Denver, I hardly knew ye (lowdown on Mile High restaurants)

Here’s to all the poetry
And pickin’ down the line…

- Townes Van Zandt (To Live Is to Fly)

As I write this, after a three-year stay, I’m about to saddle up and check out of this Western town; where seldom were heard discouraging words, but rather, a chicken for every pot, and a space for every car. An American dream: that shining city on the hill, 5,280 ft. in the air. Hence, this final report: a farewell ode, in a manner of sorts, to Denver’s high altitude, low attitude restaurant scene…

It may not have looked like it on television during that ever-so-hopeful 2008 Democratic convention (except, of course, to those pitiful tea baggers, still out there gnashing their teeth under the mistaken impression that this is still “their” country), but Denver is still a “cow town.” There’s the National Western Stock Show, for instance, that takes place every January, and is still the country’s premier livestock event of the year – and a shot in the arm for the local food and beverage industry, often scratching out its winter business under a foot or two of snow, while the only big-time games in town are the not-so-steady Avalanche and the perennially frustrating Nuggets.

The upshot being, Denver is still where the beef (plus bison and lamb) is at: its metropolitan population of some 2.5 million (21st most in the country), surrounded by about 1.3 million head of cattle on some 13,100 independent ranches (64% of them still less than 50 head in size, many practicing sustainable methods). Besides crystal clear water (life tastes so good when it doesn’t all have to come from bottles) and crisp mountain air, we do have vibrant springs and the natural paint-by-number autumns, sandwiching sporadic spurts of 90+ degree summer days.

Consequently, food conscious Coloradans are gifted by plenty of locally grown vegetables, fruits and artisanal cheeses, overflowing the April-to October farmer’s markets, where you occasionally see some of the town’s savvier restaurant chefs (not a lot of ‘em, since, as in most towns, most are still addicted to Sysco suppliers) trolling about among the peons. One thing you can say about the Rocky Mountain citizenry, though: they’re a helluva lot fitter looking (everyone’s a marathoner, snowboarder, or alpine bike rider) than the joe-sixpackers and everyday soccer moms of Sarah Palin’s mythical America.

By the time the local oil industry began to, like, run out of gas in the late eighties, the Colorado economy had already begun to diversify into the commerce we see today: high-tech, software, financial, renewable energy, bioscience, aviation, aerospace, and more. Flush with cash during the past two decades, seemingly all of Denver’s twenty and early thirty-something’s (at least those not prolonging school, waiting on tables, parking cars or pumping gas) have been packing into the half-million dollar lofts in LoDo (Denver’s “Lower Downtown”); or, once reaching breeding age, steadily fanning out into the comfortable digs of the ever-expanding suburbs, north and south of the city, or west towards the actual Rockies.

Despite an extremely healthy recent-immigrant population (especially Latino or Hispanics, making up some 35% of metropolitan Denver and its five surrounding counties), the average per household income (about $52,000) has been well over the national average. Ergo: bustling restaurant, foodie and wine trades.

So where is Denver at? As someone who’s lived, and opened restaurants, in cities as far flung as Honolulu and New York, and more than a dozen more in between, I can say this with authority: the average Denver restaurant guest expects, and receives, a knowing level of sophistication out of their restaurants; yet is not so tyrannical as the tough cookies in the country’s other major, so-called “restaurant towns” (i.e. San Francisco, Chicago and New York) in respect to standards, illusionary or not. In other words, folks in Denver just enjoy their food and drink, and are open to almost anything in customarily enthusiastic, forgiving ways.

Which I think is cool, in a refreshing sort of way. You don’t have to be a great chef or restaurateur to be “great” in this town. They’ll love you if you’re just decent, providing you don’t chase them out the door with the attitudes that work only in the bigger cities. In Denver, customers give their restaurateurs latitude, as long as they don’t abuse it.



The star chef restaurants

There is, to begin with, a solid core of Denver’s own “celebrity” chef driven restaurants, beginning with those of Kevin Taylor: five in all, including a traditionally solemn, white tableclothed Restaurant Kevin Taylor, the studied interpretation of Italian cuisine at Prima Ristorante, and the casual-chic Palettes; the latter serving up an airy atmosphere and a New Mexican/L.A.-ish menu in a spacious, picture-window wrapped room attached to the city’s Libeskind designed Denver Art Museum. Is Taylor’s food fresh and contemporary? Si. Does it rock your world and make you want to write home to Aunt Gladys in New Jersey or Uncle Max in Chicago? M-m-maybe, maybe not… but to the average Denverite, Chef Kevin is proudly theirs, and that’s that.

In similar, almost painfully artful style, chef/entrepreneur Frank Bonanno has carved out his own culinary Gallia est omnis divisa in partēs trēs: starting with the haute American Mizuna (encompassing the entire home on the range, from Hudson Valley duck with dirty rice to miso-scallop potstickers and Maine lobster mac ‘n cheese); the somewhat/somehow-Italian Osteria Marco (house made mozzarella, meatball sliders, and lamb loaded down with goat cheese and tapenade); and most recently, a countertop-centered homage to Chinese (i.e. wontons and suckling pig buns) and Japanese (“lobster ramen” and “prosciutto soba”) cuisines called Bones. As with the brazen leadership of Taylor, if you feel like you’ve gone through this type of culinary peregrinations before (the age-old question: why buy interpretations of Asian, Italian or American foods when the real things are just around the corner, for a lot less?), then you’re just not from Denver. The locals love it, and more power to them!

Then there is chef/owner Jennifer Jasinski, who dishes out simpler yet eminently satisfying fare at Rioja (hard to argue with the clarity of her pecorino ravioli with fava beans, or her Colorado lamb burger with spicy aioli and arugula). Across the street from Rioja in Larimer Square (Downtown Denver’s restaurant row, where the strings of Christmas lights are never stored away), Jasinski’s brasserie-like Bistro Vendôme serves up the requisite oysters and poulet rôti aux herbes with faithful aplomb, but the service there can be appalling – the closest thing to Big City airs in Denver. Too bad.

Insofar as local celebrity chefdom, though, I have to give the most props to Troy Guard, who owns the recently opened TAG, sitting between Rioja and Osteria Marco under the bright lights of Larimer Square. Admittedly, I’m prejudiced – Guard’s first decade behind the stoves were spent alongside my former partner in Hawai`i, East-West doyen Roy Yamaguchi, followed by stints for Chef Y. in Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York – but Troy has come a long ways since then. At TAG, Guard now fuses Asian-Pacific, classical, Latino as well Colorado inspired techniques and ingredients; often all on one plate, to the point where it’s much less a “fusion” than an earnestly personal style. The crowd, predictably, is a yes-we-can convention of youthful, local beauty and bewildered looking business-account expenders. Service can be a little ragged (you wish the managers and servers spent more time with you than the sexy kids sitting two tables away), but that’s okay – after all, it’s always Christmas in Larimer Square.

Rioja (in Larimer Square)

French or Italian, if you must…

TAG is an It eatery, but personally, I make no bones about ultimately preferring the smaller, mammy-made looking restaurants smacking of a little more individuality – as imperfect as that might be in Mile High City – than well capitalized thematics. If you feel like French, for instance, I would step up and suggest the postage stamp sized Z Cuisine, owned by French born, seasonal/organic/regional-source obsessed chef Patrick Dupays. While Dupays’ dishes are hit-or-miss (often a little more heavy handed than what you want in a bistrot), at least Z feels authentique; right down to the bad art, dust in the corner, frightfully serendiptous (and occasionally soused) staff, the raggedy but chichi clientele (from Denver’s hip, but lower rent, Highlands neighborhood, just west if I-5 from LoDo), and wines as cheap in quality as they are in price (at least you get what you pay for).

Speaking of which: I don’t care what they say, but there’s always room in this world, or at least in every major city, for old fashioned “bad” French dining. So when I’m in the mood for stubby glasses of sour, off-beat vin ordinaire, and heaping, reasonably priced plates of charcuterie, confit and cheese, I confess a weakness for Le Central on Lincoln – loopy service, funky setting and all. But I ask: what’s not to like?

The same goes even moreso for Il Posto, in the neighborhood of Northeast Denver on E. 17th Ave., just two blocks off E. Colfax: a cozy, 50 seat, open kitchen dining room where the dishes by Milanese born chef/owner Andrea Frizzi remain pretty faithful to the Italian tradition of focusing on ingredients rather than technique. In these days of chefs who cannot help but impose an overweening “personality” over a culinary discipline, a restaurant that somehow keeps dishes down to no more than four or five ingredients (like Il Posto’s grilled buffalo flank with Sicilian sea salt, mizuna, shaved Piave and caramelized jus) is a triumph in itself. Frizzi’s stature, even in this medium-sized city, may never be as large as a Bonnano or Guard; but to devotees of authentic Italian cooking, his looms extremely large.

Best of the independents

But don’t get me wrong: small, independent restaurants in Denver are not necessarily quirky. In fact, I think you can eat off the floor of LoDo’s sleek, bright, professional, urban-chic Sushi Sasa, where chef/owner Wayne Conwell draws throngs of sophisticated aficionados of sushi: in Conwell’s hands, precision cut and pretty much perfectly balanced, focused without being rigid, creative without losing focus. Trust me on this: I’ve experienced great sushi from Honolulu to L.A., and from San Francisco to New York during my thirty-plus years in the restaurant business, and Conwell has the touch. If you get there when he is fooling around with ankimo (monkfish liver), by the way, jump on it – and thank me later.

Two other personal favorites among the smaller independents, both known for their equally individualist, reasonably priced, globally sourced wine lists: first, chef Teri Rippeto’s perennially seasonal and organic Potager on Ogden, in the midst of the old Victorian neighborhood of Capitol Hill; and second, Table 6, tucked in the homey hood of Capitol Hill on Corona, doing equally fresh, unadorned yet delicious cooking (plus, Table 6 manager Aaron Foreman has easily the most seasoned hand in his wine selection, among all of Denver’s aspiring sommeliers).

Then there is the almost soberingly pure distillations of flavor (in the best Northern California style, with Mediterranean rusticity) that you find at duo; this Highlands neighborhood restaurant driven primarily by the intelligence of chef/partner John Broening. Pretty much same team at duo has also recently opened Olivéa on 17th Ave. (Capitol Hill), where Broening indulges his passion for off-meats like pork belly and pig’s feet, or in sausages and boudin blancs; while his pastry chef/wife, Yasmin Lozada-Hissom, wows the faithful with goodies like pistachio semifreddo, or the occasional apple crostada with caramelized bacon ice cream.


Turningjapanese…

So let’s go back to talkin’ Japanese, which you actually find in reliable plentitude in Denver. First, I’m a big fan of the Japanese country-comfort cooking at Domo, located in a garden setting on Osage; incredulously, just off the ear splitting I-5 freeway. Domo’s stews and custards are indeed comforting; and the only thing about the restaurant that doesn’t remind me of my eight years growing up as a child in Tokyo is Domo’s invariably rude, uncaring service (I remember the Japanese as being unceasingly polite, even to gaijin). But if you just pretend you’re somewhere else, like Juarez or Rome, I think you’ll do okay.

But if for the comfort of the traditional Japanese sushi counter and square cups of saké, hot or cold, there’s either Sushi Den in the Southeast Denver burbs along Pearl St.; or the cozy, less hip (slightly fewer bottled blondes, tatoos and pierced body parts) but consistently fresh, efficient Sonada’s in LoDo, where everyone seems to know everyone’s name but mine

Where everybody knows your name

Yet, speaking of which: there is a bustling, exceptional oyster bar (nothing but the freshest bivalves)/seafood restaurant in LoDo where, I swear, the bartenders always remember my name, even after being away two or three years: Jax Fish House, an outpost of the original Jax in Boulder, where Top Chef dude Hosea Rosenberg has been doing his thing (the longtime chef at the LoDo Jax, Sheila Lucera, is plenty talented in her own right). Going back over the freeway into Highlands, there is a sister restaurant to Jax called Lola, specializing in coastal Mexican seviches and fresh fish tacos (not exactly Puerto Vallarta, but close enough), and where both the high and low brows gather on a deck to enjoy the biggest selection (I think, if about 150 qualifies) of tequila north of the border.

As long as you’re hanging around the hip confines of Highlands, you might also want to drop in on the unpretentious, low-key venue, on 32nd off Lowell; where, for lunch or dinner, you can satisfy occasional cravings of Kurobuta pork belly, shrimp ‘n grits, or a more innovative (and totally delicious) mussels with chorizo. If time is of the essence, but the mid-day appetite demands remittance, the place to go in Highlands is Masterpiece Delicatessen; making waves of late with its wild tuna and truffled egg salad sandwiches (your choice of chips!).


Brews and barbecue

But wait, there’s more… waiting for hungry, thirsty souls in Denver’s Highlands. Some say, for instance, that the pit roasted barbecued brisket, pulled pork, and bison baby backs at Big Hoss Bar-B-Q & Steakhouse is the best in Denver, and who am I to blow against the wind?  Having lived in Memphis and Low Country Georgia, and also traveled through the Carolinas, I can say that Big Hoss stacks up.

Hungry for just a snack and, like me, harboring a secret passion for authentic, piping hot chicharrón? Then a stop at Burrito Giant for their incomparably fresh, perfectly seasoned pork rinds – not too soft or oily, yet a far cry from dry or chewy – is an absolute must. Finally, if you wish to study the natives: the most frenetic and hardcore of the Highlands crowd is to be found at Three Dogs Tavern – can’t guarantee the pub fare, or endorse the artwork (dogs, of course), but there’s a lot to be said for $2.25 domestic brews.

Denver, as you might imagine, is also a decent microbrew town. The Wynkoop Brewing Company, for one, has been going full steam in LoDo since 1988; their variety of small-batch beers full and fresh, their steaks and game meats suitably steaky and gamey, and their burgers properly big and messy. But lately, I’ve been even more enthralled by Oskar Blues Brewery's Oskar Blues Tasty Weasel Tap Room, a little less than thirty minutes drive from LoDo in the outlying town of Longmont (close to Boulder). The food at Oskar Blues doesn’t stray far beyond all-you-can-eat peanuts, and a menu of ribs, pork sands and sweet potato fries; but its main thing is life-changing craft brews, on tap or packed in low-carbon-footprint cans.

My favorite Oskar Blues brews from the can: the reliably good, stiff Dale’s Pale Ale; the outlandishly black, malty-silky-sweet Scottish style Old Chub ale (8% alc.); the butt-kicking double-IPA Gordon red ale (8.7% alc.); the titanic sized Ten FIDY Imperial ale (10.5%); and the dark, humongous, Munich style, rye laced Gubna Imperial IPA (10%). Then there are the half-dozen or so crafts always offered on tap; including a heaping, hopping Deviant IPA (8%), and a honking big Old Double Bagger Barleywine (13.2%). As you might surmise, it takes a few trips to try these generously sized offerings, lest you risk the sight of flashing blue lights in your rear view mirror on the way home. But bring your designated driver – it’s more than worth the trip, for both in- and out-of-towners alike.


The inevitable wine bar

Honestly, I’m the last person you should ask about wine bars precisely because I’ve been making my living buying, selling, writing about, speaking, and even making wine the past three decades. Wine bars bore me, mostly because I’d rather be out in the middle of a vineyard or enjoying my wine with good food (not the typical wine bar “snacks”). Plus, especially since I generally find American wine bars: 1) grossly overpriced (always ridiculous to down two glasses of wine and a miniscule appetizer, and be presented with a $30 bill – you get more in most restaurants!); and 2) dissatisfying in execution (I’ll never understand a “wine bar” carrying the same cheap stuff you see on every supermarket shelf, apart from the usual overpriced offerings).

But inevitably, someone calls for a confab in a wine bar; and if it must be in Denver, I’ll suggest the Caveau Wine Bar, Uptown on 17th Ave., which has been known to offer glasses of an interesting Montsant, a zesty Zinfandel, a soulful Rioja, or bright Dolcetto d’Alba (i.e. real drinking wines), usually falling within the $13-or-under parameters of their half-off 5-7 PM Happy Hours – which is why the place usually empties out later in the night. No matter, because there’s a perfectly gratifying Hamburger Mary’s (gays and breeders alike dig HB's "cala-mary" and dollar drafts) a short block away.

¿Por qué no?

Seeing that more than a third of Denver’s population is Hispanic or Latino, we happily eat that way, too. Going through the familiar litany of dishes: to me, God gave us offal, and burritos are properly made with all the offal in the world; and El Taco de Mexico in the Art District on Santa Fe delivers exactly that, especially when smothered in their fresh, vivid green chile sauce. For taqueria aficionados, Tacos y Salsas #3 on the “other side” of the freeway along Federal is worth the fight through traffic for. Tamales lovers (i.e. me) absolutely swoon over those of La Casita – the best $2 meal in the state – and for piping hot, pillowy, honeyed sopapillas, we turn to one of the three locations of Little Anita’s, where this treat comes gratis when you order any of heir New Mexico style specialites in mouth searing salsas. Then, for indubitably killer carnitas smothered in green or neon red chile, you have to drive to Efrain’s, thirty minutes north of LoDo in the quaint, little town of Lafayette.

But if you prefer your Mexican in the company of (forgive me) well-heeled, designer clad honkies, Denver has its share of such. Being of brown complexion, I’m not so comfortable in those settings; but I can enthusiastically recommend the cooking at Tambien in Cherry Creek: justifiably known for its papusas (variations of cheese and chile stuffed masa) and, perhaps more interesting, its series of “Tequila Dinners” – during which I once enjoyed a raviolis de huitlacoche (the latter ingredient – pungently earthy, truffley corn smut) that was so good, I wish I had an old, aromatic bottle of red Burgundy (a grand cru Corton or La Tache would have been nice) rather than the countrified Del Mezcal del Maguey that was making me see double. Finally, if your poison is indeed something like mezcal: for that gots-to-have-it Saturday or Sunday morning menudo, the short drive to Los Arcos, in Lone Tree just south of metro-Denver, is worth the trouble; especially if you fancy menudo like me – much more tripe (and less hominy), not too brothy, not too spicy, but touching all the senses with piquant, soul rescusitating sensations.

Cora Faye's Priscilla Smith

Fusion, schmusions…

Then there are fusions; which when done right, are possibly the funnest foods in the world. I’m originally from Hawai’i, and thank goodness for the Hawai`i originated L& L in the workingman’s hood of Aurora where I can sate my periodic craving for manapua (Chinese pork dumpling), kalua (smoky Hawaiian pulled pork) and laulau (steamed kalua and butterfish wrapped in taro and ti leaves). For more elaborate, yet casually inclined, experiences of East-West/Hawaiian style fish, noodles and sushi, there’s Kona Grill in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. Across the way, on the posh streets of Cherry Creek, is Hapa, which specializes in fun, wacky sushi and decent poke (raw Hawaiian style tuna). If you still fancy the Latin/Asian fusions that were the rage at the turn of the present century, the tuna tataki, lobster potstickers and seviches at Zengo might still ring your bell. Finally, if some say South American cuisine is in itself a New World fusion, Café Brazil, west of the freeway at 44th and Lowell, is just off-beat and unique enough to be fun, casual, and zesty.

What’s the opposite of fusion? Schmusion? How about just plain American food, like Southern style soul food, for which I’ve developed a addiction after spending time doing jobs in Memphis and the coast of Georgia? Collard greens steeped with pork bones, combustible-hot fried chicken, White Lily® flour biscuits, fried pickles, stewed okra, heart-attack-salted country hams, peach cobbler, layered red velvet cake, smothered-this and smothered-that… oh, it’s baa-a-ad thing. So where in Denver can you go to fill that emptiness within? I prescribe the quaint living-room-like setting of Cora Faye’s Café in historic (if somewhat dilapidated) Park Hill, right on the tumultous Colorado Blvd. The menu at Cora Faye’s may be limited, and service as slow as blackstrap molasses, but the essentials are just about all there; including their own signature “red” waffles (not a breakfast food, but something to mop up chicken juices). Amen, bro.

Then there are Middle Eastern restaurants, which (like everywhere else in the country) tend to combine different strands (Lebanese, Syrian, Israeli, Turkish, etc.) of that part of the world; but to the apt exclusion of the rest of the globe. After a good friend of Lebanese descent brought me to Shish Kabob Grill on Grant at E. Colfax, looking right at the Colorado State Capitol, I made the attempt to try a few more of Denver’s Middle Eastern eateries. Truth is, I’m not a huge fan of humus, falafel, fava beans, etc., although I do enjoy a good tabouleh and homemade baklava, and I go absolutely bonkers for anything with saffroned rice. But what has repeatedly drawn me back to Shish Kabob Grill is its seriously sensuous, Syrian style braised lamb shanks; served with saffoned rice (of course), and with braising liquids that absolutely intoxicate the senses with spices: from what I can tell – cumin, cinnamon, tumeric, coriander, and maybe a little paprika or sumac (the latter, a bitter/sour/sweet “secret” spice that kicks down the doors of your palate like an umami elephant). My idea of heaven, to hell with the 72 virgins! In fact, when I finally find myself far from the heady life at 5280 ft. up, I’m sure what I’ll miss most is the braised lamb shanks at Shish Kabob Grill, along with the chicharrón at Burrito Giant. Sigh…



Asian

Like that of many towns, Denver’s Southeast Asian population supplies us with the grocery stores essential for our home cooking; and Denver’s pho restaurants, fortuitously, take the backseat to no other’s (including that of my former home in Orange County, CA, where the country’s largest single population of Vietnamese resides). Having tried most of what Denver has to offer (something of a feat, since there are at least 99 of them), I can say that the most consistently sustaining of them is Pho 79 (four locations covering the north, south, west, and far-west sides of town); although the combinations of jellified fish and gelatinous meats at Ha Noi Pho on Federal are probably untouchable.

In respect to Korean barbecue, Denver may not be L.A. or Honolulu, but connoisseurs of kalbi (marinated shortribs), godenguh gui (crispy broiled mackeral), bibimbap (rice, eggs and bulgogi, i.e. thin sliced beef) and bancan (a bewildering array of complimentary side dishes, including kimchi and spiced tofu) can find everything they need at Soe Jong Kwan (for civilians, called House of Korean BBQ) in Aurora for either lunch (incredible deals) or dinner.

It took me a while, but I finally got the hang of uncovering decent dim sum in Denver (not a lot of Chinese in Colorado). That said, the harrowing, pot-holed drive down W. Alameda in Southwest Denver (easily, the ugliest side of town) to the typically Chinese (i.e. cheesy) named Super Star Asian Cuisine may be less than eventful. But once you enter through the doors, Super Star is a dim sum lover’s paradise: all the squiggly, gooey, crunchy, hot, sour, spicy, sweet and mysterious variations of dumplings and odd animal parts we love, carted over to your table by all-business-like, yet surprisingly hospitable, servers (some of Denver’s hoity-toity restaurateurs might take lessons here). Better yet, for lunch, $9 to $12’s worth of Super Star’s dim sum adds up to more than what most of us can eat. Don’t tell all your friends, if you don’t want to spoil the secret.

Morning afters

Denverites, of course, are cow-towners at heart, and so the Big Breakfast is important to them. For bleary eyed techies, though, breakfast spots open at 3 PM or 3 AM are also absolute musts, and they always know where to gravitate: either the classic, sixties-ish Denver Diner on W. Colfax, or the venerable Pete's Kitchen (continuously packed since 1942). Both are open 24/7 and fit the bill, like beautiful launderettes, whether you are trashed or not; but if you want “gourmet,” or dark, organic, or fair-trade coffee, you better move on, son.

Whatever your social pretensions, the urban-cool Snooze, down the street from Coors Field in LoDo, does serve gourmet coffee, and turns breakfast into a little bit of culinary expereince. I’m a guy, so I don’t go gaga so much over their battery of fruit and cream filled pancakes (so I can’t tell you about them); but I almost always end up with Snooze’s Niman Ranch pulled pork benedict (extra hollandaise on the side), which is something to text home about. Barring that, I find the crabcake benedict at Toast, in the old town of Littleton off Santa Fe Dr., equally satisfying; and recently, a second location of Toast opened on Columbine in Cherry Creek, mercifully supplanting a Village Inn.

Then there are the occasional special needs: Dutch Baby pancakes are as good as they sound – fluffy as a cloud, filling as a cannonball – and for that (or a mile-high Spanish omelette), you need to repair down south to Original Pancake House, among the tech centers of Greenwood Village. More dubiously speaking: for either chile rellenos with eggs or huevos rancheros (Denver being such a goddamned Western town), the Mexi-grill style Sam’s No. 3, Downtown in the Theatre District, has been dishing them out by the gloopy ton since, like, the roaring twenties; and finally, if you’re a glutton for punishing crowds and interminable waits, Lucile’s Creole Café serves twisted renditions of Louisiana classics like eggs Sardou (where’s the artichoke bottom?), crawfish etoufée (I think), (strangely Lilliputian) beignets, and weak excuses for Creole coffee that the breakfast-starved folks in Denver seem to love nonetheless, and bless them all the same!


Cowboy coda

Let’s cut this off with this one, final word: steakhouse. If anything, ever since the gold diggers and railroad men ran off the native American population back in the mid-1800s, Denver has been the place for heap big red meat. When I was first escorted around the town just over ten years ago, one of my first duties was to visit The Buckhorn Exchange – Denver’s oldest continuous restaurant (since 1893) – where among the specialites, you can savor buffalo prime rib and Rocky Mountain oysters (i.e. bull’s testicles, mi amigo). If your taste is more mainstream, however, Elway’s (owned by the hometown hero) has been doing such a bang-up job in its first location in Cherry Creek, that they recently opened up a second store Downtown in the Ritz-Carlton where, I presume, there are plenty who can afford it. Otherwise, all the national brands (Fleming’s, Ruths’ Chris, Del Frisco’s, The Capital Grille, et al.) are here, and doing quite well, thank you. Yet, my personal favorite: Sullivan’s, as much for its handy-dandy LoDo location (a block from Coors Field) as its scaled-down steakhouse bar menu, its good old fashioned tuna tartare (my “perfect” bar food), and the “Prime Rib Sundays” (always a weakness).


Ay-dios, Colorado!

Comments

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"I fought against the bottle," as Leonard Cohen wrote, "but I had to do it drunk"... specializing in wine as a restaurateur, retailer, wine judge, journalist, frequent flyer and mental traveler. But to me, wine is a food like a rose is a rose. So why all the fuss? Currently: Editor-at-Large/Bottom Line Columnist, The SOMM Journal; Contributing Editor, The Tasting Panel. Awards: Sante's Wine & Food Professional of the Year (1998); Restaurant Wine's Wine Marketer of the Year (1992 & 1999); Academy of Wine Communications (commendation) for Excellence in Wine Writing and Encouragement of Higher Industry Standards; Electoral College Member, Vintners Hall of Fame at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone.