By Philip Poston
By Jonathan Shikes
By Noah Reynolds
By Gretchen Kurtz
By Kate Gibbson
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Patricia Calhoun
A hungry visitor from another city -- hell, a hungry visitor from another planet -- dropping into Denver would recognize in a heartbeat that we're a little short on exciting cuisine right now. The few interesting restaurants we have are often doing exactly what the other interesting restaurants are doing (if everyone would please stop serving calamari for a couple of weeks, squid sphincters everywhere could relax), and, ironically, when an innovative eatery does come along, we fail to support it.
1630 8th St.
Golden, CO 80401
Region: West Denver Suburbs
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This past year, I ate enough truffle-oil-infused, goat-cheese-stuffed, ahi-tuna-packed, butternut-squashy spring-roll-wrapped soufflés to choke the liver of a foie gras-producing goose, and 2001 doesn't seem to hold much promise of improving the situation. The two dominant dining trends in Denver will only become more dominant next year. A slew of national outfits are slated to join the chain gang already operating in town, squeezing local dollars from independently owned eateries. And the labor shortage will only intensify, which means that you'll spend plenty of time sitting at a table, wondering if your server is planning to wait on you or if he is simply waiting to see if he gets a better offer from that restaurant down the street.
Still, the dining scene has its high points, and as I looked back over some of the excellent dishes I've eaten this past year, it wasn't hard to pull together a dream meal. Of course, what would really make this a dream meal in Denver is if someone actually served the damn thing with reasonable efficiency and a smile -- but I know that's asking way too much. APPETIZER The Briarwood Inn
1630 Eighth Street, Golden
In a town of increasingly precious restaurants -- in both behavior and price -- the elegant Briarwood Inn is a delightful anachronism. Here you not only receive a full complement of complimentary snack items, but they're artfully and conveniently arranged on a lazy Susan that arrives at the table -- get this -- before you even sit down! The centerpiece of the arrangement is a mound of shaved ice lined with tail-up shrimp, below which sits a rich duck-and-chicken-liver pâté; a savory salad of marinated vegetables; a smooth, port-spiked, spreadable cheddar cheese; a heavenly mousseline of spinach and water chestnuts; and, most appealing of all, a creamy butter made from smoked salmon. Don't concentrate too hard as you slather all this goodness across one of the Briarwood's housemade breads, though: One spin of that lazy Susan and your dining companion could snag the rest of the salmon with a flick of the wrist.
SOUP Bravo! Ristorante
1150 Court Place
When soup is part of a meal rather than the meal itself, it should be light but still rich, flavorful but not so bold it kills the palate, and interesting enough to warrant saving stomach space for yet another course. The crema d'aglio e cipolle at Bravo! not only fulfills all of those criteria, but it also has a very cool name. And it comes with a soundtrack at this Italian-themed eatery, where the servers take turns giving excellent service and singing beautiful songs. You might burst into song yourself after getting a taste of the lusty soup, a purée of roasted garlic and onion that you'd think would knock your tastebuds into orbit -- and anyone you breathed on later, too -- but instead counts a stunning subtlety as one of its charms. The kitchen adds cream until the toasty garlic taste is muted but still very much a presence, and an herb-packed oil swirled in the center brings a fresh taste to the intriguing concoction. Encore!
SALAD Sacre Bleu
410 East Seventh Avenue
Although the scene at this tragically hip restaurant sometimes distracts from the food, if you can keep your mind and eyes on your plate, you'll be amply rewarded. Chef Don Gragg's meat-enhanced rocket salad is sexier -- and more addictive -- than anything you'll find in the bar. The innocent-sounding salad is a texture-laden, flavor-packed mixture of fresh, dark arugula with paper-thin shavings of cured foie gras and sweet hazelnuts, an inspired combination that plays bitter and sweet against each other. The foie gras is so rich it melts like butter on the tongue, and the peppery edge of the greens and oily nuttiness of the hazelnuts make for one palate-blowing experience.
PASTA Restaurant on the Ridge at MeadowRidge Resort
1 East Meadow Mile, Fraser
Marvin Bronstein, once one of Denver's top toques, is now in charge of the kitchen at Restaurant on the Ridge, and his menus are so tempting that it's often hard to pick just one thing to eat. But if the veal ravioli is available, your decision is made. One of the richest, most decadent entrees ever, this dazzling dish features large rounds of homemade pasta holding in soft, succulent bits of young beef. Draped across each luscious package is a sauce of St. Andre cheese -- a triple-cream delight with a taste and texture reminiscent of butter -- made musky and earthy with plenty of wild mushrooms. And since you'll be enjoying this to-die-for dish in the Ridge's tranquil mountain setting rather than server-strapped Denver, you'll also enjoy superb service.FISH Roy's of Cherry Creek
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