Cafe Society

We'll Take Desert

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Shrewd cooking also made the most of the fish in the grilled salmon quesadilla ($12.99), where chunks of blackened salmon retained their damp interiors against the scalding crust that was further fired by a dousing of chipotle cream sauce. The cooling element of a sour-creamy squash salsa vinaigrette was ideal for coating the leftover bits of tortilla. Like the other entrees listed under Saguaro's "house specialties," the quesadilla came with a side of garlicky black beans and a mass of spicy, creamed-corn salsa enriched with actual cream. Those two sides also came with the chiles rellenos ($7.99), two Anaheims that had been roasted, overstuffed with Monterey Jack, very lightly coated with an egg-based breading and then deep-fried. They swam in a green chile that was mild by Denver's chile-heat standards but didn't lack any flavor.

Margaritas--including a debonair "Italian" version ($5) with Cuervo and Amaretto--were all the dessert we needed, but we couldn't resist the idea of a margarita mousse pie ($3.99), which turned out to be an impressive creation that paired a light, fluffy, lime-flavored filling with a toothsome crust. We paired the pie with a few more margaritas for good measure.

As good as Saguaro's margs were, though, the ones at Las Brisas were even better. This vigorously decorated spot near the Target store at I-25 and Arapahoe has been serving Mexican, Spanish and Southwestern food for thirteen years, and the original chef, Dan Lukens, came back three months ago after an eight-year leave of absence to work at other restaurants around the state.

The name Las Brisas means "the breezes," and the bright-blue wave motif on the walls, the plant-filled dining spaces and a boulder-supported waterfall give the place a casual, airy feel. Owner Jayne Smith's mean margarita ($5.25) comes in an innocent-looking rocks glass, but don't be fooled: The brown color comes courtesy of orange Curacao; the kick is from ample shots of Cuervo Gold and Montezuma tequilas; and the flavor punch is fresh lime juice with a splash of sweet-and-sour mix.

The food at Las Brisas is a similar combination of flavor and verve, and the diversity of the menu--with tapas sitting comfortably next to chimichangas and mango-sauced mahi--makes it easy to meet your mood. On our first stop, we were feeling adventurous, so the tapas of nopalitos saltiado ($5.95), cactus sauteed with Marsala and bacon, was definitely in order. The cactus strips, which had a texture like undercooked green beans and a flavor like green peppers, merged well with the salty, garlicky wine sauce. Our other tapas, the mejiones con verde ($6.95), featured four large, fresh green-lip mussels, each swimming in a saffron cream sauce and topped with just enough pico de gallo to keep it all from being too rich.

We also ordered an appetizer that should be mandatory at Las Brisas: the tableside guacamole, which is sold at a price determined by the wildly fluctuating avocado market ($5.95 during our visit). The server wheeled over to us with a cart bearing just about anything you could want in guacamole--onions, tomatoes, garlic, jalapenos, salt, pepper, lemon juice, lime juice, cilantro--and then asked what our preferences were, adding in small amounts as she hand-mashed the avocados and letting us taste until it was exactly what we wanted.

We didn't have any say in how the relleno de mariscos ($9.95) would taste, but the roasted poblano stuffed with bay scallops, crab and shrimp smothered in a chipotle-charged bechamel-style sauce wound up being wonderful. The relleno came with a side of vegetable-packed, saffron-yellowed rice, which in turn made a bed for the crusted-salmon entree ($16.95), a tortilla-wrapped piece of salmon that was covered in a roasted-red-pepper cream sauce. Our kids were happy with tacos ($3.75) from the ninos menu and even happier when a creamy flan ($4.25) and apple-filled, caramel-coated empanada ($4.25) arrived for dessert. (The staff at Las Brisas was pretty welcoming to the many families eating there that night.)

Other items on Las Brisas's menu are more in line with the local Mexican offerings, such as the crispy rellenos ($7.95) I sampled on my second stop; the poblanos had been tightly wrapped and fried to a nice golden to liquefy the Monterey Jack, and the duo was covered with a not-too-hot green chile made with the mainstream in mind. But the filete jalapeno ($16.95) was packing heat: two tenderloin medallions had been slicked with a jalapeno cream sauce and covered with red and green peppers augmented with more jalapenos. The ceviche ($9.25) offered a wallop of chiles, too, with the large, lime-cooked, jalapeno-bit scallops lining a salad of red onions, lettuce and cilantro. It made an ideal soup-and-salad combo when paired with the calabacita verde y amarilla ($4.95), a soothing, creamy squash soup sprinkled with pine nuts.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner

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