Restaurant interlude: Denver

I'm going with a top ten format on this one. My top ten favorite places to eat in Denver are:

10. Sassafras American Eatery. The newest addition to this list and the only place I have been just twice before. A brunch place, in my mind, needs to offer truly amazing food, just like a dinner place, and Sassafras does. My two favorites are the fried green tomato eggs Benedict (I am a sucker for creative interpretations of eggs, bread and hollandaise) and the Southern Sunrise (pulled pork, fried red onions, jalapeño and cheddar grits, sunnyside up egg, pico de gallo, biscuit with homemade jam options ). Oh how I love good grits, and how hard they are to find in Denver! They also served good espresso, milkshakes, brioche French toast and "Elvis" (peanut butter mousse and banana) beignets, plus a solid kids' menu. A tie with Beatrice & Woodsley for best brunch in Denver.

9. SALT.* I, for one, am delighted with increasing popularity of sea salt caramels over the last several years and of the sweet-savory trend in general. I was initially drawn to Salt for the chocolate caramel sea salt tart and then drawn in by the mix and match cocktail menu. The food is consistently fabulous, fresh and fun, a great exemplar of Boulder's farm-to-table cuisine. (Honestly, it was a really tough call between putting Salt, The Kitchen, and Black Cat on this list, so I'll say no more.)

8. Spuntino. I first encountered Spuntino's gelato (which rivals Capogiro) whilst shopping at Marczyk. When my mom came to visit, I decided I wanted to take her to the shop itself, so she could choose from the full range of flavors (though I recommend chocolate and hazelnut and roasted almond and vanilla bourbon and...). That happened to be the week they opened the full restaurant - easily the best Italian food in Denver. I especially love the ricotta cavatelli with spicy homemade sausage, cannelini beans, and sautéed greens and the porchetta sandwich (though all the sandwiches and salads have been amazing). Dinner is a great deal too. And for dessert, of course there is gelato, but don't neglect the almond macaroons, pear tart and olive oil cake.

7. TAG. I sometimes think TAG actually has the best food in Denver - sashimi with pop rocks, taco sushi, amazing buttery white fish with English peas, and so on. Their omakase is spot-on and they host some cool events. In January, we went to their Prohibition Dinner, which was a great excuse to dress up Roaring Twenties style and have some good cocktails. The only down side, really, is that I just don't love the atmosphere. I want to like Larimer Street, but it's just a little too fake-hip...and I always forget to carry cash for valet parking. That extends to the interior of TAG, which is just a little too noisy and a little too crowded (unless you're not in a booth, in which case it's a lot too all of those things). But back to the food...

6. Z Cuisine. And À Côté too, of course. I won't go so far as to say I feel like I'm in Paris - or Provence - but Z Cuisine definitely conjures a European ambience unlike most other restaurants in Denver. I love the delightful cocktails (think St. German and Champagne, grapefruit granita with vodka and Champagne, and the best Corpse Reviver No. 2 in the city), the crowded (yes, really, I do) wooden tables, and the handwritten chalkboard menu. Most of all, I love the salade gourmande - several kinds of charcuterie with a perfect dressing and some greenery (more precisely: "duck gesiers confit maison sautéed with Morcillas sausage, chorizo tossed with apples baton, Colorado beef langua carpaccio style lightly flambéed in Cognac and topped with Hudson's Valley duck magret prosciutto, served on a sherry and Dijon vinaigrette butter and frisée lettuce). It is the BEST single dish in Denver, I promise. That and a cocktail are really all I need.

5. Frasca Food and Wine and Arugula.* Why are these two tied? Well, together, they serve the best Italian food in Colorado (my standards are  very high, I admit). I have had many delicious meals at both. I love Frasca's focus on a single ingredient at each meal, and I think their service is unparalleled. They once overcharged us by $2 on a glass of wine. Instead of simply fixing the mistake in a timely manner (which was really all that was required in the situation), they fixed it quickly, apologized profusely, and served us glasses of digestif on the house. They were tolerant of my then five month old son (though perhaps not as overjoyed with him as real Italians would be). On the other hand, I secretly suspect that Arugula's food is just as amazing - if only I could do a head-to-head test (and their service and atmosphere, while not Frasca, are quite good). Arugula is the restaurant that persuaded me to finally enjoy octopus (in a carpaccio preparation with a blood orange vinaigrette, I think).

4. Sushi Sasa. I once dated a guy who basically sucked at birthdays, holidays, any sort of special occasion with expectations and gift-giving involved...except for my twenty-seventh birthday, when he took me here - we sat at the bar and he told the chef to give us whatever he thought was best. (I peeked at the bill later, curious, and it was over $300 with very little alcohol.) It was easily one of the top 10 meals I've ever had - the flawless, buttery sashimi and oysters with soy and scallion stand out in my memory, though I also like their cold green tea soba noodles, tempura and "new-style" salmon sashimi. The wine list and cocktails are solid, certainly better than the average Japanese restaurant.

First post-baby cocktail,
a Pepper Blossom at Root Down
3. Root Down. I agree that Linger is excellent and, if anything, has an even more fabulous space with great views of the city, but it just hasn't won me over in the same way. I first discovered Root Down accidentally, when I was choosing a restaurant for Harvest Week (the old version of Harvest Week). The carrot and Thai curry soup and sweet potato fries with lime-curry dipping sauce quickly won me over and are consistently awesome. (As much as I love to try new things, it's also nice to have a few favorite dishes.) The menu usually includes something delicious involving beets, tasty sliders, and excellent gnocchi. Variations on arepas, especially in their brunch incarnation, have been on the menu for a couple of years now; unfortunately, the previously spectacular burrata has disappeared. Overall, brunch is solid too and greatly improved by the bottomless blood orange mimosas. The cocktails are outstanding - the Pepper Blossom (vodka, St. Germain, jalapeño, basil, grapefruit, lemon) makes my top 10 Denver cocktails list. Another plus - they have tasty homemade sodas like the Cardamom Fizz (or nonalcoholic cocktails, if you prefer to think of it that way), ideal for pregnant girls. Sit on the deck and enjoy the Denver skyline if you can.

B&W's wine cellar
2. Beatrice & Woodsley. I have been enchanted with this restaurant since my friend Catharine first recommended it. I'm not sure there is a more unique venue in Denver (aspens rising through the floor to touch the ceiling?) and I'm sure it has the most unique bathroom sinks (see for yourself). An open, adventurous palate is a must for eating here, along with a willingness to share your food (many dishes are tapas-styled). Cocktails are fabulous. Brunch is also exceptional, a judgment I reserve exclusively for places going above and beyond what you are simply too lazy to make for yourself at home on a Sunday morning. For example, do you make pain perdu (a variation on French toast by way of custard that changes on a regular basis, currently "battered huckleberry-lemon curd bread with brined belly, cranberry-orange butter and poached egg") at home? No? Perfect. The brunch menu also includes one of my top 10 cocktails, the Tea Thyme, a blend of Earl Grey-infused gin, lemon juice and thyme syrup. Don't forget to order the rasher of bacon. (Trust me.) And for the enchanting, almost magical, atmosphere and omnipresent booths, I sincerely think this is a great place for kids - we held my son's christening celebration here, in the wine cellar that serves as a private party room.

1. Potager. An easy decision. For those who don't know, Potager is a consistently delicious farm-to-table restaurant in Capitol Hill (a few blocks from where I used to live). The menu is seasonal, changing every four to five weeks, and nearly always includes an amazing goat cheese souffle (the late summer corn version was to die for) and pizza (I can still taste the version with cherries and goat cheese). Other highlights have included savory greens, sweet potato soup, whole roasted chicken with panzanella, and a clambake. The wine list is solid (including a few Infinite Monkey Theorem bottles and some good ciders). For dessert, I recommend anything that comes with homemade ice cream (don't be afraid, even if it's black pepper or olive oil). But it's the service and atmosphere that push Potager to the top of my list. When my son was just a few weeks old, dining out had not been going as smoothly as planned, and so we decided to cancel our 5280 Week reservations at Colt & Grey and just walk to a place nearby - Potager. From the beginning, and once or twice a month thereafter, the hostess, servers and bartender could not have been more accommodating and welcoming. This is actually the first restaurant where I've had a "regular" table (left back corner of the bar area).


A few restaurants that really should be on the list but I limited it to 10 because my fingers were starting to hurt: Fruition (demoted because it was walking distance from my house but too crowded for my stroller), Amu (best agedashi-dofu in Colorado), Colt & Grey (marrow bones, please), Black Cat (romantic!), The Squeaky Bean (everything about it), The Kitchen

And a few (okay, more than a few) runners-up to the runners-up:
Dinner - Twelve, Domo (sit in the garden on a summer night!), Tables, Izakaya Den (except for one manager's appalling taste in music), ChoLon Bistro, TAG raw bar, Satchel's on 5th, Mizuna (lobster mac and cheese), Bones, Café Brazil, Lou's Food Bar, Rioja, Table 6, Bittersweet, Charcoal, Firenze a Tavola, Solera, Village Cork, Steuben's, Olivéa
Take away/quick bites - Pinche Taqueria (happy hour!), Chada Thai (tom kha gai), Peter's Chinese Café, Phoenician Kabob, Mecca Grill, GB Fish & Chips
Lunch - Vert Kitchen (braised pork shoulder sandwich), Thai Street Food
Breakfast - Waffle Brothers (I like a traditional waffle with strawberries, blackberries and kiwi and I loved being the first person in the door after a stroller jog at 6:30 in the morning), Snooze (except I can't stand the ridiculous crowds), Lucile's Creole Café
Dessert - Glaze, Cake Crumbs Bakery, Lik's Ice Cream, d Bar Desserts
Coffee - Aviano Coffee, Pablo's Coffee, Fluid Coffee Bar
Cocktails/Wine - Williams & Graham, El Diablo, Churchill Bar (Brown Palace Hotel), Infinite Monkey Theorem Tasting Room, Caveau, Sketch

What can I say? Denver has a LOT of great restaurants! And I haven't been to Trillium yet...

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