It was really no surprise when chef Scott Durrah moved 8 Rivers out of its Highland space (now occupied by Venue, reviewed this week) for bigger and better digs down in LoDo. Why? Because he'd already done it before. The Highland 8 Rivers was actually his second Colorado location, following a first attempt in Superior, where he'd opened in the former home of Vita Bella. And while the second space certainly served Durrah better than his first, it wasn't exactly right. It was too small, too traditionally boxy and plain. You never got the feeling that Durrah was able to stretch there, to really have the kind of restaurant he wanted.
In LoDo, where 8 Rivers opened in October, he has a decent-sized space — not huge, certainly, but about three times larger than the thirty-seat room he once had. He has a bar, set with bottles of Mount Gay and Appleton Estate rum and decorated with album covers from reggae and dub bands I've never heard of. He has a suitable and relaxed staff that moves easily between the widely spaced tables. He even has a fireplace, fer chrissakes. And while the Highland space was alternately dead-empty or standing-room, this room has a nice buzz running from pop to pop.
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But while Durrah might have been searching for the right room, he's always had a deep and powerful understanding of how he wants his food to taste, and it's been consistent — and consistently good — at all three Colorado locations. Durrah brings something true and honest to the table — a kind of dream vision of Jamaican food that, because it's his dream, he alone is capable of cooking. When I stopped in last week, the jerk chicken — wet and smoky and strongly spiced — was the same jerk chicken I'd eaten in Highland and in Superior. And while the escovitch shrimp had gone from a batter-dipped format to a breaded one, it still hit all the right notes when drenched in the kitchen's sweet-hot Scotch bonnet vinaigrette. It was an excellent meal — no less than I was craving and no less than I have come to expect from Durrah.