For those that aren’t so frugal — an expensive, regal dining experience every once in a while is a way of life. Most people — rich or not — like to splurge on something be it clothes and shoes, music festivals — or the occasional night of filet mignon and champagne. If you’re looking for the best seafood or best bottle of Cabernet on your search for the perfect evening of treating yourself and the company you keep like royalty — look no further. Here in Denver and up the road in Boulder — there is no shortage of world-class dining and places to fulfill your food and wine guilty pleasures. And it’s not just limited to dinner — brunch and lunch can be exquisite, too.
Where: 1431 Larimer St., Denver
The Lowdown: Another downtown gem — specifically Larimer Square — Rioja serves Mediterranean cuisine using local and seasonal ingredients. The ambiance is simple with hand-blown glass fixtures throughout but not much else so that the food can be the centerpiece. The menu isn’t huge — which is usually a good sign. One of the many creative appetizers is the Rioja “picnic” plate ($19.50) — a charcuterie board of artisan meats, goat cheese, gorgonzola, olives, fennel salad, orange confit and almonds. And then three kinds of handmade pasta to choose from which can come as an appetizer or entree. The black and white tagliatelle ($10.50/$19) with manilla clam, duck sausage and squid is especially indulging.
What to Order: If you’re an adventurous eater, you can’t go wrong with a tasting menu which allows the chef to take the wheel. In addition to dinner, you can come for lunch and find much of what’s on the dinner menu, except entrees like the wagyu bavette steak ($34). Its brunch is popular as well. You may want to try the Bloody Mary Flight ($16.50) which is three small craft varieties of bloody marys. Brunch fare includes the likes of lemon mascarpone doughnuts ($8) and chicken fried steak and eggs ($18).
Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club
Where: 1330 27th St., Denver
The Lowdown: If you’re trying to be extra fancy, adding a little jazz to your dinner is just the way to do it. Jazz is still alive and kicking — and you don’t have to fly all the way to New Orleans or Manhattan to experience it. Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club here in Denver hosts live jazz music Tuesday through Saturday along with a menu of superb provisions and cocktails. Its artist residency program gives local musicians a chance to showcase their talent through four to eight-week runs. The music switches up frequently keeping things fresh and exciting.
What to Order: As for the food — it’s just as lively and sophisticated as the music. The appetizers aka ‘Sound Bites’ feature dishes like burrata ($13) with caramelized leek jam and five-spice pork rillettes ($18). Large plates include braised pork belly ($29), smoked ribeye ($35) and much more. But the five-course ‘Renditions tasting menu’ is the most noteworthy which changes every season and is always inspired by a particular musician like Louis Armstrong or James Brown. And the drink list is off the charts with a long list of classic and craft cocktails, champagnes, whiskeys and aperitifs.
Where: 1555 Blake St. #102, Denver
The Lowdown: The chef of the modern Asian restaurants Cholon and Cho77 recently opened a European restaurant, LeRoux. Chef Symensma actually started out cooking European food in restaurants in France and Spain. In other words — he knows all about high-end European dining and that’s just what LeRoux is. And as for the atmosphere — it’s dark and sexy with big crystal chandeliers, elegant lighting and checkered floors.
What to Order: The menu dons starters like foie gras and chicken liver mousse ($18) and grilled oysters with french bread ($16). Elevated European classic entrees include the French onion short rib ($32) with Pommes gruyère and Bouillabaisse mussels ($24) with uni toast and saffron broth. And the vegetable sides are anything but ordinary like cauliflower crème brûlée ($15) with crispy capers. But most importantly is the cheese cart du jour which comes with three, five or seven different cheeses along with violet apple mustard, candied walnuts and a baguette. And here you can also enjoy a fancy lunch — perhaps a croque madame ($15) and a Ménage à Trois cocktail?
OAK at Fourteenth
Where: 1400 Pearl St., Boulder
The Lowdown: Pearl Street in Boulder is home to many good restaurants, especially OAK at Fourteenth. It has been a James Beard nominee and its lead bartender Scott Ruggiero has participated in several bartending competitions. In other words — it is home to unparalleled dishes and libations. Dinner is laid out in a family-style way with big shareable plates and cocktails are characterized as low or high alcohol.
What to Order: Small plates ($11-$19) include ahi tuna crudo with coconut and passionfruit, Colorado lamb bolognese and duck liver pate. Stars of the large plate menu ($27-$30) are the grilled hanger steak with potato frites and the D’Artagnan duck breast with cherry “mole.” And there are even larger family plates ($69-$76) like the crispy pork shoulder with pineapple fried rice which serves two to three people. And as we said — the drink list is sophisticated but you can also get drinks with no alcohol that are just as tasty like the rehydrator made with aloe, cranberry, lime, honey and cherry.
Mercantile Dining & Provision
Where: 1701 Wynkoop St. #155, Denver
The Lowdown: Located in the heart of downtown inside the Denver attraction, Union Station is the bright and beautiful Mercantile Dining & Provision. One of the city’s most sought after chefs — Alex Seidel — crafted a European market, cafe and restaurant all in one. So any time of day, you can enjoy a worldly, relaxing meal or latte and croissant with views of the city through the big windows. During the day it has a low key breakfast and lunch menu with pastries, breakfast sandwiches, salads and flavorful sandwiches. And its market offers fresh bread, cheeses, charcuterie and house-made condiments. Come dinnertime — the vibes and dishes get kicked up a notch — though more casual than your average fine dining experience.
What to Order: Starting with a small plate at dinner is a must here. You may want to try the market provisions plate ($21) — cured meats, Fruition Farms cheese, rillettes, pickles, jardinière, mustard and preserves. Or maybe the Creekstone beef tartare ($15) with tempura maitake mushrooms is more your thing. Then you’ve got your handmade pasta dishes like lobster tortellini ($16) and potato gnocchi ($15) with lamb bolognese. There are good drinks and entrees, too — as if you needed another reason to venture here.
Where: 225 E. 7th Ave., Denver
The Lowdown: Mizuna by one of Denver’s chef moguls, Frank Bonanno is one of the top-rated restaurants in the Western US. The concept is inspired by French cooking techniques and the menu changes with the seasons. And it’s a neighborhood eatery — in case you like to avoid the bustle of downtown. Though it’s neighborhood-based, it’s still very fancy — offering private parties, special events and regularly scheduled world-class dining.
What to Order: Appetizers include seared foie gras ($25), Burgundian escargot ($20), butter-poached Maine lobster mac & cheese ($24) and more. Then your main courses feature Skuna Bay salmon ($41) with honey-orange glaze, Magret duck breast ($41) with a fresh masa ‘quesadilla’ and other delicacies. Dessert is just as intricate — for instance the brioche pain perdu ($11) with butterscotch, Irish cream, orange-ginger marmalade, candied walnuts and whipped cream. And you may as well indulge with one of their original cocktails like the Jimmie Roosevelt ($25) with champagne, cognac, green chartreuse, sugar cube and Angostura bitters.
Where: 1313 E. 6th Ave., Denver
The Lowdown: Alex Seidel’s first restaurant definitely makes this list — Fruition Restaurant which opened in 2007. It landed Seidel a spot on Food & Wine’s best new chef list in 2010. And much of the provisions used here are from his Fruition Farms (FF) Creamery — also used at Mercantile. The 10-acre farm is Colorado’s first artisanal sheep’s milk creamery and is also home to Heritage Breed hogs, honey bees and a large garden of vegetables and fruits. So if you’re looking to have a nice dinner with local and organic meats and produce — Fruition is your spot.
What to Order: Its current winter menu features dishes like mushroom consommé ($5) with leek, chive and tamari for starters. Small plates include Brussel sprouts ($13) with smoked bacon and FF feta — and gnocchi ($16) with blue crab. Some current entrees are the Icelandic cod ($28) with FF sheepskyr cheese and caviar — and cauliflower steak ($21) with couscous. And if you want to go all the way — the Cru menu offers a five-course ($75) and seven-course ($95) with an optional beverage pairing. Even the drinks change seasonally — a current being the Grey Gardens ($14) made with grey goose vodka and seasonal fruits and herbs.
Where: 1138 Flagstaff Rd., Boulder
The Lowdown: Known most notably for its spectacular views — Flagstaff House sits atop Flagstaff mountain at 6,000 feet in Boulder. Overlooking the city and the plains that go for miles give this restaurant one of the best outlooks in the state. Not only is the view amazing, but the food is world-class. It’s a place guaranteed to satisfy the taste buds and the eyes. Open for dinner only and reservations are highly encouraged — worth it for this one of kind experience.
What to Order: To start the night off, offerings are the trio of caviar ($178) with fennel-infused vodka, Kumamoto or Wellfleet oysters ($4.75 each), artisan cheeses ($28) and prime steak tartare ($20) with quail egg, capers and brioche. And then you have a three-course menu ($88) where you choose one item each from three small menus. For example, you could do a Virginia blue crab, Hudson Valley foie gras and a crisp white polenta — or a winter greens salad, Rohan duck breast and a Wagyu ribeye cap. The possibilities are endless. In addition, there are two chef’s tasting menus ($118) with an optional wine pairing ($74). By the way — its wine cellar has over 16,000 bottles.
Where: 1465 Larimer St., Denver
The Lowdown: Originating in Columbus, Ohio — and with several locations around the country — this establishment brings premium seafood and steak to big cities. If you’ve ventured through downtown Denver to the charming Larimer Square — Ocean Prime sits on the corner of 14th and Larimer and can’t be missed. It’s pretty big and in your face — but for good reason. It has a multi-million dollar wine cellar and all the fish and crustacean delicacies you could ever dream of.
What to Order: Starters include “surf n turf” ($20) — slow-braised short ribs and sea scallops, prime steak tartare ($22), several decadent sushi rolls and more. Then there’s the raw bar featuring the custom-built “smoking” shellfish tower (market) with the likes of king crab legs, shrimp and oysters over a billow of dry ice. As for the mains, a king salmon ($48), crab cakes ($42) and every cut of steak, there is. Add a side of lobster mashed potatoes ($20) for good measure. And perhaps, top the night off with a glass of 40-year Tawny Port ($25) or a Glenfiddich 12yr reserve ($10.50). The list of after-dinner scotch and whiskeys are fit for any enthusiast.
Where: 1889 16th St., Denver
The Lowdown: Italian restaurant Tavernetta next to Union Station looks grandiose on the outside — but is homier on the inside. And when it comes to Italian, the notion of grandma’s homemade pasta and marinara sauce is what it’s all about — feeling and eating like you’re at home is in its culture. Although don’t take “at home” as homely — it’s still modern and chic. The kitchen is an exhibition-style that breathes more life into the space and shows off the chefs at work.
What to Order: For starters salumi plates ($8) — prosciutto, bresaola and salame finocchiona as well as formaggi such as burrata ($13) with pesto, breadcrumb and herbs. Then there’s the chef selection of raw seafood, currently scallop and trout, both $18. Antipasti dishes include the likes of insalata mista ($18) — head lettuce, pickled shallot and buttermilk — and fritto misto ($26) prawn, squid, cod and lemon. And the pasta is made in house — all dishes are crave-worthy like the braised pork pappardelle ($17), lamb ragu gnocchi ($17) — and lobster tagliatelle ($28) to name a few. This is traditional Italian at its finest.
Where: 1659 Wazee St., Denver
The Lowdown: Urban Farmer is not just in Denver, but Portland, Cleveland and Philadelphia. Each restaurant uses sustainably sourced meats from the state and as the name connotates — it has an urban farm in the back of the house. The downtown Denver location has an upstairs beehive which the chef Chris Starkus operates as well as at his home and at the Portland location for the honey used in the dressings, butter and more. Along with the apiary, Urban Farmer also keeps an in-house butcher. In other words — all ingredients on the menu can be traced to their origins. If you’re going to splurge — why not do it on responsibly sourced foods that are made with love?
What to Order: A must is the New York steak tasting ($75) — three six-ounce cuts of the best of the best — along with a curated wine tasting flight ($18). This is the ultimate steak lover’s paradise. Add one of a number of flavor adjustments to your filet like a topping of blackened foie gras butter ($9). And the dessert is more flavorful and elevated than the average — like the dark chocolate souffle ($15) with pink peppercorn and champagne anglaise. Then, don’t forget your port, sherry and small format dessert wines to round out a delicious evening.
Elway’s at the Ritz
Where: 1881 Curtis St., Denver
The Lowdown: The chain steakhouse Elway’s by the owner of the Broncos, former football star and Denver businessman John Elway is one of the most famous in the city and state. But the fanciest of the four locations is Elway’s at the Ritz Carlton in downtown Denver. It’s available for private parties and reservations are recommended. And it’s open for brunch, lunch and dinner.
What to Order: Most importantly, dinner features twelve different steak options including an 18-ounce wagyu rib-eye and you can add a crabcake or lobster tail to any cut of steak. If you’re not into the steak, there are several other options like a roasted half chicken and parmesan-crusted grouper with Louisiana creole sauce. The appetizer menu is just as decadent with a cold shellfish tower and a hot appetizer tower of lamb chop fondue, coconut battered shrimp and Rhode Island-style calamari. And then you’ve got classic American salads like the Iceberg wedge with blue cheese crumbles and applewood smoked bacon. If you want a steak at lunch — you can get an 8 oz. New York strip or filet here if you so please. Or maybe a short rib omelet for brunch?
Frasca Food & Wine
Where: 1738 Pearl St., Boulder
The Lowdown: From the same chefs of Tavernetta is one of the most namely restaurants of the Boulder and Denver area. Frasca Food & Wine on Pearl Street is one of those destination restaurants for every foodie. The wine list has over 200 varieties and the food is of a particular region — Friuli-Venezia Giulia — a sub-alpine region in northeast Italy. Within this region, the neighborhood Frasca is an area known for gatherings of farmers and those within the community to share a meal and a bottle (or many) of wine together. And that’s the theme and namesake of the restaurant.
What to Order: It’s not your traditional American restaurant — it’s all about the tasting menus here. Here you will see varieties of salumi and antipasti dishes like carpaccio di scampi — langoustine, carrot, beet, bergamot, parsley and mustard seed. Primi plates include the Tajarin which is Dungeness crab, rutabaga, snow peas and hazelnut, gnocchi with pork sausage, nettle and smoked ricotta and a few more. And for the secondi offerings, the Manzo dry-aged beef ribeye with bone marrow and escarole is a good showcase of their culinary genius.
The Palace Arms
Where: 321 17th St., Denver
The Lowdown: The Brown Palace Hotel opened in 1892 in downtown Denver — and is still in the same spot. It still holds an old Victorian elegance and decor in several parts of the hotel. It is home to six restaurants and bars — and perhaps the most refined is the Palace Arms restaurant. You can go and pretend you’re dining with the royal family. Reservations are highly encouraged and parking is complimentary after 5 p.m. if validated by the restaurant or lobby associates.
What to Order: The tasting menu offers a six-course ($80 per person) and an eight-course ($100 per person) with optional wine pairings. Some of the featured dishes are the Colorado lamb tartare with pickled summer berry, slow-cooked egg, charred focaccia and sumac — and Colorado heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella, prosciutto, truffle and balsamic. The wine list is also recognized by Wine Spectator magazine as one of the world’s best. And the other restaurants in the Brown like the Ship Tavern and Ellyngton’s are also fit for a fancy, royal feast.
Guard and Grace
Where: 1801 California St. #150, Denver
The Lowdown: Guard and Grace by the prominent Denver chef Troy Guard has a large menu that’s sure to please any palate. And you can enjoy its decadence during both lunch and dinner. The menu is sourced locally and is subject to change based on the season. And you can get all of the dinner offerings during lunch, which is pretty rare.
What to Order: The raw bar features oysters, crab legs and lobster to scratch the surface. Also, charcuterie and cheese, and starters like oak-fired carrots ($10) with herb yogurt and Maryland crab cake ($21) with stone ground mustard beurre blanc. Elevated salads like the roasted beet ($13) with housemade ricotta and watercress vinaigrette and sides like black truffle mac and cheese ($16) are just as good as any entree. And its huge steak menu has basically every cut there is and a filet mignon flight ($82) of a four-ounce prime, four-ounce Angus and four-ounce grass-fed. Toppings for the steaks include foie butter ($8), crab oscar ($12) and a six-ounce lobster tail ($29) to name a few. And be sure to try one of the comically named cocktails like the Mile High Stoner or the Hocus Pocus.