A young woman pressed her face and hands to the window. She was wearing a tattered dress smeared with blood, which also dripped from the corner of her crimson mouth. That mouth contorted with an unheard moan as she scratched at the glass.
Zombie or Occupy Denver protester?
"Has to be a zombie," my friend said. "Too much blood to be a 99-percenter."
On the night of Denver's pre-Halloween zombie crawl, we were sitting on the other side of the glass at Edge Restaurant in the Four Seasons, dining with 1-percenters who were carefully avoiding looking directly at the bloodied hordes.
Aside from the occasional glass-pounding, the world inside the Edge felt like a separate universe...one that didn't have much connection to zombies, or even Denver. The expansive, high-ceilinged space was partitioned by banquette-lined walls, with dark furniture under the golden lighting. A pair of glassed-in, conference-room-like private dining enclaves were hung with what looked like stock photos of figs, and the rest of the art — including a tall, pointy sculpture that looked like a big scribble and blocked our way to the bar — appeared to have been plucked from a corporate boardroom. We could have been in any elegant restaurant in any luxury hotel in any city in the world.
A restaurant that was packed with people who belonged. A woman nearby was wearing a dead animal, which was draped — un-ironically — over her shoulder in a way that made her look like she had a bushy tail. Men in suits and designer glasses loudly pointed out wallet-sucking selections from the overpriced, label-whorish wine list while their dates, clad in tight black dresses and stilettos, pretended to listen, their faces arranged in sultry pouts. Women in expensive jeans and Frye boots collapsed into seats, their shopping bags fanned out around them. Businessmen filled one of those private dining rooms, working (or, um, team-building over copious amounts of alcohol) on a Saturday night. And the staff, dressed head to toe in black, spoke with service-warm hospitality accents that masked their origins.
Photos: A brief menu tour of Edge
While one member of that staff filled our water glasses, another answered our questions about the upscale steakhouse fare that made up the menu, telling us about appetizers and cuts of meat while making subtle up-sells, suggesting the crab Hollandaise on top of the filet mignon or a side of bubble and squeak, a very British touch from the British chef. (As at all steakhouses at this price point, sides and sauces are sold separately.) And after we'd ordered, we continued to be attended by an army of people working together to be sure my glass of jammy, oversexed pinot noir was never empty, our bread sculpture always erect, and our water glasses never in danger of being drained. As a group, they were efficient and non-intrusive — just as the international standards of high-end service dictate, and just as the patronage no doubt expected.
The Four Seasons opened in Denver exactly a year ago, another sign of the city's evolution from a cowtown to a tourist destination, complete with moneyed visitors who now had a place to stay if the Ritz was booked. And with the opening of Edge, they also had a place to eat.
The luxury chain brought on a company veteran to run the kitchen: British-born executive chef Simon Purvis has helmed Four Seasons restaurants since 1990, starting in Vancouver and then moving on to Melbourne, Berlin, Bali, Singapore, Scottsdale and Jackson Hole. For his Denver menu, he drew on the experience he'd gained in those places but also gave his board a Colorado twist, filling it out with steak, lamb and bison.
But my first stop at this restaurant wasn't inspired by the promise of a huge hunk of medium-rare beef. I was more excited by the prospect of a Four Seasons brunch. I've eaten in a few of the hotel's restaurants around the globe, and those visits were always prompted by the same circumstance: A long stint in a foreign country eventually makes me long for that peculiar American amenity, a weekend brunch loaded with a week's allotment of calories. On my first big trip abroad, I was sad to discover that most of the world doesn't partake in this tradition. And after avoiding rich American tourists for months, I realized that the Four Seasons was the only place where I could get stacks of pancakes, fluffy eggs and French toast — all at once, if I wanted. So it was only a matter of time before I finally broke down and grabbed a table there, indulging in a morning of binge-eating and English-speaking. I left with a side stitch, a much lighter wallet and a slightly guilty conscience.
Since then, every Four Seasons brunch I've experienced has been magical, a priceless, albeit pricey, taste of home. And after Denver's Four Seasons opened, I'd wondered if brunch there would have the same effect when I was home.
The morning crowd that day was meager, composed largely of hotel guests soothing a hangover or meeting the rest of their party in anticipation of a day visiting tourist attractions. I perused the menu while waiting for a friend, forgoing the bottomless Bloody Mary for a bottomless cup of coffee and mowing through housemade strawberry cream cheese and apple-cinnamon pop tarts that I'd ordered as an appetizer. The treats had the crusty, colored sugar topping and ultra-sweet, gooey centers of the real thing; fortunately, the pastry was flakier and more buttery, making them an ideal pairing for the coffee.
After my friend arrived, the real feasting began. I'd asked for the short rib Benedict and was soon forking into perfectly poached eggs smothered in creamy, peppery chipotle Hollandaise on top of buttery guacamole, braised, fat-laced beef, and a dense English muffin. This mound of food was augmented by crunchy hashbrowns and a whole roasted tomato, its muted tartness a perfect palate-cleanser for the heavy meal. My friend had gone with the Croque Madame, a fluffy brioche stuffed with smoked ham, smothered with a lake of sharp Gruyère Mornay and topped with a fried egg. It was sided with crispy fries, but substituting fresh fruit might be the only way to stave off chest pains caused by all that oil and cream.
It was one of the most indulgent breakfasts I'd had in a long time — and oddly, it made me nostalgic for international travel. Not just because I could have funded a major excursion with the cash I dropped on a single meal, but also because, as noted earlier, the Edge dining room could be dropped whole into almost any country. And when I returned for dinner, I spent some time contemplating the mind-blowing idea that you could travel the world and never see more than the Four Seasons version of a place.
Not that the Four Seasons version of a place is bad. In fact, it's pretty tasty. My friend ordered the lamb chops, which arrived stacked in an angular arrangement on an oversized, sparkling-white plate; the long, pale bones looked like a piece of postmodern art. The Colorado lamb had been subtly seasoned, just enough to enhance the light gaminess of the juicy, medium-rare meat with its grill-crisped edges. My bison ribeye, Edge's signature steak, was positively velvety — no easy feat for a meat that's notoriously lean and tough — and paired with a swirl of sweet boysenberry reduction that enhanced the iron tang of the meat. The Brussels sprouts we'd ordered on the side, served in a little ceramic pot, were tender but not mushy, bathed in butter and studded with salty bits of pancetta; we fought over the last bite. Still, Purvis's version of the bubble and squeak may have been the highlight of the meal: a combination of potatoes, onions and carrots cooked soft and mashed together with plenty of salt and more butter, managing to be simultaneously hearty and fluffy.
Plates cleared by those ever-ready servers, we contemplated a list of desserts ubiquitous in upper-crust restaurants: carrot cake, baked Alaska, bananas Foster. We went with the peanut-butter crunch, a classic combination of chocolate and peanut butter that our server insisted was unique. It wasn't — it tasted like a Butterfinger — but the construction was amazing: a half sphere of chocolate-encased peanut-butter mousse supporting a long, thin rectangle of chocolate embossed with the word "Edge," the rest of the plate filled with a linear sprinkling of peanut-butter crumble and dots of chocolate. There was harmony in the salty and sweet flavors, the crunchy and smooth textures — with good chocolate for good measure.
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Then, in a twist, more chocolate: Along with our check, the server delivered a wooden tray bearing two chocolate lollipops shaped like cattle. Despite the heady perfume, the high fashion and the dizzying prices, yes, Denver can still be a cowtown.
Photos: A brief menu tour of Edge