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The 9th Door offers a tamer version of Spain's tapas scene

Two short pours of beer get you a free plate of tapas at El Tigre, a dark, dungeon-like bar crammed into the heart of Madrid. The place is always packed, with people jostling each other as they order a drink from one of the bartenders, then try to nab a spot where they can rest their glasses and those plates of tapas in the standing-room-only space. The food's not complicated — eggy tortilla Española; meatballs; slices of glistening, fat-laced jamón Ibérico; crisply fried potatoes dusted with paprika and doused with tangy salsa brava, a spicy mayonnaise-and-ketchup blend that makes me forget my aversion to mayonnaise — but it's all well prepared, and it pairs perfectly with the drinks.

It took about three days for that grimy tapas bar to become one of my favorite restaurants in the world: El Tigre was the ideal spot to start, continue or finish a night; grab a quick snack in the meantime; and find a free meal when I was running out of money near the end of my trip. And the food was my favorite embodiment of the most famous subset of Spanish cuisine.

According to food lore, tapas were invented by a crafty bartender who figured out how to make a free snack that would keep flies away from a beverage when placed on top of a glass (hence the name tapa, which means top or lid) and also encourage patrons to keep imbibing by coating their palates with salt. From those humble beginnings, tapas evolved to incorporate all of the Moorish and Mediterranean influences of the Iberian peninsula in just a couple of bites. Still, tapas remained cheap and relatively simple, especially when compared with the rest of the Spanish canon, which is heavy on seafood and pork in paella and stews.

The membrillo, manchego and Serrano tapa is one of the best things on the 9th Door menu.
mark manger
The membrillo, manchego and Serrano tapa is one of the best things on the 9th Door menu.

Location Info

Map

The 9th Door

1808 Blake St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown Denver

Details

The 9th Door
Manchego con tapenade $2
Tostas $2
Tostas truchas $3
Aceitunas rellenos $3
Tostas setas $3
Albóndigas $8
Carne de cerdo $6
Patatas bravas $5
Dátiles $7
Jamón Ibérico $12
Tortilla a la Española $6
Membrillo, manchego, y Serrano $7
The 9th Door
1808 Blake Street
303-292-2229
Hours: 4:30 p.m.-close Monday through Friday, 5 p.m.-close Saturday and Sunday

Here in the States, tapas underwent more of a transition, eventually spawning the full-blown, and ongoing, small-plates trend now embraced by all kinds of restaurants that recognize how diners like to sample a mélange of dishes — and how this is also a good way to get people to order more food. But even as that kind of eating became more popular, actual tapas restaurants serving real Spanish cuisine became harder to find.

My search for tapas in Denver led me to the 9th Door, a dark but far-from-dungeon-like bar crammed into the heart of LoDo. When the 9th Door opened six years ago, veteran chef Michel Wahaltere was called in as a consultant, and he created a menu of Spanish favorites, meant to be mixed and matched and made into a meal. To go with this inviting lineup, the cavernous spot was decked out in coppery hues and dark woods, with a plush red banquette along the wall and a bed in the middle of the dining room, gimmicky enough to make you feel like you've entered into some adult theme park. The decor remains; the chef does not. Today Kevin Marquet controls the board, though he's kept a lot of the original Wahaltere creations; the menu is divided between hot and cold tapas, all of which combine such traditional ingredients as olives, ham, and manchego and goat cheeses with varying levels of complexity.

When I stopped in for dinner one recent Friday, the dining room was mostly reserved for dates and weekend gatherings. After some consideration, the chilly, pretty hostess tucked me into a corner booth, where I waited for my companion while listening to bumping techno and pouring red sangria from the carafe I'd ordered. It turned out to be a dangerously potent blend of alcohols — triple sec, gin, brandy and red wine — well masked by fruit juice. My friendly, if not particularly enthusiastic, server refused to give me the complete "top secret" recipe, but hearing that much was enough to make me set the drink aside until my food started to come.

And what a start: The membrillo, manchego and Serrano appetizer, a sweet and savory snack, was just about perfect. The thick-cut ham had been fried until it had the crunch of a cracker, which gave it enough weight to support the honeyed, fruity cube of quince paste and a slice of manchego. Almost as good was the Ibérico ham, famous because it comes from Spanish acorn-fed pigs and has only recently been available in the States; it was decadently cured, silky and fat-laced — though I wished the kitchen hadn't shaved it so thin and piled it in a ball on the plate, since it broke apart when I attempted to pick up a slice.

From there, though, the meal went downhill. The tortilla Española was a fairly textbook, if under-seasoned, version of the dense omelet layered with slices of potato; a thin, watery tomato sauce did nothing to perk it up. Other dishes were missing key ingredients altogether. The mint in the mealy albóndigas was a mere suggestion; I couldn't find the promised goat cheese in the dátiles, dates wrapped in Serrano ham. And rather than coat the patatas bravas in that tomato-mayonnaise blend, the 9th Door serves the spuds with dipping sauces: chunky, pungent blue cheese; garlicky aioli and earthy, red-pepper romesco. The sauces packed a punch — and they needed to, if they were going to knock out the horror of the potatoes. The slices all had the deep caramel color that suggests they were about to burn — yet they were undercooked in the center and mushy around the edges.

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8 comments
Guest
Guest

I have been going to the 9th Door for years, and I agree that I am a little confused by the review in the Westword. I love the atmosphere, the food and the drinks. I will continue to frequent the 9th Door and recommend it to my friends. Oh, and I love the Dátiles, my favorite!

Guest
Guest

I disagree about your opinion on the food as I have enjoyed anything I ordered. However, I do agree about the hostesses, they are undoubtedly the rudest, coldest people I have ever encountered. I even sent a comment to the manager about their horrible behavior, but he/she told me basically to get over it or don't come back. I have not been back.

unsatisfied
unsatisfied

I have been frequenting The 9th Door since it opened 6 years ago and I have enjoyed every single time. The lively atmosphere with its upbeat music puts me right back in Barcelona . The food is delicious; a few of my favorites include Queso de Cabra con Miel--some of the most divine morsels of fried goat cheese balls drizzled with honey...the Datiles (serrano-wrapped dates) are a superb sweet and savory treat...Pinchos de Fileta are skewers of beef that are perfectly cooked dispersed between onions and peppers...and the Patatas Bravas with its varied dipping sauces which complement the potatoes nicely. For dessert, don't miss the Crema Catalana--a beautiful Spanish take on the creme brulee. Laura--just because you vacationed in Madrid and ate at the 'grimy tapas bar' El Tigre absolutely does NOT make you an expert on tapas. Furthermore, comparing said 'grimy tapas bar' to the superbly decorated, sexy atmosphere of The 9th Door is non-sensical. Do you even have ANY credibility in being a restaurant reviewer? Anyone can go out to eat, but if you don't have a background in food (which does NOT mean working front-of-the-house at Frasca) your food opinions are rather superficial.

Smallfry
Smallfry

I'm also confused about this review since I've visited the 9th door several times. I've gone on Friday & Saturday nights. I've never been disappointed by the food, desserts, or drinks. The vibe is comfortable yet upscale. The owner heard I was having a special party and gave our group champagne on the house, which made the night extra special - we had a party of 8 and no one left any food remaining on their plates. This review does not deter me from going or from recommending other people to go!

Confused
Confused

I must admit I am a little confused as to what this reviewer is talking about. The 9th door has been a favorite for my entire office for years now. Sounds to me like Mclean Hall may have something with their point on "furthering the success of her friends."

McLean Hall
McLean Hall

Ms Shunk's visit to Spain appears to have been on a one day pass and may not entitle her to the professional, non-biased and well-fed position of food reviewer. It's obvious in reading her review of one of the finest restaurants in Denver, The 9th Door, that she is giving a personal opinion, not a professional knowledgeable culinary one, in the hope of furthering the success of her "friends" who are attempting to operate a competing tapas restaurant. The 9th Door, its chef and staff, are the essence of the Spanish food & wine experience in Denver.

Beaches33
Beaches33

You missed some of the best stuff on the menu! The 9th Door is one of my favorite restaurants in Denver!

Laura Shunk
Laura Shunk

Hi, and thanks for your comments. I wanted to make one thing clear: I don't have friends that operate a competing tapas restaurant. But even if I did, I would never use the review of another restaurant to try to advance a friend's venture. Likewise, I wouldn't write a negative review of a place just because I had a personal issue with the owner or chef. My opinions of the 9th Door are based entirely on my experiences in the restaurant.

 
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