For the past three years, chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval, who owns 35 restaurants around the world, including five in Denver and two in the mountains -- the most he's opened in any state -- has been methodically planning one of his newest concepts: Al Lado, a Latin wine and tapas bar that resides directly next door to Zengo, which Sandoval opened in Riverfront in 2004.
"My partners and I started working on the concept for Al Lado three years ago, and then the recession hit, but we finally got to the point where we thought the timing was right," says Sandoval, with whom I spent yesterday afternoon. "It made sense to do it now," he adds, "since Al Lado and Zengo share the same kitchen and the same liquor license, and that helps keeps our expenses down."
The concept, rooted in Sandoval's Latin/Mexican roots -- he was born in Mexico City -- is, he says, "a Latin wine bar with a determined focus on Latin wines and simple, Spanish food. They work really well together," he says, adding that "Al Lado is my homage to a new generation of Latin winemakers, and the thoughtful cuisine that their evolving culture -- and viticulture -- inspires."
The crew was putting the finishing touches on the space yesterday, and while Al Lado doesn't officially open until Friday, August, August 16, Sandoval and his staff gave me an early peek at the food, cocktails and quarters, the photos of which are on the following pages.
Basque Kiss cocktail: Svedka citron vodka, Cedilla, an acai berry liqueur from Brazil, passion fruit and citrus.
The lounge at Al Lado, bedecked with leather chairs, hardwoods and round tables.
Blistered shishito peppers with fleur de sel, olive oil and roasted garlic aioli.
Vino Blanco cocktail mixed and muddled with white wine, passion fruit puree, peaches, Granny Smith apples, aprico brandy, peach schnapps and orange liqueur.
Bacon-wrapped dates with almonds and Valdeon cheese.
The Al Lada malaga gin and tonic: Botanist gin, Fever Tree tonic, pink grapefruit and mint.
The lounge area, framed by windows that overlook the street scape.
Executive chef Clint Wangsnes, who oversees both menus at Zengo and Al Lada -- and who Sandoval called "one of his best chefs."
Patatas bravas: Crisp baby potatoes, chorizo, chipotle romensco and Valdeon aioli.
Another lounge shot, the quarters of which also include chocolate banquettes.
Fluke crudo with strawberry-rhubarb-and-chive saffron pooled in a pickled ginger vinaigrette.
Al Lado sunrise, concocted with El Zarco blanco tequila, fresh muddled oranges, lime and topped with a float of Leopold Bros. tart cherry liqueur.
Cazuela floating with rock shrimp, garlic, lemon, chile de arbol and olive oil.
A second seating area that flanks the bar.
Albondigas cazuela with tomatoes, zucchini and dabs of goat cheese.
The bar from the front door.
Fig, caramelized onion, Serrano ham, arugula and manchego coca -- a Spanish flatbread.
Another shot of the bar.
One of the two community tables in the bar.
The exterior of Al Lado, which has its own entrance -- but can also be accessed from Zengo.
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For more information about Al Lado, call 303-572-3000.