Pub Grub

Okay, there are two kinds of bar diners in the world: those who would rather eat and drink at Zang Brewing Co. (see review above), with its downscale, inexpensive food and harried, overcrowded setting, and those who prefer places like The Pub at Nordstrom, which serves upscale Continental fare in elegant, genteel surroundings.

Assuming those casual places can beat Zang's service and food, I'd say there's a time and place for both styles.

The time for stopping in at the Pub at Nordstrom is definitely after a hard day of shopping -- for shoes, perhaps, since this snug spot sits just behind the men's shoe department on the lower level of the Park Meadows store. Unlike Zang's, though, the Pub actually finds its prime location a liability. That's according to chef Jim Begbie, who once ran his own restaurant, Anastasia Vieux Carré, at 5946 South Holly in Greenwood Village (in what is now Uncle Sam's), from 1995 until he closed it in 1997. "People either think it's another fitting room back here," Begbie says, "or they think it's just a place for men to go have a pint while their wives finish shopping."

Although it does serve that purpose nicely, the Pub offers so much more than just good beer. For starters, there's the setting, full of dark wood, gentle lighting, British knickknacks and comfy booths. And then there's the food, an excellent alternative to what's cooking in the food court (which is why it received that very Best of Denver award this year). Although the Pub's kitchen has been doing just fine putting out credible pub-inspired food, Begbie, who worked at Plum Creek Country Club and the Gallery Cafe at 1193 Highway 74 in Evergreen before coming to the Pub six weeks ago, plans to offer more ambitious fare soon. And he's encouraging the Pub to get as far away from the English-bar theme as possible. "I just don't think it works, and I don't think it's that popular anymore," says Begbie. "This is a good company and a great space -- really, I think the dining room is just one of the best anywhere -- and I'd like to see them go in a different direction with it."

Toward that end, Begbie is about to come out with a new menu, one that will combine his own specialties with favorites from the Pub's current roster of dishes. The latter will include the excellent fish and chips ($9.95): fresh, moist planks of cod coated in a thick, craggy batter that holds the juices in without becoming overly greasy, served with fat, crispy fries. As for the former, Anastasia featured heavenly New Orleans-oriented fare with a heavy French accent ("Let the Good Tastes Roll," August 16, 1995); Begbie promises to reprise several of the dishes that made that eclectic restaurant so popular. Fortunately, that lineup includes the French onion soup that had me raving: Begbie uses the stock from his last batch of roasted bones when he braises the next batch, so that by the twentieth time he makes stock, it has the beef concentration of a bouillon cube without the saltiness. He'll also do lobster bisque, crabcakes with remoulade and salmon with a citrus beurre blanc.

"I'd like to see us go more Continental," Begbie explains. "One of my signature dishes will be a broiled Dijon chicken with a sour cream-based sauce sautéed with artichoke bottoms. This space should have sophisticated food to match the surroundings."

No matter what he offers, there's no question but that it will be good: Begbie is one of those rare chefs who doesn't feel the need to gussy up his food with anything but flavor. The real question: Will enough people meander back into Nordstrom to check out the Pub?

It does take all kinds.

Something to crow about: Radek Cerny's Papillon Café, at 250 Josephine Street (see 2nd Helping, page 68), continues to be one of the top restaurants in town. For both quality and service, it's followed closely by his other spot, the year-old Radex at 100 East Ninth Avenue. Now Cerny is betting that more than a few of his Denver fans will make the drive to check out his new place, Le Chantecler, at 210 Franklin Street in Niwot. And it could indeed be something to crow about: Named after the French word for "rooster," Le Chantecler will open sometime next month in a space that was built as a barn in 1975.

Architect/designer Eric Mandil, who created Radex's groovy space, did Le Chantecler's decor as well. But restaurant manager Elizabeth Darling says the barn theme is still very much in evidence. "Radek really wanted the inside of the place to retain that country feel," Darling explains. "So the huge wooden beam on the ceiling is exposed, and other little touches definitely reflect the building's former purpose."

As far as food goes, though, there will be more similarities to Papillon and Radex than not, with a heavy emphasis on Cerny's forte, sauces, and plenty of New American touches -- for example, cinnamon and chile-crusted salmon, seared scallops with cranberry oil, and roasted leg of lamb with lentil salad. The chef de cuisine will be Alan Andre, who was the original chef when Cerny owned the European Cafe in Boulder, and the wine list is being assembled by Sally Mohr, a Boulderite who is one of the few female master sommeliers in the country.

First impressions: Wine will be optional during an upcoming series of meals being presented by the Normandy (1515 Madison Street), during which the French restaurant will celebrate the exhibit Impressionism -- Paintings Collected by European Museums; that show opens at the Denver Art Museum October 2. The Normandy will offer three prix fixe meals based on Monet's Tables: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet, a cookbook by Claire Joyes. Each $35-$55 menu includes four courses -- but not wine.

On September 30 and October 1, the Normandy will offer Rouge, an evening of French music, food and wine, to officially kick off the exhibit. The price is $55 per person, and the eatery's fabulous truffle-enhanced whipped potatoes will most definitely be included. Ou la la. Call 303-321-3311 for reservations.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner