Cafe Society

It's a Date

Dining at Radex is like dating someone much smarter and better-looking than you are: Deep down, you know he's out of your league, but you want to keep things going because you sure look good by proximity.

Everyone wants to be seen at Radex, and everything looks good. But that's because Radek Cerny, the Czechoslovakian who brought contemporary elegance to Denver over a decade ago when he became chef at the original European Cafe, has our number. When he opened his own Papillon in Cherry Creek, he introduced us to fusion, quirky European food with an Asian flair. And his latest effort, the four-month old Radex, is appealingly designed to cater to Denver's latest dining trend: groovy. In other hands, this trend has been translated into supper clubs and jazz joints; here, Cerny has turned the old Paradise Cafe--where in the early Eighties, the important lines were the ones being done on the backs of toilets--into a hot spot that has lines of beautiful people stretching out the door.

In the intervening years, this space at Ninth Avenue and Lincoln held a number of other ventures--some noble, some much less so. But any thought of those failures is immediately erased the second you step inside Radex. While Papillon is all about serious, elegant dining, Radex is all about fun. The art-deco dining room was transformed by designer Eric Mandil, who was responsible for making the now-defunct China Cowboy appear somewhat palatable. He's done considerably better at Radex, creating a welcoming space with salmon-colored walls, curvacious table lamps and little green squares of window that showcase the smoke wafting up from the grills in the kitchen.

The smoke, and the smells. At Radex, Cerny's offering the same sort of food he serves at Papillon, only here it's more lighthearted--with lighter prices to match. The menu is set up for casual dining, with categories such as "From the Pantry," "From the Rotisserie" and "From the Pasta Stove." While the recipes are all Cerny's, the execution is often left up to Adrian Huear, who's been with him since the European Cafe. "Adrian's cooking, yes," says Cerny. "But I'm in and out, I'm overlooking. I'm buying the fish." The in-and-out part might explain why there's been some grumbling about production problems: "I've read the reviews that have said there were some kinks," Cerny says. "But, man, we are working on it, you know?" On my two visits, though, I encountered no such snafus.

I first stopped by for lunch, the most economical way to experience the snap, crackle and pop of Cerny's vivacious food. The meal got off to a fine start with thinly sliced house-cured salmon ($7) rolled like cold cuts and studded with capers. We also devoured an order of beef carpaccio ($7), which had been sliced thick enough to withstand the scraping of a fork and was drizzled with a creamy Dijon whose kick nicely matched the strong beef and a cascade of parmesan shards.

Cerny has long been renowned for his sauces, and his mastery shows at Radex. The linguine carbonara ($7) featured the novel, and clever, addition of shiitakes, which helped cut through the richness of the bacon-based sauce while giving it another layer. And the grilled tuna ($11), which had been impeccably cooked to the requested medium-rare, was raised to celestial heights by an orange-kissed tarragon vinaigrette that also livened up the surprise mound of mashed potatoes beneath the steak. (For the record, Radex seems to be processing fewer spuds than Papillon, where Cerny's ubiquitous potato boat has become both the most vilified and the most revered thing about the place.)

Cerny has always been keen on good pastry chefs, too. For Radex, Ginger Reynolds, who's been making desserts at Papillon for several years, has assembled a roster of finales that not only sound great but actually live up to their billing. Our lunch ending of bread pudding ($5), for example, was not the usual wet, doughy blob of bread but a marbleized gingerbread served warm with a smooth caramel sauce and grilled bananas. Even my companion, a self-described hater of sweets, stuck her spoon into the darker, more intensely gingery sections of the pudding. All told, this suave bistro meal made for a fine luncheon date.

But as any dater worth her little black book knows, an evening engagement is what really counts. And dinner at Radex was a truly seductive experience.

The swooning started with an appetizer of shrimp cakes ($8) that arrived on a swirl of balsamic beurre blanc, a drop-dead-delicious sauce. The spicy, well-textured shrimp cakes were terrific, but even if pieces of cardboard had been sitting on this sauce, we would have licked up every bit. (See Mouthing Off for the recipe.) This dish can be ordered as an entree, too--and don't think we didn't consider a second round after we'd quickly consumed the first plate.

Instead we turned our attention to our other starter, high-quality Parma ham ($7) that had been curled around shavings of sharp pecorino and painted with a Dijon vinaigrette that helped us forget the balsamic beurre blanc--at least for a minute or two. Further distraction was provided by a respectable Caesar ($5)--the waiter gave me the choice of anchovies or no, and even though I did want that traditional ingredient, it's always nice to be asked--with a not-too-gooey dressing and plenty of parmesan. We also slurped down an ardently ham-concentrated white-bean soup ($3.50).

Our entree course brought another sauce worthy of adoration. The beef-enhanced Alfredo that graced the fettuccine beneath the veal scallopini with porcinis ($14) provided more evidence of Cerny's passion for rich sauces. The veal itself was fork-tender and the porcinis perfectly cooked so that they added some of their spongy goodness to the sauce; a few shallots and some fresh basil had been thrown in for good measure. And while the jumbo scallops ($14) didn't really qualify as "jumbo," the gorgonzola cream sauce was the real star of the dish, with just enough gorgonzola to make its presence known but not so much that the sharp flavor overpowered the exquisite (if smallish) scallops.

Dessert was once again a pleasure. The huge orange creme brulee ($5) barely edged out the charlotte cecille ($5) for most-flavored status; the custard was luxuriously creamy and carried a potent orange punch, and the Bavarian cream and chocolate mousse in the charlotte had been spiked with enough Grand Marnier to make us sit up and take notice.

How many ways do I love Radex? Let me add a few more. In addition to accomplished food and spiffy decor, the restaurant counts among its attributes a well-selected and very fairly priced wine list assembled by longtime Papillon general manager and former wine rep Jolie Robinson. Then there's that extensive late-night menu of $7 plates served after 10 p.m. And on one visit, the service was so good we contemplated hiring our server away from the restaurant and making him our houseboy.

But why trifle with someone else's affections when we have something much deeper going at Radex? This could be the start of a truly beautiful relationship.

Radex, 100 East Ninth Avenue, 303-861-7999. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday; 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday; 5 p.m.-midnight Sunday.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner

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