Gene Tang has always had a beautiful place at 1515. The Victorian storefront wears its age well, handling crowds with a kind of shotgun feng shui -- moving people back and forth through the long room, around the well-spaced tables and banquettes. The upstairs dining room is elegant, the dimly lit downstairs bar chummy, and other than late afternoon (when the clientele sometimes looks like it just left an AARP board meeting), 1515 hovers right on that edge between coolly understated and deliberately insouciant hipsterism. For a long time, the food served here was just a touch fancier, a touch more creative than what you might expect. The kitchen was overseen by chef Olav Peterson and his sous, Ben Alandt (who later moved on to Indigo with Ian Kleinman), an artist who made great plates. Peterson, who now runs the show at Euro in Cherry Creek, wrote good menus and ran a tight ship: turning out great food night after night, without anyone getting weird and setting the place on fire. After Peterson left, Tang moved in Ulises Salas, a veteran of both the Kevin Taylor restaurant empire and Le Central. Salas is daring, bold with his flavors, and cooks without restraint -- combining flavors and techniques from around the world to buttress Tang's vision of contemporary American cuisine. When these combinations work (as in the pave of roasted salmon with clam and mussel chowder, or the lavender-scented duck breast), Salas comes off like a genius, an inspired sampler of worldbeat cuisines. But when they don't -- for example, when he tries to mix poblanos, duck, mushrooms, dried fruit, bell peppers and parmesan cream together into a single, overthought relleno -- he crashes hard. At lunch last week, the occasional vanilla fois gras or shrimp-and-licorice horror was easily avoided, though, and as he settles into his new gig, such culinary land mines should become more rare.
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