Passion fruit mojito at Street Kitchen Asian Bistro

When I was growing up in the suburbs southeast of Denver, my favorite restaurant was Mr. Steak -- which sounds less pathetic when you realize that this was the best chain restaurant in the area at the time. Sadly, the southern 'burbs continue to be an independent restaurant wasteland. If you want to have a Long Island Iced Tea at Applebee's or a Strawberry Margarita at Chili's, you're set. But if you're looking for something you couldn't find in Any Suburb USA, the hunt will be harder.

Which is why I was so eager to visit Vallagio at Inverness, the development at I-25 and Dry Creek that features several joints owned by local restaurateurs, including Street Kitchen Asian Bistro, a sibling to Parallel 17, which was the first to open in January, and Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria, brother to the Marco's that opened on Larimer Street three years ago this month.

On my first foray to Villagio, I landed at Street Kitchen Asian Bistro, where chef and co-owner Mary Nguyen displays the same culinary savvy that has made P17 so popular. Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Thai food are all featured on the menu, and the Asian theme carries through to the cocktail lineup. While the drink menu is inventive, though, it features cocktails that are sweeter than those I've tried at Nguyen's 17th Avenue restaurant. I've found that when chefs take their show on the road and out to the suburbs, they often dumb down the drinks -- increasing the sugar, and decreasing the taste of alcohol -- and Street Kitchen appears to be taking this path of least resistance.

My first drink here was the Passion Fruit Mojito ($9.50), with house-made ginger pear-infused rum, passion fruit juice, mint and lime; although it was on the sweet side, it still managed to balance the sweet with tart citrus. And the eclectic nature of the drink seems to somehow fit the sleek room.

My second try was less impressive. The Lotus Position ($8.75), made with Three Olives Rangtang Vodka, lemon-infused vodka, gin, mango, lychees and Thai basil, tasted like Tang and lychee juice. Unless you're an astronaut with a hankering for lychees, skip this drink: it made me wish I had a Space Food Stick for the drive home.

Still, I'm looking forward to jetting back to the Street Kitchen. The drinks may not be out-of-this-world, but they're definitely out of the ordinary for the suburbs.

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