Here in Colorado, any restaurant that claims to serve 100% local produce is either pulling your leg or cooking nothing but potatoes; the growing season for most crops is simply too short. But those chefs who are most committed to farm-to-table ideals tend to go the extra mile, so to speak, in obtaining the best produce from small, sustainable purveyors wherever they may be located - or even to grow it themselves. Here’s to their efforts - and to the sunny flavors that burst from these 8 Outstanding Spring Dishes in Denver, no matter the still-wacky weather outside.
Asparagus Soufflé at beast + bottle
The Dish: Paul C. Reilly’s signature savory soufflés are not to be missed whatever the season, but this one - accompanied by shaved raw white asparagus, foraged miner’s lettuce and beechwood-mushroom confit - just may take the cake. The icing on that cake? A generous smear of black-truffle cream. (As for those morels you see, they aren’t typically part of the composition; we just happened be in the right place at the right time. But who knows what lovely little extra might embellish the plate on your own next visit to Reilly's Uptown hot spot?)
The Details: $10
719 E. 17th Ave.; 303-623-3223
Burrata-Prosciutto Salad at Izakaya Den
The Dish: At the Kizaki brothers’ palace of East-West small plates on Old South Pearl, this brand-new menu addition couldn’t be simpler or more refreshing: just a few hunks of the world’s creamiest mozzarella and slivers of dry-cured ham set off by bursts of strawberry and blackberry, spring greens and a drizzle of balsamic.
The Details: $10
1487A S. Pearl St.; 303-777-0691
Green-Garlic Consommé With Lamb Meatballs at Fruition Restaurant
The Dish: Down-to-earth fine dining is a contradiction in terms - except when it isn’t, as at Alex Seidel’s diamond destination in Country Club. With longtime colleague Matthew Vawter, the acclaimed chef, farmer and cheese maker has always had a knack for balancing the refined with the rootsy, and this dish is a perfect example. While the broth - poured tableside over emulsified green garlic and punctuated by bright English peas, shoots and baby carrots - couldn't be more delicate, the meatballs - made with Colorado lamb shoulder and pork fat - bring the funk, pan-seared as they are with black-garlic gnocchi. Finally, Vawter punches up classic gremolata (garlic, parsley and lemon zest) with Fruition Farm’s own cacio pecora, a lightly aged sheep’s-milk cheese.
The Details: $11
1313 E. Sixth Ave.; 303-831-1962
Lemonade-Cured Foie Gras at Central Bistro & Bar
The Dish: A couple of weeks ago, we sampled this stunner during a sneak peek at Central’s inspired new menu, crafted by visibly invigorated veteran chef Matt Selby - and we’ve been dreaming about it ever since. The contrast of vibrant fennel, mint and blueberries with unctuous foie and custard-dipped grilled sourdough makes for a 10 on the plate-licking scale.
The Details: $14
1691 Central St.; 303-477-4582
Lemon-Pepper Tagliatelle at Bittersweet
The Dish: Admittedly, Olav Peterson’s on-site garden plots aren’t yielding much just yet. But everything’s coming up roses in the dining room of his tranquil Wash Park West bistro. Tossed with chicken stock and butter as well as fava beans, peas, spring onions and microkale, his fresh lemon-pepper tagliatelle is equal parts sprightly and mind-bendingly luscious, perched atop an egg-yolk purée with alternating dots of Parmesan cream and mustard-seed relish.
The Details: $25
500 E. Alameda Ave.; 303-942-0320
Pork Bolognese at Bramble & Hare
The Dish: With 130 acres on which to raise hundreds of heirloom crops and a number of heritage breeds, chef-farmer Eric Skokan is a one-man greenmarket. The menus at both Black Cat Bistro and this adjacent gastropub change with the daily harvest, so you’ll have to act fast to revel in the heap of comfort that is Skokan’s pork Bolognese. The hearty-but-not-saucy ragout starts with Mulefoot pig shoulder, slow-cooked into tender submission with onions, leeks, carrots, garlic, rosemary and lovage; dried tomatoes come in at the end, and it’s all served with a simple radicchio salad and rapini flowers over super-soft, creamy polenta. (By the way, the corn for that polenta will soon be home-grown, according to Skokan: "There’s no non-GMO polenta out there; the only way we can figure out how to offer it is to do it ourselves. It’s pretty exciting.” True that.)
The Details: $19 (or $29 as part of a three-course prix fixe)
1970 13th St., Boulder; 303-444-9110
Roasted Hearts of Palm at The Squeaky Bean
The Dish: Leave it to an ace of playfulness like Squeaky chef Theo Adley to bring so many undersung ingredients together on one startlingly gorgeous plate. With its clean vegetal tang and somewhat-fleshy texture, hearts of palm comes showcased amid a host of cool, tart and nutty accents - wheatberries tossed in foraged-nettle purée; green strawberries lightly pickled with sugar and lime juice; green almonds, which Adley describes as “juicy and cucumber-y” and charred, sumac-dusted wild spring onions.
The Details: $24
1500 Wynkoop St.; 303-623-2665
Spinach-and-Nettle Soup at Potager
The Dish: Teri Rippeto was living la vida locavore before the term had even been coined, and she and her team abide by the tenets of sustainability to this day. Naturally, the menu of her Capitol Hill rendezvous reads like an ode to the producers she works so closely with; the credit for this smooth, soothingly wholesome soup, fortified by potatoes and spring onions, goes to Cure Organic Farm, which “grows the nettles for us every year” just outside of Boulder. Rippeto cites the plant's reputation as an immune-system booster for the soup's popularity among her regulars.
The Details: $6.95
1109 Ogden St.; 303-832-5788