First impressions of TAG

Sultry cocktails, social food and a whole gaggle of really sociable Denver chefs, many of them still wired from a recent cooking stint at the James Beard House in New York, made for one helluva fun Sunday preview night at TAG, Troy Guard's new restaurant at 1441 Larimer Street that officially opens today.

Guard (whose initials are TAG), former exec chef at Ocean (whose former home space at 201 Columbine Street may or may not become another Earl's), Nine75, Oscar's Steak and Seafood (don't worry; no one else remembers it either) and Zengo, transformed the former Square 1 shop and subterranean Slim 7 space into a two-tiered lair of madly flamboyant trappings -- curved blood-red booths, black faux croc banquettes, commissioned paintings of Guard's bulldog (coincidentally, also named Tag), a wine display on rolling ladders and an exhibitionist community table propped directly in front of the open kitchen.

But while the jowls on that damn bulldog consumed much of my attention, I was distracted by the wine list -- ten pages of juice by the glass and bottle -- filed in a tabbed folder called "The Sauce" right alongside a letter (or message in a bottle, if you will) from the TAG team announcing that, along with biodynamic, organic and sustainable wines, there are vegan wines, which someone who doesn't eat tasty animals might appreciate.

But the menu isn't really for vegans, not with oxtail sopes, roasted bone marrow, pork belly buns and braised veal cheeks all making appearances -- and that's just under the starters. What about rabbit loin, lamb and hanger steak? Bring it on, baby.

While I wasn't enamored with everything the kitchen turned out (the flash-seared kona kampache, an incredibly delicate and mild fish, was ball-busted by salt and an overdose of jalapenos, for example), I'd go back in a heartbeat for the bone marrow (hell, I'd go just about anywhere for bone marrow) and the roasted halibut, which was brilliant.

On the back of Guard's menu, he writes that he wants diners to "liberally indulge." Judging from last night's party, he got his wish.

Tag opens for dinner tonight at 5 p.m. and for lunch on Monday, June 8.

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