Denver's best Caesar salad award goes to...

Last night I witnessed the Greatest Caesar Salad competition, an annual battle of the romaine hosted by the Colorado Chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food, that pitted seven local restaurants -- Squeaky Bean, Root Down, Campo de Fiori, Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza, Opus, Black Pearl and Izakaya Den -- against one another in a spirited duel to see which chef would walk away wearing the leafy crown.

A few hundred guests turned out to sample the salads and vote for their favorite, while three judges -- me, Penny Parker from the Denver Post and Pat Miller (Gabby Gourmet) -- cast our own ballots.

The final results?

Best Caesar by the people: Izakaya Den. Hardly a traditional Caesar, chef Darren Pusateri's modernized version paired butter-poached halibut with crisp romaine and frisée, halved tomatoes, sliced radishes and a zippy dressing. Best Caesar by the judges: Squeaky Bean. Chef Max Mackissack blanched whole leaves of romaine and used the wilted leaves to wrap his Caesar, an inspired and wholly unique mix of house-cured fresh anchovies, shreds of romaine and dehydrated chicken skins that were so crisp, they shattered. He dusted the wrap with fried chicken powder and Parmesan cheese and, just for fun, added the world's largest Parmesan crouton.

For their wins, both chefs received bragging rights and plateware inscribed with the words "Greatest Caesar Salad in Denver."

Until next year.

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