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I stopped short right outside the entrance to Satchel's on 6th. Past the threshold, I could see people sitting and sipping wine at a U-shaped bar in the center of the simple, beautiful space, illuminated by the sexy glow of candlelight reflecting off dark walls. But on the patio, where owner Andrew Casalini was chatting up a large group, I'd spotted an old friend.
The table was familiar. Made of old, shiny wood that might have come from a reclaimed door, it could easily accommodate ten people. In fact, I'd sat at it when it had. The table had been the centerpiece of Satchel's Market, a community gathering place where Casalini had hosted weekly prix fixe meals — and often sat down with both friends and strangers for a drink and a snack on slower nights.
He and his wife, Jen Dactano, had opened Satchel's Market in 2005, first providing the Park Hill neighborhood with coffee, cheese and sandwiches, then converting their spot to a full-service restaurant after they landed a liquor license in early 2009. At the end of that year, the couple had brought on a new chef with an impressive resumé and began raising the bar on their New American menu. Along the way, though, they'd picked up a cast of characters who worked there not because they wanted to be in the restaurant industry, but because they loved the place. Thanks to this odd crew, who occasionally seemed more interested in discussing literature than a diner's dinner, Satchel's Market sometimes felt like it was just playing restaurant.
1710 E. 6th Ave.
Denver, CO 80218
Region: Central Denver
But then Casalini decided to get serious. Last fall, he called it quits in Park Hill and instead focused on a part of town where he thought the neighbors might be more interested in an upscale concept, initially one focusing on small plates, desserts and a wine list. He and his wife picked up a prime piece of real estate on East Sixth Avenue, then picked up an impressive partner: Larimer Associates, who have their hand in numerous restaurants around town, including Ernie's Bar & Pizza, Billy's Inn and Madison Street. With that addition came a change in vision: By the time Satchel's on 6th opened this past April, it had been transformed into a neighborhood joint serving an upscale New American menu that changes with the seasons. And while that's almost exactly how Satchel's Market had billed itself at the end, the neighborhood has changed.
So has Casalini's approach to the business.
That was evident the moment I walked past the familiar table and through the door. Rather than some quirky greeter, the host was a pro, sharing wine knowledge as she led us past the intimate tables that line the sides of the room to our requested seats at the bar, taking our prosecco order as soon as we sat down, then leaving us to study the menu. And it took some study: When Jared Brant, the opening chef for Satchel's on 6th, left for Wild Catch, Casalini brought on Kurt Boucher, a former Iron Chef contestant and private chef for such celebrities as William H. Macy and P. Diddy. Boucher has preserved some of the whimsy of the initial menu — flavoring risotto with sriracha and plating beef cheeks with halibut cheeks — but he's also simplified some of the dishes.
Photo Menu Tour: Satchel's on 6th
We started our meal with two of the simpler dishes: the duck-fat fries and the mixed green salad. I made quick work of my half of the salad, which topped a smattering of greens with dried cherries, a Gorgonzola-like cheese, thinly sliced tart apple and candied pistachios coated with cinnamon, nutmeg and curry. Drizzled with a vinaigrette that carried a hint of maple, the mix tasted like fall. The fries, on the other hand, didn't taste like much. I'd asked for them to be sprinkled with porcini and Reggiano (the other option listed was Maldon salt and vinegar), but I couldn't find any evidence of porcini, and there wasn't enough cheese to justify the lack of other seasonings — like salt, which is pretty much the key to an excellent french fry. Still, I would eat duck fat by the spoonful if I found myself alone with a tub of it, and I loved the rich base of these spuds. Next time, though, I'd order them extra-crisp; beyond being bland, these were a little floppy for my tastes.
But it took only a bite of the pork tenderloin to make me forget the fries. The succulent chunk of meat had been encrusted with smoky bacon bits and came with greens that had been sautéed with garlic, sweet applesauce and a perfectly al dente risotto hit with just enough sriracha to make it spicy. Each element was delicious alone; taken together, every flavor popped into an impressive autumnal exhibition.
Based on our server's strong recommendation, we'd also ordered the scallops. The fat, well-sautéed specimens came on a bed of risotto — one that was slightly reminiscent of macaroni and cheese since it had been finished with white cheddar, but was also studded with butternut squash. The scallops had been billed as dusted with pumpkin, and while I couldn't taste that element through the caramelization, an apple-cider reduction had given the dish a pleasing, fruity depth.