First Looks: LOW Country Kitchen and Quality Italian

Two established hot spots hit the Mile High City
February 28, 2017
by Ruth Tobias

LOW Country Kitchen and Quality Italian have a number of important things in common. Both are offshoots of smash hits in other cities. Both mix upscale aesthetics and down-home influences to great effect. And best of all, both are opening this week.

Ruth Tobias

LOW Country Kitchen

The gist: As the owners of bistro c.v. in Steamboat Springs, Brian and Katy Vaughn built their name on fine dining — only to parlay that success into family-style feasting. LOW opened in 2014 as a labor of love for the Southern food the couple grew up with in Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively, and now the Springs sensation has borne fruit in the form of a LoHi sibling, which opened Monday.  

The fare: It should come as no surprise that the menu’s a compilation of the region’s greatest hits, from mac 'n' cheese to fried chicken to shrimp and grits. But chef Brian isn’t shy about interpreting them his way — with care and refinement, whether he’s making bacon and sausage in-house or plating in artistic fashion. The bar crew takes liberties of their own with a bold approach to cocktails: think whiskey sours with thyme syrup and bread-and-butter pickle brine, or an after-dinner shot of bacon-washed bourbon and coffee-pecan bitters. While the emphasis on brown spirits goes without saying, the selection of bubbly by the bottle as well as apéritifs and digestifs is a surprise perk.

The vibe: Weathered woods, whitewash and wicker combine in the split-level space to evoke a farmhouse kitchen set for Sunday supper — as seen on the glossy pages of a fashion magazine, that is. No doubt the patio and rooftop garden will prove equally stylish.

1575 Boulder St.; 720-512-4168

Ruth Tobias

Quality Italian

The gist: Look no further than Cherry Creek’s Halcyon hotel for evidence that Denver has hit the bicoastal big time. On one side, there’s Departure Restaurant + Lounge, the sizzling Pan-Asian transplant from Portland, Oregon, run by star chef Gregory Gourdet — and on the other, as of this Thursday, New York restaurateur Michael Stillman opens Quality Italian. Where Departure is cool, sleek and futuristic, this Italian steakhouse is warm and rich in the grandeur of an era gone by — the perfect setting for modern interpretations of Italian-American classics.

The fare: Chef-partners Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito brought Franz Hueber, most recently of SALT the Bistro, on board to execute the menu, which juxtaposes gold standards like oysters on the half shell and filet mignon with new sensations such as yellowtail crudo with spicy broccoli rabe and lemon crema, or the signature chicken Parm pizza. From beverage director Bryan Schneider and GM Cara Patteson, the drink list follows suit: mules and multiple vintages of Insignia for the tradition-minded, Tricolore margaritas with jalapeño-strawberry ice cubes and wines from emerging regions like Alto Adige and Sardinia for the explorers. 

The vibe: Stillman worked with famed architectural firm AvroKO to distill a wide range of influences — the art deco era, the butcher’s guilds of Italy, the glory days of New York’s bon vivants, Colorado’s mining history — into one glitzy yet somehow cozy package. Found antiques from cabinetry to family photos; custom lighting inspired by ice tongs, meat saws and other tools of the trade; lovely fireplaces and locally made mirrors all come together throughout a 125-seat space that exudes conviviality. 

241 Columbine St.; 303-532-8888

A rainbow of cocktails at LOW

When the full menu rolls out, these deviled eggs will be a LOW staple.

LOW's smoked marrow bone comes with milk-stout mustard and pickled okra as well as grilled bread.

Chef Brian Vaughn's gourmet take on jambalaya stars housemade andouille sausage, confit chicken and Manila clams.

Tomato-bacon gravy and aged white cheddar enrich Vaughn's Carolina shrimp and antebellum grits.

But the pièce de résistance at LOW has got to be the buttermilk-fried chicken. 

The LOW dining room...

...and the bar in action. 

Blue prawns distinguish Quality Italian's sumptuously funky uni-baked scampi.

Don't miss the QI baked clams, a signature for a reason.

Lusty tuna crudo with eggplant, pine nuts and basil 

Among Quality Italian's pastas, standouts include the dry-aged porterhouse agnolotti...

...and the baked lasagna with filet meatballs for two. 

Also for two: the famous chicken Parm pizza 

Quality's spin on a caprese features beefsteak tomatoes, stracciatella cheese, pistachios and two kinds of basil. 

Whole branzino with your choice of tomato pesto, caper-and-olive salsa verde or both. To drink, the elegant yet juicy Palisade sour tops bourbon and local peach brandy with a float of Barolo.

Just one of many eye-popping chops

Affogato presented tableside 

One of Quality's two main dining rooms 

The bar, says Michael Stillman, is meant to evoke an old European cafe.

cherry creek
southern food
italian food
michael stillman