soft-spoken wine from a rather harsh, hot vintage. A lovely red that did justice to their selective and clearly inspired, list. This artisanal eatery is a great addition to the Wash Park ‘hood.
Potager (Cheesman Park): In the wake of the ‘locavore’ movement, all the top restaurants proudly point out the meats they source from Niwot, their goat cheese from Longmont, their lettuce from Fruition Farms or their beef from the western slope. Unfortunately, it is also a trend that cuisine has found comfort in, well, comfort food. Duck confit, ‘gourmet’ mac and cheese and bacon wrapped limburger with blue cheese aren’t uncommon on so many menus these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love my fair share of guilty greasy gut-bombs…especially when it’s done right. But there is something to be said for clean, fresh fare—food that is purely a product of a local garden, with very little interference for deep-fried action. Potager is a place that continually finds a way to bring out the deepest notes in locally raised produce and meat: naturally. And what better than a crisp, dry pink like the Domaine Fontsainte to compliment such a meal at $38?
Ototo (Old South Pearl): I’m not a huge sushi fan, so I never got too into the Den. Nor was I so impressed with Izakaya that I’d make the trek from Congress Park. But I can tell you, since its opening several months ago, I have been to Ototo a good three or four times. From raw foods to cured meats, vegetarian fare to foie gras, there is a fresh market European feel to this eatery. The chef has his roots in the other two ‘Den’ restaurants on Pearl as well as Frasca, and it shows. I had one of the tastiest spring risottos with fresh peas and chutes following a delicious radish salad. We have watched this place grow more crowded by the month. It is finally receiving the attention it deserves.
Table 6 (Cherry Creek/Cheesman): Oldie but a goodie, this place has always feels like that first cup of coffee in the morning–natural, necessary, comfortable… and so damn good. Regardless of this city’s passing culinary trends, the hot spots that phase in and out, Table 6 is always there, keeping it real and catering to just about any diner. If you’ve never been, think: Midwestern comfort meets Southern France meets childhood nostalgia on a plate. Their new take now the classic ‘Little Phillies’ is ‘Little Italian Meats’ with a mozzarella stick on top, they have a better than Bessy’s southern fried chicken as well as one of the best chile verdes I have ever tasted north of New Mexico (only during their hipster Sunday Brunch).
Benny’s Mexican (Golden Triangle/Governor’s Park): When every other place closes on a Sunday night at 9p, you can always rely on this neighborhood cantina. My boyfriend didn’t realize quite what I meant by their ‘house’ frozen margaritas…until he had a little over one. A couple weird dreams later and a blurry recollection, I had him convinced it puts Rio’s ‘3 glass limit’ to shame. The food is solid, albeit still has me searching for the best Mexican in Denver (any suggestions?).
Bones (Golden Triangle/Governor’s Park): Can you tell where I hang out? This was one of the first Bonanno restaurants I went to upon returning from my time in New York, where noodle joints are neighborhood fixtures these days. I was giddy that there was a little piece of the city in our very own. It has since then come to be one of my favorite, laid back lunch spots–perfect for those who have trouble deciding what to eat, as there are only about 5 apps and 5 bowls. A couple weeks ago, I nursed my cold with the spicy soshito peppers and the chicken noodle bowl… okay, I also had rose. I am so lousy at being 100% good, even when ill.
Sushi Sasa…for the non-sushi diner (Downtown/Lodo): Been a while since I had been, but I paid a visit today, alongside three die hard sushi fans. Every now and again, the non-fan will find oneself in this setting. I am, ahem…one of ‘those’ people. Aside from the occasional fatty tuna sashimi, I am not into sushi. I know, you are all shaking your heads right now. See, it’s not just the ‘fish’ thing, clearly, or I wouldn’t be able to feel rather neutral if not altogether optimistic about sashimi. I have a real aversion to very pungent flavors like wasabi, fresh hunks of ginger, seaweed, kelp and even miso. Well, what I learned was that Sushi Sasa has some other very refreshing options for lunch. I enjoyed a gorgeous salad of roasted beats and asparagus upon a bed of blanched spinach as well as some pumpkin and zucchini tempura, a bit of my friend’s black cod French onion soup and, of course, a bowl of edamame to share. A great, light, clean lunch for all. Never feel like you are holding your partner’s sushi habit back ever again!
So these were the places that kept my morale high when I was too low to muster up the energy to cook. I’d love your feedback on other fun eats in Denver’s grand burgeoning foodie playground.