The food created by Ian Kleinman at Indigo has been called a lot of things: post-modern, new American, fused, confused, and just plain strange, to name a few. And true, the young chef has done some unusual things here. But what's come out of all the crossover spring rolls, high-end popcorn, Mexi-French and Franco-Asian mixing fusion is a restaurant that straddles the sometimes very wide gap between houses run by chefs for foodies and those that actually want to make some money. There's an element of puckish, FTW arrogance still lingering around the fringes of this menu, but Kleinman and crew have managed to bring a whole lot of the fun back into fusion cuisine -- and that's been sadly lacking of late. And whether you're just dropping by the bar for a martini and some sesame buttered popcorn with wasabe peas and pumpkin seeds, or sitting down for a duck confit cracker-crust pizza with candied apples followed by an ancho-rubbed hanger steak with tomatillo purée, you can be sure that Indigo will deliver two things: a great meal in a great space and a peek in the direction where American cuisine may be heading.
Every kitchen guy we've ever known has been a movie-obsessed, pop-culture-spouting cinema geekus extremis. Their language comes straight out of a dozen Hollywood classics; their style and affectations are based half on the job, half on the image of the job as espoused by the media. But Mike Long, the chef at Littleton's wonderful Opus Restaurant, has taken things a step further by twisting his love of food and movies (and of food in movies) together into one event: Opus Night at the Cinema. For this prix fixe dinner, Long pulled out all the stops with six courses, each keyed to a different Tinseltown classic and line-dog fave. There were fava beans and a nice chianti from Silence of the Lambs, peppers and sausage from The Godfather, a Timpano from Big Night and, for dessert, gold leaf-wrapped chocolate tickets à la Willy Wonka. It was truly a proud night for line cooks everywhere and a meal to remember for all fortunate enough to attend.
L'Atelier
Courtesy L'Atelier Facebook
The measure of a great menu is the way it makes you consider the future. How long can I sit here eating before I'm kicked out? How much of this can I try before I burst? And how long before I can afford to come back? At L'Atelier, the answers to those questions are, in order: not long, not enough, and not soon enough. Everything on chef Radek Cerny's wonderland board of fare is an amazing and singular creation -- sometimes derivative, often strange, always delicious. The appetizer list alone, with its sweetbreads, tartares and artistic small bites, is enough to keep you coming back for months. From there, the menu expands outward, covering dozens of dishes from the land and sea, each arriving decked out in myriad sauces, demis, reductions and oils that should make even the most indiscriminate gluttons happy. In all, the menu is a piece of poetry, Cerny's ode to his years spent serving the public, to the friends he's made and the friends he's lost. And at L'Atelier, this poem is being performed nightly for your benefit.
A year ago, Radek Cerny -- formerly of Papillon (now Indigo), formerly of Radex (now Opal), formerly of Le Chantecler (still Le Chantecler, only better) -- looked like he might be down for the count. One by one, he'd closed the crown jewels of his restaurant empire. Among local foodies, the opinion was that it was about time: Cerny's cooking had become increasingly derivative and copycat, his name synonymous with certain (mostly potato-related) excesses that were more recognizable on the plate than his touch was in the kitchen. But then came L'Atelier -- The Artistry of Radek Cerny -- and all that speculation went straight out the window. This was Radek re-energized. Radek times ten. Like an aging prizefighter getting his second wind, he came out swinging with a new restaurant that wasn't just great for Denver, but great on a national scale. Every smart, innovative, bizarre thing Cerny had ever done in his entire career was crammed into this single expression of his unique vision, then doodled with sauce, stood on its ear and lit on fire. This workshop became a brilliant showcase for the skills that Cerny had always had, but that had gotten buried beneath the name and the reputation. L'Atelier is a fabulous house -- a chef's kitchen operating in constant tribute to the man whose name it bears. Welcome back, Radek. We didn't know how much we missed you till you were gone.
Sean Kelly's restaurant, Clair de Lune, is almost beyond categorizing. Although it's very small -- Kelly can seat a maximum of twenty people in the dining room and three at the bar -- it's huge in terms of its importance in the interlocking mesh of Denver's food scene. It's not known for a particular dish, because they're all so good and because they change week to week and often day to day. Although technically it's a Mediterranean restaurant, because that's the broad area of the world from which Kelly draws his inspiration, that label doesn't do Clair de Lune justice, either. The menu, though compact, is impossible to pigeonhole into some imposed classification. But whatever his restaurant may be, one thing's indisputable: Sean Kelly is the best chef in Denver. Which also means the best owner, best cook and best manager. He has the best kitchen at the warm and frantic center of the best house in Denver; the best tables, attended to by the best staff, with the best food in the city. Kelly's our man, our chef. He's simply Denver's best.
Every kitchen guy we've ever known has been a movie-obsessed, pop-culture-spouting cinema geekus extremis. Their language comes straight out of a dozen Hollywood classics; their style and affectations are based half on the job, half on the image of the job as espoused by the media. But Mike Long, the chef at Littleton's wonderful Opus Restaurant, has taken things a step further by twisting his love of food and movies (and of food in movies) together into one event: Opus Night at the Cinema. For this prix fixe dinner, Long pulled out all the stops with six courses, each keyed to a different Tinseltown classic and line-dog fave. There were fava beans and a nice chianti from Silence of the Lambs, peppers and sausage from The Godfather, a Timpano from Big Night and, for dessert, gold leaf-wrapped chocolate tickets à la Willy Wonka. It was truly a proud night for line cooks everywhere and a meal to remember for all fortunate enough to attend.
A year ago, Radek Cerny -- formerly of Papillon (now Indigo), formerly of Radex (now Opal), formerly of Le Chantecler (still Le Chantecler, only better) -- looked like he might be down for the count. One by one, he'd closed the crown jewels of his restaurant empire. Among local foodies, the opinion was that it was about time: Cerny's cooking had become increasingly derivative and copycat, his name synonymous with certain (mostly potato-related) excesses that were more recognizable on the plate than his touch was in the kitchen. But then came L'Atelier -- The Artistry of Radek Cerny -- and all that speculation went straight out the window. This was Radek re-energized. Radek times ten. Like an aging prizefighter getting his second wind, he came out swinging with a new restaurant that wasn't just great for Denver, but great on a national scale. Every smart, innovative, bizarre thing Cerny had ever done in his entire career was crammed into this single expression of his unique vision, then doodled with sauce, stood on its ear and lit on fire. This workshop became a brilliant showcase for the skills that Cerny had always had, but that had gotten buried beneath the name and the reputation. L'Atelier is a fabulous house -- a chef's kitchen operating in constant tribute to the man whose name it bears. Welcome back, Radek. We didn't know how much we missed you till you were gone.
Nineteen steps. That's what it takes Frank Bonanno to get from his first restaurant, Mizuna, to his second, Luca d'Italia. He can do it in the blink of an eye -- and does, several times a night, moving from the classy, comfortable fare of Mizuna to the complicated, unbelievably delicious Italian menu at Luca. From lobster-spiked mac-and-cheese to gnocchi in a crabmeat-and-lobster gravy and back again, over and over, all night. Fitzgerald once said that American lives have no second acts, but Bonanno has proven this old saw false with the continued popularity of Mizuna and the success he's seen bloom at Luca. That he's done so despite the loss of his partner, Doug Fleischmann, in a tragic car accident last summer makes the success of both restaurants even more remarkable, if bittersweet. So here's to you, Frank. We don't know how you do it, and we don't envy you the miles you run every day overseeing these two fabulous houses. But we're glad you're up to the task -- because we'd never want to see either place without you.
Sean Kelly's restaurant, Clair de Lune, is almost beyond categorizing. Although it's very small -- Kelly can seat a maximum of twenty people in the dining room and three at the bar -- it's huge in terms of its importance in the interlocking mesh of Denver's food scene. It's not known for a particular dish, because they're all so good and because they change week to week and often day to day. Although technically it's a Mediterranean restaurant, because that's the broad area of the world from which Kelly draws his inspiration, that label doesn't do Clair de Lune justice, either. The menu, though compact, is impossible to pigeonhole into some imposed classification. But whatever his restaurant may be, one thing's indisputable: Sean Kelly is the best chef in Denver. Which also means the best owner, best cook and best manager. He has the best kitchen at the warm and frantic center of the best house in Denver; the best tables, attended to by the best staff, with the best food in the city. Kelly's our man, our chef. He's simply Denver's best.
Every city has Greek food. Every city has Italian. And there aren't many cities where you can't find at least one French restaurant, one sushi place (however frightening it might be to be eating sushi in Fargo, Billings or Texarkana), and a handful of Mexican restaurants fighting it out on the edge of town. But you know you're becoming a real food city when some of the odder ethnic cuisines start sneaking in. Ethiopian, Moroccan, Brazilian -- Denver has all these, and now we even have an Afghan restaurant to call our own: Kabul Kabob. For a basic understanding of Afghan cuisine, you have only to look at a map. It exists on the culinary spectrum precisely where Afghanistan lives geographically. But to understand why this particular restaurant is so deserving of a prize, you must sit down in the beautiful, richly appointed dining room, close your eyes and taste. Everything on this menu is delicious. Nothing is overdone, overthought or overworked. There is lightness and weight, sweet and savory, Indian naan bread, dough like a yogurt lassi, mantou dumplings, Turkish coffee and heat and cold and flavors by the dozen all vying for attention, but never struggling against one another. At Kabul Kabob, everything, absolutely everything, is beautiful.

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