1550 17th Street
Rejoice in tomato season! Hopefully you will see these beauties popping up all over town, but in case you want to sample the best of the best, go for the heirloom tomato and melon spread at Avelina downtown. Chef Bradley Yard knows how much people like heirloom tomatoes, and he wanted to put something on the menu to highlight their juicy, acidic flavor. So alongside the tomatoes, guests will find crisp cucumbers and three types of melon: honeydew, watermelon and Rocky Ford cantaloupe. Purple and green micro-basil and goat cheese garnish this lovely spread, along with a drizzle of shoyu-raspberry vinaigrette, drops of mint oil and a sprinkling of garlic breadcrumbs.
2227 West 32nd Avenue
Summertime means watermelon is at its peak, and chef Carrie Baird's salad at this Highland hot spot proves perfect for the season. Aside from the scrumptious red flesh, the plate is loaded with pistachios, pickled onions, micro-basil and stracciatella cheese, which all gets tossed in a light pepperoncini-laced vinaigrette. It's vibrant, bright and fresh — just what we crave in warmer weather.
Black Cat Bistro
1964 13th Street, Boulder
How many chefs can boast plucking squash blossoms, kale, summer squash, fava beans, garbanzo beans and scarlet runner beans all from their own garden? Not many, but chef and restaurateur Eric Skokan can. Everything on Skokan's summer platter comes straight from the source, Black Cat Farm, save for the salted lemon and pistachios in the tarator, which is an Eastern European-style sauce made with garlic, herbs and yogurt. As for the veggies on the chef's produce-driven platter, they are roasted, puréed, sautéed, stuffed and arranged with love and care indicative of both of Skokan's Boulder restaurants. The next time you visit, these vegetables will likely have changed, but the theme and preparation remains constant until harvest season ends.
2930 Umatilla Street
The view of Denver from the deck of El Five in LoHi may prove stunning, but it's not quite as impressive as owner Justin Cucci's ash-roasted carrots. After all, the cityscape comprises mere buildings and sky, whereas this vegetarian creation showcases seeds, herbs, nuts and produce to create a work of art. Oddly, Cucci got inspiration for this masterpiece from the trash. “This was a dish collaboration between myself and my chefs,” said Cucci. “We used waste products like vegetable ash, herb stems, onion peels and carrot tops as a way to turn the waste into beautiful flavors.” On the plate you will find raw radish, fennel, mint, ash-coated carrots, pine nuts and ras el hanout yogurt, a Moroccan-spiced spread. Over the orange, green and gray composition, the chefs have sprinkled Cucci's signature seed granola mixture, an addition that gives a pleasing crunch to the whole thing.
Hearth & Dram
1801 Wewatta Street
Mushrooms have a certain finesse and mystery about them that just livens and enriches any plate they're put on. But at this downtown restaurant, chef Jeffrey Wall has allowed the fungi to shine all on their own by simply roasting a pile of maitake mushrooms and coating them in butter before adorning them with minced garlic and shallot. "I love how meaty hen of the woods [aka maitake] mushrooms taste when cooked slowly until they are crispy on the edges and tender in the middle," says the chef. "It’s very satisfying.”
The chef also adds a splash of Minus 8 vinegar, an ice-wine vinegar from Canada that lends a touch of tart sweetness to help counteract the mushroom's natural earthy notes. But that's not all: These maitakes then get placed on a pillow of silky celery-root purée and bedazzled with nasturtium leaves that not only look pretty, but give the dish a mustard-like kick. The result is a shining and plump mess of tangled brown mushrooms, singed with smoke and ready for your exploration.