Continuing in recent Denver fashion, the 2016 dining scene started off with a bang. Following a hectic holiday season, new spaces seemingly vied to be the year’s first official openings. Suffice it to say, the 303 Food + Booze staff was by no means idle in January.
Yet, despite endless openings and events, we did have an opportunity to indulge and imbibe. Below are some of our favorite dishes, drinks, and events from this past month.
Cassoulet is a bit tricky to track down in Denver, considering it’s often only served as a special in the various French restaurants in town. But I managed to sit down recently to a bowl of this traditional French stew at Bistro Vendôme as part of their Thursday French Classics rotation. Truth be told, dining there is a culinary education from start to finish.
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Bistro Vendome. Photography by Brent Andeck

From the Sweet potato soup amuse bouche, the soft-centered, crusty baguettes (see above), the fantastic savory Crêpe Vendôme topped with béarnaise and a fried egg, the rich cassoulet with sweet crunchy parsnips and crispy-skinned duck confit with meat that falls right off the bone , all the way to the flaky chocolate raspberry macarons and creamy chocolate custard—everything is prepared with love and skill to please the palate.

Matthew Hedgpeth

Hop Alley Denver, food in Denver, eggplant dishes in Denver

Steamed eggplant at Hop Alley. Photo by Noah Berg

Every once in a while, if you’re both vigilant and compromising, a dish will come along that changes your mind about an ingredient. Eggplant may not be your first choice of vegetable—it certainly isn’t mine, well-prepared eggplant parmesan notwithstanding—but Hop Alley’s steamed eggplant ($12) will knock your socks off. Served in a rich sichuan bean sauce with garlic and a “cooling salad” to temper the spice, this creation from Tommy Lee and Todd Somma is a surprisingly strong selection from a menu that has few if any weak spots. Shaping up to be an integral part of the growing tide of remarkable Asian cuisine in Denver, Hop Alley works well as the edgy cousin of Uncle ramen and on its own merit as a painstaking reconstruction of regional Chinese flavors. So maybe it’s not eggplant that you’ve had a tough relationship with, but as far as Hop Alley is concerned, this new concept is the perfect place to leave your comfort zone behind. Never say never!

Justin De La Rosa

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My Brother’s Bar. Photo by Justin De La Rosa.

Denver has no shortage of high-end burgers topped with fine cheeses, special sauces, eggs, and various cuts of pork, but there will always be a day when I’m pining for a greasy cheeseburger wrapped in paper. That’s where My Brother’s Bar comes in. As you can see in my photo above, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into this all-American classic. I always like to top my burger with some mustard and pickles from the condiment box they bring to the bar. You’re guaranteed to find me at My Brother’s Bar at least once a month satisfying my cheeseburger craving.

Truffle Table, Denver, food in Denver

Truffle Table. Photo by Candace Peterson.

Whether it’s an impromptu date night with friends, a significant other or even a Hinge date, or just an epic excuse to take your excessive love for wine and cheese to new heights, check out Truffle Table in LoHi. As picturesque as it is welcoming, this corner wine bar has a short yet out-of-this-world menu that features artisan meat and cheese boards, tapa plates bursting with flavor, and a hot bacon and artichoke dip you’ll want to bathe in. No, seriously… you’ll want to bathe in it. If you’re around on a Wednesday, be sure to swing by Raclette Night for Truffle Table’s twist on this classic Swiss favorite.
Fried chicken sandwiches. These may be a fast-food staple, but right now they’re getting a high quality makeover at two local spots. 

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From left: GoodBird Kitchen and Royal Rooster. Photos by Molly Martin.

Over at the Royal Rooster, Justin Brunson’s fried chicken sandwich lunchtime popup at Old Major, you can choose from four sandwich options or a chicken ceaser. Each comes on their “squishy bun” which is so perfect is was probably baked in heaven. These sandwiches are simple – like the spicy which comes with dill pickles, shredded lettuce and sriracha mayo, but that’s all you really need when it’s that crispy, juicy fried chicken thigh that you really came for. The only problem is that these aren’t offered all day (please, Justin, give us a full time Royal Rooster ASAP).
In Longmont, the highlight of the menu at the newly opened GoodBird Kitchen (the “supreme casual” sister restaurant of Lafayette’s The Post) is their take on the fried chicken sandwich. With two thighs (yes, TWO!) piled high on a bun with a pepper relish, pickles and dijonnaise, it’s available classic or Nashville hot if you’re in the mood to sweat. While the pepper relish did result in a bit of a soggy bun problem, that certainly didn’t stop me from devouring the whole thing and immediately wishing I had just one more bite. Hopefully a Denver outpost is coming soon…
So screw Brussels sprouts and give me more fried chicken sandwiches. This is one trend that I hope doesn’t fade anytime soon.

Nora Philbin

Ratio Beerworks

Ratio Beerworks doughnut, coffee and beer pairing. Photo by Nora Philbin

I was lucky enough to go to the Ratio Beerworks, Method Roasters, and Habit Doughnut Dispensary pairing this month. While beer and coffee are without a doubt a necessity for any Sunday brunch, the doughnuts really stole the show. The top was their savory selection, a golden arches brioche mini doughnut sandwiching griddled spam, smashed tater tot, and blueberry bourbon jam. For the dessert course, Habit provided us with the malted chocolate glazed brioche mini doughnut.

My only complaint? That our breakfast wasn’t full-sized.

Trenton Reed

While I’ve passed the Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe outpost in The Source numerous times, this past month, I finally made it to their storefront over on Tejon Street. My word of advice? Go now.

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Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe at The Source. Photo by Roman Tafoya

The friendly, knowledgable, and passionate staff is emblematic of the philosophy shared by co-owners Kate Kavanaugh and Josh Curtiss, who place a heavy emphasis on transparency and sustainability. Tell them what’s on your menu, and they’ll be sure to have a cut just for you.

In my situation, I was in search of quality steak to compliment a special-occasion plate of lobster tail and asparagus. I was pointed in the direction of a magnificently marbled, dry-aged top sirloin. We discussed sourcing (all WD beef products are local to 150 miles, antibiotic and hormone free, and 100 percent grass-fed) cooking techniques (the employee reconfirmed my stringent methodology of salting, then heating, a cast iron skillet until smoking), and cook times (just two to three minutes on each side)—and I walked out with the best cut of meat I’ve had in Colorado.

If January is any indication to how this year will go, then I should probably buy bigger pants and/or start training for a marathon. Because just within the last 30 days I’ve enjoyed more good food and booze than I can even fully recall. Looking through my phone, I keep finding snapshots that remind me of all the noteworthy bites and sips I’ve had this month—and let’s just say the list is extensive. Here are my top picks:
Vail Big Beers Festival, beer festivals in Colorado

Vail Big Beers. Photo by Brittany Werges.

Vail Big Beers: I’ve been hearing about this beer festival for a year straight from my friends over at PorchDrinking.com, and they could not have hyped it up more. I think “best beer festival ever” was thrown around a couple times. So my expectations were high when I attended for the first time at the beginning of January. It did not disappoint. The diverse range of events, paired with some of the best beers I’ve ever had, definitely sparked a new found love for beer in me. I now fully understand how one can become a beer geek, and I fear that, with a couple more experiences like the one I had at VBB, I might become one myself. You can read more about my experience here.
Sustainable Seafood Series Dinner at Baur’s: Denver might be landlocked, but thanks to a growing number of restaurants, the Mile High City has proven you don’t need to be seaside to get fresh seafood. Baur’s, along with Lobster Bliss and Ocean to Plate, proved this at their third installment of their sustainable seafood series earlier this month. The five-course meal had a succession of dishes brimming with oceanic delicacies responsibly sourced from all over the globe. The most memorable dish, though, was the one with home-grown lobster from Ocean to Plate, a wholesale seafood company in Greeley that sustainably raises lobsters in its own state-of-the-art tanks (bonus: it is opening a restaurant in Denver, likely in Uptown later this year). The dish, a lobster gnocchi made with tarragon, roasted Brussel sprout leaves, parsnip chips, was easily one of the best dishes I’ve had this year. The velvety smooth cream sauce perfectly enveloped every pillowy gnocchi and lump of intensely buttery lobster while the parsnip and Brussel sprouts added a perfect amount of acidity and crunch for an incredibly dynamic but comforting bite.
At the end of the night, a slightly inebriated diner felt the need to prod the restaurant owner to put the dish on the regular dinner menu. With a quick kick to the shin, his companion caused him to stop his plea. Nevertheless, I felt akin to his lubricated petition and so I’ll continue his plight here: Please Baur’s for all that is holy, put the lobster gnocchi on your full time menu.

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