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An Explosion of Flavors

Now in a new home, Bang! still does a bang-up job.

It's just before 5 p.m., but already cars have been sitting out front for nearly half an hour. In the storefront window, the chefs are clearly visible, rolling and kneading, peeling and chopping, stirring and frying. But those who've been watching the cooking show while they've waited have also been watching their watches, and they're ready to eat. So at 5 p.m., car doors open and shut almost in unison, and people pour into the narrow space between the restaurant and the next building -- so like San Francisco, so unlike Denver -- and then pack the small courtyard in back, jostling each other as they anxiously wait some more to learn if they're going to make the first seating. The hostess smiles at everyone, seats the lucky 46, and smiles harder at the people who will have to wait even longer. She takes cell-phone numbers, encourages everyone to go next door for a cup of coffee. "We'll find you or call you as soon as there's an opening," she says, still smiling, oh-so-optimistic even in the face of much grumbling.

The good news is that this is Bang's bigger, better location. The bad news is that it's still almost impossible to get into the place.

Cissy Yin, who opened Bang! with partners Jeff and Chris Oakley in 1996, says their decision to start small and not invest their entire life savings in the notoriously risky restaurant business paid off -- big time. But even after they decided to make the move across the street and down a block from their original home -- a tiny spot with counter service only, sixteen fewer seats and no liquor license -- to a larger space, they didn't want a huge restaurant. "There are people who just refuse to get it, and we've actually had people who started yelling at us because they couldn't get in," says Yin, who runs the kitchen with Jeff. "Even my mom came in last weekend and said, 'Honey, why is it still so small?' I said, 'Mom, we don't want to lose what we've worked so hard to have.'"

The colorful fare at Bang! lives up to the promise of its playful exterior.
Q Crutchfield
The colorful fare at Bang! lives up to the promise of its playful exterior.

Location Info

Map

Bang!

3472 W. 32nd Ave.
Denver, CO 80211

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Northwest Denver

Details

303-455-1117
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

Pan-seared scallops: $6
Grilled andouille sausage: $6
Arugula salad: $6
Iceberg wedge: $6
Grilled salmon: $14
Spicy peppered shrimp: $13
Mushroom ravioli: $11
Gingerbread: $5
Kentucky bourbon cake: $5

3472 West 32nd Avenue

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What they have is a quintessential Highland neighborhood joint that's nonetheless become a destination restaurant for the entire city. The new space (longtime locals will recall it as Stan's Deli, then briefly Mona's Deli and, most recently, A Spot of Tea) retains the whimsical charm of the original, starting with a cheerful, street-side welcome: a colorful paint job featuring an enormous fork and spoon by Katie McPhee, an artist who displays at the nearby Zip 37. Inside, Yin says, "We did what we wanted, just sort of throwing ideas around and trying different colors." The resulting decor features industrial-cool gray metal chairs, aqua walls and tables painted cobalt blue that are topped with tiny vases holding little sprigs of spring. The complete restaurant consists of that oddly placed kitchen -- "Sometimes we feel like monkeys in a cage," Yin says, "but we get to see the daylight and the sunset, and that inspires us" -- and back courtyard, (which the owners hope to enclose and turn into year-round seating), and two dining rooms, one of which seats nine at four tables, the other 21 at six tables.

The effect is funky, cozy, and sometimes more intimate than you anticipated, since other diners may be seated just a half-foot away. Try as we might, on one visit, we couldn't keep our heated debate over who's hotter, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler or Joe Perry (obviously, it's Perry), from becoming conversational fodder for the table next to us; I'm hoping that the couple seated nearby on another night has worked out their issues over his inability to deal with her on a spiritual level.

Certainly none of our fellow diners had any problem dealing with the food. The Bang! gang sticks to a basic philosophy of starting with quality ingredients and cooking them right, in deceptively simple-sounding combinations. For example, an appetizer of pan-seared sea scallops with salsa verde and a cucumber salad sounded straightforward but tasted sublime. The five scallops arrived piping hot but still translucent inside, and lightly coated with just enough pepper to produce a gentle, grill-induced bite; they were paired with a fresh, sweet-vinegar-kissed pile of crunchy cucumbers and slivers of red onion, and a slightly sweet, basil-flecked purée that balanced the scallops' nip while making them seem richer. It was a knockout, as was every dish we tried.

Another starter, grilled andouille sausage, matched the spicy links with the sweetness of pineapple, the sourness of lime and an extra spicy shot from jalapeños; the bold flavors played off each other like firecrackers exploding in our mouths. And a brash salad of arugula, peppered goat cheese and toasted walnuts boasted a lemon-lime vinaigrette so sharp and oily it was impossible to stop forking up bites; each mouthful started with the lemon, leveled off with the peppery greens and the black pepper on the goat cheese, and finished with the richness of the oil, the cheese and the nuts. The mix was almost too heady, and a less intense salad of iceberg lettuce with a creamy, creamy blue-cheese dressing provided some welcome relief for our tastebuds.

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