By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
Most interesting development on the restaurant scene this year: I like the resurgence of small plates and sharing, the increasing popularity of Nordic cuisine, the decreasing attention to molecular gastronomy, and how fine dining has become more approachable. I also like seeing how smaller, chef-owned restaurants in Denver can hold their own against bigger names coming to town. Denver's cool like that. Word.
Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar
Favorite restaurant in town: I've been a sucker for Lola for years. I've made my way through their menu, but mostly I eat 1.5 orders of their housemade pork rinds followed by a chile-rubbed flatiron steak with bacon collard greens. (Can you tell I'm originally from Mississippi?) They're one of my staples, and I always wish the best for their crew.
What should the role of a reviewer be? To receive my brown-nosing overtures as sincerely and earnestly as I do Hail Mary beads in hopes of being blessed with a good review.
Most interesting development on the restaurant scene this year: I never want to see restaurants fail — but the thesis of 2012 so far, at least to me, has been the victory of independent Denver restaurants over highly acclaimed national operators. High-profile and nationally acclaimed chef Charlie Palmer's efforts with District Meats weren't embraced by Denver diners the same way Le Grand, the Kitchen and the Squeaky Bean — all four venues in the same geography — were embraced. We independents are thriving, while District Meats went dark, and that says something about the Denver diner that I really appreciate. By the way, welcome back, Bean!
Lala's Wine Bar + Pizzeria
Favorite restaurant in town: Twelve. I love Jeff Osaka's concept: simple, clean, straightforward, seasonal and well-priced food considering the quality. I love how you walk in and feel as though you're in a completely different world. It's so comfortable, and just a great place to linger.
What should the role of a reviewer be? Be honest but not degrading.
Most interesting development on the restaurant scene this year: The opening of Squeaky Bean. They're doing everything right, from the amazing food and amazing cocktail program to the equally amazing management, not to mention snapping up a great historic location. It's great to see them back on the map; they're part of the reason why Denver in one of the best food cities in the country.
Favorite restaurant in town: Bocadillo, in Sunnyside. It's a small staff — just two chefs and a maître d'. All of them went to CIA, and none of them is older than 25. The food is done with local ingredients, and it's beautifully handcrafted, whimsical (especially the Philly cheesesteak rolls) and full of flavor. What I also like about Bocadillo is the way it mixes high and low: The place used to be a scruffy taqueria, and you can still see that — it looks like a luncheonette with lots of funky touches, like a library of fine cookbooks and an indoor herb garden. It reminds me — just a little bit — of Momofuku in its earliest days.
What should the role of a reviewer be? The best restaurant reviewers are very partisan; they spot a trend they love and do everything they can to make sure the world knows about it. There would have been no nouvelle cuisine in France in the '70s without the passionate advocacy of Gault and Millau; there would have been no New American without Gael Greene; and a critic like Jonathan Gold also recognized a huge trend in the transformation of L.A. into what David Rieff called "The Capital of the Third World" — and his food writing tends to de-emphasize conventional fine-dining restaurants in lieu of giving importance to the really interesting and delicious food of recent immigrants to this country.
A reviewer should know what he or she is talking about. If you're going to criticize my coq au vin, it should be because you've tasted the coq au vin at Benoit in Paris, the coq au vin at a farmhouse in Burgundy and the coq au vin your French friend made for Sunday dinner. And if you don't know about, say, Peruvian cooking, then do your research and thoroughly fact-check your article.
A reviewer should not be afraid to call bullshit. A restaurant that's claiming it's farm-to-table when it's buying all of its produce and meats from Sysco should be called on the carpet. This is something Jason Sheehan, thankfully, wasn't afraid to do.
A reviewer should write well, clearly, vividly, humorously and with a winning personal voice. A restaurant review should be as well-crafted and pleasurable as a beautiful plate of food. To my mind, there are only three restaurant critics writing in English who fill the criteria above: Jonathan Gold at the Los Angeles Times, the mighty Alan Richman at GQ and Jay Rayner.
Most interesting development on the restaurant scene this year: The success of the Kitchen in LoDo. It's great to see a high-quality, real farm-to-table restaurant succeed in what had been a culinary wasteland.