Tuna nicoise; grilled Andouille sausage with charred peppers, olives, almonds and pumpkin seeds; a cheese plate with poached pears and lavender honey; mushroom tarts in cognac sauce. These are just a few of the unique tastes of Aix-en-Provence featured at Restaurant Aix. Feeling a bit more Mediterranean? No problem. The menu also features shrimp risotto and mussels in a roasted tomato sauce with Pernod. Since the influences of Northern Italy, Barcelona and Belgium all flavor the cuisine of Provence, they're all duly represented on this menu. And while the dining room where you'll devour these dishes feels sleek and modern, the food carries a sense of history that's inescapable.
Le Central
We go to Le Central like Catholics go to confession -- as a way to clear the head and save the soul after a week spent doing wrong. For serious fans of French food, Le Central is a required stop. But even if you just dream of spending a lazy Sunday afternoon hanging around a Parisian cafe reading Rimbaud and wearing a beret, Le Central is calling. From the unabashedly Gallic menu (loup de mer in port-wine reduction, escargots Bourguignon and Canard Grand Veneur roasted crisply and served with currant jelly) to the specials (such as an all-truffle menu for thirty bucks a head) to the nine-dollar bowls of perfectly done mussels and all-you-can-eat frites, owner Robert Tournier's little slice of the Left Bank is truly one of Denver's landmarks.
Z Cuisine and A Cote Bar a Absinthe
One of the best, most recognizable dishes in the epic French canon is cassoulet. And at Z Cuisine, one of the best, most recognizable dishes on chef/owner Patrick DuPays's chalkboard menu is a cassoulet maison that does proud every French cook ever tasked with carrying on the cassoulet tradition. One taste of DuPays's version -- which combines a leg of duck confit on the bone, local sausage, stiff white beans, bitter greens and whole cippolini onions gone soft as roasted garlic cloves, all in a tomato broth muscled up with stock and deeply, richly flavored with the mingled essences of each individual ingredient -- will remind even the most recalcitrant epicure why the French deserve their position of honor as the undisputed masters of cuisine both haute and basse, because there's nothing more comforting, nothing more charming, than a real cassoulet expertly done. Bracket it with a brilliant assiette de campagnard and maybe a bowl of the celery soup with cr?me frache (when available), and you'll know that Z Cuisine represents the best of France that Denver has to offer.
When Limn opened last July, it did so without the opening-night fireworks that have become rather customary for Denver's big addresses. But this was by design. What looked like one of those open-the-doors-and-pray scenarios was actually orchestrated inside and out by Kate LaCroix from Dish Publicity, and it worked amazingly well considering that the only thing more difficult to find than a succinct definition of chef Alex Gurevich's Novoandino cuisine was an open table during Limn's first few weeks. Granted, Limn is small, but its debut was one of the most surprising crushes of the year. And now, nine months into a very good year, Limn is expanding -- which is good news for the entire dining scene, since it shows that a smart idea can pay off.
There was no doubt that Lola had outgrown its original location. It had outgrown the space within a few weeks of Dave Query and chef Jamey Fader opening their little coastal Mexican seafood shack on South Pearl. What was never a sure thing, however, was whether the loyal crowd of regulars, neighbors, brunchers and margarita-suckers would follow Lola to its new home at the edge of Highland last April. Today, though, Lola is living large, because not only were the faithful willing to charge that hill, but the restaurant picked up a slew of new customers who'd apparently been waiting for such a spot to move in so that they could swill great margaritas on the patio, pitch tents in the dining room and absolutely refuse to leave.
Goose Sorensen, owner of Solera, has been through a rough couple of years. Strategic errors, an attempted (and ultimately abortive) expansion into the breakfast market, the dissolution of a bad partnership -- all of these things (combined with Sorensen's forays into the national food scene that kept him away from Denver for days or weeks at a time) were dangerous distractions that put Solera in danger of losing its edge, that fine blade of forward-looking innovation crossed with comforting classicism that was always its greatest strength. Now, though, Sorensen has put all those entanglements behind him and is joyously re-engaged in the day-to-day business of his kitchen -- and it shows in every plate coming out of that kitchen. Welcome back.

Best Taste of Denver When Coming Home

Jack-n-Grill

Home is where the heat is. No matter how long you've been away from Denver -- a month, a week, a day -- as you head back into town from DIA, you can feel yourself jonesing for great Mexican food. And now you can get a fast fix just off Pea Boulevard, at this second outpost of Jack-n-Grill, a sort-of franchise operation that features entertainment many nights and the same fantastic food all the time. No matter what you crave -- true green chile, ranchero tacos, a Frito pie or a fat carne asada burrito -- Jack-n-Grill will get you back on track.
Tables
Mark Manger
Even without lunch (which Tables recently stopped serving), even without those lines that once stretched out the door and past the patio, even without the walk-in traffic and the look of surprise on the faces of everyone discovering the place for the first time, Tables stands as Denver's best neighborhood restaurant. Why? Because dinner here can so quickly and so easily become one of those meals you'll remember for the rest of your life. Owners Dustin Barrett and Amy Vitale, everyone on the staff and everyone in the kitchen have joined to create a magical little bistro where the simplest things -- a bowl of clams, a plate of prosciutto and melon, a piece of fish perfectly cooked -- have the potential to change the way you look at food. Every neighborhood in the city should be so lucky as to have a place like Tables ready and waiting to serve.
Seventeenth Avenue is coming along. LoDo has a lot of great restaurants. Larimer Square has more good restaurants in one block than other parts of town have restaurants. But the real culinary explosion is on the edge of Highland, which is suddenly bursting with phenomenal restaurants. From small and fiercely ethnic joints to innovative nouvelle houses doing cutting-edge cuisine to brewpubs to solidly classical kitchens where perfection can be found in every sauce, chop and filet, Highland has it all. Equally important, this neighborhood has enough food-obsessed residents to fill the seats on weekday nights and enough dining variety to draw crowds from across the metro area on the weekends.
How long have we been saying that Sixth Avenue is going to be the next hot restaurant neighborhood? For years. But this year, we may finally be right. With Table 6 mounting a second-wind resurgence, the Master family consolidating their New American/California influence at Montecito, Fruition packing the former home of Somethin' Else, Lime XS doing surprisingly well and a dozen more ventures both old and new holding their own, this street is definitely on the upswing. At the very least, the diagonal line between Fruition and Montecito has become one of the most heavily trodden paths in Denver's food community as crowds constantly dodge traffic to jump between the two places, splitting dinner and drinks, drinks and desserts, apps and entrees or whatever. Sixth isn't there yet, but it's a neighborhood that bears watching.

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