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Words Fail

With Prima, Kevin Taylor shows off his absolute best -- and his most mediocre.

We'd already ordered drinks, Laura and I, and were just settling into the purple banquette behind a scratched black cafe table at Prima, Kevin Taylor's most recent revision at Hotel Teatro.

This isn't the first restaurant Taylor has had in this space. Until last year it was jou jou, a lighthearted, occasionally fusion-y cousin to Restaurant Kevin Taylor, situated directly across the boutique hotel's small lobby. And this isn't Taylor's newest restaurant, either. One of Denver's first serious contenders for the title of "celebrity chef," Taylor has been on a bit of a binge recently, opening eponymous joints as though he were setting up franchises. Kevin Taylor at the Ellie, Kevin Taylor's Rouge at the Teller House in Central City, a second Prima in Boulder that just went live last month -- the man has been busy. I've heard he's thinking about a fast-food chain: Kevin Taylor's Chicken and Waffles, where every order of truffle-scented fried chicken will come in a bucket shaped like KT's head.

Okay, maybe I made that part up, but Taylor has an undeniable passion for brand extension -- as well as for blitzkrieg openings and sudden, unannounced closures -- that borders on obsession. He runs his empire (which currently stands at five restaurants, soon to be an all-time high of six) like a high-stakes round of Red Light/Green Light. Remember that game? One kid plays traffic light, keeping all of his friends frozen in place until he turns his back and yells "Green light!," at which point everyone runs forward as fast as they can. Then the kid turns around again and shouts "Red light!," and everyone has to stop. Well, when the light goes green, Taylor runs quicker than any other player on the field. He scrambles faster than you'd believe possible.

Special delivery: A meal at Prima can be primo.
Mark Manger
Special delivery: A meal at Prima can be primo.

Location Info

Map

Prima Ristorante

1106 14th St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Downtown Denver

Details

1106 14th Street, in the Hotel Teatro, 303- 820-2600. Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily Diver scallop crudo: $8
Carpaccio “Harry’s Bar”: $7
White bean and farro soup: $6
Fritto misto: $9
Polenta with truffle fondue: $7
Beet salad: $8
Cappelletti: $10
Squid- ink linguine: $12
Gnocchi: $10
Soft egg ravioli: $12
Chicken paillard: $18
Sirloin alla haircut: $20
Veal scaloppine: $22

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Prima is what he ended up with at the end of the last game. Or it's how he started this round, depending on how you measure time. And it's lovely, both chic and rustic, with walls the color of cardamom and French mustard, tall windows draped with gauzy sheers, purple velvet upholstery behind those anachronistically battered cafe tables, and a second-floor mezzanine ideal for throwing olive pits or capers down into the hairdos of the beautiful people crowded around the gleaming black bar top below. If you're immature (which I am), you can make a game out of it: five points for bouncing it off a bald spot, ten if you can make it stick in someone's bob, twenty-five for plonking it into a martini on the bar, and fifty if the guy in the pressed khakis and age-inappropriate Mexican party shirt drinks it without noticing. Game ends when you get caught. Low score pays for dinner.

Tonight, though, Laura and I are stuck on the first floor, fortifying ourselves with crystal flutes of Prosecco and looking over the menu.

"What's tagliata?" she asks.

"Where?"

"Here." She points. "Angus sirloin tagliata with cress, roast potatoes, parmesan and horseradish."

I check my menu to make sure it's not a typo. It isn't. "I have no idea," I say.

"You should ask."

After giving us a moment to confer (and to discuss scoring aberrations in our new game, such as whether points ought to be adjusted according to cup size when making a direct hit on the cleavage of the trophy wife in the low-cut dress), our waiter returns to the table.

"Do you have any questions about the menu?" he asks, standing posed with his hands folded in front of him.

"Yes, he does," Laura chimes in.

I ask about the tagliata. "I've never seen that word before."

"Yes, well, that's just a made-up word," our waiter says.

"Made-up," I repeat.

"Yeah, to make the plate sound better. Kevin actually told us that it didn't mean anything."

"Really!" I say, slapping my hands down on the table and smiling hugely. "Well, thank you. That is just...that is just fantastic."

We order, largely and broadly. And when we're done, our waiter nods and collects our menus. "My name is Rupert," he says. "If you need anything, just ask."

Rupert. I'm pretty sure that's a made-up name, too. He looks nothing like a Rupert. All done up in house livery, he looks like the bartender at a disco funeral or like Mercutio in a glam-rock production of Romeo and Juliet. But if he can call himself Rupert and Taylor can invent Italian words for describing his beef, then so can I.

Thus, the layered Buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil salad becomes a Caprese banaletti -- a little bit dull for a menu otherwise stoked with some very high-tone interpretations of classical Italian dishes. And the green potato gnocchi with walnuts, beautifully thin-sliced leaves of sage and gorgonzola is served come un brica, because though it is delicious, it is heavy as a brick.

The carpaccio -- sliced thicker than usual and served laced with aioli, scattered with capers, stacked with stale grana padano cheese and crossed with crisp grissini breadsticks -- is stoleni. Stolen, in other words, from Harry's Bar originally (as noted on the menu), but also from nearly every other restaurant in Denver these days. Which would be fine -- I'm all in favor of the shameless pilfering that makes the restaurant world go 'round -- except that my carpaccio tastes like roast beef. Carpaccio is supposed to be ethereally thin and wispy, offering just a demure hint of bloody, beefy, carnivorous goodness. This is like an undercooked sandwich from Arby's.

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