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At Le Grand Bistro, belly up to the bar for classic French fare
Mark Manger

So I'll be in town for the weekend," Jeff told me. "Pick a restaurant."

It should have been a simple task — there are dozens of joints in this town that would work well for a collegial catch-up — but Jeff is one of my oldest friends. And though food wasn't what initially brought us together, digging into offal, stuffing ourselves with pork and analyzing ice cream flavors as we bounce from restaurant to restaurant — often several in a night — have certainly strengthened our bond. The guy's got a palate. And I didn't want to waste one of his meals in this city.

After eliminating a few places he'd already been to, we'd settled on Le Grand Bistro and Oyster Bar — although I qualified the choice with a disclaimer, since I hadn't yet been to Robert Thompson's new restaurant.

Beauty and the bistro: Duck confit at Le Grand. See more photos: Belly Up to the Bar at Le Grand Bistro
Mark Manger
Beauty and the bistro: Duck confit at Le Grand. See more photos: Belly Up to the Bar at Le Grand Bistro

Location Info

Map

Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar

1512 Curtis St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Downtown Denver

Details

Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar
Arugula salad $9
Escargots $9
L'ail saucisse $18
Canard de deux maniéres $25
Moules mariniéres avec des frites $16
1512 Curtis Street;303-534-1155
Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

As soon as we stepped over the threshold, though, I had the feeling we'd made the right choice. While Le Grand had only been open since late August, it was already buzzing with the energy of a good restaurant. Members of this town's Twitterati were sitting at the bar, pausing to exchange pleasantries with would-be diners who'd just walked in, then turning back to their conversations and dinners. Taking a cue from this crew, we turned left past the entrance and grabbed our own high seats at the counter, where a quiet but good-natured bartender presented us with menus.

We started with aperitifs — including a crisp, floral Rue Rosé made with sparkling rosé, St. Germain and dry vermouth — and a basket of soft white bread served with an addictive, lemon-tinged butter. We'd gone through a loaf when our order of escargots showed up. The supple snails were served in their shells, bathed in butter and parsley (they could have used more garlic) and served with slices of toast.

Next, we cracked a bottle of Alsatian Riesling off the well-edited, mostly French wine list — because there may be no better pairing on the planet than Alsatian Riesling and pork sausage. We were a glass in when the bartender delivered our plate of l'ail saucisse. The sausage was fat, juicy, slightly sweet, and exploding with the anise-like flavor of fennel; the pig was perfectly complemented by earthy Beluga lentils, soft pearl onions and buttery roasted carrots.

While we feasted under the glowing lights, occasionally making satisfied sounds in praise of the food, our conversation seemed a little wittier, our insights a little deeper and our friendship a lot stronger. In short, our night at Le Grand was simply grand.

More Photos: Belly Up to the Bar at Le Grand Bistro

Thompson opened Le Grand a month after Argyll ended its two-year run in Cherry Creek with plans to open in the Baker neighborhood; in a month or two, he'll also open Punch Bowl Social, a massive bowling alley outfitted with a '60s diner on South Broadway. But his first major effort in town was the long-closed but still revered Brasserie Rouge, and he clearly hasn't lost his love of French restaurants. Although Argyll's setting was more suited to a bistro than this location — according to lore, the first bistros in Paris were shoebox-sized spots located in basements — the fare there was pub food. Le Grand's menu comprises classic French fare, with chef Sergio Romero executing the list, just as he did at Argyll. And despite being on ground level, the setup does a good job of capturing the flavor of a bistro, capitalizing on the white mosaic floors and dark woods of the original Baurs, illuminated by glowing 1920s-era chandeliers. Other decor touches are more subtle, but notable for their good taste: Les Halles scrawled in cursive above a private dining room, a line of Perrier bottles along one wall that lend a punch of glittering green contrast without being ostentatious. Good space partitioning and cleverly draped red velvet curtains lend an air of intimacy to most tables.

As I learned that first night with Jeff, though, the bar is the best place to sit if you really want to re-create the casual atmosphere of a bistro, where you can concentrate on your meal rather than your surroundings. The bar — an old, massive, L-shaped piece — serves as Le Grand's centerpiece, anchoring and lending energy to the rest of the room, but insulating diners from distraction, too. When you're sitting at the bar, it's as if the rest of the space doesn't exist. A good bottle of wine and the anticipation of good food arriving soon is all you need to get lost in the moment.

When I returned to Le Grand, I sat at the bar with a friend and shared oysters, Muscadet white wine and confidences. While talking about everything from dating to the meaning of life, we used tiny forks to pry cold, briny Malpeques, Eagle Rocks and Fire Rivers from their shells, comparing one sweet, fleshy body to another before washing them all down with the bracing acidity of the wine, which worked just as well as a squeeze of lemon juice to complement the oysters. When I went back to meet another friend, we ordered charcuterie — something Romero had done very well at Argyll and does just as well here — and clinked glasses of Duvel beer over salty slices of house-cured duck prosciutto and rich, silky foie gras mousse.

I'm not as enamored of the dining room. When I arranged to meet friends for dinner at Le Grand one night, they arrived first and nabbed a back-corner booth before I could insist on anything else. Sitting there, sipping a glass of red wine from the Côtes du Rhône, I couldn't help but steal a jealous glance at the couples and groups cozied up to the bar. Despite the warm and unobtrusive service, the dining room just wasn't as comfortable.

And it didn't help that my mussels made me downright uncomfortable. Our server had proclaimed that mussels are a staple of French bistros, and since it was a cold night, the prospect of a big, garlicky bowl full of shellfish paired with a pile of fries was an enticing proposition — despite my earlier red wine order. The fries were fine: skinny, crispy, well-salted and perfect for dipping into the hot broth pungent with garlic and white wine. But the mussels in that broth? They'd been cleaned poorly, and at least a quarter of them were past their prime. Even worse, some were undercooked, and so disgustingly gooey.

Fortunately, my friends had made much better decisions. The burger — a massive medium-rare patty stacked simply with tomato, purple onion and lettuce on a soft potato bun — could qualify as one of the best in town. The crepe that day was filled with a smart, satisfying combination of sharp Gruyère, chicken and smoky house-cured bacon, smothered in a blanket of béchamel. My favorite dish of the dinner, though, was the duck: A confit leg, crispy on the outside and braised tender within, came alongside a seared, sliced breast, lined with fat and simply seasoned with salt and pepper. The bed of cabbage, carrots, apples and potatoes lifted the flavor of the duck, as did my Rhône red. To mitigate the heft of our meals, we split a peppery arugula salad, dotted with more of that bacon and torn white bread, laced with the bite of a mustard vinaigrette and topped with a fried egg.

We finished with profiteroles on swipes of salted caramel ganache and blackberry champagne sauce. The profiteroles were as hard and crisp as crackers — I would have preferred them a little lighter — but I could have eaten a vat of the housemade walnut-praline ice cream that came alongside.

Still, I couldn't help thinking back to the dessert I'd ordered my first night at Le Grand. We'd gone for the foie gras crème brûlée, a sugar-crusted vanilla custard infused with fatty duck liver. The offal-laced dessert really tasted no different than a regular crème brûlée (it might have been a little thicker and richer, although that could have been the power of suggestion) — but it was a very good one, with a crispy, golden top and sweet, creamy body. After we'd finished scraping the sides of the dish, Jeff had raised his after-dinner bourbon and clinked my after-dinner Fernet.

"Good choice," he'd said.

More Photos: Belly Up to the Bar at Le Grand Bistro

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26 comments
road skill
road skill

Had dinner here after reading the Shunk review. I rate my experience 9.5 out of 10. Decor is more brasserie than bisto, but it still feels warm. Menu was large with outstanding variety between seafood bar, charcuterie and French peasant style dishes. Will be going back.

BTW, I hate Yelp so I write my reviews on other blogs to try and detract from their popularity. Maybe useless effort but I sleep well for trying.

SB
SB

Wow, sounds like some disgruntled ex employee is writing comments again. Happens to every restaurant on blog pages.

I'm certain Laura Shunk of Westword isn't 'writing reviews for Thompson' and she wrote a more positive review than any of these blog comments. Looks like the blog comments/reviews here are justifiably positive.

Too bad some bloggers hide behind the Internet to fabricate stories about people. Stick to the relevant material.

Jakescrooms
Jakescrooms

Wow, sounds like Thompson's got his staff writing reviews again. Hope he can figure out how to pay his taxes(and investors) this time around! Scumbag

calhounp
calhounp

I've love to publish some of these comments in our print Letters to the Editor section -- but we like to include the author's full name/town with a letter in print. If you're willing to put your name to your comment, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

Blean1
Blean1

Is there any restaurant Ms. Shunk DOESN'T like? After reading some reviews, it seems like if she went to a Mexican restaurant,she'd rave about the nachos on the appetizer menu. WOW.

Let's face it, a lot of restaurants in this city stink, and I can't remember one Shunk trashed that SHOULD have been trashed. They're not really 'reviews' in the sense they give diners any more than what a crummy restaurant offers exept for a few things.

I realize 'Westword' wants to promote 'The Best of Denver' (and their advertisers) but anybody with common sense wants a nice variety of a 'balanced' restaurant. That is to say some things are good, some are great, and some things really suck because the care (if some things suck) doesn't translate to the rest of the menu.

Some restaurants she reviews deserve to be slammed so they step it up. I worked in the restaurant business from age 8 'til 18 for my dad, then wen to Mines. That said, I have no vested interest in any restaurant in Denver, I quit that stuff a long time ago. I could tell you that staffers from Westword came to my dad's place downtown years ago though. Even the big kahuna....(grin). She might remember.

Emieraromero
Emieraromero

Visited Le Grand Bistro a few times since their opening, only to be more pleased each time I eat there. The charcuterie program at Le Grand rivals that of any great restaurant in any city. Where else in the city can you indulge in foie gras mousse and oysters on the half shell at the same time. Keep it up!!

Floyd Hill Foodies
Floyd Hill Foodies

I've been there a few times and they just get better each visit. My wife and I are both foodies.. she's the chef and I'm FOH. I agree with Laura almost all the way except for the Mussels??? Maybe she had the off night, but I have had them twice already and I CRAVE them. I think they are spot on. If you like food, you gotta check these guys out.

AG25
AG25

I've lost track of the number of times I've eaten here, but every single time has been a delight. I've grazed my way through just about every dish on the lunch and dinner menus, and haven't found a single one that I didn't like. I have to agree about the burger. It's definitely one of the best in town, if not the best. And the Alsatian Braised Beef is an experience that should not be missed, as it's what I imagine a simple pot roast aspires to be. The ambience, music, and friendly but unobtrusive service make me think (and hope) that this is the kind of experience you'd have in a Parisian bistro. Until I can confirm this belief though, I'll be more than content to have my Paris in Denver at Le Grand. Se magnifique!

Lramos6
Lramos6

Bring on the food!! The Braised Lamb shank is my husbands favorite dish in town! We have been back 3 times in the past month so he can get his foodie fix. The last dish I had was a special " Ribeye with a Roquefort fondue and a potato puree", and it was unbelievable! I highly recommend this place.

Chadmatt3
Chadmatt3

Just had one of the best meals I've had in a long time. Had the onion tart and tartar to start. One word amazing on both. Had the duck and mussels for dinner. Both were delicious. Mussels were greatbin the garlic wine rue. The duck was cooked perfictly and prepared great. Thank you Le Grand for a lasting experience.

KarenandMike
KarenandMike

Glad to see this place in print! My husband and I were in this past week, on our way to the theatre. We were promptly greeted with sparkling water, and invited to order our drinks. Found the wine list to be complete with wines from multiple regions, of which I enjoyed having the option. We started off with the Fromage platter, and were pleased with the variety of selection, each one more intriguing then the last. We moved onto our fantastic entrees, I had the duck, my husband the filet, and both were suprised at the flavor of the duck, and the tenderness of the filet.Our server was amazing, making sure to make every effort to not only remind us we needed to leave for the show, but made sure we were all taken care of in a timely matter. We were very pleased with our experience, and look forward coming back and trying more items on the menu. It's nice to have a new and great option for downtown dining.

Denskiier
Denskiier

Living nearby and being one of those people who eat out all their meals I have tried this place a couple of times for lunch/dinner and always have been pleased. The ambiance during the evening there is super warm, and the food matches it with big portions of classical french dishes. The pork chop is amazing. Wines were pretty cheap and tasty.

MTO
MTO

Had a wonderful meal here with my boyfriend's family two weeks ago. Our server was prompt and knowledgeable. I had the savory crepe, BF ate a steak frite with an au poivre sauce, his parents ate salmon chaucroute and a braised lamb shank with parsnip purée. Bussltling, lively dining room. Looking forward to retuning on a more intimate date with BF and trying the desserts Laura mentioned.

Dano323
Dano323

They won't be in business in one year.

AJG
AJG

I ate here about a month ago and I also had the mussels. I didn't finish them because they were defianalty past their prime and many tasted very fishy. The charcuterie we had was very good. However, the service was terrible and as good as the food was, I doubt I would go back.

dg
dg

I was here the week they opened and again two weeks ago. Really pleased with the authenticity of the design and the consistency of the food. Try the garlic fennel sausage and a big, plump fruit de mer platter.

Lsomac
Lsomac

Blean1 - You must not be paying full attention. Shunk has eviscerated restaurants from this platform. One in particular from early in her career was downright unprofessional and crude. It's in her.

Elwood
Elwood

I don't like food. Can you suggest some good places to eat?

 
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