MA Road Trip: Denver's Mile-High Eats

"Really, it never rains here," the Hampton Inn desk receptionist insisted as I stood on the other side of the check-in counter in water-logged shoes. "This is really rare, particularly for August. In fact, it hasn't rained here since May."

Not only was it pouring, it was downright cold, a record low maximum of 58 degrees for Aug. 16. Completely unprepared for late fall weather in August, my travel companion Madge and I were compelled to buy fleece pullovers to stay warm.


Kim and her sparkling wine flight at Corridor 44 in Denver. (Shannon Henry)

The weather was dismal enough to put a damper on our plans for lots of walking and sightseeing, but it failed to dampen our spirits. Saturday morning, we headed to Boulder for breakfast; the rain was coming down in buckets and the visibility was practically nil, but we forged ahead anyway. Our destination was Lucile's, a homey sort of place that folks back in D.C. were telling me I just had to try. Even on a dismally cold Saturday morning, there was a 45-minute wait, a testament to its popularity. Unfortunately, Madge had a plane to catch, so we headed to our Plan B destination, Radda Trattoria, where we warmed up on strong coffee and tucked into plates of eggs and brioche toast.

By Saturday evening, the rain had relented, so I kept my reservation for Frasca, which had come highly recommended by both Denver Post food columnist (and former food editor) Kristen Browning-Blas and my friend and Dallas Morning News food critic Bill Addison.

The brainchild of two French Laundry alums, Frasca is a regional Italian restaurant, with a particular focus on the cuisine of Fruili-Venezia Guilia in the northeast part of the country. (Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson won a James Beard award this year.) The menu is prix fixe -- four courses (quattro piatti) for $62, showcasing the varied culinary influences of Fruili, including Austria, Slovenia, the Adriatic Sea and the Alps.

Even as a solo diner, I was treated like a queen, seated at the bar facing the street (where I was treated to a rainbow), where I supped on grilled octopus with cucumbers, tomatoes, feta and pickled onions; lamb-stuffed tortelloni in a pesto-y broth (I think I was swooning) and shaved pork with Colorado peaches in a rosemary-bacon vinaigrette. In a word, dinner was stellar. Some of the best food I've eaten in months.

With Sunday morning came the sun, which meant exploring the eats and drinks of Denver. My tour guide for the day was Shannon Henry, a former Post reporter who also penned the "The Download," a column about Washington-area tech movers and shakers. Henry, who relocated to Denver two years ago with her family, has switched gears from technology to cooking with a nifty Web project called Cooking With Friends.

For our eats and drinks tour, we focused on three neighborhoods: South Pearl Street, Gaylord Street and Larimer Square, all of which are conveniently located for Democratic conventioneers arriving in town this week. Certainly, one afternoon does not even scratch the surface, but here are a few picks from each 'hood to whet your appetite:

Larimer Square

"If Denver has a hip neighborhood, this is it," said Henry, as we strolled through Denver's LODO (Lower Downtown) neighborhood of Larimer Square. The choices are many and varied for both eats and drinks; for an in between-meal libation, we chose http://www.corridor44.com/">Corridor 44, where I had fun with a trio flight of sparkling wines.

For a coffee, a quick nosh or a place to catch one's breath, conventioneers might want to check out The Market, which does sandwiches and salads from its huge deli counter. Nice community vibe.

With more time, I might have had dinner at Bistro Vendome, a classic Parisian bistro, both in menu and décor. The folks at BV also own the Mediterranean-inspired Rioja, just a few doors away.

For a rooftop view of the city and Rocky Mountains, you might want to check out Tamayo, which serves up contemporary Latino fare.

Pearl and Gaylord

"Washington Park is Denver's version of New York's Central Park," says Henry. It's in the middle of the city, closed off to traffic, with plenty of jogging and biking trails and stunning flower gardens. Talk about an urban oasis! On each side of the park are two neighborhoods with vibrant commercial districts chock-full of independent, locally owned businesses.

For lunch, we hung out at Devil's Food, part bakery, part café, serving up baked treats, a great array of loose tea and yummy sandwiches.

For dinner, we chose Sushi Den, and I know you're thinking, why the heck would we pick sushi in a land-locked city like Denver? Sushi Den has a sister restaurant in Fukuoka, Japan, located on the northern tip of the island of Kyushu, which is shipping fish directly from the Fukuoka fish market straight to the Denver outpost. As a result, the restaurant is getting top-shelf sushi-grade fish that is hard to find in other sushi restaurants in this country.

With more time, I would have parked myself at Village Cork, a small café with an extensive wine list and plenty of wine flights, and Shannon was hoping to take me to Potager (1109 Ogden St., 303-832-5788), where seasonal and local is the theme.

Got Denver eats and drinks tips to share for conventioneers or curious wanderlusters? Share in the comments area.

Listen to my conversation with Post Politics Podcast host Ed O'Keefe who is licking his chops for Denver.

Today is chat day: Talk to me today at 12:15 ET for What's Cooking.


By Kim ODonnel |  August 19, 2008; 11:06 AM ET MA on the Road , Travel
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Oh man... lucky you! I was in Denver for work a couple weeks ago - Englewood, really - and was stuck in a suburban golf resort the whole time. :-( To be fair, the food was not bad by hotel buffet standards. But I was annoyed not to be able to get into the city, not even once. And it was *hot*! So be glad for rain.

Posted by: Reine de Saba | August 19, 2008 2:28 PM

Ah, it's a shame you had to miss Lucile's, but yes, there is an ever-present line -- even though the waitstaff will kick you right out when you're finished eating. I didn't love living in Boulder for grad school, but there were some terrific breakfasts.

Posted by: SP | August 19, 2008 4:52 PM

Nice write-up!

We actually teamed up with a Denver food blogger to provide some recommendations for convention-goers over at our site, Capital Spice. Frasca was definitely high on their list of suggestions.

You can check out our post at http://capitalspice.wordpress.com/2008/08/15/foodie-recommendations-for-the-democratic-national-convention-things-to-eat-in-denver-when-youre-dem/

Enjoy!

Posted by: Mike @ Capital Spice | August 21, 2008 5:23 PM

Ahh, how nice to read about my new home town. I live in Wash Park right near Old South Pearl Street and I think it's fabulous. However, I was not impressed with Sushi Den. I prefer Izayaka Den any day, which is just accross the street. The Market is a great lunch/breakfast stop, but I'm new here so thanks for all of the other suggestions!

Posted by: Anne A | August 22, 2008 10:48 AM

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