After cooking around town, including at the late, lamented Encore, Paul Reilly and his sister, Aileen, finally got to open a place of their own last year. And what a place it is! Beast + Bottle, at 719 East 17th Avenue, is the restaurant "we conjured in our heads since we were kids," Paul explains. It's a seasonally inspired farm-to-fork operation, a nose-to-tail restaurant -- and while you might think Beast + Bottle has come a little late to that party, rather than seeming passé, the restaurant feels expansive, quirky and worldly, as the menu travels from Colorado to Maine to Italy to North Africa in the span of twenty dishes. Given the crowds that come here, on many nights Beast + Bottle is the party. While Aileen handles the front of the house (a lovely patio and narrow but cozy dining room), Paul works wonders in the kitchen.
And that work has been so wonderful that Paul and Aileen Reilly were awarded the Exceptional Newcomer Signature Dish Award by the Colorado Restaurant Association in April, a year after they opened Beast + Bottle. "To be recognized alongside peers who have made such an impact on Denver's dining culture -- people such as Blair Taylor and Alex Seidel -- is very humbling for Aileen and I," Paul said at the time. "We are honored to receive this award from the CRA as we continue to make Beast + Bottle a world-class dining experience."
And how are they doing that? "The goal here is to continue to be considered among the best restaurants in the city, and to continue to evolve the concept with more relationships with local farmers, things like that. Find more, work with more," Paul says. But they don't plan to stop there. "We have plenty of ideas for other concepts," he acknowledges, "and I bet that's going to come to fruition in the next twelve months." In the meantime, we asked Paul Reilly to tackle a series of questions we presented other CRA winners ab out the local dining scene; here are his answers.
What was your first restaurant job?
A dishwasher/busboy at a German restaurant in my home town in New York. When did you realize you would make your career in the restaurant industry? I worked as a short-order cook in Boulder and had so much fun going into work every day. I thought if work can be this fun all the time, then this is for me.
What made you decide to make Colorado the focus of that career?
I didn't! I think Colorado chose me. I moved back here in 2004, with no intention of staying. Here I am ten years later, with a family and a restaurant, to boot.
What was the dining scene like when you got your start here?
Steaks and Mexican food. It was light years behind where it is today.
What was your favorite restaurant then?
Tie: Potager and Adega.
What is your favorite restaurant today?
Fruition and Il Posto.
What have been the best developments in the local dining scene since you got your start?
The mix of hometown heroes continue to excel, while out-of-staters have moved here and put their stamp on Denver to create a unique dining scene.
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What have been the worst developments in the local dining scene?
The food-truck phenomenon seems to be calming down. I don't think people really understood them. They're for grabbing a quick bite, not to have a party.
What have been the most surprising developments?
That Denver still remains undiscovered as a food destination. I find it very hard to believe that cities like Pittsburgh, Salt Lake and Asheville have better restaurants than we do.
How have you changed the way you do business, and why?
A million ways and counting. If you're not adjusting, you're drowning. What never strays is giving our guest a hospitality experience.
How have consumers changed during your tenure?
They are much more conscious of food and modern American cuisine in general. Their demand for knowledge is fantastic. It helps push us to become better.
Who is the most interesting person on the scene right now, and why?
"Interesting" is a broad term. Steve Redzikowski has totally reset the bar for Denver restaurants. And chef Jen Jasinski can't lose right now...she's on a total hot streak. I'm anxious to see what she does next. She's a great ambassador for Denver on a national level.
If you'd like to see one thing happen to the local dining scene, what would it be?
A terrific two-to-three-times-weekly farmers' market, like Boulder County has. No food vendors or knickknacks -- someplace chefs can congregate and buy local product among the dining public.
What cuisine is missing from Denver's dining scene?
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Spanish. Bob Blair, I'm looking at you! This interview first appeared in Dish, our annual guide to the Denver dining scene.