Five Iconic Dishes From Denver Restaurants That Keep Customers Coming Back

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Kale & Apple Salad, Oak at Fourteenth and Acorn Kale salads are a dime a dozen these days, but none compares with the one at Oak at Fourteenth and Acorn, where chef-owner Steven Redzikowski saw the potential in this green long before there was a bandwagon to hop on. If not prepared correctly, raw kale can be tough and bitter. Redzikowski sidesteps this by cutting the kale into thin ribbons known as chiffonade, which are tossed with thinly sliced apples, candied almonds, lemon, Parmesan and togarashi chile powder. The recipe is now a classic; the salad has been on the menu from the start at both Oak and Acorn. But the chef admits it took a bit of tweaking to strike the right balance of salty, crunchy, spicy and sweet. While recipe testing at home, he tried it many different ways, with pistachios, walnuts and even pears, before finding the sweet spot. "I tell the guys, 'If we run out of kale at Oak, I think people will throw bricks through the windows.'" Budino, Pizzeria Locale Pizzeria Locale isn't just for pizza anymore. At this offshoot of Boulder's sit-down restaurant, the butterscotch budino is so hard to resist, "we have had people who work in the surrounding shops come in every single day in a week for a budino," says culinary director Jordan Wallace. Before the restaurant opened, the owners explored the possibility of streamlining the kitchen, approaching Stonyfield (the organic New Hampshire dairy company), only to be told that "tens of thousands of puddings would have to be produced at once to make it feasible," recalls Wallace. They also talked to an organic dairy in Vermont, but hit a wall when the company said it could only produce one layer, not the decadent four. Today the kitchen puts out all four layers -- buttery, almost nutty pudding, with caramel, chocolate ganache and whipped cream -- making this the pudding de resistance. Kaya Toast, ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro Over the years, several dishes have clamored for iconic status at ChoLon, including dumplings that burst open to reveal French onion soup and wok-charred Brussels sprouts with mint and ground pork. But chef-owner Lon Symensma's interpretation of kaya toast best symbolizes what this kitchen is all about. In Singapore and Malaysia, kaya toast is as common as our breakfast burritos, served with a poached egg, soy sauce, and toast spread with kaya, or coconut jam. The flavors slap you around a bit: salty soy; rich yolk; sweet, thick jam. ChoLon's version is nothing of the sort, with housemade coconut jam stirred over a water bath for an hour, toast points and a cloud of foamy egg. "It's the balance of sweet and savory that keeps people coming back for more," says Symensma, who jokes that if he took it off the menu, "there could be a rebellion."

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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz