The gist: Talk about getting back to basics. After more than a decade spent building an empire that encompasses everything from a fine-dining flagship (Mizuna) to a Japanese noodle joint (Bones) to a speakeasy fronted by a pie shop (Green Russell and Wednesday’s Pie), pioneering chef-restaurateur Frank Bonanno says he’s been “breaking out the Escoffier” in preparation for opening French 75, a classic bistro in the heart of Downtown. “At this point in my life, I’m comfortable focusing on technique,” he explains. “It’s about making a great aïoli and doing as many things on the rotisserie as possible. It’s about fun and simple food — that’s what I want to eat, and that is the essence of where I am in my cooking.”
The food: Sure enough, the menu’s a compilation of greatest Gallic hits to melt the heart of any diner who’s ever bemoaned Denver’s dearth of canonical French cuisine (ahem) — moules frites, sole meunière, roast chicken, pâté de foie gras, profiteroles and all. Even the exceptions count as hallmarks of stateside bistro tradition: You can’t get more charmingly old school than oysters Rockefeller, a tableside Caesar for two or a “French” dip Bonanno gleefully describes as “prime rib sliced paper-thin, with hot au jus and a smear of mayo on the bun…These are the things I love.” Not surprisingly, he doesn’t expect the lineup to change much or often — a few seasonal substitutions will likely be the extent of it.
The drinks: Considering that Bonanno Concepts beverage director Adam Hodak has, in his words, “a big problem with restaurants where the bar seems to be completely separate from the kitchen,” you can bet the booze suits the food to a T. Naturellement, the beverage list starts with variations on the restaurant’s namesake, including the Maison with house-pressed watermelon juice, salted lavender and sparkling rosé; other cocktails exude the élan of ingredients like rhum agricole, verjus blanc, Asian pear juice and Meyer lemon bitters. As for the 85-bottle wine selection, it features both new- and old-world producers — but you’d better skip the Napa cab at happy hour, when a bottle of crémant (that’s French bubbly from a region other than Champagne, in this case Jura) will go for just $22.
The space: Like Hodak, Bonanno’s wife-partner Jacqueline Bonanno also has a problem with the separation of kitchen and bar. A visit to Boulevard in San Francisco inspired the solution around which French 75’s main dining room is built: a central island where, says her proud husband, “the bartenders and cooks are going to be elbow-to-elbow, and you can sit all the way around it.” Imported tiles, herringbone oak panels, a zinc bartop and a column covered with hundreds of Chartreuse bottle caps further distinguish the 110-seat space, giving it a vintage patina, while a 40-seat mezzanine boasts floor-to-ceiling wine displays. Meanwhile, out on the corner, there’ll be one more perk for which we can thank the French (linguistically, at least): valet service.
The details: 717 17th St., Suite B; 303-405-7575. As of Monday, July 17, French 75 will be open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Saturday.