100 Favorite Dishes: Tuna Mousse at Cart-Driver

The warm glow of the wood-fired oven contrasts with the cool smoothness of the mousse.EXPAND
The warm glow of the wood-fired oven contrasts with the cool smoothness of the mousse.
Mark Antonation

No. 45: Tuna Mousse at Cart-Driver
2500 Larimer St.
303-292-3553
Cart-Driver owner and chef Kelly Whitaker started out calling this dish tuna panna cotta at his first restaurant, Basta, in Boulder, but it's now on the daily menu at his popular Five Points market and pizzeria, Cart-Driver, labeled simply as tuna mousse (there's also a tasty chicken liver spread available). Panna cotta describes the color and texture of the mixture well though: it's smooth as custard and almost pure white. In the right light, a tinge of pink is barely noticeable. A pool of bright olive oil stands out in sharp, yellow-green contrast atop the dish, which is served in a miniature sealer jar.

The tuna, however, comes through boldly, even if the color doesn't, with a rich and meaty flavor that seems almost impossible from such a delicate looking serving. It's a savory burst of ocean without being fishy and is tempered by the creaminess of the mousse, thanks to heavy cream, butter and an agar thickener that gives it a firm texture just short of gelatin. 

Fine-crumbed focaccia baked in-house and then toasted again in the wood-fired oven gives a rustic bent to the appetizer. The smell of wood smoke and charred pizza crust in the air adds an olfactory component to every bite. This mousse balances urban sophistication with Italian country-kitchen charm; layered thick on a slice of toasted bread, the velvety concoction, sharpened just enough by the fruity olive oil, is a study in umami — pure savoriness isolated in spreadable form. 

In advance of the Best of Denver 2015, we're loading our plates with contenders for the best dishes in the city. And over the next few months, we'll be sharing many of them with you, counting down (in no particular order) one hundred of our favorite dishes before the the Best of Denver 2015 hits the streets on March 26. In the meantime, if there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about it in the comments section below, or shoot us an e-mail at cafe@westword.com.

Hungry for more? All the dishes in our 2014 countdown are linked below.

No. 100: Chile Relleno at La Fiesta
No. 99: Gurage Kitfo at Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant
No. 98: Cochinita Pibil at Work & Class
No. 97: The Greggers Tongue Sandwich at Olive & Finch 
No. 96: Baum Cakes at Glaze by Sasa
No. 95: Goat hot pot from Viet's
No.94: Head cheese from Beast + Bottle
No. 93: Kettle Chips from Amerigo Delicatus
No. 92: Pork Belly Confit at Solera Restaurant and Wine Bar
No. 91: Tacos Campechanos from La Calle Taqueria
No. 90: Biscuits from Denver Biscuit Co.
No. 89: Clams and Chorizo at Gozo
No. 88: Aburi Sushi at Sushi Den and Izakaya Den
No. 87: Kimchi and Sausage Torta at City, O' City
No. 86: Mar y Tierra Molcajete at Paxia
No. 85: Crispy Pork Spare Ribs at Table Top
No. 84: Chips and Dip at Euclid Hall
No. 83: Chile Relleno Burrito at El Taco de Mexico
No. 82: Scallop Crudo at Stoic & Genuine
No. 81: Ceylon Curry Dosa at Khazana
No. 80: The Lambada Torta at La Torteria
No. 79: Pork Bulgogi at Dae Gee
No. 78: the Pulled Pork Pig Pen Sandwich at Boney's
No. 77: IPA Mac & Cheese at Hops & Pie
No. 76: Chiles en Nogada at Chili Verde
No. 75: Udon Noodle Bowl at Bones
No. 74: Cinnamon Rolls at the Duffeyroll Cafe
No. 73: Smoked Turkey Croque-Madame at Acorn
No. 72: Pickled Lake Michigan Perch at Trillium
No. 71: Oysters at Jax Fish House Glendale
No. 70: Venezuelan Tostadas at Empanada Express Grill
No. 69: Tahini Cauliflower from Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
No. 68: The Ham and Cheese Tartita from Maria Empanada
No. 67: Ronnie's Favorite from Rosenberg's Bagels and Deli
No. 66: Shoo-fly Pie from the Long i Pie Shop
No. 65: Czech Potato Pancakes at Sobo 151
No. 64: Fried Chicken at the Post Brewing Co.
No. 63: Braised Brisket Sandwich at Masterpiece Delicatessen
No. 62: The Scotch Egg from Argyll Whisky Beer
No. 61: Butternut Squash Ravioli at DiFranco's
No. 60: Sesame Balls at Vinh Xuong Bakery
No. 59: Curry Puffs at Suvipa Thai Food
No. 58: Diavola Pizza at Pizzeria Locale
No. 57: Chorizo Breakfast Stew at DJ's 9th Avenue Cafe
No. 56: The Rare Beast Sandwich at Salt & Grinder
No. 55: 48-Hour Short Ribs at Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery
No. 54: Marrow Bone Brulee at Mercantile Dining & Provision
No. 53: Prawns and Pork Belly at Blackbelly Market
No. 52: Belgian Waffles from Waffle Up
No. 51: Nashville Hot Chicken at Lou's Food Bar
No. 50: Breakfast Burrito from Chickee's Lil Kitchen 
No. 49: Monkfish and Romanesco at TAG
No. 48: Cabeza Tacos at Taqueria El Trompito
No. 47: Pupusas Revueltas at Pupuseria San Salvador
No 46: Sesame Pockets at Golden Plate II

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Cart-Driver

2500 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80205

303-292-3553

cart-driver.com


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