Mouth by Southwest

About three weeks ago, Chad Clevenger put Agave Grill through a mid-season menu overhaul, altering or outright dumping about two-thirds of the opening board. While the result could have been a return to the mixed Chihuahua-meets-Lyon Old World/New World fusion of the Cherry Creek Mel’s during Clevenger’s days there, he surprised me again by further refining the kitchen’s output so that his new menu, far from aping the doomed nouvelle Mexican trends of five years ago, went even thinner on the classical conceits until they became a near-invisible presence that existed only in the hands of Clevenger and his cooks.

That change is what put Agave Grill over the edge for me.

It's been transformed from a pretty good suburban example of Frenchy-Mexican Southwestern nouvelle to a very good example of how classical technique and a refined palate can be used almost as an unseen armature on which to hang New World flavors without the whole mess collapsing into a wreck of chile napoleons and tacos loup de mer. Under the command of Chad Clevenger, Agave Grill is a much more interesting restaurant than its look or location suggests, a place where classical training, an American melting-pot sensibility and Mexican/New Mexican influences are rammed together full speed, with a cuisine then picked carefully from the rubble. And the food that results is so delicious (for the most part), you start scheduling your next meal midway through the one you’re eating. Read all about it in this week’s Café.

In Bite me, there’s news of the latest James Beard nominations – Fruition is up for Best New Restaurant – and some TV talk. And come Thursday, there’ll be an informal, mini-review of the Mel’s in Greenwood Village posted right here in From the Gut -- as well as an explanation of just how many things had to go wrong before I gave up on my plan for a side-by-side review of Agave and Mel’s, and spread the pleasure out across multiple media.

Finally, the Best of Denver 2008 will hit newsstands and this site on March 27, packed with a couple hundred awards for restaurants and bars that rate everything from Best New Restaurant to Best Pickles and Pakora. Readers’ Poll ballots are being accepted at the office through March 7, or you can vote online until March 19. We want to hear from you -- unless, of course, you’re one of those people who thinks Taco Bell has the best tacos and McDonald’s has the best french fries. -- Jason Sheehan

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun