The Bite

As far as I can tell, the major draw of White Fence Farm -- and perhaps its only draw (see review, previous page) -- is that the eatery is kid-friendly. In fact, in the restaurant's own words, "We are pleased to serve young children, but remind parents that the pleasant dining experiences of our customers depend on your child's good behavior." Hmmmm, can I get that young child served well done?

Of course, there are other places in town where you can dine with the kiddies -- and I'm not just talking about fast-food joints that involve a Playplace and toys in every meal. One of Denver's more unexpected family-oriented spots is Bandera (184 Steele Street), in hip Cherry Creek North. And when this link in a national chain changes its name in the next few weeks to Cherry Creek Grill, it will also officially shift its concept from chic bar-and-grill hangout to family-oriented bar-and-grill hangout.

"It's still the same company, but we're trying something new," says manager John McClain. "We're trying to identify more with the community, and we want people to know that we're a straightforward American grill." The company (Houston's, which owns a group of upscale American bistros nationwide) has been making similar moves with other Banderas: The one in West Palm Beach recently became the West Palm Beach Grill, and the Rutherford, California, site, in the heart of Napa Valley, is now the Rutherford Grill, natch. "Each restaurant then has some license to make changes that respond to each individual area's needs," McClain explains. "We really want to participate more in the communities we're in, and we were getting it that people were looking at us as some kind of outsider."

Although it might take more than a name change to make that happen, they're going in the right direction. Over the past year, the Bandera space has slowly been transmogrified into a cozier, more casual spot. While only the most dedicated regulars would spot some of the modifications -- new doors on the bathrooms, beams above the bar for enhanced intimacy, new flooring, reconfigured booths -- the overall effect is less groovy and more snug. In addition, the eatery has added lunch to its repertoire. That switch occurred after "some of the corporate people came into town and looked around Cherry Creek," McClain says. "They felt that the area was lacking in a nice, classy, quick place for a midday meal."

Midday, the focus is on straightforward sandwiches with a little twist, such as an open-faced New York strip sandwich with arugula or a fresh-fish sandwich made from a blackened fillet. The dinner menu has a new focus, too: Some of Bandera's heavier items, such as the roasted leg of lamb, have been dropped in favor of more internationally inspired dishes and salads. The killer mashed potatoes are still there, however, and the rotisserie that turns out that tasty wood-fired chicken remains.

Day or night, the restaurant is a great place to take kids for a meal that makes them feel like they're in an important, big-people restaurant -- and won't make you feel like you're about to get the usual sideways glances from staffers. The kids' menu is terrific, too; five bucks buys a side dish, a drink and a frozen Dove bar, in addition to the entree. And entree choices include not only a thick grilled cheese sandwich, but also gooey barbecued ribs, a cheese-covered chicken sandwich, and prime rib, which comes with a bone that you can take home to the dog.

Now, that's family-friendly.

Other upscale, welcoming places that serve good food to all ages are Seven 30 South (730 South University Boulevard), which has a good kids' menu and booth seats that encourage bouncing, and Strings (1700 Humboldt Street), where it's tough to keep owner Noel Cunningham from giving your little ones a tour of the kitchen. The Fourth Story Restaurant, atop the Tattered Cover (2955 East First Avenue), always has a smile and a pile of books for the younger crowd, and Panzano (909 17th Street) offers Etch A Sketch and little amuses bouches for the tykes. You can tell kids who don't behave that they're going to wind up like the mannequin in the bathroom at the Hilltop Cafe (1518 Washington Avenue in Golden), an eatery with enough of a sense of humor that kids feel comfortable. Even Ellyngton's (321 17th Street) in the Brown Palace Hotel has a way with youngsters, who tend to be so in awe of the hotel's majestic setting that they wait at least half an hour before spilling something on the upholstery.

Good luck, and take plenty of crayons.

Drink and be merry: In last week's Bite, I wrote about how folks are drinking more in these tough times; to help that along, several area eateries are offering more or better opportunities to do so. The aforementioned Brown Palace has always offered a happy hour in its stunning atrium -- complete with a pianist and a martini cart -- from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m., but now it's added food to the mix. And what food it is: a house-smoked salmon tart, pepper-crusted buffalo carpaccio and a lobster "martini" that I'm dying to get at, with Champagne-marinated lobster and an avocado-cilantro crème fraîche.

Munching opportunities abound a few blocks down the street at the new Niçoise (815 17th Street), Kevin Taylor's replacement for Zenith that opened last week. The elegant bar area is offering a happy hour weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m., with drink specials and more than a dozen tapas tidbits available. Check it out: green garlic ravioli with parsley juice; serrano ham with manchego cheese and lime; and crispy fried salt-cod fritters. Yum. Although the tapas lineup will change, the price of each item is always $3.50. Niçoise is also pouring thirty wines by the glass from the Basque region and California.

Just two doors down, The Broker (821 17th Street) now has more than a hundred wines by the glass, including some very high-end ones, such as Silver Oak and Opus One, that you don't normally get to enjoy like that. And until further notice, those wines by the glass are half-price weekdays during lunch (11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.) and happy hour (4-6 p.m.).

More reason to drink: The art-deco Dazzle (930 Lincoln Street) is now doing "All You Care to Drink" dinners at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays. The cost is $30 per person and buys you four courses along with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Last week, Dazzle served tea and cordials with each course, and I heard that the wild-mushroom-and-goat-cheese ravioli with a bacon-and-Valpolicella demi-glace was to die for. (How could it not be?) Up in Morrison, The Fort (19192 Highway 6) will host a spirit dinner and tasting at 6 p.m. November 9, where $55 per person nabs tastes of Grand Marnier, Frangelico, etc., accompanied by Rocky Mountain oysters and quail. That combo doesn't come along very often, my friends. And in Berthoud, one of my all-time favorite French restaurants, The Savoy (535 Third Street), is doing its annual Beaujolais Nouveau dinner at 6 p.m. November 15, also $55 per person.

In other alcohol news, congrats to City Wine (347 South Colorado Boulevard), which was recently lauded in Wine and Spirits magazine as one of a dozen stores across the country where consumers could find "the best value in wine." If you're drinking more these days, it helps to pay less.


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