Le Bilboquet first opened its doors in New York 33 years ago. The tight, 38-seat restaurant became known for its stylish, upper-crust clientele and gained an iconic status that at times dwarfed the more humble vision developed by co-owners Philippe Delgrange and Rick Wahlstedt. Perhaps humble is a bit too far, both of the French restaurateurs take hospitality quite seriously, and the interior at the new Cherry Creek iteration is anything but modest. But the two rely firmly on class over flash.
The food is deeply rooted in the bistro tradition and executive chef Cyrille Holota and chef de cuisine Ben Ashworth — formerly of Bistro Vendôme — give comfortable fare extraordinary depth and distinction. Opening Friday, September 13 the beautifully-designed ode to quiet extravagance features a 110-seat dining room, a 40-seat lounge, a 38-seat private dining room and 60 additional seats outside.
The sheer size and tasteful but clearly costly decoration speak to the place’s ambition. Wahlstedt decided Denver was a good location while competing in the National Championship in Squash at the Cherry Creek Athletic Club, and has since found the community to be incredibly welcoming. Locations in Dallas, Atlanta and Seg Harbor, New York have proved deeply viable — the restaurateurs are confident Colorado will be no different.
The bar program — headed by level-two sommelier Josh Peterson who recently served at Citizen Rail — features 150 bottles, just over half French, the rest American. The cocktail list, though much smaller, is equally intriguing. The Creek 75 — a classic French 75 turned a lovely violet by lavender syrup and an edible flower — is a refreshing way to open the meal.
The cuisine snubs trends in favor of making traditional food that appeals in its simplicity and elegance. Technique runs the show, and the expertise at play is strong. The mashed potatoes are rich — favoring heavy portions of cream and butter that would make the health crowd cringe. It tastes divine. Le crabe et avocat et salad is an elegantly plated ring of avocado topped with jumbo lump crab, and thinly sliced citrus and vegetables. Le poulet cajun — cajun chicken with beurre blanc and french fries — is one of the dishes that propelled the restaurant to its initial fame and comes packed with the kind of flavor that turns diners into regulars. The chocolate mousse has a texture that seems to defy gravity — the kind of dessert that could easily turn the run-of-the-mill sweet-tooth into a full-blown addict.
Unlike the New York original, there is nothing intimidating about Le Bilboquet. Two tables are conspicuously placed at the entrance for those who want to see and be seen, a nod to the first’s ritzy trappings. But Cherry Creek has been properly designed for Colorado’s more low key environment. The open floor plan, custom blue velvet banquettes and two-color terrazzo floor are inviting. Women always receive the first pours of wine and the neatly dressed waitstaff scrape crumbs from the table between courses.
Dining at Le Bilboquet is a reminder that there is indeed a place for the kind of Parisian white tablecloth dining that has been conspicuously absent in Denver’s emerging upscale restaurant scene. The ability to produce that kind of environment without being pompous may be the new locale’s great triumph. French dining has always managed to be both gentle and carefree while maintaining an impressive sense of decorum. Bilboquet nicely captures that spirit, inviting guests to loosen up without ever forgetting about excellence.
Le Bilboquet is located at 299 St Paul St., Denver. It is open Sunday – Thursday from 5 – 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 – 11 p.m.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.