The Top Ten Dishes in Denver for 2014

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10) Monkfish with peas in mint brodo at To the Wind Bistro

To the Wind Bistro made an early name for itself with its escargot empanadas, and those snail-filled pockets nearly made it to this list. But every time I'm served a piece of fish that's overcooked, soggily battered or bathed in butter, I find myself longing for something else that came out of this shoebox-sized kitchen: pan-seared monkfish. Accented with pea shoots and peas, the fish was refreshing and light, with a minty broth that showed why this prolific summer herb deserves consideration as more than a garnish.

9) Roasted-squash soup at the Nickel

Chef Christopher Thompson is a lifelong fan of wood-fired cooking, and his comfort with the medium is evident in the outstanding steaks and other items coming off the cherry-and-oak-fed grill at the Nickel. But Thompson isn't just a grill master. Under his direction, this kitchen inside the newly renovated Hotel Teatro turned out a roasted-squash soup that felt as much like fall as yellow aspens and crisp nights. The silky blend of kabocha and butternut squash was vegan until it was plated, so the flavors in the soup were pure, uncomplicated by cream or chicken stock. Since I'm not a vegan, I enjoyed the finishing touches of maple crème fraîche and pumpkin-seed streusel, which framed the dish with texture and subtle sweetness.

8) Pork rillette at the Plimoth

The Plimoth is the kind of restaurant that every neighborhood deserves to have, a place to unwind after work with unpretentious, impeccably executed fare; chef-owner Peter Ryan's years as a culinary instructor are evident in the kitchen's attention to technique. As good as the menu is, however, I always start with pork rillette, prepared country style with chunks of rich, salty pork to spread on crostini. The last time I had it, the dish came with French touches of pickled jardinière and mustard to temper the richness.

Keep reading for seven more of the top dishes of 2014

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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz