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Hunched in a club-chair bar seat under the glow of multi-colored Christmas lights, I looked nervously at my boyfriend.
"Where's the rest of the noodle?" he asked, glaring. "You ate it, didn't you? You're supposed to be judicious with the noodle."
"But I liked the noodle," I responded.
141 S. Broadway
Denver, CO 80223
Region: Southwest Denver
"I liked the noodle, too," he said, shaking his head. It had been a pretty great noodle. Long, flat and wide, the house-cut pappardelle was the best part of the osso bucco at Crimson Canary. After forking up a few bites of the tender braised oxtail, I'd focused on the pasta — slurping it greedily from a broth made slightly bitter by escarole. As a consolation prize, I offered Rob the garlicky linguini with clams that I'd been hoarding. He took the plate and started twirling nests of noodles while I leaned against the padded rail of the bar at the center of the restaurant, sipping a housemade limoncello in hopes that it would help me digest what had been a giant dinner.
Around the edges of the room, groups huddled in dark booths under red chandeliers and photos of famous mobsters; a soundtrack of '80s hits was just loud enough to drown out their conversation. If this were several decades ago, it would be easy to imagine that those parties had met to discuss illicit activities over meatballs and Morettis. But in reality, the other diners were mostly hipsters who'd wandered in from nearby bars for another drink, a snack or a full, late-night meal. Still, Crimson Canary had the feel of a real old-school neighborhood Italian joint — or at least a reel old-school neighborhood Italian joint, as envisioned by Hollywood — albeit one with a few fresh twists.
But then, partners Joey Newman and brothers Andre and Aaron Lobato have already proved that they can put together a tight concept that plays off our country's collective nostalgia. Their first restaurant in Denver, Interstate Kitchen & Bar, is a tricked-out version of a highway roadhouse, complete with kitschy decor that alludes to Route 66, a menu that updates Americana classics, and a whiskey-focused bar. Interstate manages to serve up a colorful, romanticized slice of America's past without feeling pretentious or cloying.
And Crimson Canary does the same. The partners had considered several other concepts, Aaron Lobato says, but when they took over the former home of Mona's on South Broadway last summer, they decided it was time to bring what they call "Boss Italian" to life. "We're drawing from the Mafioso era of great Italian food, but done more at a superlative, hip level," Newman told me when the trio announced their plans. "This is not your usual red-sauce kind of place. It's kind of like what we do at Interstate applied to this type of food."
The partners drew inspiration from 1970s-era Italian steakhouses, revamping the space to echo movie portrayals of joints in that decade. And when the doors opened in November, they revealed exactly what Newman had promised: a dark den, incorporating imaginative elements of Italian-American restaurant history that both steer clear of kitsch and appeal to South Broadway's twenty- and thirty-something crowd, with a kitchen that turns out such Italian-American classics as fried calamari, osso bucco, Italian sandwiches and lasagna. But the partners also took some liberties with the menu, adding a fairly serious salumi program — meats and cheeses are sourced from excellent purveyors and rotate on a regular basis — and dishes, like shrimp-and-prosciutto risotto, and pumpkin-and-pear soup, that exhibit a preference for taste over strict adherence to theme. The food pairs with a bar that's heavy on Italian liqueurs, twists on such '70s-era cocktails as the Rusty Nail and Harvey Wallbanger, Italian wine and Italian and domestic beers. And everything's priced where you'd expect a neighborhood Italian joint to ring in, too, with generously portioned entrees at around $15 each and happy-hour snacks for under five bucks. But what makes Crimson Canary really sing is the quality of its food.
I sampled several good dishes during my first meal there — and several that rated as great. Before Rob and I squabbled over that osso bucco noodle, we'd fought for every last speck of fried calamari. The kitchen had mixed lemon slices and spicy housemade giardiniera — the blend of pickled peppers and vegetables most often found on deli sandwiches — with the springy bodies and tentacles of the squid before covering them with a delicate batter, frying the whole mess and then dusting the finished product with sweet basil, lemon and plenty of salt. Sided with a basic basil pesto that further enhanced the play of tart, spicy peppers against the supple fish and that feathery batter, the dish was stunning. It might have been the best fried calamari I've ever tasted.
The salumi contained several items worth fighting for: fresh, sweet mozzarella; a sharp Taleggio; piles of hot soppressa and smoky speck; a couple of caperberries and olives as accoutrements. The entire assortment paired perfectly with the contents of the bread basket, which included a couple of toasty baguettes and some ciabatta, all served warm.
I also forgot to mention my biggest pet peeve: the red wine being served in a rocks tumbler. The last time we went went we got the usual red in a tumbler while a friend ordered a white wine which was served in a wine glass. The red was a $10 glass, by the way. It was clear that the red was only half the portion. We even saved a second glass to test it when we ordered another round and asked for it to be poured in a wine glass this time and it came out to be just half. I felt scammed.
Crimson Canary is near my house and I've gone a number of times out of convenience, as well as initially intrigue since Interstate is a favorite of mine, but this review had me cracking up! As well as questioning if the writer went to the same restaurant I've been to as recent as last week. Then I remembered that several friends have also agreed on the disappointment it is the broadway scene. So I'm left with questioning if this writer has any food knowledge. Probably just friends with the owner. The space is lacking in creativity and looks as if it was thrown together over a weekend. Though, the bar area itself is pretty slick. The menu is the first thing that threw me off. It's introduction of the restaurant sounds like it was written by the cast of the jersey shore for a lodo club. "Red carpet experience", really!? The mob theme is entirely kitsch! To the point it comes off as a joke. Then the food... all three times the meatballs were dry, it almost seemed as if they were microwaved. The cheese selection was limited to mozzarella and provolone. Far short of being "fairly serious". The burrata was repeatedly cold and lacked a warm center. You would have thought this reviewer was talking about Il Posto. Then again, there you are forced to speak about the actually flavor, what stands out, the processes rather than simply what makes up the dish which is the only thing this reviewer accomplishes. All in all, this is a joke of the review, doesn't represent this restaurant at all and I know readers that are compelled to go 'cause of it will be disappointed.