We've got an offer -- and a restaurant -- you can't refuse. After six years and a few management changes, Carmine's on Penn has finally hit its stride. Not only is this one of the best family-style eateries around, it's also the best Italian, any style. The atmosphere is welcoming, the servers efficient, the wine list impressive, and the food incredible. These dishes are all about vibrant flavors, well-cooked pastas, tender, tasty meats and huge portions that are suitable for sharing like a big Italian family in the middle of the hustle-bustle dining room or out on the spacious, inviting patio. This is upscale Italian at low-scale prices. Start with a platter of bruschetta and anything the blackboard lists as having balsamic on it, because Carmine's is one place that knows to use a well-aged version. And then it's off to find a new belt, because not even loosening yours a few notches could prepare you for such a feast: ravioli alla vodka, rich and filling; or a thick, ragoût-like bolognese; or veal alla Carmine's, fork-tender medallions covered with cappacola and mozzarella and then baked until it becomes as one; or gooey baked ziti; or the spicy seafood fra diavolo. Mangia, mangia.

Readers' choice: Carmine's on Penn

Tante Louise is romantic, it's charming, and the food is a francophile's dream. What more could you want from a French restaurant? Everyone's favorite aunt is about to turn thirty, and while she hasn't aged a bit, her experience shows. Duy Pham has more than filled former chef Michael Degenhart's shoes, and he's beginning to inject some of his own style into the menu. And so the classics come with a twist: duck seasoned with Chinese five-spice, roasted-red-pepper oil on pan-seared John Dory in a lobster demi-glace, mushroom leek custard with rack of venison. The wine list is wonderful, and owner/host extraordinaire Corky Douglass couldn't be more inviting. Do we still love Tante Louise? Mais oui.

Readers' choice: Le Central

Tante Louise is romantic, it's charming, and the food is a francophile's dream. What more could you want from a French restaurant? Everyone's favorite aunt is about to turn thirty, and while she hasn't aged a bit, her experience shows. Duy Pham has more than filled former chef Michael Degenhart's shoes, and he's beginning to inject some of his own style into the menu. And so the classics come with a twist: duck seasoned with Chinese five-spice, roasted-red-pepper oil on pan-seared John Dory in a lobster demi-glace, mushroom leek custard with rack of venison. The wine list is wonderful, and owner/host extraordinaire Corky Douglass couldn't be more inviting. Do we still love Tante Louise? Mais oui.

Readers' choice: Le Central

Best restaurant when someone else is paying

Papillon Cafe

It's not so much that Papillon is an outrageously priced restaurant -- in fact, the entree portion of the menu is broken down into some manageable payment plans that range from $14 to $26 -- as it is that we want to try all of the courses. We'd like to start with the decadent foie gras and the creamy potage du jour, linger through a Roquefort-drenched salade de maison, then move on to a seafood dish or perhaps the sweetbreads, until a stunning light-as-air cheesecake finally drops us to our knees -- that is, if we've finished sucking down one of the well-chosen bottles of wine from the extensive, and sometimes expensive, wine list. Trying as many things as possible at Papillon is an idea that's apparently taken off, because proprietor Radek Cerny and his chef de cuisine, Frank Kerstetter, have initiated a tasting menu that changes nightly but always costs $59 per person and includes six courses that are chosen by the chef and flawlessly executed by a snip-snap waitstaff. If the person who's paying is a suit or a date, so much the better -- Papillon is one of those rare spots that manages to mix business with pleasure, in a dining room that's comfortable for both. Tell 'em they'd better bring the platinum card. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bean counter.

Readers' choice: Morton's of Chicago

Best restaurant when someone else is paying

Papillon Cafe

It's not so much that Papillon is an outrageously priced restaurant -- in fact, the entree portion of the menu is broken down into some manageable payment plans that range from $14 to $26 -- as it is that we want to try all of the courses. We'd like to start with the decadent foie gras and the creamy potage du jour, linger through a Roquefort-drenched salade de maison, then move on to a seafood dish or perhaps the sweetbreads, until a stunning light-as-air cheesecake finally drops us to our knees -- that is, if we've finished sucking down one of the well-chosen bottles of wine from the extensive, and sometimes expensive, wine list. Trying as many things as possible at Papillon is an idea that's apparently taken off, because proprietor Radek Cerny and his chef de cuisine, Frank Kerstetter, have initiated a tasting menu that changes nightly but always costs $59 per person and includes six courses that are chosen by the chef and flawlessly executed by a snip-snap waitstaff. If the person who's paying is a suit or a date, so much the better -- Papillon is one of those rare spots that manages to mix business with pleasure, in a dining room that's comfortable for both. Tell 'em they'd better bring the platinum card. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bean counter.

Readers' choice: Morton's of Chicago

The Penrose, inside the eighty-year-old Broadmoor hotel, exemplifies old-fashioned, romantic dining. The glittery, chandelier-lit space harks back to a more refined, less harried time, with gorgeous views of Colorado Springs and the outline of Cheyenne Mountain at night (the dining room sits in the penthouse of the Broadmoor's South Tower), along with velvety chairs and exquisite china and silverware. Like your surroundings, the warm but snappy service is also designed to pamper you. And since the French have always had a thing or two to say about love, cheri, it's perfect that the menu here is a collection of rich, sensual cuisine française: veal sweetbreads and foie gras, lobster bisque and consommé, chateaubriand, turbot pot au feu. Dinner-dance music plays throughout the meal, so if you really want to make her swoon, fox-trot her around the dance floor a few times to get ready for the rest of the evening -- which could start but a few floors away, since the Broadmoor is a beautiful place to spend the night.

The Penrose, inside the eighty-year-old Broadmoor hotel, exemplifies old-fashioned, romantic dining. The glittery, chandelier-lit space harks back to a more refined, less harried time, with gorgeous views of Colorado Springs and the outline of Cheyenne Mountain at night (the dining room sits in the penthouse of the Broadmoor's South Tower), along with velvety chairs and exquisite china and silverware. Like your surroundings, the warm but snappy service is also designed to pamper you. And since the French have always had a thing or two to say about love, cheri, it's perfect that the menu here is a collection of rich, sensual cuisine française: veal sweetbreads and foie gras, lobster bisque and consommé, chateaubriand, turbot pot au feu. Dinner-dance music plays throughout the meal, so if you really want to make her swoon, fox-trot her around the dance floor a few times to get ready for the rest of the evening -- which could start but a few floors away, since the Broadmoor is a beautiful place to spend the night.

When Brasserie Z failed to live up to its potential, owner Kevin Taylor made a smart move: He resurrected longtime favorite Zenith, which had introduced Denver to the joys of Southwestern cooking in the late '80s and finally closed in 1997. Since that time, many savvy diners had clamored for its return, and Taylor finally answered their call. This time, culinary cohort Sean Yontz does the top-toque duties (he's also a managing partner), reprising quite a few Zenith oldies -- the smoked sweet-corn chowder and the ancho-sparked chocolate cake among them. But he's also added some real goodies, a lineup of New American-style specialties such as an ultra-rich lobster ravioli with fried leeks in a decadent champagne butter sauce and a smoked buffalo ribeye with green-tomato salsa. The wine list features some fun choices by the glass, the staff is as efficient as always, and the vibrantly flavored food fits well in Brasserie Z's lusty old interior, which now includes carpeting to muffle the sounds of ecstatic diners welcoming Zenith back.

When Brasserie Z failed to live up to its potential, owner Kevin Taylor made a smart move: He resurrected longtime favorite Zenith, which had introduced Denver to the joys of Southwestern cooking in the late '80s and finally closed in 1997. Since that time, many savvy diners had clamored for its return, and Taylor finally answered their call. This time, culinary cohort Sean Yontz does the top-toque duties (he's also a managing partner), reprising quite a few Zenith oldies -- the smoked sweet-corn chowder and the ancho-sparked chocolate cake among them. But he's also added some real goodies, a lineup of New American-style specialties such as an ultra-rich lobster ravioli with fried leeks in a decadent champagne butter sauce and a smoked buffalo ribeye with green-tomato salsa. The wine list features some fun choices by the glass, the staff is as efficient as always, and the vibrantly flavored food fits well in Brasserie Z's lusty old interior, which now includes carpeting to muffle the sounds of ecstatic diners welcoming Zenith back.

Sure, anyone with a few million or a bunch of sports figures as backers can open a fancy-schmancy restaurant that's the guaranteed Hot Spot -- until the next Hot Spot comes along, and business quickly cools. Denver's seen dozens of such restaurants come and go over the past two decades. But it takes real chutzpah for a big-time chef to quietly open a little place that serves only breakfast and lunch, a place that does just a few things but does them very, very well, a place that's more about the warm, thriving lifeblood of a city than the throbbing pulse of the moment. So a round of applause for Aubergine Cafe chef/owner Sean Kelly, who along with partners Hillary Gallagher Webster, a former Aubergine baker, and Luna coffee owner Chuck Rojo has opened The Biscuit. A small, unassuming spot that offers a couple of poached-egg dishes, a smattering of sandwiches, several salads and a lot of yummy baked goods, The Biscuit gives you a real taste of Denver. It's a spot for newspaper-reading, thought-gathering, conversation-rousing, coffee-quaffing and, of course, eating, eating, eating, from the snacking plate of Provençal olives and the flavor-packed pan bagnat sandwich to the pungent Caesar salad and the comforting chocolate pudding. Enjoy a cup of joe in the light-bathed dining area that's sided by a mahogany bar from a Minneapolis tavern, or head out to the umbrella-covered tables on the patio, where you can listen to the gentle hum of cars whizzing by and the low murmuring of folks relaxing over a game of checkers. In a city increasingly cluttered with cookie-cutter chains that have no connection to our past, the Biscuit is worth holding on to.

Readers' choice: Seorita's Cantina

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