Foodography: A sneak peek at Coohills, opening Wednesday

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The first thing you're likely to notice upon breezing through the door at Coohills, a new French restaurant that opens in LoDo on Wednesday, is the show-stopping chandelier, a six-foot-tall contortion of twirls and spirals, twists and tangles, twigs and roots lustered with white lights.

They're wine vines.

Tom Coohill, the chef-owner of his namesake restaurant, and his wife, Diane, had the chandelier made from the roots of four 28-year-old Cabernet vines excavated from Simi Winery in Sonoma. "We shipped them back here in a refrigerated truck, and then Diane and I sat there and just looked at them for a few days, trying to figure out what to with the Medusa-looking thing," quips Tom. "Eventually, we decided to bundle everything up and make a chandelier out of them."

And that chandelier, which illuminates the community table that sits beneath its glowing light, is just one of the seriously stunning design elements at Coohills, an elegantly informal space, absent of thematic, heavy-handed decor, that's walled by windows and zigzags through 6,500 square feet of contemporary detailing. The focal point -- a big, exposed kitchen -- is flanked by a four-seat chef's table that sits front and center. Directly opposite resides a pastry and espresso counter, and next to the counter is another community table, this one butting up against a floor-to-ceiling wine wall. The dining room, overlooking Cherry Creek, is urban, neutral and natural-looking, and the bar, bedecked with tables, booths and fashionable lounge sofas and chairs, is convincingly cosmopolitan -- and wholly comfortable.

"I was walking though the space last week, and I just kept thinking to myself that I've got to live up to the decor," confesses Tom, who also used reclaimed wine barrels for a few of his table tops and for all of the charcuterie, house-baked bread and pizza boards. "We've got to make sure that we make really great food, and that means always striving for a perfect ten," he adds.

And Tom, a technique-driven chef who earned his whites while training under master chefs at the three-star Michelin L'Oustau de Baumaniere in France, the five-star Mobile Le Francais in Illinois, Ma Maison in Los Angeles, and, most recently, in kitchens in Atlanta, admits that anything less than perfection rattles his cage. "If I make something and it's not perfect, it upsets me," Tom says. "I want people who come here to get something really special, and I want to make sure that what's on their plates is done really, really well."

Over the weekend, Tom and Diane hosted two parties, which gave us the opportunity to sample some of Tom's dishes, which draw from France but take full advantage of Colorado farmers, ranchers, cheese-makers and purveyors. Herewith the foodography.

Chicken liver pate on grilled house-baked bread. Creamy Maine lobster broth -- not bisque. Coohill's take on a crab cake is a blue crab flan with parsley, chives, spring onions and Dijon mustard. Country pate crowned with sliced cornichons. Whipped brandade, sprinkled with snipped chives, and served on top of house-baked sourdough The wine vine chandelier wreathed with white lights. Lobster- and seafood-stuffed ravioli in a lobster foam scented with saffron oil. Vegetarian ravioli with wild mushrooms, leeks, fresh thyme and onions. Chef/owner Tom Coohill plates before serving a private party of fifty on Saturday night. Snake River Farms Wagyu strip pooled in a Bordelaise sauce, Fox Farms Colorado lamb chops, root vegetable and Brussels sprouts, and "Baumanière" potatoes. Glazed pear tart and chocolate truffles. The main dining room at Coohills.

Beginning on Wednesday, Coohills will open for dinner seven nights a week; daily lunch service will begin in late November. And soon, says Tom, he'll serve pastries and java starting at 6:30 a.m. For more info, call 303-246-8079.

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