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Squeaky Bean could write the book on innovative handling

Slide show: Inspired Eats at Squeaky Bean

Thomas Keller's latest cookbook, Bouchon Bakery, is coming out in a few days. This is old news to food lovers around the country, who pre-ordered months ago to ensure not a second's delay in tackling the purported nine pages of croissant instructions from the perfectionist chef of French Laundry fame. I, however, have not signed up on Amazon, nor have I dropped any holiday-gift hints to loved ones, and here's why: Ever try Keller's recipe for stuffed pig's head, the one that involves shaving hairs off a pig's ears? Neither have I. When I buy a cookbook, I opt for ones I'll actually cook from and leave 41-step recipes to the folks I'm tipping at the end of a meal.

See also: Slide show: Inspired Eats at Squeaky Bean

That would change, however, if executive chef Max MacKissock and his team of mad geniuses at the new Squeaky Bean decide to dip their toes into the publishing world. Then I'd not only buy the book, I'd clear my calendar, scour stores for specialty ingredients and invest in any necessary equipment. All because of this: red kuri squash.

Squeaky Bean's "eggplant & plum" does a Cirque du Soleil balancing act.
Mark Manger
Squeaky Bean's "eggplant & plum" does a Cirque du Soleil balancing act.

Location Info

Map

Squeaky Bean

1500 Wynkoop St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Downtown Denver

Details

See also: Slide show: Inspired Eats at Squeaky Bean

Squeaky Bean
Red kuri squash $13
Beets $10
Carrots $12
Eggplant & plum $13
Skuna Bay salmon $23
Fried chicken ballontine $24
Berkshire pork loin $25
Whey-poached lamb $26
Plum & almond $8
Fluffer nutter $9
1500 Wynkoop Street, 303-623-2665
Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5:30-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Not to be melodramatic (a trait I detest in life as well as in food writing), but this unlikely appetizer has hijacked my thoughts, becoming the thing my brain wanders to, unbidden, while attempting to perform other tasks. One minute I'm chatting with a friend, the next I'm remembering the chewy crescents of roasted squash, the sweet pearls of pear, the salty crunch of granola. In the middle of a meeting, I'll recall the waterfall of warm, sweetened milk tumbling tableside from a pitcher, frothy sauce splashing off the curry-slicked bottom in a riparian zone of flavor. The dish is soothing, engaging and creative. And unless it's recorded in a cookbook, it will soon be something else: a memory.

Many restaurants update their menus quarterly, but MacKissock and right-hand man Blake Edmunds update theirs almost perpetually, swapping out one to three items every two weeks with small and large plates built around whatever's coming out of the ground (their ground, a one-acre garden known as Squeaky Acres) at the time. The implication is that every month, up to six dishes on the one-page menu at Bean 2.0 — my term for this refined yet playful iteration of the Highland spot that owner Johnny Ballen shuttered last year because of lease disputes — will be gone. Soon, it seems, my squash could be history.

Should the folks at Squeaky Bean hear my plea and put out a cookbook, the challenge — aside from the herculean task of translating multi-day procedures and complex techniques into layman's terms — would be how to label the chapters. Cookbooks are typically broken out into sections for appetizers, entrees and sides. Squeaky Bean's holistic approach to food makes such categories nearly moot, as servers, looking spiffy in ties and suspenders, will tell you when you first sit down. Instead, they explain, the menu is divided into three sections: vegetables, fish and meat, with prices and portion sizes increasing as you go down the page. Items at the top are meant to be shared; ones at the bottom are not.

Given the kitchen's knack for treating plants as stars, it's easy to see why some tables opt for a selection of "vegetables" and never venture into "fish" or "meat" territory. A dish called simply "beets" arrives like a fall garden, raw leaves shooting off the plate, with ruby beets and pockets of rich nut butter and Gouda hidden underneath. "Eggplant & plum" blends a wide spectrum of flavors — tart umeboshi dots, smoky eggplant purée, mint-and-basil-spiked bok choy — and balances them, Cirque du Soleil style, on a log of roasted Japanese eggplant. "Carrots," like the red kuri squash, begins with a half-empty bowl, this time dotted with roasted carrots, tart kaffir lime ice cream and crystals of lime roe. A French soup known as potage de Crecy (traditionally thickend with rice but here made with juiced carrots and roasted carrot purée), is then poured in. Where the liquid carrot meets ice cream, lime blends with soup in an echo of Indian flavors.

Such innovative handling makes you wonder if MacKissock is a closet vegetarian. He isn't, but he clearly loves the challenge of taking vegetables that were steamed and shoved to the side by so many generations of chefs and transforming them into masterpieces. Not that MacKissock shirks his responsibility to protein. Poached in tenderizing whey and served in slices, the lamb would no doubt be good with an old-school smidge of mint jelly — but the crackly puffed farro and sweet, tannic pop of Thomcord grapes really make this dish. Cucumber ribbons, fresh dill and loads of fennel (both raw and flavored by a sous-vide stint in lemon oil) elevate the firm, buttery salmon. And it's the warm onion jus, so savory that it resembles French onion soup, that makes you finish the Berkshire pork with embarrassing speed. Dip the meat into the jus, then drag your fork into peaches that have spent four days transforming themselves from fuzzy orange spheres to potently flavored peach sofrito, and you'll rejoice at being an omnivore.

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16 comments
UpsetPatron
UpsetPatron

I found the Squeaky Bean to be way overpriced and lacking flavor in almost everything.  I was so underwhelmed with my meal that I definitely won't go back.  My wife is allergic to gluten and dairy and generally doesn't eat meat, and even she had a hard time finding options there because they won't leave out a sauce that has gluten in it or modify a dish in any way.  Just typing this post is making me angry remembering eating there.

Lisa Ross
Lisa Ross

Love this place!! So happy they reopened.

chefzoso
chefzoso

I have found the Bean to have the most adventurous food in the city right now...and featuring forward thinking food is tough here in Denver-land, I assure you. I would rather have a few strikeouts from someone who swings at the fences than a lot of singles, that is just me.

One comment I hear more is that the name of the restaurant is not representative enough of what they do and some people think it is a coffee shop....

chuckroast
chuckroast

I get it that most of Kellers cookbooks are way over the top, but ad hoc at home is one of my personal favorites.

alanpratt02
alanpratt02

The Bean's food has been described as inspired. Having tried the carrots, squash, pigeon, lamb and scallops last night, I am "inspired" to comment on Westwords "Genius" and the previous Denver Post 5 star review of the Bean. What are you guys thinking? In my 30 odd years of loving fine food I have rarely if ever been so disappointed in a restaurant. I and my dining partners are not picky and love fine food. We have happily dined at the likes of ZCuisine, Root Down, Linger, Duo, Table 6, Mizuna, the Kitchen, Radda, Black Cat, Fruition, Fuel, etc. etc. without complaint and will gladly do so again. But we will not return to the Bean. The food is over wrought, pretentious, bland, minuscule and over priced. The lack of flavor was somewhat astounding, an accomplishment really. The Scallop(s) (pluralization is questionable here as there may not have been an entire scallop involved) were utterly tasteless. The Pigeon was dry. The kuri squash? Somebody liked this? Was there actually squash involved? The serving of food in a nice wooden box is cute, but it doesn't make it good. This place oozes phony pretension. The beer list was pathetic, the wine list weak and overpriced. You need to go to Italy and be reminded of what makes great food; superior ingredient, prepared simply and with love. It is rare, almost never, that I find a need to complain about a restaurant. But the Squeaky Bean wrapped about a decades worth of negative experiences into a single meal. I am flabbergasted that people find this place even remotely worthwhile.

bhoffmeyer
bhoffmeyer

I am in partial agreement with Den_Food and Cap_Hill_Cowboy. No, Denver isn't on the culinary cutting edge (or any cutting edge really) but then, what non-coastal city - other than (in some ways) Chicago - is? That said, I get frustrated with people who bitch about this as I feel Denver/Colorado has come a LONG way culinarily; why can't we just celebrate that? Even on the coasts there's a hell of a lot of copying...that's what human beings do. Truly original restaurants are few and far between anywhere you go but most places - Denver included - have places that are made unique by the things that are different about them and by their own sense of place. The Squeaky Bean exhibits this through it's playfulness and "Denver casualness" (not sure that's truly a phrase but whatever). 

 

Where I disagree with my august fellow commentators is regarding the food at Squeaky Bean. I've been amazed with the quality, inventiveness, and thoughtfulness of everything I've tried there. I plan to keep on going and expect more of the same from Max et al. 

 

Den_Food - I'm curious as to what - if any - places in Denver are up to your standards?

Den_Food
Den_Food

To even speak French Laundry in the same breath as Squeaky Bean is an abomination to foodies everywhere.  I have to agree wit Cap_Hill_Cowboy in the sense that yes, the food was good, inconsistent yes, and to be honest, didn't necessarily blow my mind.  

 

I hate to break it to my fellow Denver-ites, but we are simply not on the cutting edge of the food scene here. I travel to NY and LA regularly, and have to admit;  ideas such as Squeaky, Linger and Green Russel have been institutions in these cities for 5-10 years.  

 

Let's just pump the breaks a bit and perhaps get some additional experience under our collective belts before we go espousing on how ground-breaking our copy-cat chefs are here in the mile-high city.

Cap_Hill_Cowboy
Cap_Hill_Cowboy

PLEASE don't request anyone to write a cookbook before they figure themselves out. The Bean is often inconsistent, not necessarily in a "I Wouldn't Go Back," sort of way, but in a way that informs the mindset that perhaps they're still finding their footing. Squeaky Bean WILL be a great restaurant, but no restaurant achieves greatness immediately upon opening as so many in this city are wont to proclaim. Give these kids some time, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

alanpratt02
alanpratt02

@chefzoso That is a fair comment and I agree that the food is adventurous and kudos for that. But adventurous food doesn't do much for me unless it is also "good". The home run was missing. The food just didn't taste very good. The adventure was in preparation and presentation, not taste.. I think Cholon is equally adventurous and the food there tastes good.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @alanpratt02 You complain about pretentiousness, and then say something like "you need to go to Italy to be reminded of what makes great food." You need to go to Italy just so we don't have to put up with your pretentiousness here.

 

 

Den_Food
Den_Food

 @bhoffmeyer Good comment.  I definitely agree with some of your points.

 

My three personal favorite spots in Denver are Tables in Park Hill, il Posto Uptown and Twelve.  I just find that they are consistent, have great service and a simple yet creative approach to food. 

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Den_Food You know what would be an abomination to foodies everywhere? If they were serving human baby or were employing imported slaves to shave truffles over your plate, you could use the word abomination. As it stands, the reference to Thomas Keller and his restaurants is a mild conceit, meant only to illustrate the idea that the writer thinks a particular dish is so good that she wants to cook it at home, while not being so complex as to be daunting.

 

Thanks for representing foodies everywhere, though! at least now they all know who to turn to for leadership.

alanpratt02
alanpratt02

@Mantonat Having been to Italy hardly qualifies someone as pretentious. It is one of the most traveled to locations in the world and well know for it huge contribution to cuisine. What is pretentious is the Beans food. It would be fine if it tasted good, but it doesn't. First and foremost, food needs to be about taste. If it looks good and is presented creatively that is a plus, but it is no substitute for flavor. My unpretentious, relatively easily pleased group of 4 have never been to a "quality" restaurant that left all four of us completely disappointed in every single dish. Our dinner at the Bean was a complete 0-fer which is totally unprecedented for us. We almost always like our meals and there are dozens of places in Denver/Boulder that we have thoroughly enjoyed.

Den_Food
Den_Food

 @Mantonat Thank you for that bestowing such a divine and admonished title upon me.  Much appreciated.  Also appreciated is your bland sarcasm and extreme comparisons.  

 

You may now go forth with your fixie and mustache.  See you soon at Sputniks. 

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @Den_Food I love Sputnik! I am way too old, though, to ride a fixie. Not only would I kill myself, but those tiny seats are certain to cause irreparable damage. 

 
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