Sometimes I don’t give the suburbs much credit — okay, any credit — despite being a product of the ’burbs myself, and despite knowing many fine folks who have forsaken central Denver for the relative peace and space that the outlying towns and neighborhoods offer. One thing that keeps me in the city is the array of high-caliber dining options within biking distance. Even as a kid, I felt restricted by the Village Inns, KenTaco Huts and Outback Steakhouses surrounded by parking lots. Going out only felt fancy and satisfying when it felt fresh and new to me — whether an urban Chinese hole-in-the-wall or a new outpost of Rainforest Cafe (which I didn't know then was a corporate entity).
But as suburban spaces get revamped and become walkable — and often even accessible by public transportation — much of that has changed. These days, developers work to attract creative and independent concepts to open in their sometimes not-so-interesting architecture, making periphery neighborhoods destinations in their own right. The Denver Tech Center's Belleview Station does just that, and it is here that Le French finds its dignified home.
The product of two French-Senegalese sisters, Rougui and Aminata Dia, Le French hit its one-year birthday just as COVID-19 shut down the restaurant industry in the spring. But with masks and social distancing in place, the sisters have resumed their French bistro-inspired service. Luckily for me, the restaurant runs a happy hour from 2:30 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (though you wouldn’t know it from the restaurant's website).
My party of three snuck into Le French with about thirty minutes left on the happy hour clock after a day of work. Passing two ladies in matching pastel shirts and white pants, we were greeted by the host, whose style was next-level debonair. All of this made us self-conscious about our Colorado urban-casual appearance. Despite this shortcoming and our lack of reservation (recommended during these times), the host navigated us to two marble-topped tables on the patio appropriately distanced from the fashion twins.
Two laminated sheets with QR codes serve as separate dinner and happy hour beverage menus, only both codes pulled up the full-priced beverage menu — a small oversight. The confusion led us to accidentally explore one bar creation, the pear vodka and St. Germaine-based Poirer ($12), which wasn't on the happy hour list. But the cocktail du jour, the True Blue, spoke to me at a comfortable $7, while my brother opted for a pineapple and hibiscus tequila drink, Le Bissap, for $10. As we awaited our cocktails, we watched purebred pups lead their yacht-wear-clad owners along the clean suburban sidewalk, reminding me that we weren't downtown.
My True Blue arrived more the hue of a purple Gatorade, with a tiny violet sphere sunk in the bottom. As I admired its gentle color and subtle flavor, the blob surfaced delightfully like a koi. The Poirer was more balanced and less sweet than you might expect from a drink with St. Germain. Meanwhile, Le Bissap (named after an African hibiscus drink) went down so quickly that we were "forced" to order another round, this time large and dangerously refreshing happy hour glasses of white sangria.
Soon enough, our dimpled plate of snails arrived, each de-shelled escargot swimming in its personal pool of butter. It had been a while since I’d eaten escargot, but I’m almost certain these were the best I’ve ever had — though that could have been the butter talking. The mussels were classic — not stunning, but worth ordering just for the frites: perfect crunchy potato sheaths surrounding soft insides. The intriguing tuna-filled “pastels” were fried darker than expected and served with a simple Senegalese-style tomato and onion sauce. And if you're looking for a few extra carbs, I'd recommend paying a little extra for the housemade croissant over the baguette.
For those who work nearby, Le French makes for a handy happy hour stop, especially when you're attempting to avoid rush hour traffic. Better yet, you can take the light rail (only a five-minute walk away) to avoid busy I-25 altogether. If you’re not happy hour-committed, as I almost always am, I’d also take the train down on a Sunday to enjoy the People + Produce farmers' market before stopping for brunch at the bistro. Either way, I’d recommend taking a look in the mirror before heading out of downtown. Rocking your Vans or Chuck Taylors? Consider a costume change.
Le French is located at 4901 South Newport Street and is accessible by the RTD E and R Lines to Belleview Station. Call 720-710-8963 or visit the restaurant's website for details and reservations.
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