By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
But still, it's just food. Just dinner. And even with all the French restaurants that have sprung up across the city in recent months and years, the brasseries and bistros are the ones that have flourished. The fancy joints with their financiers and aspics have fallen away, closed or simplified in the face of diminishing dollars and counts on the floor. It is the steak frites that pays the bills, the soup l'oignon, the moules de blah blah swimming in their heady broths.
Brasserie Felix never even tried to feign luxuriousness. Conceived as a brasserie by husband-and-wife team Danielle Diller and Gilles Fabre, this summer it opened as one — a neighborhood joint, the Parisian equivalent of the corner diner (provided, of course, that diner poured wine and played nothing but terrible, screechy French pop music over the P.A.) offering the kind of comfort food and les dîners de ma maman cuisine that would (allegedly) make a homesick boulevardier weep in his Sancerre, and never going further up the scale of fin de siècle luxe than coquilles St. Jacques et crevette or duck confit with orange gastrique. There was poulet roti, of course, with frites and a simple pan jus (a fine meal for one, washed down with a glass of something white and sweet and chilly), the ubiquitous steak frites (done with a nice scratch béarnaise for an extra buck-and-a-half, and always with a cheap flatiron — read: chuck — steak that actually tasted like steak), and lamb shank with ratatouille and black-olive purée over couscous because, to the French, nothing says peasant food better than something based on a canon other than their own.
I remember sitting down with an early draft of the menu and puzzling with a couple of friends — chefs, restaurant brats — over certain oddly American inclusions (salmon salad, tuna steaks and burgers — steak hache) scattered amid the generalized Froggery. One of these acquaintances went on to work (briefly) at Felix. The rest of us only wondered how this place could ever make it, a half-breed menu in a neighborhood better known for its bars and barbecue than charcuterie plates and escargot.
3901 Tennyson St.
Denver, CO 80212
Region: Northwest Denver
I dropped in for dinner and saw that the space certainly looked the part — mustard-colored walls, tile floors, Paris Metro design filips, the omnipresent Le Chat Noir poster backed by French pop music. And the bar felt right — just crowded enough, just small enough, just cluttered enough to seem appropriate, somehow, in this place that was mimicking some other place Fabre had carried in his head from France all the way to Tennyson Street. I ordered a plate of Merguez lamb sausages and frites — delicious, finger-thick sausages oozing orange grease across the plate; frites done perfectly, as shoestrings, sprinkled with coarse-grain salt. But the harissa sauce on the side was awful — tasting like ketchup and smoked paprika squirted with a shot of lemon Pledge — and so I stuck with the French mustard, feeling like a ploughman at his daily feed.
I came back another night for the mussels. They were off — tinny and too briny, like they'd been gasping, out of the water for too long. And while the marinières broth was good (strong with acid, with garlic and shallot and the calming sturdiness of fresh parsley), I am not a poor French fisherman. I don't have to choose between eating the moules or starving. I can always just have a burrito on the way home.
Back for lunch, I had steak frites, the classic dish of any brasserie: the meat grilled, cut on a sharp bias, napped with béarnaise and served with a mound of fresh, perfect frites. It was a nice lunch, would've been a better dinner. And then, finally, a last lunch: onion soup. It was a slow weekday, and the chef was doing double duty, ducking out from the kitchen to make cocktails at the bar and also checking in his morning delivery. On the deliveryman's handcart was a bag of onions — fifty pounds of them, destined for the galley, for sauces and mirepoix, for sides and the filet of salmon and the soup aux poissons. My soup was excellent — the crouton crisp, the Gruyère on top chewy and just the right kind of sour, the woody, piney broth tasting of long-simmering and old onions, soon to be replaced by new ones coming in the next delivery.
You know what they call French food in Paris?
Just food. Nothing more.