Cafe Society

Beatrice & Woodsley is easy to love

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That a kitchen that could handle frog's legs could also pass off a long plate of heady, slightly sour, slightly musky, malted barley flapjacks with homemade fruit conserve and maple syrup and perfect cheese grits with eggs, a biscuit and a smear of the greatest chile-spiked sweet-hot fruit jam I've ever tasted was just amazing. But it would be overdramatic (and untrue) to say that I fell immediately in love.

That didn't happen until the next night.

After dark, Beatrice & Woodsley glows. The windows, tinted gold, show a dreamlike version of the interior. The interior shows a dreamlike version of a restaurant that's supposed to be a cabin in the aspens that is really the fancy of a guy from Atlanta imagining Colorado from afar. The split-log tables and seat backs upholstered to look like aspen bark, the pot-bellied stoves and sinks that drop water down from the ceiling — all of it serves as a frame, like one huge meta-setting for the most innovative and original menu in the city, for a wine list like nothing I've ever seen.

Under the lantern glow, washed in the soft hum of ethereal music and the muted conversations of tables scattered throughout the room, I ate fig "Noonan": a deconstruction, part cheese plate, part dessert, with a single fig inside a sugar shell, two bites of camembert, a dot of honeycomb and a half a homemade fig cookie. Each individual piece was excellent, and the plate was gorgeous.

That was just the start.

Pork, three ways: braised shoulder over a Calasparra rice cake and beneath a hat of stewed peppers; roasted loin, larded with bacon fat, crisp at the edges and tender beneath, over grits as good as the ones I'd had for breakfast 36 hours before; pork belly like I've never had before — so meltingly soft, so deeply flavored and fatty and awe-inspiring that it squeezed a groan out of me at the first bite. The gaufrette potatoes and English pea sauce? Just gravy. The entire plate was breathtaking.

The soup was potato, studded with bacon. I could've made a meal out of four bowls and walked away content. The crawfish beignets sounded strange on paper — essentially a crawfish bisque (actually a thickened pepper aioli with chunks of crawfish meat) crammed inside doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar. But on the plate, they were delicious, deep-fried revelations. They came with a warning from our server to eat them carefully because the filling had a tendency to squirt out, blinding and maiming one's companions. Final revenge of the crawfish.

The kitchen was out of the house-cured sardines with mozzarella, so we went for "Rabbit, back in the saddle" — custom-butchered bits of rabbit saddle with the flank left long, turned and wrapped around a stuffing made of braised leg and herbs: rabbit, stuffed with rabbit, wrapped in rabbit. There was an herbed pistou, an onion purée, a pan jus — a dozen different complicated techniques in evidence on one perfectly presented plate. I was moved by the genius of it all.

The plate of handmade butternut squash ravioli with ricotta, sage-apple butter, fried sage, fried shallots, pumpkin-seed oil and olive oil was like eating a Thanksgiving centerpiece. It was clever, but too busy by half. Other non-meat items were more successful, although I didn't know where Woodsley would've hunted up udon noodles or tofu or baby bok choy or whole daikon radish in nineteenth-century Colorado. Ditto for soba-noodle cakes with sweet soy. And how Beatrice might've laid hands on a mini-tajine for the presentation of the lamb breast over pearl couscous was anyone's guess. But by then, I no longer cared about historic inconsistencies. I had a bellyful of Czech beer from a thousand-year-old growing region and was dizzied by what I'd seen from the kitchen, from the cocktail list (sazerac, absinthe, three kinds of chartreuse, 150-year-old bourbon, ports I've never even heard of), from the floor where I was sorely tempted to tackle every passing server and eat what they were carrying to tables other than mine.

I wasn't just won over; I was in love. Trees in the dining room? Brilliant. Goofy backstory? Bring it on. Chainsaw shelf brackets behind the bar, mounted to crumbling lathe-and-plaster walls? Made perfect sense to me, because my suspension of disbelief was complete. Right now, at this moment, Beatrice & Woodsley is no fantasy. It's simply the most remarkable restaurant in the city of Denver, a point of pure and stubborn wonder.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan