The Cherry Creek Shopping Center was still a twinkle in a developer's eye when Adde Bjorklund and his wife, Halleh Hessami, and their partners at the time, Brewster and Carol Hanson, decided the basement space in a plaza off Steele Street might be a good spot for their first restaurant.
They were right. Bistro Adde Brewster celebrates its seventh anniversary this month, and no one's itching for it to change. Over the years the restaurant has gained a well-deserved reputation for serving consistently good fare in a warm yet classy space.
Even without the influx of shoppers that would soon flood the area, the two couples thought Cherry Creek North could support a "European bistro with an American twist," as Bjorklund describes the eatery. All four had worked together in some combination or other at Chez Thoa and Boccalino's, both of which used to be on Fillmore and both of which were major hot spots in the mid-Eighties. Before that, Bjorklund had been at the Tea Room Alpenrose in Vail, and before that, he was working with a friend at a restaurant in Switzerland. He left his native Sweden to take that gig only because "a bunch of guys convinced me over a six-pack of beer that it would be a great thing to do.
"Hey, I was young and full of life," he adds. "I was just looking for sex, drugs and rock and roll, you know."
Instead, he found a career.
In Switzerland, "they taught me how to split a penny without making it ugly," Bjorklund remembers. But his friend moved on to Colorado to study at the University of Denver, "so then I wanted to discover America," he says. He also discovered Hessami, at a DU party "thrown by a bunch of Norwegians for Jamie Lee Curtis, who knows some Swedish guys I know," and the two of them and restaurants became inextricably linked from then on.
With the exception of one down period a year after they opened, their venture has turned out even better than they expected. "Well, we had some idea that this would be a good location," Bjorklund says, traces of Sweden still present in his voice. "But I have to say, it's been a bit of a surprise that it's gone as well as it has."
The location can take some of the credit, but so can Adde Brewster's tasteful and understated decor, with minimal fluffery and lots of style. Then there's the staff, which Bjorklund--who admits he's only at the restaurant "five or six shifts a week"--feels perfectly comfortable leaving to its own devices, so sure is he of his employees' proficiency and the talents of general manager Duey Kratzer, who also created the intriguing, Napa Valley-heavy wine list. And the clientele also contributes. Although it's more diluted with common folk than in days past, the crowd still constitutes something of a scene and overflows with Cherry Creek attitude: This is a place where, if the food isn't what customers expect, they'll send it back.
But, really, the most important factor in this restaurant's success has to be that the food is usually right on target, as evidenced by the fact that several items have been on the menu since the beginning--the regular customers simply won't allow them to be removed. "We have added and deleted several things over the years," Bjorklund says. "But our customers have made it clear that they come here for very specific dishes, and they insist that we keep them around."
Although some of the dishes are the same, the kitchen itself has changed. In the beginning, Brewster was the chef--but Bjorklund and Hessami bought out their original partners two years ago. Today the executive chef is Geiri Camenisch, who's originally from the St. Moritz area in Switzerland; he alters the menu only with the help and approval of Hessami. "My wife is extremely involved with the menu selections," Bjorklund explains. "She always knows what will work."
And she obviously knows when to leave well enough alone. After all, no one could improve upon the seared lamb loin salad ($9.75), one of the restaurant's long-running items, or its sister salad, the grilled salmon ($8.75). Both the lamb and the salmon were perfect specimens of flesh, expertly cooked, judiciously dressed and presented in proper proportion to the impeccably fresh and flawless greens. For the lamb, those greens were crisp hearts of romaine gussied up with cucumbers, plush nuggets of goat cheese and lightly roasted olives; an oregano vinaigrette cut the richness and offered an extra Mediterranean boost. The salmon, on the other hand, had been wisely matched with yuppie greens (the ubiquitous, Wild Oatsy mix), as well as soft slips of mango, avocado slices, pecans and a generous handful of feta, all coated with a gently balsamic vinaigrette.
Another Adde Brewster standby is the home-cured Swedish gravlax ($9.75), sweeter but less salty than most, and served with toast points rather than the traditional dark bread. It came with a dill-mustard sauce that I didn't try (I'm allergic to dill), but my trusted companion described it as "very dilly," light on the mustard and with a "tartar sauce-like tang." The gravlax is one of eight "small plates" on the menu; functional as appetizers, they're also satisfying as mini-meals. Case in point was another signature dish, the fried calamari, shrimp and scallops ($8.50), which paired tender, oily-juicy seafood with a caper-studded mayonnaise.
Adde Brewster's most notorious entree, the Weiner Schnitzel à la Holstein ($12.25), was created by Camenisch just three years ago, but it's already famous. The breaded veal cutlet arrived topped with two fried eggs and anchovies; although you can order the veal unadorned, the combination of egg, breading and moist meat was so good, it's hard to imagine the dish any other way. (A friend who ordered the plain cutlet at lunch reports that while the texture wasn't as interesting, the meat was still pretty tasty.)
Other old favorites, such as the calf liver with caramelized onions, bacon and lingonberries ($10.50), date from Brewster's tenure in the kitchen. ("Brewster's ghost will always be here," says Bjorklund.) You don't find liver on menus very often in these cholesterol-conscious times, but if you're gonna clog the arteries, this is the way to do it. The liver had the feel of butter and was sinfully accessorized with thick, smoky bacon and see-through onion slivers brown with long-cooked sugars.
But even the healthier entrees didn't skimp on flavor. The herbed grilled salmon with basil oil ($15.75) featured a well-grilled piece of fish with just a smidgen of oil and a side of asparagus-packed risotto. The grilled swordfish ($17.25), which most places cook to death, arrived unusually juicy and strong enough to stand up to the accompanying tangy red-onion confit.
Entrees come with the choice of one side dish from a list of a dozen; we worked our way through six without finding a loser. There was a damp, herb-sprinkled Spaetzle; a grilled artichoke half with great charred edges and a sweet heart; dense, cheesy rosti; golden pommes frites; a tart cucumber salad; and, best by far, gorgonzola mashed potatoes (the spuds also come plain or with garlic) filled with so much creamy cheese, it was hard to tell where the potato ended and the cheese began.
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After such rich, flavorful food, only simple, light desserts appealed. The creme caramel ($4) fit the bill, with its pudding-like texture and slightly bitter caramel sauce. So did the chocolate mousse ($4), a stunning version with an intense chocolate taste and an airiness that nicely finished off the meal without finishing off my stomach. Adde Brewster even managed a surprisingly lightweight take on the usually heavy bread pudding ($4), which came with a buttery caramel sauce.
The last dessert was strongly recommended by our accommodating server, whose cheerfulness in the face of a cranky lunch crowd was remarkable. In fact, we did remark on it, and she responded with a few tales of troublesome customers, one of them a regular who finds it necessary not only to hate everything they serve him, but also to yell about it. "He'll be back again next week, though," she said, still smiling.
So will I.
Bistro Adde Brewster, 250 Steele Street, 388-1900. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.