Ten Trends That Marked Denver Dining in 2017

French 75 tapped brasserie inspiration.
French 75 tapped brasserie inspiration. Danielle Lirette
Whew, Denver — another year, another marathon of eating. The Mile High continues to edge its way up in national prominence, riding a tide of novel ideas, high-stakes restaurants and home-grown and imported talent. The scene continues to diversify, a positive for gastronauts who like to explore. Still, some dishes, cuisines, drinks and ideas prove so popular that they proliferate wildly. Here's a look back at ten trends that defined dining in Denver in 2017.

Cattivella was one of several new hyper-regional Italian restaurants. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Cattivella was one of several new hyper-regional Italian restaurants.
Danielle Lirette
Italian Food
Yes, identifying "Italian food" as a trend feels like a cop-out, especially when we're talking about such a regionally diverse cuisine. And truly, you could break this into two trends: First, there were the high-profile debuts of Tavernetta, Cattivella and Il Posto 2.0, all of which dole out refined regional specialties and some of the most unique dishes in the category. And second, red sauce made a comeback at Quality Italian, Marcella's and the aptly named Red Sauce — a welcome development, considering that just six months ago, we were lamenting how few of Denver's Italian-American flagships were still standing.

click to enlarge French 75 tapped brasserie inspiration. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
French 75 tapped brasserie inspiration.
Danielle Lirette
French Cuisine
Coming into 2017, industry prognosticators were pointing fervently at Denver's surprising dearth of French food, a gap that widened even further with the closure of legendary Z Cuisine and À Côté. It's less surprising, then, that several restaurateurs set out this year to right the market. Boulder chef Radek Cerny brought his high-end French cooking to East 17th Avenue with Atelier by Radex, and Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno opened French 75, tapping the brasserie tradition for inspiration. And coming in the spring from Max MacKissock and Juan Padro is Morin, which draws more from modern Paris than old-school French culinary tradition.

A mashup of peas and carrots gets a twist at Annette. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
A mashup of peas and carrots gets a twist at Annette.
Danielle Lirette
There was a time, not so long ago, when diners couldn't get enough meat. Perhaps predictably, the pendulum swung the other way in 2017, with chefs tapping lighter inspiration and vegetables assuming a starring role.  The master of this category may very well be Caroline Glover, whose deeply personal cooking at Annette informs creative combinations of produce: charred endive paired beautifully with brown butter this fall; in early summer, the classic carrot-and-pea mashup got new life from wood-fired cooking and dollops of spiced cream. But vegetables starred everywhere, from places like vegetarian-friendly El Five, where you'd expect it (coming as it does from the team behind Root Down, Linger and Vital Root), to meaty enclaves like Citizen Rail, where you would not (as evidenced by a trio of spring-pea hummus, cauliflower tabbouleh and coal-roasted eggplant caviar).

click to enlarge Grab a seat at the bar at Señor Bear, but get a load of that gorgeous tile first. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Grab a seat at the bar at Señor Bear, but get a load of that gorgeous tile first.
Danielle Lirette
Where once exposed beams, Edison bulbs and beetle-kill pine stood firmly in the restaurant-design spotlight, this year tile dominated as a prominent decor element. Eye-catching examples of various shapes, colors and varieties covers floors at places like Concourse Restaurant Moderne, Poka Lola Social Club and French 75, and bars at Señor Bear, Bar Helix and Santo. Tile patterns even featured in murals; see the walls at El Five for a glittering example.

click to enlarge Hearth & Dram was first to open on Wewatta Street. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Hearth & Dram was first to open on Wewatta Street.
Danielle Lirette
Wewatta Street
Remember when Wewatta Street was just a desolate cut-through on the edge of LoDo? We don't, either. The opening of Whole Foods put a capstone on the development of this thoroughfare behind Union Station, but before that market swung open the doors on sustainable produce and its mac-and-cheese bar, Wewatta had already become a food-lovers' beacon: Tavernetta, Citizen Rail, Hearth & Dram, the aptly named Wewatta Point and an outpost of Tupelo Honey all blossomed on the street this year.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk