I love tasting menus, much the same way that I'm a proponent of communal tables and hanging my butt at the bar, which is where I prefer to eat. And if I can get a tasting menu at the bar, with wine pairings, even better. Yes, I like extended, evening-long meals, and, frankly, prefer them, especially when I'm not working. I realize that many people disagree with that sentiment, and feel as though tasting menus are nothing more than ego-driven romps from chefs who care more about their own artistry and craftsmanship than they do about the desires of diners, but I admire chefs with confidence, chefs who advocate a sense of adventure - chefs, for instance, like the Squeaky Bean's Max MacKissock, who, as of last Saturday night, is now parading a menu that's focused, almost entirely, on a multi-course tasting menu.
"We decided to go in that direction, because, first and foremost, Max, [owner] Johnny Ballen and I feel that the Squeaky Bean is best experienced over an entire meal, as opposed to just choosing singular dishes," explains general manger Stephen Gallic, adding that since the Bean opened its new location in LoDo, "We've had several groups contact us prior to their reservation to set up prix fixe menus for them" -- enough requests, he notes, "to make it the base option of the restaurant."
The tasting menu, which includes four dishes, or seven, and can be paired with wines for an additional price, is "definitely more focused," says Gallic, and, "in our opinion, the best way to experience Max's food." It's more of an "event," he adds, "and we think that it's a perfect blend of casual and special."
Every dish, however, can be ordered separately: $13 for first courses; $18 for second courses; $24 for third courses; and $10 for pastries. If you ordered one of each, absent of wines, you'd spend $65 per person, excluding tax and tip; the four-course tasting menu is $55, and the seven-course tasting menu is $85; wine pairings are an additional $30.
"While we're definitely spotlighting tasting menus, we also have great a la cart pricing for our guests, especially for diners on a time restraint or those who want to share communally, and in offering both, we feel like we can give people the best of both worlds," says Gallic.
And to avoid repetition -- a common pitfall of tasting menus -- MacKissock will change his menu on a weekly basis, integrating, says Gallic, at least two to three new dishes per week. "The kitchen is playing around with some third courses right now," he reveals.
Lest you think that tasting menus aren't favored by diners, Gallic points out that on Saturday night, 80 percent of those who ate at the Bean ordered the tasting menu. "We've had zero complaints and the response has been fantastic, plus, it's super-affordable when you compare it to other restaurants that are also doing tasting menus," he says.
Moving forward, divulges Gallic, MacKissock will likely add a ten-course tasting menu to his repertoire, and while all of the dishes included on the current tasting roster are on-menu items, Gallic notes that a major draw will be "special dishes that won't be on the regular menu."
As a fan of surprises, I'm looking forward to what MacKissock has up his culinary sleeve.
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The current menu, which will be served through next Wednesday, before MacKissock and his crew make changes, is below.