By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Laura and I lingered there for most of an afternoon, picking at our leftovers, lounging in the sun, our conversation flavored by a soundtrack that could've come straight from a Quentin Tarantino movie: obscure '60s surf rock, weird desert music and a soft, jazzy cover of "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon."
Before I returned for a third meal, I studied Second Home's menu. According to the Sage Restaurant Group, which took over the Mirepoix space when its hotel group took over the JW Marriott, the home-and-hearth concept behind Second Home is to create a space that's welcoming not just for those living out of their luggage, but for Denver residents, too. Comfort food is the big draw here — steaks presented simply, Colorado chicken and lamb off the kitchen's big rotisserie, a couple of fish dishes, crabcakes, tuna tartare. Nothing particularly daring, certainly nothing groundbreaking. The house does specials every day (fried chicken with red beans and rice and braised collards on Monday, meatloaf on Tuesday, fish fry on Friday) that read like something the cook's mother might've put together on an austerity kick: a lot of American classics with no innovation to balance them out. And that's surprising, because chef Frey comes with a decent resumé: Gotham, Le Cirque, Fish Cafe in Seattle (where he worked under Scott Staples, whose dad is a partner at Racines and Dixons — Frey's Colorado connection) and then Sacre Bleu, where he was C-de-C, leading directly into a gig as a hotel exec, and then on to Second Home when it opened in March.
My third visit to Second Home was a disaster. I hit the place for Monday lunch during a fairly busy turn, but the cooks working behind the open line were doing a lot of chatting, a lot of scampering back and forth, a lot of aimless wandering. They had the air of a kitchen accustomed to a light load, just running out the clock until the next minor pop. Service was once again quick and competent, but this time the food the servers brought me bordered on inedible. The crabcakes tasted like wet, vaguely crab-flavored paste and came with a mess of ugly, non-complimentary flavors — black-bean "salsa" that was really just black beans, guacamole that was so watery it ran in rivulets across the plate, a red-pepper/chipotle purée that was neither smoky, hot, sweet nor particularly attractive — assembled without any care for presentation. I mean, one wilted sprig of cilantro as a garnish?
150 Clayton Lane
Denver, CO 80206
Region: Central Denver
And if that was bad, the Colorado trout in lobster Nage over a fava-bean-and-corn succotash was just disgusting — thrown together with no thought, cooked improperly and ugly as hell. It wouldn't have passed muster as a staff meal in any decent restaurant. The "succotash" piled in the center of the plate was a mess of unevenly chopped zucchini, cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, overcooked favas with a texture like papier-mâché, and God only knows what else. Two fillets of trout had been crossed over the top, and a thin puddle of decent (but by no means extraordinary) lobster stock poured into the well. The fish was both undercooked and overcooked — a nice trick — with the flesh dry and fairly tasteless, the skin slack, limp and oily.
I ordered an individual cherry cheesecake with pinot-soaked cherries to get the flavor of fish and zucchini out of my mouth — but the piece I got had been mauled coming out of its ring mold and was curdled within.
I left Second Home as quickly as I could, reminded that a lovely space does not equal a lovely meal. No doubt, this is a beautiful restaurant. But I'm not about to make it my second home.
Maybe by next spring it will look better.