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.
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.

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