Back in September, Jeremy Kittelson, ex-chef of Restaurant Avondale at the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon -- which will soon be Cima, a Latin kitchen from chef Richard Sandoval -- left his mountain gig for the bright lights of Denver, specifically the 16th Street Mall, where he's now the chef/owner of Ambria, a Mediterranean-influenced restaurant that occupies the former Ling & Louie's space at 1201 16th Street.
The revamped interior, which is nearly complete, trumpets a community table that parallels the long bar, new upholstery and wallpaper, weathered hardwoods, an exhibition kitchen and conversation-piece light fixtures that add pronounced declarations of whimsy.
And Kittelson's approach to food -- he's one of the most determinedly technique-driven chefs I've seen in this city -- is all about pushing the envelope but with sensible restraint. "I look at food and ingredients as though I've never seen them before, and I ask myself, 'how do I make my dishes differently from everyone else, and how do I take a fresh approach to food while being technically precise?'" he explains. "This is my first chance at ownership," he continues, "and ultimately, I want to just make people happy by making food that people want to eat -- and food that I want to cook."
I had the opportunity to sample several of Kittelson's dishes late last week, and if what I tasted is any indication of what we can expect when Ambria opens for service on Wednesday, we're definitely in for an exhilarating culinary red carpet ride.
Carpaccio with imported bufala mozzarella, peperoncini, watercress and horseradish gremolata.
Sea scallops spiced with espelette pepper powder and served with crumbled bacon and a butternut squash and green apple sweet-sour agrodolce.
Much to my surprise, as well as Kittelson's, my favorite dish was one that I'd likely never order, a raw carrot salad, dressed with a champagne vinaigrette and tossed with frisee, dabs of Gorgonzola, Spanish marcona almonds and celery leaf pesto. In a word: brilliant.
Hand-crafted warm ricotta specked with fresh herbs and sidekicked with grilled crostini.
Saffron-scented cioppino bobbing with shrimp, calamari, mussels, scallops, crab and swordfish.
Parsley-flecked meatballs al forno dusted with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and plated on a raft of polenta.
Veal sweetbreads with pickled golden raisins, fried capers, cauliflower and housemade dijonnaise.
Shrimp fried in olive oil and plated with chorizo aioli.
Fried Brussels sprouts drizzled with a twelve-year balsamico and sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Dry-aged, porcini-crusted ribeye with a celery root and mushroom gratin, pancetta-wrapped grilled romaine hearts and an Anaheim pepper, onion and white balsamic salsa.
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Grilled swordfish, rubbed with ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend, floating in a clam broth with braised chickpeas, fried Brussels sprouts and a Moroccan garlic aioli.