Solitaire owners chef Mark Ferguson and manager Andrea Faulisi Ferguson are placing their faith in Denver's restaurant goers to separate high-end menus from stodgy dining experiences. "It's not white table clothes where you have to get dolled up and be quiet," insists Mark Ferguson of the newly refurbished joined mansions that were once home to the prim and stately Highland's Garden Cafe, which in its later years became a little dogeared around the edges. Ferguson spent more than twenty years working for Wolfgang Puck in Las Vegas and Beaver Creek and is ready give the West Highland neighborhood a more modern menu but with recognition that jeans are de rigueur in Colorado and that warmer weather likely means shorts rather than linen suits.
"We want to play and have fun," he adds, and that attitude is reflected in menu items like the NY strip club, a composed plate presented like an open-faced sandwich with carpaccio (the steak), guanciale (the bacon in the club sandwich), tomato jam, avocado and jalapeño, or a Pacific uni shooter with a touch of Tabasco and a quail egg yolk. Presented as a single long list with no clear divisions between small plates, salads, entrees or desserts, the menu ranges from a $4 bowl of citrus cured olives to a $22 aged Colorado lamb t-bone.
"We wrote it so you read it like a tasting menu," Ferguson explains, but adds that guests are free to pick and choose in any order that suits them. He's definitely geared ingredients and portion sizes to healthier lifestyles, but doesn't want to become bogged down in preaching health benefits or sourcing methods. "It's gluttonous — but in small quantities," he adds.
The menu will stay as is for at least the first few weeks (scroll to the bottom of this story for a look) to give staff and guests a chance to get used to the style and presentation, but after that, the list will be constantly changing. The kitchen is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with the bar staying open later (exact hours have not been set). Sunday will feature lunch service with a different menu from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., but Ferguson says it will definitely not be brunch.
Although the bones of the restaurant maintain their Victorian charm and neighborhood appeal, with dining spaces divided into separate rooms both upstairs and downstairs, the flow of the space has been improved and a wraparound enclosed veranda has been added. Also new is a full bar with barrel-aged cocktails and a unique gin and tonic program with a mix-and-match list of eleven gins and eight tonics, one of which is house-made.
There's still plenty of outdoor seating and the much-loved gardens have been maintained, and even improved, by Ferguson's mother. A rooftop patio has been added too, and the downtown skyline can be seen from just the right angle.
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Solitaire's opening menu.