It's 5:30 p.m., and the scent of nightfall -- the faint breeze of kitchen gusts -- already permeates the air when I pull my car up to the meter. And inside twelve, Jeff Osaka's Larimer Street restaurant, the smells grow more intense: Osaka and a brigade of chefs are concentrated in the galley, preparing for a sold-out dinner to celebrate twelve's five-year anniversary.
The assemblage -- Alex Seidel and Matt Vawter (Fruition); Justin Brunson (Old Major and Masterpiece Deli); Troy Guard (TAG, TAG Raw Bar, TAG Burger Bar, Sugar Mill and Los Chingonos); Paul Reilly (Beast + Bottle); Jeff Stoneking (ChoLon) and Osaka -- are cooking for sixty, a mix of dedicated regulars and an industry entourage stronghold.
Steamed opakapaka paired with pork hash; braised beef shank straddling mustard greens and pimento-cheese grits; smoked cobia dotted with American caviar; robiola tortellini with sweetbreads; an orb of roasted chicken that loosely mirrors porchetta; and a mound of banana cake dusted with peanut butter powder and punctuated with little pops of marshmallow fluff are on the menu, which also includes a few words from Osaka: "The neighborhood has changed dramatically, but what has remained constant," he writes, "is your loyal support. For this, I am very fortunate, and my promise is to continue to share my passion with you twelve times a year."
Later, when the chefs finally have a chance to breathe -- and the rest of us were still suppressing moans, gasps and grunts from what was one of the best dinners of the year -- they share a toast, and the soft-spoken Osaka, who is renowned for his chef ambassadorship, gestures at his peers, turning the attention, as he often does, to those who have also elevated Denver's dining landscape. "These chefs -- they've changed the dining scene like nobody's business," he says. "They're paving the way for great food in Denver, and they're an awesome group of guys."
By now, the wand on my watch had gone past 10 p.m, and we were all in a stupor from too much wine, our expanded bellies silently conveying their gratitude. With food, there's often that moment at the table when you experience the Great Awakening, a rhapsodic jolt that fills you with a supreme sense of exhilaration. It's like the high of an athlete who just won a gold medal, an intoxication that fills you with a surplus of happiness. And during last night's dinner, those highs just kept on coming.
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Here's a photo salute to the dinner -- and to the chefs, especially Osaka, whose culinary genius never fails to light my fire.