Palace Arms
The Brown Palace
To begin, a few ounces of the Palace Arms' diminishing stock of real, pre-embargo caviar, which will run you anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Then order a shot -- but sip it! -- of very well-aged 1870s cognac ($575). After that the prices become somewhat more terrestrial for a beautiful bowl of perfect consomm, a classic loup de mer or the loin of bison Rossini topped with slips of seared foie gras and settled in a tarn of amazing Madeira reduction. For dessert, there's bananas Foster from the cart -- then a cigar and a glass of twenty-year-old port in the Churchill Bar next door. Tip big and stagger out of the Brown Palace knowing that you've just had the experience of a lifetime. Is it worth it? As with a designer suit or a luxury car, if you can afford it, you really don't need to ask.
Duo Restaurant
Scott Lentz
It's funny how Duo's dining room -- a simple space with pale wood, exposed brick, white tablecloths -- initially seems underwhelming. At first blush, it looks like any one of a hundred other neighborhood joints going for casual bistro elegance. But Duo begins to reveal itself as soon as the menus come out -- and once the plates start arriving? You'll never look at the place the same way again. With food like this, Duo is the ideal go-to spot for special occasions of any description. Chef John Broening's ever-changing seasonal menus always maintain a pitch-perfect balance between his obsessive love of ingredients and his smarter-than-the-average-bear take on that oft-abused cuisine called New American; the service continually walks the line between educated professionalism and informal joie de travail; and the pacing of meals is excellent -- never rushed, never poky. Whether you're celebrating an anniversary or a successful parole hearing, Duo is the best spot to mark one of life's little victories. After all, that pretty much describes this restaurant, too.
Frasca Food and Wine
Kelly Kaoudis
Monday nights at Frasca are community night -- a time for owners Lachlan Mac-kinnon-Patterson and Bobby Stuckey, as well as their front- and back-of-the-house crews, to give a little something back to the community that's been so good to them. And how better for this chef and master sommelier to express their gratitude than with food? Every week, they put together a special prix fixe menu, open the doors and wait to see what happens. Although not every lineup is brilliant -- sometimes the Monday-night dinners seem like a test run for dishes that could appear later on the regular menu -- with a little risk comes great reward. Some of Frasca's best tricks have been tried at these informal evenings, and the prices are unbeatable.
Mizuna
Joni Schrantz
Frank Bonanno, owner of Mizuna and Luca d'Italia, has had a pretty wild run recently. There was the complicated publication of his first cookbook and the flurry of promotion that followed. There was the dissolution of his partnership at the floundering Milagro Taco Bar and Harry's up on 17th Avenue. There was the loss of two of his Mizuna vets and the promotion of two new guys to take over those top spots. And through all of it, Mizuna -- Bonanno's first and best restaurant -- has remained strong, full and, most important, vital. It's a perfect showcase for the talents (and menus) of Bonanno, one of Denver's best chefs and also a hell of a businessman. At Mizuna, it doesn't matter what night of the week you show up (unless you show up on Sunday or Monday, when the place is closed); dinner is bound to be amazing, with terrific fried anything appetizers and great fish and foie entrees.
Fruition
Mark Manger
Like mod haircuts and hot pants, the cheese course seems to wax and wane in popularity year by year. There are seasons when it seems that every restaurateur in town is dumping bucketloads of money into the acquisition of increasingly strange and powerful cheeses from around the globe, others when it's tough to find a wedge of cheddar anywhere. But Fruition has found an elegant constant with its French Bleu D'Laquille: a simple plate that offers a single, good-sized slab of Bleu D'Laquille attended by nothing more than toasted brioche, a smear of fig paste and a bit of raw honeycomb sitting in a puddle of its own delicious honey.
Duo Restaurant
Scott Lentz
Pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom is just one of the many reasons that Duo has taken off. But she's a big reason. Her desserts -- rustic apple-cranberry tarts, completely addictive sticky toffee puddings and frozen pistachio nougat, to name just a few -- are the stuff dreams are made of (you know: sugar, chocolate, more sugar, buttercream). Any one of them makes for a perfect extravagance at the end of what's certain to have been a very good meal.
Palace Arms
The Brown Palace
Unless you order very, very carefully, dinner at the Palace Arms may cost you the price of a decent used car -- but at least the macaroons brought with the bill are free. They also happen to be among the most delicious little cookies we've ever tasted, with a delicate texture and hints of honey, almond and sugar.
Restaurant Kevin Taylor is not only the finest expression of the classical talents of Denver's most prolific Big Name Chef, but it's provided some of our most surpassing moments of culinary bliss this past year. Not every one of the seasonal menus is perfect, but when this kitchen is on, it's brilliant, rising so far above Denver's culinary status quo that at times it can seem nearly ethereal.
There are places around town where one visit is enough. One meal off the menu and you know everything there is to know about the place. But there are other restaurants, other menus, that reveal themselves only over time. Chama is one of those restaurants, and the menu, designed by chef Sean Yontz, is one of those menus. On the surface, it seems so simple: a Meximerican three-a-day with tacos, burritos, piloncillo-spiked French toast and entrees heavy on the chiles. But after a few visits, you begin to see the careful balance of Mexican, New Mexican and nouvelle Latino influences at play here. Somewhere around meal six, you understand that with its deep tequila and mezcal list, friendly service and multi-layered menu, Chama is a truly excellent restaurant hidden in the body of a merely mediocre one. And after that? By the time you've been to Chama half a dozen times, you qualify as a restaurant regular -- and there's no question that friends of this house are treated like best friends indeed.
On the best nights at the original Brix, it's hard to tell who's an employee, who's a customer and who's a friend. Everyone just seems to wander around carrying drinks and plates, jumping from table to table doing shots and carrying on conversations about everything under the sun. Though located in Cherry Creek, Brix is about as anti-Creek as you can get, drawing a young, hip, moneyed group of weirdos, bar-hoppers and night creatures: A small-time weed dealer, a chef on the prowl or a recently paroled arsonist would get more action here than a high-powered attorney or black-jacket politico. The food is good, the drinks are strong, the vibe is cool -- but we come for the crowds, because you never know who's going to hit the Brix.

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