Intimate dining is not entirely new to Denver. Chefs counters and micro-restaurants (like Cart-Driver and Work & Class) have pushed Mile High patrons to get cozy. But Beckon, the sister restaurant to Call opening this week on RiNo’s Larimer Street, is not only exceptionally tiny — it only seats 17 people — it’s also requiring a lot of trust from its diners.
Everything is done a little bit different inside this 900-square-foot former home. Instead of two-tops, there’s only one large rectangular chef’s counter. Here, guests are seated along its three sides in the shape of a giant staple, forcing all eyes to be riveted towards the middle of the room. Within the center space, chefs dance between one another while plating, cooking and preparing nearly all of the food — only a small dish pit is left out of sight. Waiters hug the periphery, interjecting to pour a glass of wine, fold a napkin or answer a question. The whole coordinated effort feels less like restaurant dining and more like a formal dinner party meets performance art. It makes sense that reservations are called “tickets,” with a pre-determined cost ($95 for the eight-course meal, with an additional $65 for a wine or beer/cider pairing).
Beyond the synchronization of the evening, the drama of the meal naturally comes from the food — which is only revealed to you plate by plate. No menu, beyond that of an a la carte drink list, is available until the very end of the meal. (People with allergies and restrictions fear not — you can make any dietary needs known when you book your ticket).
“We’re doing something that’s not being done in Denver,” said co-owner Craig Lieberman, who is also the owner of the next-door cracker company 34 Degrees. “But we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously, we still want it to be approachable — we are in RiNo.”
The vibe of the neighborhood does seep in — mainly on the walls where you’ll find a mural by local artists Sandra Fettingis. The black paint laced with stencil work makes the room feel both charred and raw — giving it just enough edge to feel at home in the artsy neighborhood. This can’t be said of the food which, due to the Scandinavian influences of executive chef Duncan Holmes, is still unseen in RiNo.
Holmes, an alum of the award-winning Frasca, brings his love for high-quality ingredients with precise execution to the small space. In partnership with director of experience, Allison Anderson (also from Frasca) and Mercantile’s former sommelier Zach Byers, the trio create an elegantly simple experience that is, at times, decadent and complex in its own delicate way. Take the bread, for instance. At first, it tastes like nothing more than a delicious house-made whole wheat. But after a while, you’ll recognize something so oddly familiar about it that it’ll either hit you right away or drive you mad trying to place it. For those of us who grew up around aspen trees, you’re likely to be the former as the flour is made from the bark of the iconic Colorado tree and gives it a literal woodsy taste.
Nothing was quite as magically revealing as the bread — but there were plenty of dishes that were equally as satisfying. Both the creamy polenta with white truffles and hazelnuts and the langoustine in a foamy butter sauce made that category whereas the whole roasted Squab dressed in a chocolate lingonberry compote and the coffee roasted chicory had me analyzing every note. Even the dessert left us guessing (later we found out the floral notes came from a thinly sliced raw piece of a fruit called a Buddha’s Hand).
Like any good performance, the night was full of surprises — even though at times they were subtle. The attentive staff and expert-paired wine kept the pace of your typical high-end meal but the intimate atmosphere made it feel just that much more special. And much like its sister and next-door neighbor — Call — Beckon is bringing something new to the dining scene. But even if the restaurant is pushing some pre-conceived notions of what it means to eat out in Denver — their attention to detail and hospitality show that they are going to take your trust with great care.
Beckon is located at 2843 Larimer St. Denver and opens Wednesday, November 21. Tickets are available for purchase here. It is open Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 11 p.m.
Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article stated there were only two seatings per night but there are now reservations at 5:30, 5:45, 6, 8, 8:15 and 8:30 p.m. The article has been updated accordingly.
All photography by Brittany Werges, unless otherwise noted.