Second Helpings

Z Cuisine

Fruition, reviewed in this week's paper, was the restaurant I picked as the Best New Restaurant in this year's Best of Denver edition. When I made that choice, I knew that Fruition wasn't yet the best restaurant it could be, just the best there was at the time. And it's improved considerably in the seven weeks since the Best of Denver 2007 came out.

It was different last year, when Z Cuisine won Best New Restaurant honors. I loved Z Cuisine from the first moment I set foot on its odd little dead-end block in the Highland neighborhood. What's more, I've continued to fall in love with it every time I've visited -- feeling a fresh thrum of passion and recognition each time I see it at night, bleeding light out into the street like warm butter, each time I see chef/owner Patrick Dupays's menu.

The charcuterie maison thrills me with its little cornichons, rough country-style pâtés, duck and rabbit rillettes, hidden treasures like grapes, roasted beets, warm pear chutney. Often, that's as far as I get on the menu -- a charcuterie plate, two glasses of wine and au revoir, chef as I wander back out into the evening, giving up my seat to those who come here like supplicants, knowing that seating is at a premium, banking on the luck of the turn.

Cassoulet in winter with white beans and wilted greens. Leg of lamb in spring. Beef-tongue ravioli. Last week, the seafood galette was fresh scallops, crabmeat and crayfish tails like shrimp pretending to be lobsters, all dressed in a caper-and-dill champagne sauce.

It took me a while to love Fruition, but at Z, I fell immediately and hard. Every time I go there is like the first time, every night a unique and sometimes startling wonder. And because of the cuisine du marche style in which Dupays works -- because of his daily-changing menu and love of market shopping and limited space and stock and seating -- every night really is new. The Z Cuisine that won last year's Best New Restaurant award is not the same as the restaurant I ate at last week, last month, last season. But they're all still the best.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan