A shift we’ve started to notice this holiday season: Celebrations are back in style. We’re talking big steak dinners, bottles of Champagne and fancy nights on the town.
Maybe this speaks to your mood, or maybe not. But we’re here to provide options.
Over the past months, a crop of new restaurants, wine bars, bakeshops and more have opened and are offering a certain level of decadence. That could mean simply a bow-wrapped box of pastries to take home in the morning, or it could mean an upscale dining room to spend a night slurping oysters.
Choose your own adventure, or send off 2021 with one (or more) of these seven celebration-worthy spots — all approved by our food editors.
Worth celebrating: Steakhouse meets supper club meets culinary playground at A5. This is the newest restaurant in the old Wazee Supper Club, but it’s really a reimagining of Morin, the classy French spot that came briefly before it. Chef Max MacKissock and his team take indulgence to playful new levels here with crabby French toast, Wagyu beef burgers and a whole menu of steak dipping sauces (see beurre blanc, X.O., chimichurri).
The dishes are served with martinis or tropical cocktails and set against a backdrop of ’70s-style ferns and ’80s stereo classics. This is the place to come with a group and really dig in. By the end of the night, you’ll be dancing in your seat to the restaurant soundtrack.
Price point: $12-$25 appetizers; $14-$15 salads; $28-$90 steak; $17-$48 entrees; $6-$19 sides; and $3-$9 sauces
When you go: Start your meal with the richest thing on the menu, the 4-ounce A5 strip, throw in some oysters and a face-sized wedge salad, then more steak if needed, vegetable sides (or fries) and sauces. Call it a party.
1600 15th St., a5denver.com, reservations at exploretock.com/a5denver
Apple Blossom (Downtown)
Worth celebrating: Denver’s best new hotel restaurant is waiting in the lobby of the Hyatt Centric at 18th and Champa, and it’s an enigma of a place. Owners Paul Reilly, Aileen Reilly and JP Taylor have worked to re-create some of the magic of their Uptown neighborhood hits Coperta and Beast + Bottle (the latter closed over the summer), but now they’re in the heart of downtown.
With the help of head chefs Russ Fox and Jodi Polson, they’ve brought over their customers’ favorite handmade pastas, Colorado meats and seasonal vegetables, plus house breads and baked goods. And even surrounded by skyscrapers, they’ve created a surprisingly sweet locavore haven with hospitality to boot.
Price point: $10-$21 appetizers; $14-$20 meats and cheeses; $17-$23 pastas; $22-$68 entrees; and $5-$18 sides and vegetables
When you go: Sit at the bar or in the lounge area for a casual lamb bolognese dinner with TV screens and people-watching providing entertainment. Or make a dining room reservation for a sit-down celebration with burrata to share and a stellar bottle list.
822 18th St., appleblossomdenver.com, reservations at exploretock.com/appleblossom
La Bouche (Uptown)
Worth celebrating: The opening night of La Bouche earlier in the season felt like a scene from a street corner somewhere much cooler, maybe Paris. Only it was 17th and Park Avenues in Denver on a midweek evening, with a mix of French and English spoken at the bistro tables, and shiny black subway tiles reflecting all the clinking glasses and popped-open bottles.
Wife-and-husband owners Alexandra and Alexis Tréton moved their family from France during the pandemic with the dream of opening a little bar in Colorado where they’d been traveling to visit friends over the course of decades. This is their own cross-cultural tribute, with French and American wines to match the mashup of spoken languages.
Price point: $15-$19 flights; $7-$23 glasses; $25-$112 bottles; $7-$11 French small plates and salads; $11-$15 sandwiches; $16-$30 cheese and meat boards; and $2-$5 desserts and coffee
When you go: We like this spot for an early-evening drink or a nightcap. Think: a flight of French bubbles to start the festivities or a paired wine and cheese for dessert.
1100 E. 17th Ave., labouche.wine, reservations not required
Worth celebrating: Chefs Lisa and Patrick Balcom and their team at Farow require a bit of an introduction. The Balcoms came to Colorado via Charleston, S.C., where they worked at the lauded Charleston Grill together. Before opening Farow, they were pastry chef and sous chef, respectively, of Blackbelly in Boulder.
Now running their own sweet surprise of a restaurant in Niwot, the couple brought onboard friends like chef de cuisine Michael Schorn (formerly Butcher & Bee in Charleston and Safta in Denver) and sommelier Carmen Haywood (previously at Denver’s Tavernetta). So the whole crew’s resumes start to tell some of the story of this shared plates restaurant. But when you taste the dishes — like saag paneer-stuffed winter squash or pork belly with carrot and wheat berry risotto — you’ll really get it.
Price point: $5-$30 plates “meant to share,” from breads to salads, vegetables, pastas and meats; $10 desserts; and a $75 six-course tasting menu with optional $55 beverage pairings
When you go: Save room for dessert. The season was meant for Lisa Balcom’s spice cake with thick cream cheese frosting, sugar-and-spice pecans, orange curd and candied citrus; or her pumpkin clafoutis in cast iron, with bourbon-caramel creme fraiche, pumpkin seed brittle and sugared cranberries.
7916 Niwot Road, farowrestaurant.com, reservations at exploretock.com/farow
The Greenwich (RiNo)
Worth celebrating: Delores Tronco was an original co-founder of Work & Class in Denver before she moved to New York for other adventures (her since-closed Southwestern spot The Banty Rooster). Now the restaurateur has returned to old stomping grounds with this new destination, which flips the switch, bringing a bit of the lower west side to Denver’s RiNo art district.
With chef Justin Freeman at the helm of the kitchen, The Greenwich comes in like a casual pro to this food scene. His current menu features chicory salads, mortadella pies, whole grilled fish and roasted and charred root vegetables, all with a side of some of the best service and hospitality I’ve experienced at a new restaurant in Denver since the start of the pandemic.
Price point: $7-$18 starters; $14-$19 pizzas; $29-$36 entrees; $8-$9 sides; $4-$12 desserts
When you go: Take a look at the artwork, starting with Austin Zucchini-Fowler’s mural at the entrance. Inside, Tronco has created a loving homage to her late friend and New York photographer Ricky Powell, who died during the pandemic. His photos and others tell as much of a story here as the menu. Oh, and whatever else you order, don’t miss the New York-Basque cheesecake.
3258 Larimer St., thegreenwichdenver.com, reservations at exploretock.com/thegreenwichdenver
The Ponti (Golden Triangle)
Worth celebrating: Alongside the opening this season of the Denver Art Museum’s renovated Martin Building (designed by Gio Ponti in 1971) comes this showpiece restaurant with a big culinary talent. James Beard award-winner Jennifer Jasinski consults on The Ponti’s menu of parsnip and smoked apple soup, seared king salmon and lamb cavatelli, to name just a few options.
It’s the kind of meal you should plan to carve out an hour or more for after your visit to the museum’s North American Indigenous, Asian-Pacific, Western Art and Latin American collections — as well as the current Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France exhibit. When the patio’s open, it will put you in the heart of the city’s Golden Triangle museum district for lunch or drinks. But the bar and dining room inside are just as scenic.
Price point: $9-$18 salads and snacks; $15-$24 mains; and $9 desserts
When you go: Note that you can also check out Cafe Gio for quick service and a more casual bite just across the hall from the main restaurant.
100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, thepontidenver.com, reservations at opentable.com
RELATED: Inside Denver Art Museum’s $175 million makeover, which opens this month
Poulette Bakeshop (Parker)
Worth celebrating: Decorated pastry chefs Carolyn Nugent and Alen Ramos started this bakery in their home kitchen during the peak of the pandemic, when they used their south Denver front porch as a storefront for new (but devoted) followers craving Berliner doughnuts, apple fritters and sticky buns. Now the couple has opened their real bakeshop, Poulette, in Parker, while keeping the spirit of the pop-ups very much alive.
Customers can order half-dozen pastry boxes featuring beautiful creations like spandaeur (Danish custard-filled), brioche au sucre and pumpkin teacakes. They’re prepared fresh for weekend pickup, meaning you can gift a box to your loved ones this season, and enjoy the special treats from the comfort of your home.
Price point: $30 pastry boxes featuring an assortment of six pastries from croissants to cakes; also individual pastries; and whole holiday breads, pies and cakes for $15-$50
When you go: If you don’t want to order ahead, you can always walk in to ogle the pastry case from 8 a.m. to noon (or until sold out) Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
19585 Hess Road, Parker, poulettebakeshop.com; “reservations” only required for pre-ordered boxes or pies
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