I have loved the Truffle Cheese Shop since I was a wee aspiring cheesemonger. Long ago, when I worked in Denver’s restaurant scene, I would spend an astronomical portion of my tip money on funky blues, ash-veined Morbiers, and aged cheddars dappled with sparkles of calcium lactate. The friendly owners (then, Rob and Karin Lawler; they've since sold to Joe Schwab and Janet Schaus) came to recognize my roommate and I, offering us tastes of their newest arrivals and recommending pairings for our apartment floor charcuterie nights. In fact, it was because of the cheese (and the raw milk intel) that I developed a crush on one of the handsome young cheesemongers (but I digress).
Upon returning to Denver years later, I discovered that the Lawlers had opened up their very own restaurant in LoHi. The Truffle Table, now run by Ian Maxwell (as of about a year ago), occupies the ideal nook for such a place: on a corner sliver of 15th Street where Umatilla Street and West 29th Avenue converge. I’ve had my eye on the cafe's daily happy hour (from 4 to 6 p.m.) for a while, but when a friend mentioned Wednesday night all-you-can-eat raclette, I knew it was not an opportunity to be missed. It’s not every day you find a group of people willing to eat their body weight in cheese, and that’s what it takes to do raclette night.
The Truffle Table is small and intimate, with dark wood floors, an eight-seat bar, and a slim marble high-top that can seat ten on hard metal stools. Around the perimeter about eight four-tops are the most coveted seating arrangements. In the winter, the eatery/wine bar insulates its guests from the chill of incomers with a cozy velvet curtain. But even before you venture into the glass- and brick-enclosed space, you are enveloped by the intensely indulgent aroma of cheese.
Raclette night requires that everyone at the table order the dish, which rings in at $45 per couple (including a dessert), or $21 per individual. Strange pricing rules aside, having the table commit makes sense considering you'll be fed you until you almost ooze cheese like a triple-cream brie. (Monitoring other table members to prevent freeloading would also be a hassle for the staff). Plus, if you arrive before 6 p.m., you can begin your meal with some $6 glasses of happy hour wine (including a strong pour of cava), $7 spritzes and martinis and $3 beers.
We made a 5:45 p.m. reservation, but were disappointed (especially given the reservation) to find that our party of seven got stuck with the uncomfortable stools. Still, we hunkered down for our soon-to-be three-hour eating adventure, grabbing drinks from the server, including a gin martini with a twist that now ranks up there with my favorites in Denver. Knowing that heating the big block of cheese until molten takes time, we also threw in a couple of orders of olives ($3 each) for good measure.
For raclette newbs, think about an enormous wheel of semi-hard cow’s milk cheese (similar to Gruyère) sliced in half (we’re still talking about six pounds here), loaded into a vice and placed beneath a 450- to 900-watt heating element for several minutes. As the cheese heats, it begins to ripple and turn glossy as large caramelized bubbles emerge at the surface. Then, the master raclette-maker removes the cheese from beneath the heating element and scrapes the blade of a long knife along the exposed surface, dropping the liquid cheese onto any manner of arranged delectables.
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Truffle Table keeps its raclette service fairly classic. Long, rectangular plates are first decorated with thin slices of baguette and rounds of salami. The par-cooked veggies — broccoli, carrots, potatoes and cauliflower — are neither too soft nor too firm. A smattering of apple slices and gherkins adds brightness and crunch. Atop it all, a blanket of melty cheese snugs itself around each item. Our party digs in with excitement, quickly decimating the plate while the raclette-maker continues to hover over her task behind the bar. This is just the beginning.
At first, we felt disappointed (so I would recommend not searching raclette GIFs on the internet before your visit). I expected a little more molten cheese, and perhaps more variety in veggie options with each arriving plate. But as round after round hit our table, we realized we were getting our cheese’s worth. Mesmerized by the indulgence (at about plate eleven), I was only slightly taken aback when the server mentioned that there was only one remaining order bread pudding (my preferred dessert) left, and a $4 surcharge applied if we cared to have our apple pie served without cheese. But the pie serving was generous and beautifully complemented by (yet more) cheese, and we managed to parcel out the single serving of the coveted bread pudding to everyone in our group who wanted a taste.
By the time we got the bill, snow was starting to fall, illuminated by the street lamps outside. We imagined how picture-perfect the scene inside must have looked from the sidewalk, through the windows with their condensation-glazed glass. Shimmying off the hard stools, we groaned from our gluttony as we made our way toward the fresh air. I rode away thinking “Sure, the cheesemonger love may not have lasted, but the love of cheese — that will be with me forever.”
The Truffle Table is located at 2556 15th Street and serves all-you-can-eat raclette every Wednesday evening. Call 303-455-9463 or visit the restaurant's website for reservations and details.