Best New American Menu 2009 | Duo | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Scott Lentz
Duo has the trappings of a simple neighborhood bistro — but one with a particularly inventive cook behind the grills. Chef John Broening can do French, as evidenced by his duck confit over potato pancakes with apricot mustard. He can do Italian (gnocchi with oyster mushrooms and pecorino), fusion (a dish of pastry-wrapped mahi with herb pistou and sautéed vegetables). And he clearly knows his way around the fine points of old and new Continental, greenmarket and straight-up American cuisine (parmesan-crusted chicken with bacon-shot potato salad and watercress). Add to those talents a pastry department run by Yasmin Lozada-Hissom (one of the best pastry chefs anywhere), and the result is the most intelligent, consistently well-executed and grounded New American menu in the city.
"New American" is a term that's fallen somewhat out of favor as a way to describe the type of cuisine that essentially marks the page where, in the history of gastronomy, American chefs began asserting themselves as being capable of cooking more than just cheeseburgers and fat steaks. And that's because, for a time, the phrase was used to describe just about every restaurant that wasn't a takeout Chinese place or a Greek diner. But really, the reason that no other Denver restaurant wants to be labeled "New American" is simply because no other New American restaurant in this town (and maybe anymore) could be as good as Fruition. Chef Alex Seidel and his crew take their beef barley soup, oysters Rockefeller, confit pork shoulder and notions of American mastery very seriously, and in the front of the house, partner Paul Attardi takes the ideas of comfort and ease just as seriously — making a room that lulls you into a focused languor where nothing matters but the meal in front of you and the person you're sharing it with.
Bones is a restaurant made by a cook, for cooks. It's a restaurant dreamed up by a guy who loves food unreservedly and opened for those who share his outsized passions. Borders? Canon? Fads? Fuck 'em. Nominally a noodle bar, Bones is really a loose conglomeration of plates and styles and techniques that came together only because one man thought to stick them together. But what makes Bones work — makes the place truly sing — is that each one of these plates is an act of love, an ode to flavors and tastes that cooks love. It's a peek behind the curtain, a kind of psychological report on the passions of the food-obsessed and the food-drunk. "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are," Brillat-Savarin once said. And Bones, where owner Frank Bonanno and his guys cook what they like to eat, is simply this: the best new restaurant in Denver.
If ever a food deserved to take off as a fast-food staple but didn't, it's the humble kolache. Sure, it's been ripped off as everything from Hot Pockets to Pizza Rolls, but the only place that gives kolaches the care they deserve is the Kolache Factory, a small, Texas-based chain. And while the traditional kolache is a simple, yeasty, slightly sweet roll filled with sweet or savory leftovers, the Kolache Factory has modernized things by shoving all sorts of surprises inside its fresh-baked rolls. Chicken Ranchero kolaches? You bet. Breakfast kolaches with potato, egg and cheese? Of course. Since most versions retail in the one- to two-dollar range, you can essentially stuff yourself with three gastrointestinal hand grenades for just five bucks. But the Kolache Factory also sells them by the dozen, in case you have a sudden need for twelve sausage, jalapeño and cheese kolaches.
Molly Martin
In New Orleans, people might say that eggs Sardou is just as traditional as any white-bread, ham-and-holly eggs Benedict. But here in Denver, this Gulf prawn-and-spinach version is an exotic, rule-breaking freak Benny — and the best thing on Lucile's menu full of very good things. As such, it stands as incontrovertible proof that any classic recipe ever touched by a Cajun or Creole chef is only made better by their restrained fussing and murderous application of heavy cream, butter, eggs, butter and butter to everything. The eggs Sardou at Lucile's are so good that we've occasionally been tempted to order two plates and eat both at a single sitting. The only thing holding us back? The sure knowledge that we'd die from the pure excess — though God knows, we'd go out smiling.

Best Not-So-Traditional Japanese Restaurant


Courtesy Kokoro Facebook
An argument could be made that all Japanese food is fast food. Dumplings and noodle bowls are basic convenience foods, and sushi's ready with the slash of a knife. But Kokoro puts a uniquely American (and, arguably, uniquely Denver) spin on this idea that lands its noodle bowls, rice bowls, gyoza and sushi right between Chipotle fast-casual and old-time Woolworth's lunch-counter grub — except here the customers are eating unagi rice bowls, shrimp tempura udon, tekka maki and "sobaghetti" (yakisoba with vegetables and sauce) instead of cheeseburgers and milkshakes.
Why "Old American"? Because the central conceit behind both the menu and the design at Beatrice & Woodsley is that the restaurant is supposed to look like a place that might've been prepared by a particularly adept woodsman for his lady love in turn-of-the-last-century Colorado — and the food is part of the same fantasy. Thus are the bar's back shelves mounted to the wall by way of chainsaws, and the main floor has aspen trees growing out of it. Thus does the menu manage to mix beautiful frog's legs, deconstructed Fig Newtons, turtle soup, buffalo hash, pork belly, roast quail, crawfish beignets and foie gras all together — a lineup that would be ludicrous without the design. And without the menu, the design would be goofy and annoying. But when everything comes together, Beatrice & Woodsley becomes much more than the simple sum of its parts; it becomes one of the most singularly beautiful and brilliant restaurants that Denver has ever seen.
Mark Antonation
There's almost nothing in this world as fine as a perfect stack of pancakes. Aged whiskey, a good lay, a stripper who's actually doing it to pay for her philosophy degree — these all edge out a perfect plate of flapjacks, but not by much. And when you're looking for that perfect plate, the place on your list should be Toast. The "Plain Jane Pancakes" here are so good they ought to be criminal — light and fluffy and dense all at the same time, cooked on the flat-top so that each one is marked with the concentric rings that can only be made by a flapjack-flipper who's got his eye on the ball. But what really raises Toast to the realm of hotcake heaven are the specialty pancakes with Fruity Pebbles or Oreos, spiked with lemon and blueberry, made to taste like strawberry cheesecake or in the style of bananas Foster. The kitchen will even do them in flights, so you never have to decide between one sweet, unbelievable indulgence and another.
Mark Tarbell is some kind of pizza genius. We don't know what, exactly, he had to sell to the devil in order to gain his magical pizza-making skills and then apply them to the Oven, but his sacrifice was worth it. Because even with all the fierce and bitter competition in this town over what is essentially some dough, tomato sauce and cheese, the Oven continues not only to serve Denver's best pizza, but to stand far above its closest competitor. The Oven's pies are addictive, always displaying the ideal balance of quality toppings, sauce and crust. And the Belmar restaurant where you get to eat those pizzas is just plain fun — an honest-to-god neighborhood pizza joint that's full of neighborly types from across the city every night.
Courtesy Brooklyn M.C.'s Facebook
In both atmosphere and attitude, Brooklyn MC's establishes itself as one of those straight-outta-the-boroughs New York pizza joints the minute you walk through the door. And then a pizza comes out of one of the big deck ovens, thin as a dream, looped with swirls of red sauce and splotches of cheese bubbling the way real mozzarella will. It's a great pizza that makes for a great slice, and chances are there are some slices from the last pie to come out of the oven waiting for you right now, under glass on the counter. So what are you waiting for? If you're hungry, broke and in a rush, MC's has you covered.

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