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

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: Señorita's Cantina

When the Palmetto Grille closed, chef Michael Bortz -- a noted chocolatier -- turned his talents toward making some dough. After a stint at the Corner Bakery, he hooked up with Tasteez owner Scott Wagner, who challenged Bortz to come up with artisan breads that would complement the market/deli's daily roster of gourmet takeout foods and carved-to-order eat-in items. And Bortz more than complied, assembling an impressive roster of boules, baguettes, brioche and ciabatta, each sporting the ideal texture and flavor for its type. The brioche, for example, boasts a classic brioche à tête shape, sweet and studded with golden raisins, with a thin, chewy crust and an egg-enriched interior. The hearty, thick-skinned boules come in olive, rosemary and roasted garlic flavors (on Sunday, the special is chocolate cherry); the crispy, crackly exteriors of the baguettes contain a light, smooth center that's particularly good in the sourdough model. Need an excuse for loafing? You won't do better than Tasteez's bakery.

When the Palmetto Grille closed, chef Michael Bortz -- a noted chocolatier -- turned his talents toward making some dough. After a stint at the Corner Bakery, he hooked up with Tasteez owner Scott Wagner, who challenged Bortz to come up with artisan breads that would complement the market/deli's daily roster of gourmet takeout foods and carved-to-order eat-in items. And Bortz more than complied, assembling an impressive roster of boules, baguettes, brioche and ciabatta, each sporting the ideal texture and flavor for its type. The brioche, for example, boasts a classic brioche à tête shape, sweet and studded with golden raisins, with a thin, chewy crust and an egg-enriched interior. The hearty, thick-skinned boules come in olive, rosemary and roasted garlic flavors (on Sunday, the special is chocolate cherry); the crispy, crackly exteriors of the baguettes contain a light, smooth center that's particularly good in the sourdough model. Need an excuse for loafing? You won't do better than Tasteez's bakery.

Bluepoint Bakery
If you've eaten in any of the better restaurants around town, chances are you've already had Bluepoint's desserts, pastries and breads. For nearly a decade, the husband-and-wife team of Mary Clark and Fred Bramhall has been supplying Denver's finest with some of their own finery: luscious cakes, perfect pies and crusty rolls. Although the cooking couple used to have a retail operation, they closed it a few years back in order to concentrate on producing as many baked goods as possible, all distributed daily throughout the metro area. We'd call that a fair trade.

If you've eaten in any of the better restaurants around town, chances are you've already had Bluepoint's desserts, pastries and breads. For nearly a decade, the husband-and-wife team of Mary Clark and Fred Bramhall has been supplying Denver's finest with some of their own finery: luscious cakes, perfect pies and crusty rolls. Although the cooking couple used to have a retail operation, they closed it a few years back in order to concentrate on producing as many baked goods as possible, all distributed daily throughout the metro area. We'd call that a fair trade.

Best bakery for folks who don't like desserts

Vinh Xuong Bakery

Vinh Xuong Bakery
In general, Asian cuisines aren't known for their desserts -- and when they do go the sweet route, most of their creations tend to avoid the usual Western trappings of chocolate and refined sugar. As a result, the toothsome tidbits at Vinh Xuong, where no one speaks much English but everyone knows the language of food, are usually more refreshing than cloying. This tiny bakery in the Far East Center, along with its sister store on West Alameda, makes cute little cookies and cupcakes, most flavored with coconut, almonds and lemon, as well as interesting Asian-style dumplings that involve bean curd and sesame seeds. Point to your selections and the staff will bag them up with a big smile -- which should be matched by your own grin after your first taste of these unusual goodies.

Best bakery for folks who don't like desserts

Vinh Xuong Bakery

In general, Asian cuisines aren't known for their desserts -- and when they do go the sweet route, most of their creations tend to avoid the usual Western trappings of chocolate and refined sugar. As a result, the toothsome tidbits at Vinh Xuong, where no one speaks much English but everyone knows the language of food, are usually more refreshing than cloying. This tiny bakery in the Far East Center, along with its sister store on West Alameda, makes cute little cookies and cupcakes, most flavored with coconut, almonds and lemon, as well as interesting Asian-style dumplings that involve bean curd and sesame seeds. Point to your selections and the staff will bag them up with a big smile -- which should be matched by your own grin after your first taste of these unusual goodies.

Best restaurant when you're sugar-bustin'

Petra's

Since gourmet meal plans were developed for the revolutionary! groundbreaking! Sugar Busters! diet by twelve of New Orleans's top restaurants, Denverites looking to "determine which glycemic levels work for them" and "discover which foods to eat at what time of the day" should head straight to the town's best New Orleans-style eatery -- where they'll immediately bust any and all dietary restrictions. At Petra's, every meal is a Mardi Gras party in the making. The decor puts whimsy on parade with cutouts of musicians and vibrant murals depicting New Orleans scenes, the cheerful service lets the good times roll, and the food is a lagniappe of luxurious flavors. The gumbo (including a killer smoked-duck-and-wild-mushroom version) has a real bite; the crawfish cakes are all about the succulent little suckers, not filler; the sweet-potato fries are as sweet a side as you'll find; the po' boys overflow with batter-dipped crawfish and oysters; and the blackened chicken would make Paul Prudhomme purple, gold and green with envy. Finish off your dinner with a slice of toothsome pecan pie -- it'll put so much sugar into your system, you'll be busted for a month.

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