The Top Ten Dishes in Denver for 2014

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7) Tuna mousse at Cart-Driver

Most people think of Cart-Driver as a pizzeria, a place for blistered-crust pies with dough fashioned from 150-year-old starter. To me, however, it's synonymous with something else: tuna mousse. The spread -- known at Basta, Kelly Whitaker's first restaurant, as tuna panna cotta -- gets its addictive creaminess from butter, cream and dry vermouth, and its insanely smooth texture from gelatin-like agar. Dishes like this are proof that Cart-Driver isn't your run-of-the-mill fast-casual spot.

6) Citrus mount baum at Glaze by Sasa

Sushi and cake seem like an unlikely duo, but Glaze by Sasa has turned them into an unforgettable combination. What better way to end a meal of precise, artistic nigiri and sushi rolls than with an equally exquisite baum cake? Most are offered whole, making them difficult to enjoy after a meal, but my favorite, the citrus mount baum, came as a plated dessert. Shaped into peaks while it rotated on the spit, the orange-scented cake featured a crisp crust that reminded me of the glazed ridges on the best old-fashioned doughnuts. Cut into wedges, the multi-layered cake was served alongside whipped cheesecake, candied orange zest and rosemary for an ending that was sweet, but not overly so.

5) Bacon-wrapped halibut "chowder" at Stoic & Genuine

For a landlocked state, Colorado isn't lacking in places where you can slurp oysters on the half shell, and some of the most interesting varieties I plucked off the ice this year were courtesy of Stoic & Genuine, Jennifer Jasinski's offbeat seafood temple inside Union Station. But it was one of Stoic's hot entrees that caught -- and kept -- my attention: a soul-satisfying bowl of surf clams, fat Bangs Island mussels and bacon-wrapped halibut bathed in a light corn-and-wine-based broth.

4) Gamberi in crosta di nocciole at Barolo Grill

Rather than looking to the sea for inspiration, chef Darrell Truitt of Barolo Grill looks to northern Italy. This year, his annual trip -- organized by Barolo owner Blair Taylor -- produced one of the best appetizers I was served in 2014. The head-on blue prawns provided a study in the wow factor of texture, the crispness of their hazelnut-panko crust contrasting beautifully with chewy grains of wild rice and smooth chanterelle purée.

Keep reading for three more of the top ten 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