What: Fine dining without the stuffy ambiance.
Where: 3927 W. 32nd Ave., Denver
When: Monday – Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 5-11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Pros: Imaginative dishes created with fresh ingredients, artistic plating, and attentive service make this restaurant ideal for a special night out.
Cons: A meal here can get pricey fast if you come with a big appetite.
While Denver’s Highlands used to be a quiet, residential neighborhood, over the last few years it’s solidified its reputation as the area to head to for the city’s latest and greatest culinary offerings. So with neighbors like Linger, Williams & Graham, Uncle and Old Major, how can a new restaurant stand out? Solitaire seems to have the answer…
With this addition to the neighborhood, Chef/Owner Mark Ferguson (formerly of Spago in Vail and Las Vegas) and his wife, Director of Operations Andrea Faulisi Ferguson, have successfully combined the elegance of fine dining with a dash of bold and fun personality making dining here an experience that’s special without feeling stuffy.
Occupying the space which formerly housed the Highland’s Garden Café, Solitaire is the result of a complete interior renovation orchestrated by Andrea Faulisi Ferguson. The building, which is actually two Victorian homes that have been combined, is now divided into several distinct spaces.
The atmosphere shifts a bit as you move from room to room – from areas like the steampunk inspired bar area to an open, sparsely decorated space that feels much like an enclosed porch. But no matter where you dine, the restaurant maintains a sense of clean, modern inspiration combined with nods to the past.
The name itself comes from Ferguson’s own family history. His great-great-grandfather, Chester Stephen Morey, owned the Solitaire food company in Denver in the early 1900s, and cartoon-like portraits of both Morey and Ferguson’s great grandfather hang in a small lounge area near the entrance.
Upstairs, in a space which lends itself perfectly to a long, relaxed meal or private events, you’ll find prints of vintage stamps from the food company bearing the Solitaire name along with a lamp made from bourbon bottles. These décor details, though, don’t overwhelm the space thanks to a great attention to maintaining the building’s innate beauty. Dark wood floors, ample light through the lines of windows, and plenty of exposed brink remain the focus and solidify the sense of comfort that comes with dining here.
With a generous wine selection, vino is a popular choice at Solitaire. Let the well-educated staff help you navigate the choices and order a bottle – it’s the perfect accompaniment to Solitaire’s style of coursed-out small plates. Wine is also available by the glass, or try one of several craft beer choices.
With Ben Carrington (formerly of La Biblioteca) behind the bar, Solitaire also offers a variety of cocktails including some on-trend barrel-aged selections. These spirit-based libations will rotate regularly, but if the white Negroni happens to be available during your visit, definitely order one for a lighter, gin-based take on this classic cocktail. The cocktails offered here are kept simple with three to four ingredients. But the flavors still pack a punch, as with the Oaxacan mojito, a smoky version of this tropical favorite. If you’re a gin & tonic lover, Solitaire has you covered with 17 gins and eight tonics to choose from to create your ideal G & T.
No matter how swanky the décor or how strong the drinks are poured, the food must be on point for any new restaurant to become a new favorite. Thankfully, Solitaire’s cuisine offers plenty of reasons to visit, and visit often. While seasonally changing menus seem to be the current norm, dishes here will change more often, even daily, as items are reworked depending on what ingredients are freshest that moment. Items offer a wide variety of flavor profiles and playfully presented ingredients.
The menu here is not divided into your typical categories of appetizer, entrée and dessert. Instead, expect to see a list of dishes arranged by portion size, from small bites like citrus cured olives ($5) and a pacific uni shooter ($8) to larger dishes like the hanger steak diavola ($21), followed by several desserts. All dishes, however, average four to five bites allowing diners to try a variety of selections. The staff will send out dishes in thoughtful courses, meaning you never have to rush through any one selection.
A niçoise salad is reimagined in an intricate plate of Hamachi sashimi ($16) carefully dotted with modern versions of the classic elements: confit tomato, white anchovy, charred asparagus, cornichon, a quail egg, and a honey grain mustard. Gnocchi ($12) makes an intriguing transformation with a version that takes hours of preparation as potatoes are first baked before being rolled into a light, fluffy dumpling that’s then seared for a satisfying crunch and served with a flawless veal bolognese and smooth béchamel.
If you enjoy dining with all of your senses, then Solitaire is for you. And don’t skip dessert. Though the traditional last course often feels more like a tacked on sugar rush, these desserts at Solitaire offered the same satisfying flavor combinations as the savory courses. The standout, a prohibition butterscotch pudding ($7) made with real scotch and served with an oatmeal crisp and toffee brittle is a childhood favorite made adult-appropriate. Yes, it’s ok to lick the jar after you’ve dug out the last bite.
Though you could certainly eat here for a very reasonable price if you stick to just a few courses, Solitaire really shines for special occasions when you can bring a date or a group and indulge in a larger share of its offerings. With intricate plating, carefully selected ingredients, and a dash of imagination, Solitaire is one new restaurant that is more than worth exploring.
All photos by Elisha Knight.