What defines an essential restaurant? Several opinionated friends and I were recently discussing that topic during dinner at a trendy newcomer that's amassed a flurry of flattery since opening its doors. It's a restaurant-of-the-moment, but will it still be relevant in six months? Will the crowds continue to jam the doors? More important, will it have made an indelible mark on Denver's dining landscape ten years from now? As a prelude to our annual Best of Denver issue, we're spotlighting, in no particular order, fifty restaurants -- old and new, classy, cool and conventional, strip mall and belle of the ball -- that are the Mile High City's most essential places to eat. These are the places that every foodnik in Denver should have on his or her feed-me list.
No. 46: Trillium
In Michigan, Nordic traditions are here, there and everywhere, in bathrooms and on billboards, in bakeries and boutiques, and in restaurants that pump out pickled herring, lutefisk and cloudberries. Noma, the international sensation from Danish chef René Redzepi, was deemed the "standard bearer for the New Nordic movement" last year when the restaurant nabbed the number one spot on San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurant roster...for the third time -- and there's no denying that Noma has popularized Scandinavian cuisine in the States. In Denver, we have our own "standard bearer" of Nordic cuisine, courtesy of Ryan Leinonen, who grew up in Michigan, married a Swede and opened Trillium, Denver's first Scandinavian restaurant -- a restaurant that combines Leinonen's allegiance to his Midwestern roots with ceaseless creativity and an unrelenting Nordic stripe that embraces American traditions.
From the confines of his open kitchen, which peeks over a minimalist dining room refreshingly absent of distractions that detract from his food, Leinonen focuses on delivering one of the city's most elevated dining experiences, turning out superlative dishes sprinkled with refined whimsy. The cold-smoked steelhead trout, the lustrous cubes of which burrow beneath the lid of a jar that, once opened, emits plumes of aromatic vapors, is indicative of Leinonen's originality and craftsmanship, which pops up time and time again, even when the dish is something as commonplace as a New York strip. Leinonen, true to his roots, slicks the grill-marked beef with a creamy Danish blue cheese sauce, pairs it with radishes and pickled mushroom and bolsters the plate with a potato salad jolted with horseradish. With Trillium, Leinonen brings to the city a sense of purpose immersed in Scandinavian culture and soul.
For special occasions: Trillium trumpets a trio of caviar -- white sturgeon, Russian surgeon and Siberian -- and if you're celebrating, it's worth the splurge.
For every day occasions: Trillium's happy hour, offered every day but Monday, is a terrific way to explore the menu without depleting your wallet.
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