Last night, a posse of local food scribes got a sneak peek of Bittersweet, Olav Peterson's new restaurant at 500 East Alameda Avenue, which will open to the public for dinner on Saturday.
The garden-to-table, artisanal food temple, which Peterson oversees with his wife, Melissa Severson, sprouted -- and grew -- out of a former auto body garage that was originally built as a Sinclair service station. "It's been a labor of love for both of us, with a lot of blood, sweat and tears," admits Melissa, who says that the name -- Bittersweet -- reflects a vine that grows rampant in the Midwest, where she and Peterson both grew up, a song by Big Head Todd and the Monsters that they both love, and, obviously, a culinary term that precedes, among other things, chocolate. "It was a name that just fit," says Melissa.
The space, exposing an open kitchen and small bar, is still undergoing the final stages of construction, but it will seat sixty in two high-ceilinged, windowed rooms bedecked with indoor/outdoor fireplaces, Italian light fixtures and, outside, two patios that will double as gardens -- one shaded, the other open to sunlight. "When we first looked at the space, all I saw was forty broken down cars in the parking lot, but my wife saw a location that could really work, and the gardens are going to be a huge part of what we plan to do here," says Peterson, who will build several beds planted with everything from herbs, beans and lettuces to peas, cabbage and squash. "The really fun part is that I have the freedom and flexibility to do what I want here, including playing with all sorts of produce."
And while there's nothing growing at the moment -- they'll start planting in February -- last night's dinner was a solid testament to Peterson's penchant for whimsy dishes that showcase his amazing talent.
Behold the food porn:
Chef/owner Olav Peterson and his crew fire up the burners for last night's tasting dinner for Denver food media. Pork confit with a ham hock and edamame salad straddling a sauce of split peas, Peterson's playful take on split pea soup; housemade rabbit sausage with potato-chive gnocchi slicked with a brown-butter vinaigrette. Head-on fresh prawn elevated by orbs of crusted got cheese and hericot verts and frisée tossed with a Fresno pepper vinaigrette. Deconstructed New England clam chowder: A potato croquet propped with a razor clam crowned with bacon floating in a cold-smoked warm mussel broth, its liqueur perfumed with melted leeks. In a word: spectacular. Monkfish with cauliflower lobster hash pooled in a cauliflower bisque bolstered by Santorini lemon oil. Brioche breadcrumb-topped braised veal cheeks in cast-iron pots plated with a gremolata salad topped with rings of Meyer lemon. Blood-orange sorbet. Peterson in his exhibition kitchen, hunched over the burners preparing last night's terrific feast. Last night's dinner was hosted in Bittersweet's second dining room, which will seat thirty once it opens to the public on Saturday. The room, which features a double-sided gas fireplace, will also be used for private parties.