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THE GRILL NEXT DOOR

Italian isn't the only option at the Grille, however. A fillet of salmon with jalapeno lime cream sauce ($12.95) came expertly grilled, its crunchy, flavor-packed edges and tender, flaky flesh enhanced by a mildly hot, sour-creamy sauce. The side of sauteed snow peas, leeks and carrots tasted healthy, if a bit boring. Much more exciting were the heady oven-roasted potatoes with caramelized onions and a light touch of rosemary that appeared with the beef tenderloin with shiitake mushrooms and a green-peppercorn sauce ($14.95).

After all that, we never did make it to dessert.
The portions are slightly smaller at Mead St. Station, but there's no reduction in atmosphere. This friendly northwest Denver hangout is more of a pub, with dark colors and a long bar that provide the perfect setting for enjoying a swell pint o' Guinness (or its rival, Murphy's Irish Stout, if that's the way you swing) and a hefty sandwich.

Owners Carolyn Butterfield, a restaurant veteran, and Dan Gilmore took over the space previously occupied by Dreams two years ago. They opened up the room to let in more light and, with the help of kitchen manager Sharon Brunn, created a menu with a fine-dining feel. But hazelnut-and-cognac-encrusted lamb chops and salmon marinated in honey and ginger were a bit too highbrow for the regulars who started flocking in, so Mead St. has since backed off the higher-end dishes and added a few more sandwiches and munchies.

On my first visit, the kitchen was out of the mussels appetizer I'd wanted to try, so we went straight to the main course. Appropriately enough, Dublin fish and chips ($6.95) are billed as a Mead St. specialty. I found the spuds meaty and the slaw standard, but the fish was truly something special: Three planks of cod had been dipped in a malty Guinness batter, creating a thin, crispy crust that melded wonderfully with the firm, moist fish. The John Bull sandwich ($6.95) was another variation on the British theme, a cheese-steak-like mix of shredded beef grilled with caramelized onions, red and green peppers and provolone, then plopped on a poppyseed roll.

The kitchen was still out of the mussels when we returned for dinner, so we opted for the Highland wings ($5.95), a decent batch of soft-fried chicken wings coated with a buttery, spicy sauce and served with the usual trimmings. The garden salad ($2.95), on the other hand, was an atypical offering, with apple slices and red peppers livening up the greens. And the French onion soup ($1.95) was downright wild, with portabello mushrooms mixed in with onions that had been grated--not sliced--for easier spooning. Both vegetables were swimming in an earthy, potent base further enhanced by Madeira.

We were just as delighted with the Tartan pasta ($10.95), a colorful plate of artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and Asiago atop penne. The spring chicken ($9.95), however, didn't live up to our expectations; although the sides of garlic-kissed potatoes and asparagus were fine, the sun-dried cherry-and-apple pesto atop the boneless breasts was so oily that it had the taste and texture of canned cherry-pie filling.

Fruit was put to far better use in our dessert. We split a piece of exceptional blueberry pie ($2.50) packed with whole fruit and blessedly lacking in syrupy glop. Brunn says she uses about half of the sugar called for in most fruit-pie recipes and adds black-currant liqueur for an extra punch. I'd drive to Mead St. from miles away for another slice.

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood--any neighborhood--when these two restaurants dropped in to Denver's dining scene.

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