As it turns out, you can never put too much French into your French restaurant. Morin, which opened a year ago at 1600 15th Street (where Wazee Supper Club served more working-class fare for forty years), recently rolled out a new menu intended to be a little more approachable while adding a few more recognizable signposts from the French culinary canon, according to owners Juan Padro and chef Max MacKissock.
"We're Frenching it up a little," MacKissock explains, adding that the new menu is also a little lighter and easier to read than the previous multi-page tome. There's a definite emphasis on entrees over the previous iteration, which encouraged multiple rounds of small plates, and there are even a couple of "grands plats" — currently whole fish and rib eye — intended for two or three diners.
Padro adds that business at the restaurant has been steady, but he's always listening to what customers are asking for, and so felt that the one-year mark was a good time for a few changes. MacKissock notes that even though the menu now only takes up one page (complete with tiny illustrations each dish's main component), many of the ideas, ingredients and preparations have carried through from the earlier version, only in new presentations.
You still won't find French onion soup, crepes or other clichéd dishes, but you can indulge in caviar service, which ranges from $45 to $130; choose from a new line of fresh oysters selected by shellfish expert Ben Wolven, who recently formed a direct partnership with Maine Oyster Company; or luxuriate in foie gras — as a modest appetizer for $7 or a hefty terrine slab for $19. The sweetbread mini-sandwich makes a return, and seasonal vegetables — late-season tomatoes served as a tartare, leeks in vinaigrette with a jiggly egg — star on their own plates.
Artistic platings from MacKissock and chef de cuisine Charles Mathews are still evident in dishes like a tart Roussillon with immaculate figs, goat cheese and black sesame, but larger plates are more rustically presented, such as seared duck breast flooded with a pan sauce, and roast chicken cut into meaty pieces and served atop a vinaigrette Provençal that's as warming and satisfying as an Italian ragu. The sides ("les garnitures") are even more comforting, with silky whipped potatoes, a creamy bowl of beans with duck confit, and mushroom fricassee in rich sauce. Only one option stands out as "New French" — a short rib dish with Vietnamese flavors — but otherwise the flavors stay mostly within French borders.
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If the decision-making proves too tricky, you can always opt for a chef's tasting menu (a rarity in Denver restaurants), which will land you six courses — some which aren't on the regular dinner menu — for $75, or $67 if you go meatless.
A roster of wines, cocktails (including a few ingenious zero-proof concoctions), beers and ciders has been condensed to fit on the flip-side of the dinner menu; the pictographs (indicating characteristics like "rebel," "the funk," "gulpable" and "crystalline") accompanying each wine selection may be more confusing than helpful, but there aren't too many places in town where you can sip a Slovenian chardonnay or a sparkling wine made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes.
For regulars who have settled in among the leather booths or at the oval bar in the middle of the dining room, things haven't changed at Morin enough to give you pause — it's still the same restaurant that earned a spot on our list of Denver's best new restaurants last year. And for newcomers, the sense of adventure is still a lure, even if the scope is a little more focused.
Morin is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Call 303-623-0534 or visit the restaurant's website for more details.