Sage Restaurant Group, which owns and operates numerous restaurants throughout the country, including the Corner Office and Second Home Kitchen + Bar, both located in Denver, is gearing up to make its local offerings a trifecta: On Thursday, the Denver-based group, co-founded by Peter Karpinski, will open Kachina Southwestern Grill adjacent to the Westin Westminster, in the former space that was long home to O's Steak & Seafood (and, for quite a while, chef Ian Kleinman, who turned the kitchen into a molecular laboratory).
But Kapinski's newest food temple is all about contemporary Southwestern cooking, and chef Patrick Hartnett and his crew are turning out everything from Navajo tacos hugging braised lamb and duck confit to fresh corn that's grilled over Japanese charcoal on a roving cart maneuvered through the lofty dining rooms mimicking adobe architecture and bedecked with vintage lanterns, a fireplace and conversation-piece tchotchkes indicative of the Southwest, a region that Harnett knows well: He was the executive chef of Las Fuentes Restaurant and Bar in Santa Fe and Doc Martin's in Taos.
And last week, Hartnett, who's also a bona fide butcher, invited me into his Westminster kitchen to sample several dishes from his menu. And while I was there, I also had the opportunity to swig a few cocktails with clever names like "Cactus in the Rye" and "You Mango Me Crazy."
The restaurant, which will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, as well as weekend brunch, also offers a daily happy hour from 2 to 6 p.m., and there are chicharrones on the happy-hour menu, which I highly, highly recommend. Then again, just about everything I stuffed down my gullet made me want to go back for more.
Herewith an exclusive first look at what's ahead.
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Harvest Moon cocktail: Chamocus reposada, housemade cinnamon-cranberry gomme syrup, fresh citrus juices and lemon garnish. Chicharrones, available only on the happy-hour menu, sided with salsa morita. Addictive little suckers. The dining room, lined with banquettes, cozy booths and...trees that are illuminated by shimmering white lights. The guacamole trio: traditional, corn, and chipotle, served with a bowl of house-fried blue-corn tortilla chips. The exhibition kitchen, helmed by exec chef -- and Southwestern cuisine zealot -- Patrick Hartnett. Cactus in the Rye cocktail, mixed with Bulliet rye, prickly pear puree, lemon, agave syrup and Citronage. A trio of hand-held Navajo tacos, of which there are seven on Hartnett's menu, including a vegetarian taco with avocado, ancho tomatillo salsa and calabacitas and cactus. The mango cocktail, concocted with Hornitos reposada, fresh mango, lemon and triple sec. Texas boar-cheek croquettes sided with slaw and ancho barbecue sauce. The whimsical corn cart! Novel and fun, but since corn season is short, what's going to be next? Hartnett's clever take on Frito pie. Scallop ceviche plated with spring onions, candied Fresno chiles, heirloom tomatoes and radishes pooled in olive oil and dotted with smoked salt. Kachina's mascot, a wire-y coyote rattling with bottle caps, perches above the bar. He still needs a name, however, and the Kachina team is holding a contest on its Facebook page if you have a name to nominate. Hartnett is not just a chef, but a butcher, too, and he spent last week knifing a bison. And there's the tomahawk chop from the butchered beast. The back bar boasts eight mezcals and more than fifty tequilas, which kinda makes me wish I had my own room at the Westin. The Kachina bar. Kachina's sultry lounge framed by floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the expansive patio. Green chile cheeseburger, the meat of which is a blend of chuck, brisket and short ribs, on a brioche bun. Housemade sorbet and ice cream trio. Chocolate cake with edible flowers. The main dining room. Kachina's patio, which features a Horno oven, fire pit and outdoor bar. The exterior.