Anyone who says you can only find good seafood on the coasts is just plain wrong. A number of restaurants in Denver are helmed by chefs who really know their way around fish. They bring in the best specimens they can find, and they turn out some truly exceptional ocean-focused dishes.
Some spots do it better than others, though, offering up long lists of innovative creations featuring creatures from the sea. Here, in no particular order, are Denver's five best seafood restaurants.
TAG|RAW BAR, 1430 Larimer Street When Troy Guard opened TAG|RAW BAR in a Larimer Square basement address, he didn't even have a kitchen at his disposal. Instead, he got creative, building a menu from things he didn't have to heat -- or could heat sufficiently with a blowtorch. His resulting list -- which includes creative takes on sushi rolls, ahi poke matched with hearts of palm, bruleed avocado filled with crab meat and a ceviche shot that changes every day -- is one of the most inventive in Denver, each dish proof positive of the innovation that comes with limitations.
Charcoal, 43 West Ninth Avenue Patrik Landberg built the menu at Charcoal, which I review this week, from his Scandinavian roots -- which means his list is riddled with fish. That's good, because the chef's seafood dishes are like a fun, fast joyride. His pickled herring, imbued with mustard and sided with fingerling potatoes, makes an ideal appetizer. So does his aquavit-brushed gravlax; he cures his own silky salmon in-house. For dinner, there's skin-on trout that's crackly, supple and infused with the char of the grill. But the scallop and prawn fricassee may be the best example of his talent of all: supple scallops pair with fat shrimp in a saffron-scented foam; a thin square of pistachio baklava adds an excellent finishing touch.
Cafe Brazil, 4408 Lowell Boulevard Cafe Brazil moves to its own island rhythm, and it's given Denver residents a chance to experience a culinary journey through coastal South America for nearly two decades. The best dishes here are seafood stews. Our two favorites: the Cazuela Colombiana, which mixes fat prawns and chicken or sea scallops in a dende oil-infused broth made with coconut milk and tomatoes, and the Peixe de Angola, which adds more fish to a base sweet with coconut milk and tart with lime, then punches up the final mix with malagueta chiles.
Land of Sushi, 2412 East Arapahoe Road, Centennial Land of Sushi, a restaurant tucked into a strip mall in the southern suburbs, is obsessed with freshness. To wit, the restaurant frequently serves up a live-scallop special, disemboweling the mollusk when you order, but not a moment before. It's hard to get much fresher than that. What the owners can't purchase live they have shipped in daily, creating a menu of the usual sushi suspects -- like yellowtail, salmon and prawn -- as well as more inventive fare, plus a list of daily specials that, in addition to that live scallop, often features the best sea urchin we've had in town. Land of Sushi also scored our Best Sushi Restaurant award in the Best of Denver 2012.
1. Jax Fish House, 1539 17th Street Jax is famous for its oysters, hawked from its raw bar and sold -- during happy hour, at least -- for $1.25 a pop. But fish fanatics craving more than just a sea-perfumed mollusk will find plenty to love on the rest of the menu, too: peel-and-eat shrimp to dab in cocktail sauce, crab cakes and calamari, steamed lobster tail or a lobster BLT, grilled whole trout, fresh crab and even caviar. Expertly prepared and as fresh-tasting as it would be on the coasts, it's one of the best arguments in the city that good seafood does exist inland. And that's what landed Jax our Best Seafood Restaurant award in the Best of Denver 2012.
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