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But there are also still problems here, not nearly as crippling or obvious, but insidious — little things that nag and irritate, flavoring an otherwise good experience, rather than huge things that completely overshadow the good. A shooter of lambrusco — red, sweet and fizzing with cheap Italian fruitiness — at the start of my meal was a nice touch, as was serving my Moscato out of the ice bucket, thick and sweet and smelling of Froot Loops and cold iron: perfect for a hot night in the city. But then I reached for the bread, which had been brought with a plate of high-quality olive oil speckled with cracked black pepper, and the first piece was stale, the second fresh but decorated with a tuft of fuzz from someone's shirt cuff, the third just fine. At a place like this, no one should have to go through three pieces of bread just to find a good one. It bothered me, but I could've let it go had it been the only little thing wrong.
I acceded to my waiter's exhaustive recitation of the menu (not as bad inside as it is on the patio, where the server carries around a large menu and props it on his knee while he talks) and found it interesting — digressions on robiola and the natures of the different pastas: tagliatelle ordered from Italy because the chef likes it better, the strozzapretti and maltagliati ("It means badly cut, irregular") made in-house that morning. He skipped the one plate on the board that interested me, a peach in salt.
"As an appetizer?" I asked.
2011 E. 17th Ave.
Denver, CO 80206
Region: Central Denver
"Yes. It's roasted in a salt crust, like an eggshell, that we crack."
I nodded, ordered it. It arrived as a whole peach, skin-on and untouched, surrounded by the shards of a cracked salt-paste shell mounded up like an icy snowfall. Cut from the pit, the flesh was juicy and sweet, the salt residue left behind on the slick of skin, making each bite slightly savory. Touched with a dab of chive crème fraîche, it was incredible. What's more, it was new — proof of Frizzi's comprehensive intelligence, knowledge of food lore and weird sense of humor, and also of his crew's ability to translate a difficult concept (four ingredients total, nowhere to hide) into something wonderful. I ate with my eyes closed, smile on my face, stripping the fruit to the stone while the radio played the Beatles' "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey."
Risotto next — an enormous plate, perfectly cooked, in the Milanese style, with Parmigiano Reggiano and lots of saffron, ruined (to my eye) by the addition of a twist of gold foil in the center. How pointlessly ostentatious is patissier's gold in any presentation? Annoying garnish aside, the risotto was delicious — a meal in itself, and showing an admirable command in the kitchen since each plate (as I'd been assured by my server) was made to order: no par cooking, no holding-for-fire. To do it right takes about eighteen minutes. Mine was timed beautifully, even when I fucked with the kitchen by ducking out for a smoke between courses.
Next course, burrata-stuffed chicken breast, served on a welled white plate — half a breast with one frenched wing bone, stuffed with handmade buratta and baby sage, lying in a tarn of pan jus and Peroni over a mound of oyster mushrooms and thick-cut cubes of pancetta. The chicken was one of the best I've ever tasted — absolutely gorgeous and incredibly flavorful, ideally roasted, rubbed with butter and flashed under the broiler to crisp the skin with its light touch of black pepper. The jus was rich, the pancetta crisp and salty. But the mushrooms were limp and slick. Oyster mushrooms take a skilled hand — a hot pan, a fast turn, a careful eye to pull them at the instant they've crisped slightly before burning. These were just awful, and their earthy, sour flavor leached out into the sauce the longer they sat lumped up in it, uneaten.
I ended the meal with a plate of addictive bombolini — Italian sugar doughnuts — in a puddle of vanilla crème anglaise that I would've gladly eaten until I exploded. They certainly left a better taste in my mouth than the mushrooms, but those mushrooms are what continue to flavor my memories of Il Posto, a restaurant that has the potential to be great but isn't quite there. It has all the big things right — the space, the concept, the crew — but it still needs to work on the little things. As any chef will tell you, those little things are what make the difference, what separate the truly exceptional restaurants from those still striving.
Il Posto is close, though, and I won't wait nearly as long before I return for another dinner, playing the odds that this next meal will be just about perfect.