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Long before Anthony Bourdain ranted in Kitchen Confidential about how brunch is for the B-team, a restaurant's last-ditch effort to make money off of marginally fresh food, I did my best to steer clear. Potatoes formerly known as crisp and pancakes the size (and texture) of Frisbees? I'll pass.

Not all brunches are bad, though. When chefs apply their high dinner standards to entrees centered on eggs, the experience can be lovely. The Kitchen Boulder has built a following around the meal, which features hand-rolled chocolate croissants and chèvre-asparagus omelets, not to mention coffee worth waking up for. So the fact that The Kitchen Denver, the fourth restaurant opened by co-founders Hugo Matheson, Kimbal Musk and Jen Lewin, serves lunch and not brunch on the weekends is regrettable, even to a skeptic like me.

See also: Slide show: Behind the scenes at The Kitchen Denver

The Kitchen's char-grilled sturgeon is revelatory.
Mark Manger
The Kitchen's char-grilled sturgeon is revelatory.

Location Info

Map

The Kitchen

1530 16th St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > International

Region: Downtown Denver

Details

See also: Slide show: Behind the scenes at The Kitchen Denver

The Kitchen Denver
Half-dozen oysters $16
Tomato soup $8
Bouchot mussels $14
Merguez sausage $10
Burrata-and-peach bruschetta $10
Pulled-pork sandwich $12
Mushrooms on toast $12
Housemade tagliatelle $17
Char-grilled sturgeon $24
Hanger steak frites $23
Sticky toffee pudding $8
Pot au chocolat $9
The Kitchen Denver 1530 16th Street 303-623-3127
Hours: 11 a.m.-close, seven days a week

Musk is fond of saying that the Kitchen's mission is "to create community through food." The Denver restaurant that opened in March at 16th and Wazee streets hums with the lunchtime energy of co-workers sharing shop talk and the dinner cheer of folks out to celebrate and/or impress. But where is the relaxed, familial vibe associated with brunch, the meal closest in connotation to the home kitchen for which Musk and company's growing empire is named? My recent visits to the Kitchen Denver suggest that what's being created in LoDo is not a community, but a scene. (The space itself doesn't help, with sound bouncing off tall windows, columns and exposed brick walls, and enough square footage to fit the three Boulder restaurants — The Kitchen, [Next Door] and [Upstairs] — into this same address.)

True to Kitchen standards, the menu here changes seasonally and features as many local, organic and natural goods as possible. Shout-outs are given to farms and ranches: Cure Farm Carrots! Long Farm Pork Loin! Nearly everything is recycled, composted or reused; leftover bread is even doled out to farmers for pig feed.

Starters occupy more than half of the dinner menu's real estate. If you include the six varieties of oysters, clams and other offerings from the raw bar, the number edges closer to three-quarters. Many are simple and ingredient-driven, making them a showcase for the kind of dishes that foodies around the country have been lauding the mothership in Boulder for since it opened eight years ago. The tomato soup, a Kitchen staple, sings out two harmonious notes of San Marzano tomatoes and cream. Not muddied by herbs or spices, it's as comforting as any your mother might have fed you, though worlds better than what, back then, likely came from a can. Oysters, especially the sweet Kumamoto from California, are best accented by a bright champagne-and-shallot mignonette. The burrata-and-peach bruschetta, with two slices of crusty bread, a chewy layer of mild, salted burrata and peaches as soft as jam and just as sweet, might make you forget all those bad Italian appetizers you've had over the years. Order with a glass of white, followed by one of the more substantial starters, and you — and your wallet — could go home happy.

Hefty enough to pair with that bruschetta is the merguez, a harissa-spiked lamb sausage served over plump lentils redolent of the bacon used to sauté the accompanying bits of carrots, celery and onion. Bouchot mussels (served as a main course at lunch or a starter at dinner) are another success, thanks in equal part to excellent sourcing and chef de cuisine Gabe Godell's treatment. Pluck out the flesh and eat it with the mussel broth fortified with white wine, garlic, thyme, Fresno peppers and cream. When the mussels are gone, dip the crusty slice of bread into the liquid. When the bread's gone, eat the rest with a spoon like soup.

After such a sure hand with the starters, the Kitchen Denver's main courses can be surprisingly uneven. Char-grilled sturgeon, accented with minty pesto and served on a bed of celery, capers and fingerling potatoes, is revelatory. But one night the hanger steak in the steak frites came rarer than ordered and oddly flavorless for a company that buys two Colorado cows a week and shares the cuts among the restaurants. A friend's bowl of housemade tagliatelle, recommended by the server over the popular Bolognese for its "three varieties of squash, the first of the summer," should have been seasonal cooking at its most light and fresh. Instead, the dish had far more chèvre and almonds than vegetables, and what little squash could be found was overcooked. It would have been far better for the kitchen to introduce some Parmigiano-Reggiano, kosher salt and pepper, and give the long strands of chewy pasta the respect they deserve.

The lunch menu overlaps significantly in content and price with dinner's, though with more sandwiches and salads. Don't miss the pulled-pork sandwich, which gets its flavor from a rub of cumin, coriander and fennel seeds, and its tenderness from an overnight roast with apples, fennel, mirepoix and white wine. Also excellent is the mushrooms on toast, the roasted creminis rich with sherry vinegar and cream. At either meal, order the pot au chocolat if you don't want to share your dessert, the sticky toffee pudding if you do (it's so sweet, a bite or two will do).

Building community through food is a lot to ask of any kitchen (small "k"). The Denver outpost's staff, under the direction of chef Godell and general manager Kate Kaufman — not to mention Matheson and Musk, who visit regularly — is trying. But a bit more attention from both the front and back of the house — to a fillet that needs trimming, to the doneness preference on steak, to the guests left at the bar for twenty minutes while their eventual table sat empty, to the plates that needed clearing — would safeguard the qualities we've come to associate with the Kitchen brand.

As would those hand-rolled chocolate croissants and a chance to unwind with good friends in the softer morning light.

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15 comments
annieblankets
annieblankets

I love the Kitchen in all of its restaurants and am thrilled with the Denver spot! Do not miss brunch although I have gone to Boulder many weekends. I love the Denver space for lunch, happy hour, dinner and Monday night Community night! They are building community here- have you been to a TED discussion? Savor every bite- the Kitchen is the best!

lbortolotto
lbortolotto

Some of the above commenters must have obviously applied for the Westword food critic job, and been denied.  Maybe they could start their own food blog?

ybarcewski
ybarcewski

Montonat and Dever Dave  must be trying to outshine or maybe out shout each other. Play nice guys.  I will withhold a more formal review of the Gretchen's writing and review skills until she has a chance to settle in more.   But I like what I read so far from her.  She clearly has talent. And not one mention of history I think.  So I know she really went there rather than researched the place on line. 

WHOCARES
WHOCARES

Great review... it's nice that she writes about more than dish!! I am looking forward to many more.

matttD
matttD

I agree with the review.

I am a guy LOVING everything the Kitchen BOULDER has done, and I am in total agreement with the review.  We went to the new Kitchen Denver, and left wanting more. Almost sterile experience and I think the glam of the city overshadowed their ideals.

 

Best of luck in the future to the Kitchen Denver, I hope to visit again and be blown away.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

Well, the new reviewer is obviously a literate, intelligent writer but I'm missing some passion for food and detail regarding her dining experience here.  This review needs a little edge - not Jason's necessarily but a point of view.  Also, quite short for a Westword restaurant review and I was left wanting more, just as I was on my visit to this restaurant.  Nary a mention of service, cocktail offerings or the wine list.  Yet I get another recitation on the local, organic, natural this and farm grown that - even what the pigs eat.  When I read a restaurant review I want to feel like I've been there.  I am not particularly interested in where they buy their carrots or what they do with leftovers.

 

The first two paragraphs should have gotten Patty's red pencil IMO - total waste of space based on brunch they don't serve here.  Finally, I'd like some sort of rating (I don't particularly care what kind of scale she uses) but something to tell me if I can skip this very pricy place or if I simply must go post haste.  Instead she wrapped up with yet another another soliloquy to the non-existent chocolate croissants.

 

So, as ratings go, I rate this review and The Kitchen Denver, based on my very expensive and overbearingly loud visit, both a C+.  At least this review didn't cost me $275 for dinner for two.  It's her first review though so I'm hoping she'll take this in the spirit in which it was intended.  It is not meant to be harsh but rather to simply point out what a loyal Westword restaurant review reader thinks could be improved upon.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @ybarcewski Not trying to outshine, and especially not trying to out-shout (everyone gets to say what they want). Just disagreeing with someone online. But I will try to play nice: I'll change my above word choice from "illiterate" to "semi-literate" and from "chimp" to "circus-trained orangutan." They always seems so much wiser and more pensive than chimps. 

Bagwhan
Bagwhan

 @Denver Dave Agree and disagree.  I don't need ratings, they're overused and more to the point, not terribly useful.  And the first two paragraphs were fine, IMO.  And I don't read reviews for a play by play of the meals or the restaurant, so the lack of discussion of every relevant item is fine.

 

That said, I agree that something was missing in the review.  Overall, it was fine, but somewhat sterile.  While I'm not sure I know what adding "edge" even means, I do think the review could have had a little more life to it.  As one of the past reviewers (Jason, I think) mentioned, there is a freedom to reviewing in Westword that may not be available in stuffier venues.  Gretchen should try to use more of that freedom, IMO.  Of course, while Jason was roundly lauded after he left, he routinely received criticism in these comments for using too much of that freedom in his reviews!  But speaking only for myself, I'd rather read a piece that is interesting yet doesn't tell me everything about a restaurant than read a piece that tells me everything about a restaurant but bores me to death.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Denver Dave Rating scales are for the illiterate.

 

The Kitchen prides itself on "the local, organic, natural this and farm grown that - even what the pigs eat;" it's part of how they sell themselves, so it's definitely relevant. What maybe could be pointed out is whether this focus means anything to the diner in terms of the quality of the food.

 

 If you want edgy, just , mentally insert the adjective "fucking" before every noun. Hours of fun. For example, the headline becomes "Fucking Attention to fucking detail would safeguard the Kitchen's fucking brand in  fucking Denver." Saves the writer some time and you can pretend Sheehan wrote it.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

 @Bagwhan I disagree with you on the ratings Issue - Guide Michelin as referenced in my response to Mantanot issues probably the most influential ratings of restaurants on the planet.  The rating scale is only reliable if you trust the source.  How can you be a reputable source if you are unwilling to commit to a rating?  Otherwise, you are free to equivocate and never be held accountable for the recommendation of a restaurant (or lack thereof).  Who is really going to argue with Gretchen's review since we don't really have her definitive opinion?  Yeah, "I like something, didn't like others" just doesn't do it for me.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

Well, I wouldn't say the Guide Michelin (which "resorts" to a rating scale) exactly appeals to illiterates.  Having a rating scale forces a reviewer to make a "decision" about a restaurant's relative worth and that is what the job is all about.  In the end it comes down to having the guts to stand up for a rating.  Just equivocating doesn't cut it for me.  "Well, I liked this but I didn't care for that" but not having the guts to assign a rating - b.s. - IMO

 

I'm also totally over the useless, pretentious recitation of the provenance of every ingredient on the menu (or in reviews) - still don't care where you bought your fucking carrots (to plagiarize Jason's trademark potty mouth).  Does your food blow my hair back or not?

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Denver Dave I'll gladly take the insults, since it indicates that your attempts at logical debate have failed.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

Fine - I give you 1 little piggy for having your head so far up your ass.  Gretchen's review was pabulum and you know it.  She did not take a position on whether or not she was recommending this restaurant and that IS her job as a restaurant critic.  You sir, are the chimp, or is that chump, if you don't get that.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Denver Dave  @Bagwhan There's a huge difference between a giant list of restaurants in a guidebook and a weekly restaurant review. The guidebook exists to help visitors and residents of a specific location narrow down choices. Michelin gives ratings for overall quality (the stars), comfort (the silverware icon), and value (value being relative - the US cities that have Michelin guides must serve some dishes that are under $40 to get a "good value" rating.) Relying on the rating system of any one guidebook is a fast and easy way to find places to eat that may fit your idea of good restaurants. (Note that there are no symbols to designate a lack of quality.) But you certainly don't have to be smart to use it. A chimp could be taught to point to the restaurants with the appropriate symbols that designate quality (and then could probably use a Garmin to navigate there).

 

A weekly restaurant review, on the other hand, delves into the details of individual dishes, service, and atmosphere. What you call "equivocating" is nothing more than liking some things and not liking others and telling it as it was experienced. The overall impression is conveyed by the theme or premise of the review - which in this case can be summed up pretty easily: "the Kitchen Denver would be better if they stuck to their mission statement of 'building community,' as exemplified by their superior brunch at the Boulder location - the lack of which at the Denver location being indicative of a colder and less detail-oriented experience." And then you could add "I give it 2 and a half little piggies out of six!"

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Denver Dave Michelin is not a rating system that shows a restaurant's "relative worth." It's an award based on absolute measures where only the best of the best can even hope to achieve one star. Sure, it's a shorthand, but it's shorthand for knowing that a specific restaurant has been inspected and has passed rigorous specifications for quality. The folks at Michelin would never even set foot in a place like El Taco de Mexico, which arguably serves some of the best food in town. How do you use a rating system that gives equal credence to your appraisal of both Frasca and Maria Empanada (for example)? Let me answer that for you: you can't.

 

If a person's reading comprehension skills are not up to the task of gleaning the overall impression of Gretchen's review (which I think most of us got), then maybe a pat little rating system would help them out. But then again, in the era of "Epic Fail!", maybe anything longer than a Twitter post is asking too much of the readership.

 
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