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First look: The Social opens tonight in Castle Pines

Chefs aren't always patient with servers -- or their kitchen staff -- but Lance Barto may be the most patient chef I've ever seen, even under pressure. Over the weekend, just an hour before a friends-and-family dinner that included several local big-name chefs, sommeliers and restaurateurs, Barto, executive chef of The Social, a new restaurant opening to the public tonight in Castle Pines Village, was fielding questions about his menu, carefully describing each dish to a posse of servers...with lots of questions.

It's not often that we get to witness the interaction between a chef and his servers -- and it's not always pleasant when we do -- but Barto, who couldn't have been more calm, cool and collected, didn't flinch, answering every question with intelligent, focused and precise answers, which makes me think that he (and his restaurant) will do very well in its suburban location, far removed from the bright lights of Denver, where Barto did time at Strings, Central Bistro & Bar and Linger.

See also: - Lance Barto departs Linger to open The Social in Castle Pines - Central Bistro and Bar opening in Highland with Lance Barto behind the line - Executive chef Lance Barto gets "pushed out" from Central Bistro & Bar

The space, formerly Rodney's, is simultaneously rustic and modern, the vintage accents, lights woods and sepia-hued booths augmented by stools the color of orange sherbet and bold gray-and-white striped wallpaper that glistens in the afternoon sun peeking through the wall of windows overlooking a lovely patio.

And Barto's tidy menu, which is categorized into four sections -- vegetables, fish and seafood, fowl and meat, including pork, lamb and beef -- is the kind of board that lends itself to the space's aim: to be a gathering place that invites lingering and social interaction. "All the dishes are listed from lightest to heaviest, both in terms of flavors and portion size," explains Barto, "and they're all designed for sharing and trying all sorts of different things -- everything from foie gras and pork belly to summer vegetables and crudo."

I sampled several of Barto's dishes over the weekend, including an exquisite carrot soup, poured tableside, that epitomizes summer's bounty, and I loved the roasted chicken breast, too, pooled in a dark mole. And despite the fact that it's a hike to get there from Denver, this is the kind of restaurant to which I'd happily trek for dinner.

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The Social is open for dinner Tuesday though Saturday, beginning tonight, and to get you motivated for the drive, we got a sneak peek at the space, the menu and Barto's food.


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