Apparently most of the foodies in the country think of Denver as a "cow town" where all you can eat is steak. Although some of Denver's (and Boulder's) chefs and restaurants are getting good press in some cooking and travel magazines, and Colorado offers quite a few food, wine, food and wine, beer, and beer and food festivals, people outside of the area still scoff at the idea of fine dining in Denver.
Well, Denver's not going to take it anymore. Last year it established a program called "Denver Restaurant Week" (in February, which is supposedly the lowest-revenue month for restaurants) where some of the foofiest, fanciest, chic-est, and best-reviewed places offer a 3-course prix fixe dinner for two for $52.80 (since it's the mile-high city, natch). This promotion is deservedly attracting a lot of attention out-of-state.
But Mr. Tart and I don't really care what out-of-staters think about fine dining in Denver: we just wanted to try some of these restaurants and get out of there without spending three digits! Last year, Cynde and Todd joined us at Red Square, a Russian restaurant, for Restaurant Week. It was good, but my favorite part was the flavored vodkas, not the food. (Black currant! Garlic!) (Cynde went on to make her own infused flavored vodka--ginger, "fall spice," rhubarb, and more.)
This year Restaurant Week offered a huge selection of participating restaurants
, so the decision was tough. Fortunately they all publish their special menu ahead of time so we were able to immediately eliminate the ones only serving meat that I don't eat or stuff made with bananas. We ended up at Zengo
, a Japanese-Mexican fusion place that we had walked past before and admired.
Here's what we had:
--a cucumber mojito (voted Denver's best cocktail by a local magazine), which I liked, but I still prefer my mojitos without vegetables
--red wine called Roogle which Mr. Tart loved
--lobster & shrimp potstickers in a fruity sauce (this wasn't on the prix fixe menu, but they looked so good we ordered them off the regular menu), which were very good because of the the huge chunks of seafood inside--no ground meat mixed with breadcrumbs here)
--"Arepas de Pollo" appetizer with extremely thinly sliced pulled chicken, avocado, and crema fresca on a garlicky bready cracker thing with a hint of polenta (can you tell that the description of the latter didn't come straight from the menu?), delicious, but unfortunately there were only three of them.
--Spicy salmon tempura roll with yuzu, which was fun and hearty
--Pulled pork shoulder with black bean puree and "won bok slaw" on top (this was Mr. Tart's entree, and he was extremely impressed)
--Wok-seared rare tuna over rice vermicelli with tomatillo, grilled watermelon pico de gallo, and a yuzu vinaigrette. This dish was my favorite--the tuna was lucious. And I loved the watermelon--it provided the perfect counterpoint for the little chunks of hot peppers. It had never occured to me to grill tiny watermelon pieces and put them on fish, but we want to try it ourselves now!
--Dessert consisted of three profiteroles (cream puffs) apiece, each one filled with a different type of ice cream with a surprising crunch: vanilla sesame brittle, chocolate pistachio brittle, and cinnamon pepita brittle. The sauce on top was caramel, cardamom, and piloncillo. Biting into each profiterole was like opening a birthday present with something unexpected inside, something I never knew existed but wanted as soon as I saw it!
I brought the menu home so I could look up some of the words so we'd know what we ate. According to epicurious, yuzu is "a sour Japanese citrus fruit, which is used almost exclusively for its aromatic rind. The rind of the yuzu (which is about the size of a tangerine) has an aroma that's distinct from lemons and limes or any other Western citrus fruit. Yuzu rind is used as a garnish or small slivers are added to various dishes to enhance their flavor." Honestly, I don't know if I detected anything citrus in the salmon roll, but the tuna vinaigrette sure was tasty! I still haven't figured out what "piloncillo" is, though.
So it was a remarkable dinner, and what we especially liked about the prix fixe menu was that we both ended up with dishes that we probably wouldn't have ordered off the regular menu. (I don't think I've ever seen Mr. Tart order pork in a restaurant, for example.) We felt very adventurous, loved the combinations of flavors, and will probably go back. No wonder so many upscale restaurants want to participate in Denver Restaurant Week!