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And then came the inedible sugar-charred onion and tomato salad with arugula ($6.50)--proof positive that either the kitchen was trying to empty an economy-sized party ball of balsamic vinegar, or someone back there actually thinks the liquid is the best thing since sliced focaccia.
Apparently the Augusta's waiters are accustomed to seeing people abandon almost-untouched dishes, because our server said nothing about the discarded salad. And he removed the remains of the French onion soup ($5) without noting our failure to consume the enormous bread lid--sort of a hollow hamburger bun on steroids--that topped the bowl. When I'd pierced this covering with a fork, it started to crumble into crunchy breadcrumbs that threatened to sop up what little liquid was actually in the bowl. Instead, I carefully excavated the few spoonfuls of excellent soup, a condensed stock teeming with translucent onions and strings of cheese. A corner of the Augusta kitchen must be piled high with uneaten bread shells, tossed there by oblivious waiters.
1672 Lawrence St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
"How do your entrees look?" our server managed to ask as he set them in front of us. Fine, we replied, but to be honest, they looked like everything else we'd seen: tall. Eating them involved a certain amount of deconstruction. For instance, we had to remove extraneous bunches of thyme jammed into the centers of both entrees, as well as pick off 25 (yes, we counted) kalamatas that hadn't rated so much as a mention on the menu's description of swordfish Provencal ($18.95). Underneath it all, the fish had been beautifully grilled, even if the "fresh herb broth of tomatoes and capers" was more like a chunky tomato sauce that still tasted faintly of olives. The swordfish came with an innovative, crisp capellini cake that would have been enough to round out the plate, but the kitchen had also piped in some decent mashed potatoes and, of course, added balsamic-soaked greens, balsamic-soaked hearts of palm and balsamic-soaked cucumbers. The last item, listed on the menu as "pickled cucumbers," would be known anywhere else as what they really are: pickles.
The grilled filet mignon au poivre ($20.50) should have been billed as sans poivre, since there wasn't a speck of pepper in sight. But the two five-ounce-ish filets, nicely cooked to medium-rare, rested in a pool of exquisite port-and-shallot glaze. A slice of pungent wild-mushroom strudel perched against more of those potatoes; hidden behind all that was a smattering of homemade sauerkraut so pleasantly heavy on the caraway that it deserved a more prominent role.
After all this, we were ready for that fruity tiramisu ($5.95). This time the surprise inside was bananas, and the result was a concoction that resembled a wonderful, mushy banana cream pie. And I've never tasted better sorbet ($5.95): a scoop each of mango, lemon and raspberry in a chocolate-dipped tuile floating on a fresh raspberry coulis.
The success of that last dessert--straightforward, uncluttered and simply adorned, not to mention appearing as advertised--should be used as a blueprint for untangling the confused mess that's been made of the once-elegant Augusta.
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