Life House, a new hotel in LoHi, and its restaurant, Wildflower, were all set to open in November, despite COVID-related restaurant restrictions and low travel numbers in Colorado and across the country. Although dining rooms had been limited to 25 percent capacity as of October 27, the opening team decided that would have to do, planning to rely on in-room service, patio dining and takeout and delivery to get through until conditions improved.
Wildflower hosted friends and family nights the week of November 9, then opened to the public on Thursday, November 11. "And it went so well," notes Daniel Levine, Life House's corporate head of food and beverage. "That Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we were operating at full COVID capacity, and we were booked solid for the next two weeks."
But then Governor Jared Polis announced new Red Level restrictions on November 17, which would close dining rooms for at least thirty days, starting on November 20. "We had to furlough the majority of our team," Levine says. "But we will bring them back when we can."
As a result, most of Denver has yet to experience the cush, cozy and well-appointed dining room at Wildflower, but executive chef William Harris is still following through on his mission to create a new kind of regional cuisine that draws from both Colorado's position in the Southwest and the Rocky Mountains as well as the hotel's north Denver location.
"The mission is to give a tip of the hat to the original residents of this neighborhood," Harris explains. "So we're incorporating Mexican ingredients and flavors and Italian techniques, and we're focusing on rustic, handmade food. We're doing homey, comfortable flavors, but with modern cooking styles."
If the description sounds a little vague, consider that you'll find smoked lamb barbacoa right next to hand-cut pappardelle with rabbit sugo on Wildflower's current menu. The chef says he's been working with local purveyors as much as possible to keep the menu seasonal and changing, adding that it's been a tough year for everyone in the food business, and some were suffering even beyond the pandemic. "My lamb purveyor lost his whole farm to fire," he says.
The opening of Wildflower marks Harris's return to Colorado. He'd previously worked at True Food Kitchen (which he helped open in Cherry Creek), Linger and Bistro Barbès, which he says attracted enough attention to land him a job in New York City. But he came back to Denver for the lifestyle, the city's food and beverage scene, and the chance to "contribute to the culinary ecosystem," he explains.
While the initial intention was to rely heavily on shared plates and group dining — since Life House is built for group travel (some of its rooms hold luxurious bunk beds) — the menu has been adapted for the times, with more sandwiches and entrees that pack well. There are also cocktails in corked takeout bottles, and a surprising number of Colorado meads.
Wildflower is located at 3638 Navajo Street and is currently open for takeout from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with plans to add breakfast, lunch and brunch service once COVID-based restrictions ease. Call 720-706-6615 or visit the restaurant's website for menus and ordering.
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