Denver restaurants are celebrating spring with bright, verdant new dishes and sweeping menu changes. Warm weather brings a bounty of fresh produce — peas, fresh beans, new potatoes, radishes, ramps — and foraged ingredients, including ramps and morels. Here are a few dishes from Barolo Grill, Hearth & Dram and Mister Tuna to give you a taste of the season.
Barolo Grill3030 East Sixth Avenue
Chef Darrel Truett updates the menu at Barolo Grill several times a year, giving guests a chance to experience his creativity while also showcasing the culinary traditions of Piemonte and other Italian regions.
Foie gras is known as a French delicacy, but in northern Italy, duck liver is called fegato d'anatra. Truett prepares his as a mousse topped with all the flavors of an Aperol spritz — a refreshing, sunny-day cocktail. Cubes of prosecco gelée, dots of gelled Aperol (a bittersweet aperitif) and segments of orange decorate the mousse, along with micro-herbs and triangles of spinach brioche.
Housemade pastas include casarecce (resembling twisted cords) with braised goat and fava beans, and squid-ink spaghetti served with English peas, charred spring onions and 'nduja sausage. Bolder colors of orange and purple make for a stunning octopus presentation: Carrot purée, the deep tint of the tentacles, and shavings of purple carrot — which Barolo owner Ryan Fletter says are often mistaken for dyed vegetables — combine atop a black plate, with a few crimson rings of red chiles to add a touch of heat. For secondi piatti, pork tenderloin gets the spring treatment with grilled ramps (a wild cousin of onions and garlic), a fresh herb pesto and a five-bean brodo. And dessert is a must when you're treating yourself to dinner at the 27-year-old eatery; a crustless cheesecake served with hazelnuts, lavender honey and baby herbs makes for a semi-sweet end to the evening. Truett uses Castelmagno, a rare alpine cheese, for the dessert.
Fletter also manages the wine cellar and notes that the restaurant's Corvin wine program allows guests to sample a range of vintage wines by the glass without paying for the whole bottle. He'll most certainly have a few recommendations to go with Truett's spring dishes.
Hearth & Dram1801 Wewatta Street
Chef Adam Vero took over the kitchen at Hearth & Dram, coming from the TAG restaurant group a year ago, and he recently brought on former TAG and Guard and Grace colleague Jeff Hickman as chef de cuisine. The two have brainstormed a fun and eye-catching new menu that captures the flavors of the season in dramatic presentations. Start with a spring pea salad drizzled in warm bacon-fat dressing. Fava-bean leaves and foraged morel mushrooms are a sure sign of spring, and a shower of aged Avalanche cheese (held over from the Colorado dairy that closed more than a year ago) adds a tangy note.
Hot-pink beet gnocchi are served beneath a layer of radish slices with dollops of smoked golden-beet purée; pistachio crumbles and local feta top the dish. Other spring ingredients include pickled green strawberries and borage leaves (on yellowtail crudo); roasted mushrooms and asparagus (on a housemade tofu dish); and foraged mushrooms served with fettuccine. The most stunning plate, though, is a whole roasted halibut tail that Vero encourages guests to pick apart with their fingers. Fresh green garbanzo beans accompany the fish in a light broth, and more garbanzo beans find their way onto the plate in the form of crispy falafel.
If you're visiting for lunch, don't miss the Parisienne ham sandwich, made with a generous helping of pork rillettes and slathered in Jasper Hill Farm Harbison cheese sauce. H & D specializes in whiskey, offering hundreds by the bottle plus five single-barrel options (picked specifically for the restaurant) poured on tap. You can order a flight of all five, four of which are made in Colorado, or let the bar team guide you to the right whiskey to match your mood and food.
Mister Tuna3033 Brighton Boulevard
Chef Tristen Epps has an updated menu that's not only filled with spring ingredients, but also offers what he says is the most thematically consistent roster since Mister Tuna opened in 2016.
Longtime Crafted Concepts chef Jorel Pierce (whom you'll remember from his Top Chef appearances while at Euclid Hall) recently came over to TAG Restaurant Group as culinary director, and he explains that the name Mister Tuna, a tribute to owner Troy Guard's father, gave many guests the impression that the eatery was strictly seafood. So the menu has been reorganized to emphasize fresh fish while offering the same variety that's always been part of the Mister Tuna mission.
Thus you'll find raw oysters, several crudos and an array of small plates from the sea, and there's even a "Tuna Tribute" list with six different tuna dishes that Pierce points out are sourced from sustainable fisheries. You can sample them for $8 each or $42 for all six; choices include simple albacore or yellowfin sashimi; a zingy Charlie Guard poke, which has been on the menu since the beginning; a clever tuna conserva served in a can with eggplant caponata and buttery toast; and crispy sweetbreads nestled in tonnato, a creamy fish-based sauce that Epps describes as "tuna mayonnaise."
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The new menu, Pierce adds, is intended to give customers a chance to treat the restaurant as a "weeknight neighborhood place," with smaller plates priced from $12 to $16 to allow for variety over multiple visits.
Mister Tuna will soon open for lunch for the first time, as well, so Epps has come up with a mix-and-match menu of six mains and seven sides; lunch customers can choose one of the first and two of the second, along with agua fresca or fresh lemonade, for $13.50. The chef's RiNo burger, topped with his "T4" sauce (inspired by a customer who asked for A1 Steak Sauce), comes in little or big sizes, at $8 or $14.50, respectively.
Lunch service begins on April 30 and will run from 11:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Contact the restaurant for more details.