There are great French wine lists in town. Great Italian ones, too. There are lists that stick to certain countries, certain growing regions, certain tastes; ones made for pairing and ones made for impressing the wine snobs. But the list at Solera has a different goal: It simply wants to get good bottles into the hands of those who need them, and is more than willing to cross borders and price points to do so. So Solera offers both Perrier-Jouët champagne and Italian prosecco from Lunetta. Its list has Oregon chardonnays and Spanish Albarino, Argentinian malbecs, German pinots and classic French Rhône blends from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And while you might be able to get yourself a twenty-dollar bottle of American cabernet, that bottle of Verite La Joie from Sonoma will run you $190 — proving that the Solera cellars have you covered no matter your style, taste or bank balance.
Marilyn Megenity's Mercury Cafe is a Colorado institution, beloved both inside and outside of this state. It's also a no-brainer for a left-leaning catalogue of American collectives, co-ops, eco-conscious and alternative businesses, think tanks, coffee houses, favorite leftist anthems and restaurants for locavores, but we were still happy to see that The Nation Guide to the Nation mentions Denver's long-lived, free-thinking hippie outpost not once, but twice. Lauded for its rooftop windmills, organic fare and alternative politics, this Mercury is still rising.
The last depression wasn't all bad news. Thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Denver area reaped the benefits of several federal projects, including Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Hundreds of New Deal laborers worked to create a stage and seating in this stunning setting; the amphitheatre, finished in 1941 and improved periodically since, is legendary with artists around the world. Less well known is the role of the CCC workers at Red Rocks — but their contribution is remembered with a statue at the entrance to the Visitor Center.
Radek Cerny has never been a "normal" chef. He's always been the kind of guy who pushes borders and boundaries for his own amusement — for the thrill of hanging himself out there on the edge just to see what will happen. At L'Atelier, his current culinary workshop, he's free to be as weird as he wants to be. And for just $59, you, too, can go to the wall with Cerny. That's the price of his degustation menu — an eight-course, greatest-hits collection of whatever the kitchen is playing with at the moment. There are tartares on the degustation menu, little blips of French and Italian and Japanese and American technique, as well as escargot with potato foam. (Cerny has long been fascinated with doing unusual thing to and with potatoes). This is a man who's never seen a rule he didn't want to break or a border that didn't deserve crossing — and the results can be delicious.
Duo has the trappings of a simple neighborhood bistro — but one with a particularly inventive cook behind the grills. Chef John Broening can do French, as evidenced by his duck confit over potato pancakes with apricot mustard. He can do Italian (gnocchi with oyster mushrooms and pecorino), fusion (a dish of pastry-wrapped mahi with herb pistou and sautéed vegetables). And he clearly knows his way around the fine points of old and new Continental, greenmarket and straight-up American cuisine (parmesan-crusted chicken with bacon-shot potato salad and watercress). Add to those talents a pastry department run by Yasmin Lozada-Hissom (one of the best pastry chefs anywhere), and the result is the most intelligent, consistently well-executed and grounded New American menu in the city.
Shrimp and grits. Buffalo chicken wings and Rhode Island calamari. Memphis ribs, Louisiana etouffee, Maine lobster rolls and Chicago-style hot dogs. Steuben's isn't just an American restaurant, it's an All-American restaurant — a restaurant dedicated to the preservation and glorification of our mutt, immigrant canon; our staples and standards; our occasional flashes of brief genius. And while opinions may differ as to whether Steuben's is making the best version of some regional favorite, opinions always differ on every regional favorite. The fights over the Steuben's recipe for trout amandine, its green-chile cheeseburger or the truck-stop chocolate cake started even before the place opened, and they haven't stopped yet. The probably never will. And they all make for delicious conversation over a meal in this popular, comfortable hangout.
Why "Old American"? Because the central conceit behind both the menu and the design at Beatrice & Woodsley is that the restaurant is supposed to look like a place that might've been prepared by a particularly adept woodsman for his lady love in turn-of-the-last-century Colorado — and the food is part of the same fantasy. Thus are the bar's back shelves mounted to the wall by way of chainsaws, and the main floor has aspen trees growing out of it. Thus does the menu manage to mix beautiful frog's legs, deconstructed Fig Newtons, turtle soup, buffalo hash, pork belly, roast quail, crawfish beignets and foie gras all together — a lineup that would be ludicrous without the design. And without the menu, the design would be goofy and annoying. But when everything comes together, Beatrice & Woodsley becomes much more than the simple sum of its parts; it becomes one of the most singularly beautiful and brilliant restaurants that Denver has ever seen.
"New American" is a term that's fallen somewhat out of favor as a way to describe the type of cuisine that essentially marks the page where, in the history of gastronomy, American chefs began asserting themselves as being capable of cooking more than just cheeseburgers and fat steaks. And that's because, for a time, the phrase was used to describe just about every restaurant that wasn't a takeout Chinese place or a Greek diner. But really, the reason that no other Denver restaurant wants to be labeled "New American" is simply because no other New American restaurant in this town (and maybe anymore) could be as good as Fruition. Chef Alex Seidel and his crew take their beef barley soup, oysters Rockefeller, confit pork shoulder and notions of American mastery very seriously, and in the front of the house, partner Paul Attardi takes the ideas of comfort and ease just as seriously — making a room that lulls you into a focused languor where nothing matters but the meal in front of you and the person you're sharing it with.
Boulder is blessed with many good restaurants, but the best of all is Frasca. Although it no longer has the three-month backlog of reservations it did in the early years, this deceptively plain-looking spot is still an amazing little Northern Italian restaurant with a strong vein of modernism running through its big heart, staffed by the best crew around and featuring an ever-changing menu offering gorgeous and unpretentious proof that, absent all other modifiers, greatness lives wherever great cooks choose to settle.