I’d be lying if I said I'd been stoked to check out Chow Morso Osteria. Not because the place doesn’t have a lineage worth its salt: Barolo Grill, owner Ryan Fletter's other, more storied eatery, has been wowing diners with handmade agnolotti, fresh veal sausages and a killer wine list for decades. Rather, I am still in a process of mourning the loss of the Squeaky Bean (which closed more than two years ago, I know) and was avoiding the place — that is, until I was forced to make a quick choice after the downtown venue I had in mind was closed for a private event.
All that is to say, when we arrived at Chow Morso, it was freezing, I was grumpy, and an hour of happiness seemed like a wisp of a dream. But there we were, cold and frazzled in a warmly lit entryway, handing our myriad layers over to the host. We had our pick of seats at the C-curved bar, and though I missed the finished wood of the Bean, the newer marble top felt regal and inviting. Because it was a quiet Wednesday, we had a sort of pleasant intimacy with the bartender. And because we had no desire to return outside, we ordered everything on the happy-hour menu, including a house wine (Barrachi O’Lillo, a Tuscan blend, for $6) and a cranberry and Aperol-infused Winter Greyhound for $5.
While my oenophile friend checked out the non-happy-hour wine list, another companion pondered the size of the frito misto. At $5 it sounded too good to be true: Did we need two? When the small bowl arrived, we thought a second serving might be in order. But everything else from the menu landed simultaneously, and there were so many morsels to attend to that we forgot about it until after we'd polished off the other offerings, also holding off on the non-temperature-sensitive salumi e formaggi board ($12) and its luscious confit tomato to dig into the hot arancini.
I’ll be honest, these fried rice balls always seem like the filler food of the fancy Italian culinary world. But Chow Morso executed them well, and we all agreed that giving our first born over for a deli tub of the accompanying lemon aioli (lemon curd in disguise as mayonnaise) would be a minor sacrifice. I also didn’t expect the arugula insalata piccola ($4) to blow our minds, but with at least $5 worth of pine nuts and parmesan distributed throughout, the well-dressed greens were both refreshing and indulgent. The prosciutto-wrapped savory focaccia puff pastry ($8) that followed were like meat-decorated beignets, livened up by horseradish sauce but nonetheless hefty.
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By this point, we had that warm glow of food and wine, but it was sleeting outside, so we saw no point in ending the evening. Besides, Chow Morso still had an entire dinner menu of fresh pasta to select from and an extensive wine list to lust over. So we tucked our coat-check tags a little deeper into our pockets and set about making another round of decisions.
When we finally polished off our meal, the bar was full and the dining room was looking a little less lonely. With its welcoming yet quiet vibe, I appreciate the respite Chow Morso provided. There are many happy-hour joints in Denver at similar price points offering lesser service and far inferior fare.
Chow Morso is located at 1500 Wynkoop Street and offers Aperitivo (happy hour) from 3 to 6 p.m. every Monday through Friday. Call 720-639-4089 or visit the restaurant's website for more details.