Venue, which I reviewed last week, was a tough restaurant to define. It wasn't exactly American, certainly wasn't French, wasn't really Continental... If it'd opened five years ago, I wouldn't have hesitated to call it a New American bistro, but these days, the phrase "New American" seems to define more of a classification of culinary sin (thoughtless, border-hopping, disjointed and otherwise mangled-up cuisine) than a specific style of cooking.
Venue isn't the only place that defies categorization. Denver has many restaurants that aren't easily defined -- most of them neighborhood joints, all well-run, with kitchens bossed by geniuses who excel at creating menus that defy pat description. The one thing they all have in common? They're great restaurants, working from some of the best menus ever written -- even if no one is really sure what to call the food on those menus. This week's list:
1) Fruition, 1313 East 6th Avenue. New Zealand sea bass with caramelized salsify, potato gnocchi and foraged mushroom salad. Duck breast with smoked duck prosciutto and red onion marmalade. Potato-wrapped oysters Rockefeller with lardons. With a menu that could be published as a book of food poetry, on the day it opened two years ago Fruition became the top spot in one of Denver's best restaurant neighborhoods, and it's never slipped from its lofty perch.
2) Table 6, 609 Corona Street. Marcona almond tater tots. Pork schnitzel. Bacon and eggs for dinner. The chicken-fried sweetbreads alone stand as one of the greatest plates at any restaurant in the city. And at Table 6? They're just a starter.
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3) Vesta Dipping Grill, 1822 Blake Street. For a long time, Vesta more or less defined Denver's culinary cutting edge. As a matter of fact, this place was so far ahead of the curve that it took almost a half-dozen years before anyone else in the city even bothered trying to copy the concept Vesta had working. And even today, more than a decade in, Vesta's inexplicably international and oddly perfect menu still feels as bold and fresh as it did the day it debuted.
4) Twelve Restaurant, 2233 Larimer Street. Risotto, pot pie, poussin and abalone all on the same menu? Absolutely. Twelve is one of the new breed of small, aggressive and intimately chef-driven neighborhood restaurants popping up all over the city.
5) Duo, 2413 West 32nd Avenue. Duo, too, plays with an indefinable juxtaposition on its menu. Here, though, it's short ribs with white cheddar grits balanced against a French cassoulet and stuffed dates, served alongside buttermilk fried chicken with French lentils and butternut squash. Chef John Broening has always been a master at this sort of board, and over the years he hasn't lost a trick.
6) Solera, 5410 East Colfax Avenue. Thai calamari, PEI mussels with chorizo, paella, roasted chicken with spinach and a bananna-ginger bread pudding for dessert? Chef Goose Sorensen has always been at a loss for how, exactly, to define his cuisine, but I think that list says enough all by itself.