Here in America, our national drink of choice is cheap beer. But in Russia, the winner -- hands down -- is vodka, served clear and cold. To get the good stuff straight from the source, exile yourself to Red Square Euro Bistro, a restaurant that serves up hearty portions of stroganoff and goulash, and also pours Russian, German and Lithuanian beer. But the real star here is the Russian vodka menu, featuring over eighty options, including more than a dozen tasty fruit- and spice-infused Siberian vodkas. Grab a spot at the bar, start downing your selections, and you'll soon find plenty of fellow travelers. Comrade!
Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant and Bar
Courtesy Sherpa's Adventure Restaurant & Bar Facebook
Sherpa's owner, Pemba Sherpa, comes with heavy-duty street cred: The guy actually is a Sherpa, with more than twenty ascents over 20,000 feet to his credit. He grew up in Nepal, in the shadow of Everest, eating the kind of food he now serves in a restaurant that's decorated with artifacts of his previous life -- the snowshoes, gunny bags and ice axes of his former career -- and photos of him today, still climbing. In addition to unique interpretations of standard Indian fare, Sherpa's kitchen cooks up fantastic mountain-man cuisine: heavy, thick stews, spicy momo and fried paneer pokara. The service is friendly, with staffers (many of whom are Sherpas, too) intimately acquainted with the food they serve. And in keeping with the restaurant's motto, the Adventurers Bar in the front of this two-story converted Victorian is the perfect place "to relive the glories of past adventures and plan new ones."
With Luca d'Italia, chef/owner Frank Bonanno has done what most transplanted East Coasters would have thought impossible: He's brought good Italian food to the Rocky Mountain region. No, not just good. Great Italian food. Wonderful, vital, superlative Italian food that's absolutely without equal on the Denver scene. Luca's menu is designed for gluttonous abandon, arranged for wild flights of pairing and sharing, set up in an attempt to make people eat the way the Italians do -- with several courses of small plates leading up to the entrees. The portions are small, the plating simple, the combinations divine. And on plate after plate -- from warm artichoke hearts to gnocchi in a crab-and-lobster gravy to the truffled rabbit parts that nearly killed us -- the unparalleled skill of this kitchen and the dedication of its chef shows through with startling, wonderful clarity.
When most Americans think of Russian food -- if they do at all -- they picture one of two things. They envision frozen gray latitudes, turnips and beet roots, with giant cauldrons of borscht -- that most recognizable of old Soviet cuisine -- steaming and bright, bloody purple in the pot. Or, going in the other direction, they imagine silver bowls brimming with iced caviar served with tiny gold spoons, roasting game and fresh fish, water crackers crusted with rock salt and absolute czarist luxury. Both perceptions are partially right, but both are also totally wrong. Russian food at its best and most basic -- the way it's served at Astoria -- is like the American food we ate in the '50s, full of fatty meat and potatoes swimming in butter; thick, hot soups; pickles; fried chicken and sour cream. In Astoria, a bunker-like restaurant tucked into the Russian Plaza, they're cooking pure comfort food: solyanka, potato salad, caviar and blini, stroganoff, roast chicken and lamb chops. And, as with most comfort food, while it might be very, very bad for you, it makes you feel very good inside.
This has been a weird year for the French-restaurant community. It began with all that Freedom Fries nonsense, followed by a wildly unsuccessful attempted boycott of all things French by a bunch of jingoistic ideologues. And then, in the midst of that, Denver and Boulder saw a sudden, inexplicable resurgence in French dining with several bistros, cafes and brasseries opening one right after another. Best among them -- best among both old and new -- is Brasserie Rouge, whose owners went to obsessive lengths to create a spot that, in their dedication to an atom-by-atom reconstruction of an honest French brasserie, is more real than the real thing. This restaurant faithfully mimics the best aspects of the brasserie in both its kitchen and dining room. From the butcher's paper tablecloths to the servers with French-as-a-second-language accents to the real duck confit, excellent bouillabaisse and true charcuterie coming from the galley, Rouge deserves a prize not just for being the best French restaurant in town, but for bringing a little bit of the City of Lights to our own Queen City of the Plains.
Red Square Euro Bistro
Eric Gruneisen
Here in America, our national drink of choice is cheap beer. But in Russia, the winner -- hands down -- is vodka, served clear and cold. To get the good stuff straight from the source, exile yourself to Red Square Euro Bistro, a restaurant that serves up hearty portions of stroganoff and goulash, and also pours Russian, German and Lithuanian beer. But the real star here is the Russian vodka menu, featuring over eighty options, including more than a dozen tasty fruit- and spice-infused Siberian vodkas. Grab a spot at the bar, start downing your selections, and you'll soon find plenty of fellow travelers. Comrade!
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.
Luca
Scott Lentz
With Luca d'Italia, chef/owner Frank Bonanno has done what most transplanted East Coasters would have thought impossible: He's brought good Italian food to the Rocky Mountain region. No, not just good. Great Italian food. Wonderful, vital, superlative Italian food that's absolutely without equal on the Denver scene. Luca's menu is designed for gluttonous abandon, arranged for wild flights of pairing and sharing, set up in an attempt to make people eat the way the Italians do -- with several courses of small plates leading up to the entrees. The portions are small, the plating simple, the combinations divine. And on plate after plate -- from warm artichoke hearts to gnocchi in a crab-and-lobster gravy to the truffled rabbit parts that nearly killed us -- the unparalleled skill of this kitchen and the dedication of its chef shows through with startling, wonderful clarity.
This has been a weird year for the French-restaurant community. It began with all that Freedom Fries nonsense, followed by a wildly unsuccessful attempted boycott of all things French by a bunch of jingoistic ideologues. And then, in the midst of that, Denver and Boulder saw a sudden, inexplicable resurgence in French dining with several bistros, cafes and brasseries opening one right after another. Best among them -- best among both old and new -- is Brasserie Rouge, whose owners went to obsessive lengths to create a spot that, in their dedication to an atom-by-atom reconstruction of an honest French brasserie, is more real than the real thing. This restaurant faithfully mimics the best aspects of the brasserie in both its kitchen and dining room. From the butcher's paper tablecloths to the servers with French-as-a-second-language accents to the real duck confit, excellent bouillabaisse and true charcuterie coming from the galley, Rouge deserves a prize not just for being the best French restaurant in town, but for bringing a little bit of the City of Lights to our own Queen City of the Plains.
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.

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