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Metamorphosis

Think globally, eat locally at Piatti Locali.

The rollout came soon after the announcement, accompanied by a name change. Every Piatti was now a Piatti Locali, in honor of its new, local focus. And the metamorphosis was instantaneous. The Piatti Locali in La Jolla started offering a board heavy with fresh seafoods and shellfish, while the restaurant in Danville, California, featured a greenmarket menu with butternut squash ravioli and kabocha pumpkin risotto. Here in Denver, Godoy was working with Torpedo Farms pork, Haystack Mountain cheese and Hazel Dell mushrooms. He was making his own fettuccine, his own gnocchi, using every trick he'd learned in the kitchen where he'd been since Piatti first opened to create a menu that showcased not just Colorado, but Colorado season by season and farm by farm. And suddenly, Piatti became the place I looked to first when I had Italian on my mind.

Which brings me back to those organ meats. Would you eat beef hearts at an Olive Garden? How about Applebee's Brainlets? Would you run right out to pick up a box of the new McDonald's McPancreas Nuggets?

Of course not. But against all odds, I now find myself looking forward to Piatti's sweetbreads. The thymus and pancreas of veal calves (glands located high in the throat and close to the heart) are cleaned, boiled and lightly breaded in the classical style, then fried. And while these may not be the absolute best sweetbreads I've ever had, they're good enough. I can sit at the bar and ask the kitchen to prepare me a plate -- the tender morsels served in a silky and butter-heavy reduced veal stock, plated with perfectly pan-fried discs of Jerusalem artichokes, seared slabs of portabello mushroom and parmesan cheese -- and forget for a moment that I'm in a chain restaurant at all.

Local heroes: Piatti Locali is part of a chain, but it 
takes its inspiration from Denver.
Mark Manger
Local heroes: Piatti Locali is part of a chain, but it takes its inspiration from Denver.

Location Info

Map

Piatti Ristorante & Bar

190 St. Paul St.
Denver, CO 80206

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Central Denver

Details

190 St. Paul Street, 303-321-1919, www.piatti.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily

Grilled polenta: $9.50
Mussels: $8.50
Sweetbreads: $10
Pappardelle: $17.95
Ravioli: $15.25
Cavatappi: $16
Gnocchi: $17
Salmon: $18.25
Lamb: $25< br>Stuffed chicken: $16.50

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In Piatti's dining room and from the good seats at the service end of the bar, you can see the crew working. This restaurant has not just an open kitchen, but a wide-open kitchen -- the entire galley (less prep areas and dish room) is on view, with just a short, tiled retaining wall separating it from the floor. Anyone who cares to can look right in and see the wood burning in the pizza oven all the way at the back, can see the cooks chopping, assembling plates, wiping down their boards and tending to the battle-scarred batterie de cuisine -- proof enough that this is now a kitchen working for itself. There are always five or six big, heavy, eighty-quart stock pots on the stove, scorched black at the bottoms, their flanks dinged with hundreds of tiny dents from the constant shuffling of pots around the burners. This is where the sauces are kept -- not in a steam table, not in a plastic bag in the cooler. There's an impressive mise at each station, oils in speed-pourers lined up along the stainless, and fifty well-seasoned sauté pans stacked on the shelf above the stoves.

Why does a galley keep fifty sauté pans on hand? Because it needsthem. When you're serving ready-made or pre-pack or steam-table cuisine, what you need is a lot of ladles and no conscience. When you're actually cooking for a living, you need fifty sauté pans. You need eighty quarts of homemade red sauce simmering on the stove. You need a speed rack and a full hotel pan of garnishes on ice.

For lunch at Piatti last week, I had a simple ravioli elevated by a balanced filling of ricotta and fresh spinach; for dinner, a plate of pappardelle in a weird but workable Spanish-French fusion of shrimp and saffron, wilted arugula and tomatoes, all in a beurre blanc punctuated by chile flakes and garlic. The service here is exemplary -- no breathless fawning over the brilliance of my choices, no insistence that every single thing on the menu is fabulous. With a waiter's help, I bypassed the plain spaghetti bolognese and ordered cavatappi with radicchio, strong collard greens, sweet sun-dried tomatoes and shredded pork in gorgonzola cream that was unlike any pasta in recent memory, combining several powerful, combative and rarely conjoined flavors in a single dish that made good use of all of them, melding and blending all the sturdy greens and sweetness and pork and sour gorgonzola into something burly and rustic, yet delicate at the same time.

I've had skilled servers, excited by what's on the menu that day, bring me a simple plate of naturally fed salmon dressed in nothing more than shallots, capers, white wine and butter; stiff, grilled triangles of polenta covered in veal demi and roasted wild mushrooms; and Red Bird chicken breasts layered with prosciutto and fontina cheese, served over the best polenta I've had anywhere and swimming in a composed white sauce so rich with butter and cream and cheese that it was rivaled only by the one done at Cafe Jordano -- the area's ultimate mom-and-pop Italian operation. And even the gnocchi (a pasta that's consistently screwed up all to hell by nearly any Denver galley that attempts it) has been impressive, with each of the little potato-and-ricotta balls hand-rolled, beautifully presented on an oversized plate and smothered in an arrabbiata sauce with Palizzi Farms fresh spring peas and diced bits of speck.

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