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The only thing bittersweet about Bittersweet is that you'll have to leave

Photos: The Summer Menu at Bittersweet

The only thing bittersweet about Bittersweet is that you'll have to leave
Halibut with avocado marble, heirloom tomato salad, for $28. More photos: The Summer Menu at Bittersweet.

After I finished my last meal at Bittersweet, I didn't want to leave. A friend and I had been eating on one of the restaurant's narrow patios, meandering through course after course with the help of the friendly, attentive staff. And long after we'd scraped the last dish clean, we lingered, sitting amid planters filled with herbs and vegetables that hid speakers softly piping Van Morrison through our conversation.

The scene here wasn't always so soothing. Before Bittersweet moved in, this space held a gas station that spewed oil into the ground. Olav and Melissa Peterson, the husband-and-wife team behind the restaurant, learned this when they had the spot inspected last year. Fortunately, the then-owner paid for the chemical cleanup, and by the time the couple picked up the keys to the place, they could safely put a 100 percent organic garden on the property. But they faced other hurdles, and so they named their venture Bittersweet — playing on both the word's food connotations and their feelings about finally running their own show: While they were excited, they also realized that giving the old building new life would involve a daunting amount of work.

Melissa was in charge of the remodel, and she took her design cues from Olav's food, an artisanal blend of old-world traditions and modern innovations. The result is a very inviting space, which opened on the last day of 2010. Two intimate, high-ceilinged dining rooms hold a total of sixty people at tabletops crafted to resemble European butcher blocks. Plush, hide-covered chairs sit in the foyer; old maps and Melissa's artwork adorn the walls; and both sides of the restaurant feature indoor-outdoor fireplaces.

Olav Peterson adds microgreens grown at Bittersweet to a halibut dish. More photos: The Summer Menu at Bittersweet.
Mark Manger
Olav Peterson adds microgreens grown at Bittersweet to a halibut dish. More photos: The Summer Menu at Bittersweet.

Location Info

Map

Bittersweet

500 E. Alameda Ave.
Denver, CO 80209

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: South Denver

Details

Bittersweet Sweetbread Reuben $9 Gazpacho $12 Raviolo $14 Wild boar $26 Beef culotte $26
500 East Alameda Avenue
303-942-0320
Hours: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

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Olav, who'd manned the kitchens at 1515 and Bistro One, among other spots, before getting one of his own, is passionate about food and where it comes from, and he built Bittersweet's menu to showcase high-quality ingredients using classic French technique. His tight board changes with the seasons, makes use of many parts of the animals he buys, and draws from those patio gardens whenever it can. A perfectionist, he's constantly tweaking dishes, making changes and improving a plate until it's finally right — and then he scraps it entirely and moves on to the next season.

When I stopped in a few months ago, he said he was still working on the bouillabaisse. And he needed to: The tiny Le Creuset pot was filled with a sweet but mild tomato broth that carried a hint of the sea, thanks to the prawns, mussels, clams and pieces of lobster swimming in it — swimming in it a little too long. The seafood hit the table slightly overcooked and became more rubbery as the broth continued to simmer. The sweetbread Reuben, on the other hand, was damn near perfect. A toasted, caraway-specked brioche had been stacked with crispy sweetbreads and pickled tomato, garnished with salty, acidic caperberries and drizzled with sharp Jarlsberg fondue. The ingredients worked together beautifully, the tart, juicy and cold elements playing off the warm, crisp and savory components.

More photos: The Summer Menu at Bittersweet

Olav got rid of the bouillabaisse when he introduced the summer menu. When I stopped in for my patio dinner a few weeks ago, I was glad to see the sweetbread Reuben had made the cut. Still, we skipped it in favor of gazpacho, since we were eager to sample what was coming from the gardens around us — though we later learned that it was too early in the season for anything but some of the herbs and the microgreens. Olav had reinterpreted a traditional Spanish recipe for the tomato-based soup, one that used bread as a thickener and added seafood. With those elements in mind, he'd broken down the dish, then rebuilt it starting with a tart, tomato-melon purée. In the center of that sat half of a buttery avocado, stuffed with braised octopus and bits of cucumber and red pepper and topped with micro-cilantro and a stick of toasted bread. The combination was light and fresh, and after we tossed in a pinch of salt, every flavor popped perfectly.

We'd also ordered the appetizer raviolo. One pocket of the homemade pasta was filled with duck confit; the other held a duck-egg yolk. When I cut through the surface of the raviolo, the yolk spilled over the rest of the components, mixing with the garlicky brodo in the bowl. The foie gras shavings on top had sounded glorious when described by our server — because, uh, fattened duck liver is delicious — but they melted into nothing, completely overwhelmed by the rest of the rich flavors. The dish was tasty, but heavy for a summer patio meal.

By the time the appetizers were gone, it was dark. We nursed glasses of rosé while a team of servers got the table ready for our entrees, chatting without ever becoming intrusive. After they delivered the main courses, though, they disappeared — and a good thing, too, since we didn't want to talk while that feast was sitting in front of us.

I'd ordered the wild boar, displayed in three different side-by-side preparations tied together by a honey-sweet pineapple gastrique. The piquant, peppery sausage was so dry it needed that gastrique. Since boar is a lean meat, he has to add fat to get it to stick together as sausage, Olav told me later; he should have packed in even more fat. The rack was much better; it had been grilled, lightly infused with smoke and sprinkled with microgreens. But my favorite was the pork belly (used because boar belly is nearly impossible to find), a succulent, fat-laced slice, the edges crisped to provide texture. I only wished there had been more seasoning in the torchons of potato that came with the meat; I abandoned the bland, starchy discs and instead stole bites of my friend's meal.

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9 comments
Grace Boyle
Grace Boyle

I really loved Bittersweet when I went there for the first time in late Spring. I was impressed with the creativity, the interior/ambiance and loved how they built an urban garden in their space. It is really one of the best restaurant experiences I've had in Denver :)

Mantonat
Mantonat

I'm sure this was an editorial choice that had nothing to do with the reviewer, but I find it a little frustrating that the main accompanying photo is not described or critiqued in the article, especially when something as unusual as avocado marble is mentioned in the caption. I'd love to know what avocado marble actually is and how it tasted along side the halibut.

Nick Lucchesi
Nick Lucchesi

We try to tie the review as closely as possible to the art every time, but sometimes the best art option is not as close to the review as we'd like. it does happen. thanks for the feedback.

nick lucchesiweb editor.

Mantonat
Mantonat

No problem. Guess that just means I'll have to go try it myself!

readthesigns
readthesigns

At least they offer parking. You can park on the East side of the street, the West is for residents. Don't generalize, it's been like that well before Bittersweet opened. The parking is not all illegal for non residents. Read the signs and you'll avoid a parking ticket. Cross Alameda to the North and there aren't resident parking designations.

At least they have parking spaces, limited or not.

Uncledave8
Uncledave8

Thanks for the lecture. Next time I'll be sure to walk up and down all the streets in area before dinner to see where parking Nazis have been busy.

Mantonat
Mantonat

Or you could just actually read the street signs as you drive down the street looking for a parking spot like everyone else. You must be from out of town; these types of parking restrictions in Denver urban neighborhoods have been around forever. Your sarcastic thanks for the advice aside, it's clear that you need someone to tell you how to find legal parking.

Since you compare the people who create/enforce parking regulations to Nazis, does that make you a victim of some kind of parking holocaust? Your $25 ticket certainly equates to persecution from white supremacists.

Uncledave8
Uncledave8

Agreed - a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. Absolutely first rate food and service. The only downside is that their parking lot is tiny and the neighborhood has gotten the city to make street parking illegal for non-residents. Never occurred to us that street parking would be banned so a $25 parking ticket awaited us. Not the best way to end the evening.

Jeff
Jeff

After a few of visits, I'm convinced that Bittersweet is right behind Fruition as the best restaurant in Denver. Consistently amazing flavor and presentation in every dish I've tried. Bravo to Mr. Peterson and his crew.

 
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