First Look: Jeff Osaka Returns to His Roots With 12 @ Madison

By Ruth Tobias  |  December 20, 2016
Credit: Ruth Tobias

The gist: When he suddenly shuttered his acclaimed Ballpark destination Twelve back in 2014, Jeff Osaka promised its dismayed devotees he’d reopen someday. Several projects later (Osaka Ramen, the soon-to-expand Sushi-Rama, The Denver Central Market), that day is finally here. Unlike its predecessor, 12 @ Madison takes its name from the Congress Park intersection at which it’s located, rather than the calendar (the menu here will change seasonally rather than monthly). But otherwise Osaka’s old regulars can pick up pretty much where they left off, dining on California-inspired New American fare in surroundings as cozy as the original.

The vibe: Seating just under 50 (with a patio in the works), the narrow, L-shaped storefront that formerly housed Glaze blends cool and warm elements to refined yet relaxed effect. Pillow-strewn window seats lead to a softly lit chef’s counter along one side of the space, while the opposite wall displays a series of 101 miniature paintings by up-and-coming artist Jonathan Saiz, drawing the eye toward the intimate bar half-hidden at the back. Pearl-gray and charcoal tones offset polished woods. The hope, says Osaka, is that “it feels like home,” becoming the neighborhood place Twelve couldn’t be amid the raucous bars of Ballpark.

The food: Neatly grouping the dishes into six categories of three small plates each — vegetables, pasta, seafood and so on — Osaka and chef de cuisine Ashley McBrady have created a menu in keeping with the atmosphere. Be it grilled quail with apple-prune streusel or a giant short-rib raviolo with celery root and mustard greens, everything’s equal parts sophisticated and comforting. Except, perhaps, for the large-format daily specials, which tend toward the rustic: For example, says Osaka, Saturday’s one-pot dish could be paella or cassoulet, while the Sunday roast might be prime rib with buttered peas and mashed potatoes.

The booze: Bar manager Alex Kady incorporates subtle, kitchen-influenced twists on the classics — a little coffee berry here, a little squid ink for coloring there. The beer selection’s short but sweet, starting with two taps dedicated to Baere Brewing and Bull & Bush. As for the wine list, Osaka says his team aimed for a “well-rounded” array of bottles averaging about $60, with a slight emphasis on whites. They’re stored in a temperature-controlled room that he’s proud to call “one of the few proper wine cellars” in town.

12 @ Madison is open Wednesday–Sunday from 4–10 PM, with brunch hours to come.  

1160 Madison St.; 720-216-0190

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    By day, plenty of sunlight gives the snug space an airy feel.

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Here's salade Lyonnaise cleverly disguised as toad-in-the-hole. The components of the French classic are all here — frisée, egg, bacon, sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard — but instead of tossing in the optional croutons, the kitchen adds a slice of toasted brioche. 

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Earthy lentils and root veggies get a smart kick from smoked paprika.

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    The six-seat bar topped with white oak

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Kady's take on The Bee's Knees is vivid with black tea–rose cordial and a beet-flavored ice cube.

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Sardines and onions bathed in bagna cauda: not for the faint of palate

  • Credit: Jeff Osaka

    Grilled prawns garnished with scallions, Fresno chiles and two types of roe butter

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Veal sweetbreads were a recurring favorite at Twelve; here, they're tossed with wild mushrooms, garlic and herbs over grilled bread to sop up the pan-thickened juices.

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Pine syrup's the evocative secret to McBrady's deconstructed s'mores.

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    In our opinion, the five best seats in the house line the chef's counter.