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Some chefs today are afraid of blood. What with all the e. Coli scares and articles in major magazines telling us that we have to order everything we eat blackened until the plate it's served on looks more appetizing, many of my brothers and sisters in white have backed off from preparations or sauces that require a rare meat to properly mount them or bring out their strongest flavors. But while you do need to be careful how you order in many places, that's not true everywhere. And definitely not here.
At 1515, the boys in the back are not afraid. It was the bloody-rare presentation of that duck that made it such a knockout; the combination of the duck's own juices with the honey-sweet essence of the golden raisin sauce that gave it depth and a weighty tang. This was a sauce with muscle, with the legs of a marathon runner, and it lent to the duck layers of flavor that gave the sensation of wholeness and a well-rounded body. And even if the potato gnocchi weren't perfect (and they weren't: a little mushy, and way too heavy on the herbs), I can forgive that, because this duck will hang with me a long time as proof positive that these chefs have the guts to actually cook -- to experiment, to play, and to do so without fear. It makes me feel good to know that not everyone is giving in to the fussy tastes of the craven gastrological milksops; it gives me faith to know that there are still some chefs out there who aren't afraid of a little blood.
1515 Market St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
Seared foie gras: $12
1515 burger: $8
Maryland crab melt: $9
Tuna niçoise: $11
Chile and clove rubbed chicken: $15
Seared duck breast: $17 (special: $18)
Colorado rack of lamb: $28
Buffalo ribeye: $28
That said, not everything coming out of 1515's kitchen was as inspirational. The seared Sonoma foie gras on the appetizer menu arrived at the table runny, had been less than expertly veined, and was seared past the point of caramelization. Still, it was plated over dried apple slices and served with a nice, tart apple-balsamic reduction that would have made for a fantastic combination had the liver been handled a bit more carefully. In general, lunch stood a couple of steps below the heights achieved at dinner, and although the 1515 burger is one monster sandwich -- served with real smoked bacon, Roquefort cheese and good sautéed mushrooms on top of a half-pound of ground beef cooked as I'd ordered to a perfect medium rare -- the signature fried potato salad just didn't do it for me. The greens were wilted, the potatoes too dry and the dressing simply not strong enough to hold its own against all that starch.
Also, I could swear the ahi tuna niçoise was actually made with the smaller bonito or skipjack tuna, and not yellowfin. The thick, smooth texture of sashimi-grade ahi wasn't there, and neither was the characteristic deep-red coloring. It was a decent salad -- a good starter, or filling enough for a light lunch -- but if it was ahi tuna being used (and Gene assured me that it was), then it was certainly from a lower-grade fish, possibly a tail cut, or just something else altogether. Ben and Olav, I owe you guys a couple of beers if I'm wrong on this. In fact, I owe you guys a couple of beers, anyway, because your kitchen is striving for greatness and recognizes that it is the food that matters -- first, last and forever.
The best restaurateurs understand this, and so the best restaurants accept that everything else is a stage on which great things are set. No floor man, however talented, can resuscitate a dinner crowd stunned lifeless by a dull menu, weak flavors or a poor presentation. But when a kitchen is firing on all cylinders, as 1515's is now, sending out plates that knock people back in their seats and make the ladies swoon, nothing else matters.
The kitchen should steal the show every night of the week. Ask Gene. That's something he knows.
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