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But I was equally delighted with the salmon tartare, a very summery dish. Velvety, fat-laced salmon had been chopped and mixed with buttery avocado and sided with thinly sliced pickled cucumber; a golden beet vinaigrette tied the combination together, adding earth and picking up the subtle acidity of the pickle.
By the time we finished our appetizers, the restaurant was very close to full, and I'd learned that there is a big difference between the two dining rooms. Prior to this night, I'd always sat in the main room, the one with the host stand, which can sometimes seem like a library, with people whispering over their plates so as not to be heard by other tables. But this time we were seated in the smaller, secondary room, which I found I liked better. The tables are just as close together, and the lower ceilings and faint din of the tiny, unseen kitchen combine to create an ideal level of background noise, giving each table just enough privacy so that you can carry on a conversation without worrying about being overheard. At restaurants that achieve that elusive combination of activity and intimacy, I always feel like I'm dining at the center of the universe — and that's when dinner can stretch on for hours before I've realized that any time has passed at all.
And it felt like scarcely a second had ticked by when our entrees showed up — though the half-empty bottle of wine we'd intended to savor with dinner was proof that it had been a little longer than that.
1313 E. 6th Ave.
Denver, CO 80218
Region: Central Denver
On my server's glowing recommendation — "It's pork loin rolled in pork belly!" — I'd ordered the porchetta. Peppery and pungent with rosemary, the meat drooled juice into the roasted fingerling potatoes beneath it. The dish was saved from being oppressively heavy by fennel — which added a nice, anise-y bite — as well as fresh arugula and a subtly tart lemon vinaigrette. But much as I love pork, I could have done without the superfluous ribbons of salty prosciutto that garnished the dish; they upset the delicate balance created by the greens and acid. Then again, I might have been more excited about all that pig if I hadn't just consumed a quivering slice of pork belly with the carbonara.
I had no quibbles about the grouper. Pan-seared until caramelized on the outside and voluptuous within, it was paired with lentils, which added earth and depth to the delicate white fish without overpowering it. The plate also held crisped and tenderized cauliflower, plus house-made lobster-imbued tagliatelle and strips of sweet, luxurious lobster meat. The entire dish had been finished with a light butter-based sauce, redolent with lemon and dill, that brightened all the other flavors.
By the time we were digging into dessert — a light, tart lemon meringue in a graham-cracker pie crust sided by sweet blueberry compote — three hours had passed. I'd consumed a delicious meal as well as lots of advice, and we were all sighing contentedly.
I'll be back in Denver again. But I can't imagine that I'll ever have as good of a last meal.
Slide show: In the kitchen at Fruition