BEST MOTHERF*&$ING EXPENSIVE DINNER 2006 | Opus Restaurant 2575 W. Main St., Littleton 303-703-6787 | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Chef Michael Long is a genius. Not the stuffy, pocket-protector kind, but more the mad scientist sort. And his laboratory is Opus, where every night he brings his smart, bent vision of New American cuisine to bear on the ever-changing menu. There are lobster chops and gingered chicken, pumpkin flan from the attached patisserie, innovative appetizers, beautiful desserts. And it's amazing what this man can do with peanut butter. This stuff isn't cheap -- but not everything is about low prices and double coupons. And at Opus, you get what you pay for. If you want excellent food, beautifully executed in an environment that puts great cuisine up on the stage where it belongs, make a reservation at Opus and taste the kind of masterpieces that are possible when a kitchen is under the direction of a genius like Long.


Frasca 1738 Pearl St.

Julia Vandenoever
By the time they've made their way through the rest of Frasca's rich menu, diners probably don't notice the hefty price tag attached to the chocolate platter, a "selection of housemade chocolates" tucked among the tarts and cheeses. An excessive and decadent bank-breaking offering of a dozen or so handcrafted candies featuring Valrhona chocolate and every trick in the chocolatier's canon, the chocolate platter costs three times as much as the other desserts. But this one arrives bearing an elegant selection of perfect truffles and filled chocolates, simple molds, and foil-wrapped confections that would look more at home in a jewel box than on a plate. Sitting here in this understated dining room, licking your fingers and eating something as opulent as artisan chocolates, it's easy to forget that you're on Pearl Street, in the heart of the People's Republic of Boulder. But sometimes it's no sin to be bourgeois, and this is one of those times. Is an order worth the price? In a word, yes -- but then, the best of anything almost always is.
Julia Vandenoever
Seem weird that a restaurant would offer both the best expensive dessert in the area and the best dinner deal? Well, maybe it would be weird if the restaurant were anyplace but Frasca. This spot is all about juxtaposition, and nowhere is that more clear than on the community nights that Frasca celebrates every Monday, offering a multi-course, prix fixe dinner to everyone who manages to cram inside. The dinners fill up quick, but that's no surprise when just $35 buys you a meal at one of the best restaurants in the country, featuring such largesse as the house's stellar pork belly and glazed carrots, Yukon potato agnolotti with maitake mushrooms, and vanilla ice cream with poached tart cherries. Sign up fast -- and count yourself fortunate that partners Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson are rare top-tier food celebrities who've never forgotten that their primary duty is to feed the people, not their own egos or bank accounts.
Spam is a funny thing. So maligned, so wrongly identified with trailer parks and camping trips gone horribly wrong, this pink and quivering loaf of tinned meat has taken some serious hits over the years. And yet like sweetened condensed milk and processed rice pudding, it's also become inextricably linked with certain cuisines where its existence sometimes made the difference between life and death for those living in places geographically cut off from traditional supply lines. In Hawaii today, Spam is a perfectly integrated element of the food culture -- an indispensable, easily stored source of protein that reaches its peak in musubi: a slab of pan-fried Spam laid over a fist-sized ball of sticky sushi rice and tied in place with an artful ribbon of black nori. And thanks to the recent sprouting of the Palm Tree Grill in Aurora, you, too, can now cram some Spam on this section of the mainland.
Molly Martin
At Parisi, the trick isn't finding something satisfying for dinner that will cost less than a ten-spot. That's easy: The extensive menu includes several dishes so cheap and so good that we'd gladly pay double if there were, say, only one order of the gnocchi Sorrentina left in the kitchen and someone in line ahead of us. No, eating cheap here is easy; it's sticking to your budget that's tough. So if you're into eating on the cheap, put away that credit card, skip the second pizza and avoid the attached market -- not to mention the prosciutto bar that owners Simone and Christine Parisi have installed in their basement.
Scott Lentz
Rioja is not a cheap restaurant, by any means, but it offers two of the best meals in the city for under twenty bucks each. The first is the Rioja picnic. Just $14.50 buys you a big plate filled with everything necessary to make an antipasto freak smile: Spanish chorizo; shaved, dried duck breast; speck; a little goat cheese; a little gorgonzola; olives and nuts; a bit of truffled fennel salad -- as well as really good bread (you can choose from three kinds, and if you ask nicely, the server will let you try them all). That leaves enough cash for the cheapest glass of wine on the menu, a 2004 Louis Latour Chardonnay d'Ardeche, and a well-deserved tip. The second meal is more complicated: Start with a small plate of the bar's garlic- and citrus-marinated olives, then move on to the baked, housemade mozzarella, wrapped in prosciutto and served on toasted bread with oven-dried tomatoes and olive spread. Finally, ask for a half portion of the artichoke tortelloni, one of the best pasta dishes in the city. Now, hope that you have a little change left from parking, because your tab actually comes out to $21 before tax and tip -- and you'll want to be generous there, because a meal this good is worth much, more more.


Sam's #3

Danielle Lirette
Last year, Sam's #3 opened in pretty much the same spot where the original Sam's closed almost fifty years before, and ever since, culture vultures have had a surefire option for gulping a fast dinner before taking in a show at the Denver Performing Arts Complex a block away. Even though the menu is incredibly extensive, offering everything from fried chicken and cheeseburgers to catfish and Sam's original chili, the guys in the kitchen know how to turn and burn their way through a rush, how to get you in and out fast. So the next time you've got tickets for Norma and not much time before the lights go down, give Sam's a try. It's quick, it's close, it's cheap, and the portions are big enough that you'll have enough in your belly to keep you in your seat until the fat lady sings. How do you think she got fat in the first place?


Coral Room

The biggest difference between the original Coral Room in the Highland neighborhood and this new, improved model at Stapleton is how it accommodates that one indispensable accessory of the 21st-century nuclear unit: children. Kids can be the fine-dining kiss of death, so it makes sense that a restaurant designed expressly for upwardly mobile thirty-something families would include space for pint-sized patrons. At the Coral Room, it's an entire room -- almost a third of the total real estate -- separated from the main dining floor and bar by a sliding Japanese-style screen and set with grownup tables all facing a padded, carpeted, vaguely piscine-themed play area called (annoyingly) "The Little Reef," filled with savaged books, broken toys, smudgy kid-sized furnishings and, most important, a TV. Everything about the place -- from the kids' room to the movie nights, the Asian-influenced, nouvelle-inspired cuisine to the everything-by-the-glass wine list, fashionable cocktails and Metropolitan Home decor -- guarantees that both junior and the folks will have a good time without driving the restaurant's other, childless patrons out into the night.


Z Cuisine

If French is the language of love, then French food is the cuisine of lust -- an entire canon of recipes and preparations that, when done well, can make a lady's panties leap from her body and a gentleman's thoughts turn to committing impure acts of passion in the street. And Z Cuisine does things so very, very well that the menu ought to come with some kind of warning sticker. Even the most socially inept can't help but feel like a man (or woman) of taste and sophistication here. From the chalkboard menu and seriously French wine list to the beautiful, intimate space and wonderfully comforting farmhouse French cuisine done by chef/owner Patrick Dupays, there's no more romantic restaurant in town. Voulez vous couchez avec moi ce soir?


The Fort

Molly Martin
Dad wants steak. Mom wants chicken. Your little sister is on some kind of freaky, fish-only, zero-tolerance diet. And you just want enough whiskey to get you through a meal without strangling anyone or being forced to have another talk about your impending court date. So head to the hills -- specifically, The Fort. Housed in a replica of the original Bent's Fort and offering an unparalleled view of the mountains and the sky, Sam Arnold's cowboys-and-Indians paean to the culinary life of frontiersmen is guaranteed to satisfy everyone's needs. For Dad, there's more meat than at a butcher's counter, including flesh from a variety of unusual animals (or unusual parts of fairly common animals). For Mom, there's a Kit Carson-authentic bowl of chicken soup. For you, there's the house's home-brew whiskey (made with real gunpowder!), and plenty of conversational topics that have nothing to do with Mexico, the police, or exactly what number of prescription back pills constitutes possession with intent. As for your sister? Tell her that Rocky Mountain oysters are actually a kind of shellfish, then try not to laugh when she takes her first bite of balls.

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