Second Helpings

Pesce Fresco

From the outside, Pesce Fresco looks like just another strip-mall Italian joint shoved between nail salons and auto-parts stores. Even inside, it looks like so many similarly themed, similarly imagined restaurants: mustard-yellow walls and dark upholstery comforting in their commonness; reproduction Taittinger prints and posters advertising things that once were Italian and have now become a kind of radioactive backscatter of American food culture. You see walls of this particular color, art of this particular vintage, and you know what will be on the menu before you even open it, how the food will be handled before you even taste it. And yet, Pesce Fresco manages to surprise you. The kitchen's signature gorgonzola cheesecake is gentler and more subtle than you'd expect; its balance of sweet over savory is almost shocking at first taste, and the inclusion of sweated, fried and salted mushrooms only adds to that sensation. The tenderloin shows remarkable care -- the medium actually comes out medium, the medium rare just a shade brighter and bloodier. Mounting the meat over a thick, sweet and delicately balanced brunoise of red beets and beef jus is a nice touch, too. For a restaurant pushing seafood, there aren't a lot of fish choices -- but the ones listed are choice. There's a cioppino (spiked with sherry), of course, as well as a shrimp pasta made with sweet basil, and lobster ravioli filled with actual lobster -- not a paste, not a purée, just shredded lobster meat with a few herbs. The sauce is a crawfish cream, heavy on the red pepper and featuring big chunks of crawfish handled better than any kitchen without a native-born Cajun in it ought to be able to. Pesce Fresco may not look like much on the surface, but with a little time and a little patience, it reveals itself in many small ways as a keeper.
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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan