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What's Good for the Goose...

...is also good for Denver diners, as evidenced by Solera.

In origin, the dish was simple and rustic, a French/Italian farmhouse classic rendered with experienced restraint and unfussy hands, then made into something unique and wonderful with the addition of sugary beet and fennel top notes. This was the work of a pro, a man who loves playing with his food, and executed by a kitchen totally in tune with its executive chef. But Solera's entire menu is now a beautiful expression of exactly this -- of traditional technique and Sorenson's neo-classicism pared down to showcase single, strong flavors heightened by sharp, worldly accents. It's a vast improvement over what came before.

The old menu was all over the place, scattered, with things like oysters with green Tabasco granite, tilapia with Israeli saffron couscous, Spanish anchovies, sushi rice and wild-boar bacon all fighting for space on a roster that was more flash than substance. And while there was nothing really wrong with any of the dishes -- the smoked duck breast and confit leg bathed in a coarse-grain mustard demi was great, as was the seafood risotto with whitefish, salmon, lobster and little black mussels kicked up with a bittersweet squeeze of Meyer lemon (both were held over to the new menu) -- they didn't make sense as a whole. The kitchen wasn't speaking with a unified voice.

"I was just so burned out," Sorenson says. "With the holidays and everything else, I was just tired. We only have this little kitchen, and we didn't come into it with a lot of money, so we don't have a big staff." Which meant that Goose was on the line every night with his guys -- Tico Starr, formerly of the Fourth Story, and now Cory Treadway, from Luca d'Italia -- stretching out the kinks of a restaurant still in its rookie year, hammering away at those foods he knew should work even if they didn't work right together. On the new menu, Sorenson's departures -- which once seemed like long, loping journeys into odd culinary terrain that never went anywhere -- are smaller and more focused, bringing just hints of adventure, exotic tastes and foreign accents to his plates rather than confusing them with a whirlwind tour.

Foreign intrigue: At Solera, Goose Sorenson (left) and 
Brian Klinginsmith bring culinary adventure to East 
Colfax Avenue.
Mark Manger
Foreign intrigue: At Solera, Goose Sorenson (left) and Brian Klinginsmith bring culinary adventure to East Colfax Avenue.

Location Info

Map

Solera Restaurant & Wine Bar

5410 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80220

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: East Denver

Details

5410 East Colfax Avenue
303-388-8429
Hours: 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday

Seafood risotto: $10
Duck confit ravioli: $14
Butterleaf salad: $7
Duck breast and leg: $22
Pork tenderloin: $22
Taglatelli: $14
Five-spice ahi tuna: $25

Sitting in Solera's cozy, mustard-yellow dining room, I ordered an excellent butterleaf salad from that menu: whole leaves of butter lettuce carefully laid out on a square glass plate, with a couple curls of shaved red onion in the center, two candied walnuts, and light touches of both Maytag blue cheese and a sharp champagne vinaigrette. I followed the salad with a grilled pork tenderloin that had been brined in tea for a smoothing of flavors. It arrived roughly sliced (less a comment on the grill man's knife skills than a matter of presentation), fanned over fresh-roasted sweet-corn salsa with a browned wedge of white-cheddar potato gratin on the side.

An order of taglatelli came with marvelous housemade sausage (someone in the back has a fine hand with preserved and forced meats), a sweet tomato confit with roasted red peppers and fresh basil, and buffalo mozzarella. Even this, the cheapest entree on the menu, showed an equilibrium of flavor created only through experience, care and forethought. No one taste dominated, none needed another to prop it up, and while all worked separately, they also meshed seamlessly.

The five-spice ahi tuna was Sorenson's only total departure from his theme, and like a cheap package tour of the Far East, it left me with a series of crowded, strange and jarring sensations without ever really getting under my skin. The plate featured medallions of the best ahi loin I've had in town -- crusted with five-spice powder, briefly seared but left beautifully raw in the center -- that were sliced and stacked atop a towering, poorly prepared sushi-rice cake which managed to be both pasty and crunchy at the same time, then crowned with an acrid, soy-soaked chard-and-cabbage salad that did nothing but bad things for the tuna. Then again, the sauce that napped at the edges of the plate -- I think it was the promised miso vinaigrette, although it didn't taste like either miso or vinegar -- was fantastic, the perfect dip for the fatty, butter-soft ahi, even if I did have to shove the salad-and-rice-cake tower off to one side to keep it from dripping bitter soy over everything.

But if you have to take the bitter with the sweet, Solera is the place to do it. The restaurant draws a crowd that runs from smarty-pants local foodies to special-occasion couples tucked comfortably into the corners of the relaxed, sixty-seat dining room. The well-trained servers are educated on both the food in the kitchen and the wine in the cellar and are capable of being either distant and haughty or warm and welcoming, depending on what the situation warrants. And through some lucky trick of the ventilation system, all of the good, powerful smells from the kitchen waft through the dining room every time a server comes through the swinging doors. By the end of a big meal, it's enough to make you want to curl up under your table and take a nap.

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