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I love zombie movies. Of all the filmmakers in the world, I feel the most kinship with the guys who make zombie movies -- freakish, obsessive man-children who know how to guiltlessly tell a ripping good yarn and who never got over that visceral thrill of being fourteen-year-old boys, up past their bedtimes, scaring the crap out of themselves watching the Monster Chiller Horror Theatre double-bill at home on a Saturday night. And of all the monsters out there -- vampires, mummies, wolf men, Karl Rove, Godzilla in his many incarnations -- I've always found that the living dead make the most satisfying stories. As a matter of fact, I can't think of many Hollywood classics that wouldn't be improved by the addition of a zombie or two. Titanicwould've been a much more tolerable movie had Leonardo DiCaprio become zombie chow in the first ten minutes. And Citizen Kane? No one can tell me that an army of zombies wouldn't have livened up the third reel.
1808 Blake St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
Patatas bravas: $3< br>Serrano y membrillo: $5
Serrano y manchego: $5
Serrano and asparagus: $3
Fried goat cheese: $2
From Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (the original zombie-with-a-heart-of-gold story) to George Romero's brain eaters, from 28 Days Later (where I spent the whole movie rooting for the zombies to eat poor, pasty Cillian Murphy and put both of us out of our misery) to Shaun of the Dead (funniest zombie movie ever), I've never found a tale of the undead life that I didn't like.
And that includes the story behind The 9th Door.
The 9th Door -- which opened in LoDo a few months ago to surprisingly little foodie fanfare, despite having the name of Belgian-born and West Coast-trained Michel Wahaltere, former Esquire magazine "Best New Restaurant" award-winner, all over it -- is proof positive that nothing beloved ever really dies in the restaurant industry. Not as long as there's one guy out there willing to pick up the shovel, rob a few graves, and bring the dead back to life.
The 9th Door has a bed in the middle of the dining room. This trick has been tried before at pseudo-sexy boîtes across the country, usually to disastrously bad effect. But this bed is one of the best tables in the house, and almost always has a wait. People lounge here, eat and drink with their glasses set on nightstands and plates on the sideboards. The rest of the décor is run-of-the-mill rustic urbanism with a lot of exposed brick and ductwork. But the color palette -- earthtones coddled by dim lights, accented by the occasional splash of hypersaturated color -- and the gauzy curtains hung between seating areas, make the place a dead-ringer for Triana, a Boulder restaurant that met an ignoble and undeserved death a couple years back and is still mourned by many Colorado diners, myself included. The bar, with its expansive real estate and crowds of beautiful people packed three-deep during prime time, reminds me of the long oak at Vesta Dipping Grill a few doors away, and the menu is serious Weird Science, a Frankenstein's monster of best bites and great plates assembled from the boards of some of Denver's most noteworthy houses, both living and dead.
Am I accusing the 9th Door of outright thievery? Hell, no. If chefs and owners nicking good ideas off each other suddenly became a sin, we'd all be damned. As with any good zombie movie, you can't allow paltry questions of morality to trip up the action, and there's action to spare at the 9th Door.
I'd had Wahaltere's food before, at Moda, a bad experiment in reverse-ergonomics where everything was twice as uncomfortable as necessary and nothing seemed to fit the way it should. But the mid-range Italian food could be surprisingly good. I had red sauces he did there that managed the high-wire trick of being both smooth and pointedly savory; compound whites which, in their intensive application of butter and cream, held together like velvet. So I knew Wahaltere could cook, or at least make a menu and train a staff, because he's one of those Euro-style chefs who spreads his influence thin, consulting and managing across many houses. And when he bailed out of Moda (due to some mystery health issues, according to the PR spin), I knew the joint was doomed.
Wahaltere quickly signed on to give six months to the 9th Door, and while he went far and wide to acquire parts for this tapas restaurant, the one grave he didn't rob is the one where Moda lies. When you're bringing to life a multifarious creature like this, you want to work with parts that are fresh. Or if not fresh, at least really, really pretty.
And if the bodies you're plundering aren't even dead yet, all the better. Anyone who's ever watched a zombie movie knows that the living -- and preferably the healthy, the active, the beloved -- make the best living dead. To wit, the alcachofas a la Plancha -- fried artichoke hearts served with lemon aioli. Sean Kelly made a name for himself with a plate like this at Aubergine and reincarnated it at Somethin' Else. But here, rather than using piles of baby 'chokes like Kelly, the kitchen pulls the hearts from full-grown artichokes, slices them into flat planks, browns them perfectly in the pan to maintain their nutty savor, and serves them with a side of stingingly citric aioli. Wahaltere also put patatas bravason the 9th Door menu, but while Kelly's sliced white potatoes come in a paprika ménage-à-trois, here you get a deep bowl of paprika-spiced, sliced, fried potatoes with a ménage of dipping sauces -- Spanish cabrales blue cheese, another aioli and a blazing romesco resuscitated from the old French Riviera cruise-ship menus of the 1960s.
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