The Bite

Although in its infancy, the Manhattan Grill has already gained a reputation as a major power-lunch and -dinner spot (see review, this issue). Still, it has a long way to go before it tops another Rich Salturelli venture, CityGrille, as one of the town's best spots for deal-making and bread-breaking. CityGrille's location alone at 321 East Colfax Avenue, right across the street from the Capitol -- puts it in an almost unbeatable position for attracting the high and mighty.

For fourteen years, this address had been home to J. Beatty's (also briefly known as Beatty's -- not that anyone paid attention). Then Salturelli and his partner, chef David Minty, bought the restaurant in May 1998, officially changing the name to CityGrille later that year. Minty and Salturelli had worked together before, back when Salturelli owned Beacon Grill (upstairs at 303 16th Street) and Minty was doing the cooking there. Salturelli bowed out of that venture after what he calls "serious problems with the partners," but Minty stayed on with the new owners, Joan and Peter Jaffe of Double J Ranch -- which raised the Limousin beef that Minty grilled so wonderfully -- until the place was sold (it's now Mestizo). That left Minty free to join up with Salturelli again at CityGrille.

Minty still has a way with beef, which he proves with CityGrille's award-winning burger ($6.50), a top contender for this year's Best Burger award (until it was very narrowly beaten out by Bang!). He's also reprised the Beacon's signature Caesar salad ($5.95). The key here is the dressing: rich but not mayo-creamy, not too garlicky or salty but still packing the strength of both salt and garlic, and garnished with glorious Gorgonzola-slathered toast.

While lobbyists and legislators chew the fact, they can also down good Southwestern and Mexican fare. An order of three-cheese chiles rellenos ($7.25) brings two big, fat chiles stuffed to overflowing with plain and pepper Jack as well as cheddar; each bundle has been fried in a tasty batter, then smothered with CityGrille's great green chile (which earned the Best Gringo Green award this year). You can also try that gringo green on the hefty steak burrito ($7.95), with its spicy marinated beef strips and tons of cheddar, or the Taos chicken ($7.95), a tender bird breast blanketed in Swiss and sided by a tangy, hand-mashed guacamole.

CityGrille's more traditional American offerings are just fine, too. The fisherman's stew ($7.50), a saffron-sweetened, tomato-flavored broth swimming with clams, mussels and shrimp that mimics San Francisco's better cioppinos, makes a perfect light lunch. Meanwhile, real power eaters can wrestle with the chicken-fried steak ($7.25), which features a thick batter casing and peppery, beef-based cream gravy along with a side of dense, dense mashed potatoes for another way to clog the arteries with beefy goo.

If you're looking for a spot for a secret romantic rendezvous, CityGrille isn't the place: The bar side can get smoky, the atmosphere is often hectic until dinner, and there's simply no way you'll escape unnoticed. Conversely, there's no better place in town for people-watching and eavesdropping. Or for getting together with a big group of office folks looking to bond over martinis and a plate of succulent, chipotle-fired, honey-sauced, cheese-glued steak bites ($10.25) -- enough fuel to power anyone's commute back home.

I'll take Manhattan: The Manhattan Grill isn't the first local restaurant to bear a name that's a bite right out of the Big Apple. Back when the Cherry Creek space currently occupied by the eatery was filled by Rich Salturelli's Bay Wolf, in fact, one of the classiest joints in town was the Manhattan Cafe. This Manhattan, too, was a subterranean spot, and it boasted an address that today puts it right in the heart of LoDo -- a nickname that had yet to be bestowed on lower downtown Denver in the early '80s. It was the brainchild of another veteran restaurateur, Larry Wright, who went on to a number of ventures, including the revived Herb's Hideout, at 2057 Larimer Street. Today, Sonoda's occupies the space at 1624 Market Street that was once a Manhattan island of civilization in the heart of downtown.

But almost a century before that, just a block away, the Manhattan restaurant ruled Denver's dining scene at 1635 Larimer Street. Richard Pinhorn, the owner, had moved to this country in 1892 and started his restaurant four years later. It immediately became a favorite with the young city's movers and shakers, who flocked to the Manhattan to enjoy such delicacies as Denver's first onion rings.