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By Alex Brown
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I never thought Mirepoix would make it. I didn't believe that Bryan Moscatello and crew could squeeze Adega's smart, beautiful cuisine into a JW Marriott corporate template; I kept seeing all that lovely food dying under the domes of room-service trays. And the fact that they were trading on the success of their LoDo venture to branch out not once, but twice -- to Sixth Avenue, where they'd snagged the former Beehive space for Table 6, as well as Cherry Creek -- seemed at best like hubris, at worst like career suicide.
Dining at Mirepoix shortly after it opened five months ago, I was willing to bet on hubris. The menu was a bungled New American mess, all Bloody Mary gelées, flavored oils, foams, pistous, emulsions and nonsense. The food was buried under a flood of smarts and technique, and while it wasn't necessarily bad, it was goofy. Rabbit loin poached in lemon-prosciutto oil. Artichoke salad with parmesan foam. Paella poppers.
So if the normal rigors of a three-a-day hotel regimen weren't enough to kill off the kitchen, I was sure that subjecting visitors to dinners full of truffles, lola rosa and terrible combinations of the season's buzzword ingredients would do the job.
150 Clayton Ln
Denver, CO 80206
Region: Central Denver
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Beef-cheek hash: $10
Scallop bisque: $9
Cured chicken stew: $11< br>Turkey burger: $10
Grilled cheese trilogy: $12
Asparagus and prosciutto: $9
Basil brûlée: $8
But I was so wrong.
Breakfast:I walk into Mirepoix one morning looking like a bum -- poorly shaven, in blue jeans, T-shirt, ratty baseball hat. The hostess immediately seats me at a good table in the earth-tone dining room, with its pleasantly swank white linen and heavy flatware. I'm treated just like the guy at the table across from mine who's wearing the thousand-dollar three-piece, working two cell phones and reading three papers at once. That's a good sign: I like the place immediately.
I order beef-cheek hash with molasses-ginger ketchup and a fried duck egg. Although that's not standard hotel fare, there's also an egg-and-toast buffet line for the less daring, as well as a pastry basket for dullards. The hash is excellent, made with the namesake mirepoix mix of diced carrot, onion and celery and meltingly tender beef cheek, strangely well matched to the spicy-sweet ketchup. My only complaint is that the big white plate is grease-stained, with two oily smears where the cook rested his fingers while removing the ring mold, or the server touched steel before grabbing the dish. It's a little thing, but in an environment like this, little things look large.
Lunch:I'm a Creeker -- a Cherry Creek dad out for a Saturday stroll with the precious family unit. I've kept things casual with blue jeans, hiking boots and a nice turtleneck; to complete the image, I've rented my friend Vic and her daughter for the afternoon. Like any accidental walk-ins, we've made no reservation and arrive late in service -- about a quarter after one, just when unscheduled tables begin to annoy a kitchen getting ready to shut down for the break between lunch and dinner. We are met by a still-smiling hostess, seated promptly, doted on by a server, a back server and the floor man, and when I order coffee, they brew a fresh pot rather than pass off whatever burnt leftovers the kitchen is guzzling.
The menu change, Mirepoix's first, is a little less than a month old -- barely a week on the lunch side -- and a massive improvement over the first lineup. The arrogance, the name-dropping of ingredients, the culinary double entendres have been punted in favor of a wickedly pointed new classicism. And while I almost always prefer a fall menu to a summer, this one's just plain brilliant. Fall squash tian (a Provençal casserole, both the dish and its contents) with pumpkin crema and maple-infused mascarpone; pork and beans that's really a confit of pork belly served over butter beans in bourbon BBQ sauce; a turkey burger -- moist and densely flavored -- on a wheat bun dressed with sweet-potato purée, accompanied by parmesan-crusted hand-cut fries.
I start with the scallop-and-chenin-blanc bisque. The hot, creamy, impossibly smooth soup is poured tableside over a knot of tiny, sweet bay scallops, and even the preserved tomato foam -- an overly fussy and très-1996 inclusion, the recipe no doubt salvaged from a back issue of Gourmet that one of the cooks found in the john -- doesn't bug me, because it's been deflated by the heat of the bisque and adds an extra layer of flavor rather than just an extra level of spectacle.
Vic has ordered a chicken-and-artichoke stew, and while with one hand she tries to keep her daughter from biting the help, with the other she passes forkfuls across the table. The stew is amazing. We'd both misread the menu, seeing "curried" chicken rather than "cured," and like idiots, we marvel at the complexity and rich, earthy bluntness of the curry, figuring the kitchen must have ground its own blend to get such powerful, well-balanced flavors that perfectly wed the potatoes, the cubed artichoke hearts, the everything. Learning that the chicken is cured, not curried, doesn't stop our gushing. This is the basic, the down-home, the simple made sublime. I take the child, and as soon as Vic's hands are free, she scrapes the bowl until it's spotless. When a kitchen makes food this good, a dishwasher's job must be a whole lot easier.