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Not So Hot

Cool River sells Denver diners down the river.

The Denver Tech Center is so hungry for decent restaurants (any restaurant, really) that people get weepy every time a new Taco Bell opens. Still, it's a crying shame that the hot-hot Cool River Cafe serves such so-so meals.

By placing his $5 million venture in the heart of the DTC, owner Ed Toles virtually assured its success. Cool River bills itself as a steakhouse and Southwestern grill, but mostly it's an enormous, expensive, noisy restaurant that serves food we've already seen -- although perhaps not in as sophisticated and self-important a setting. Since Cool River opened in April, visitors have been so wowed by its quasi-cool clientele, its massive size (everyone who enters comments on just how big the 400-seat space really is) and over-the-top interior filled with fireplaces, overstuffed couches (for the wait you'll likely encounter, since Cool River only takes reservations for parties of six or more), etched glass, dark woods and impressive chandeliers, all beneath a forty-foot copper dome, that apparently they haven't yet focused on the food. But sooner or later they'll get over how the place looks and realize it's serving nothing new.

This is Toles's second Cool River Cafe; the first is just outside of Dallas, and he plans to open another soon in Austin. Maybe Texas hasn't seen crabcakes, calamari, quesadillas, Caesar salads, lamb chops, venison and steak before, but we sure have, and it's a testament to Denver's chefs that for every dish I tried at Cool River, I could name at least a dozen local places where I'd had it before -- and had it better. And those few items on the menu that sounded unique also boasted such odd combinations that I doubted any kitchen could pull them off -- and so I avoided them entirely. All in all, over the course of two Cool River meals, I found only three dishes that had anything to recommend them -- and originality wasn't it.

Cool River's exterior is impressive, but things don't flow as smoothly inside.
Cool River's exterior is impressive, but things don't flow as smoothly inside.

Location Info

Map

Cool River Cafe

8000 E. Belleview Ave., Ste. C10
Greenwood Village, CO 80111

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Southeast Denver Suburbs

Details

Crabcakes...$8.95
Devil's advocate...$9.95
Salmon salad...$8.95
Del Mar pasta...$19.95
Tournedos Rosinni...$24.95
Chocolate mousse cake...$5.95
Rio Grande calamari...$8.45
Smoked chicken quesadillas...$8.45
Chicken-fried venison steak...$14.95
Filet mignon...$23.95
Fat Tire ribeye...$22.95
Garlic-mashed potatoes...$4.25

303-771-4117

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily

8000 East Belleview Avenue, Greenwood Village

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The crabcakes were undeniably fine: two phat patties of good-quality crabmeat very lightly coated with a breading that had turned buttery and golden after a solid sauté. Roasted red peppers strewn over the top were a sweet touch, and the rich rémoulade on the side had a nice kick. The other dipping medium, a supposedly spicy Southwestern cocktail sauce, wasn't really spicy, but maybe they have different standards in Texas. They certainly take their barbecue seriously there, so it was no surprise that another starter, the "Devil's advocate," boasted a devilishly good sauce, a chipotle-fired, hickory-smoky slick that coated four jumbo shrimp stuffed with pepper Jack cheese and wrapped in smoked bacon. But since all we could taste was the barbecue sauce, who knew if the cheese -- which was difficult to find in the first place -- was really pepper Jack? The bacon, too, was a waste, its smokiness overwhelmed by the hickory in the sauce. Although this dish seemed intended to offer a multi-layering of smokiness and chile heat, the sauce was such a star that even the shrimp seemed pointless.

We would have been better off simply ordering a vat of that sauce and skipping the rest of the meal. We never did get the ciabatta rolls we were promised, and we had to flag down our server to get drink refills, but the poor, perky thing seemed overwhelmed by the big lunch crowd. Clearly, the kitchen was, too. The entree-sized salmon salad featured romaine lettuce that was cut way too big and drowning in a dressing that was such an unappetizing brown color it made the lettuce look like it had gone bad. The dressing hadn't emulsified properly, either, so there were big pools of oil all over the bottom of the plate, soaking the huge, fried-dough shell that held the salad. The rest of the dressing -- a vinegar substance -- was so tart we decided to use it for entertainment, taking a bite and then talking like a bunch of kids who've just sucked on some helium. The only thing not drenched in this awful stuff was the salmon, but it was so overcooked that it wasn't worth our attention. Almost as inedible was the Del Mar pasta, which weighs in at a hefty $19.95 at lunch or dinner, since Cool River offers only one menu. The pasta was angel hair tossed in what tasted like clam juice punctuated with raw garlic; the Del Mar portion was a lot of small shrimp and a few calamari rings, all overcooked.

Our third entree, however, was an unexpected treat. The menu's spelling of "tournedos Rosinni" had made me wonder if the restaurant was misspelling the nineteenth-century Italian composer's name intentionally, to indicate that it would not be entirely faithful to his namesake dish -- a fried steak connected in some way to foie gras, truffles and a demi-glace. And, in fact, this preparation involved two four-ounce tenderloin medallions sitting atop mushrooms "duxel" (more misspellings). But it was indeed topped with thin (very thin) slivers of goose liver pâté, there was indeed a delicious demi-glace. The thin but serviceable béarnaise was an added bonus, and though we couldn't detect any truffles, the dish was a winner.

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