Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dish of the Week: Linger’s raw meze trio

The last time I posted about Linger, I was enamored with its so-called raw samosas (not really anything like their Indian namesake, but memorably delicious nonetheless). Well, déjà vu. The free-wheeling, jet-setting small-plates menu always has at least 1 raw preparation; if you’re not familiar with raw-food “cooking,” to use a contradiction in terms, there’s some useful info here—& as healthful as it is in many ways, its copious use of plant-based fats like nuts, olives & avocados means it tends toward richness, not the dry, dreary vittles you might expect. Anyway, the current offering knocked me out all over again.

Though the menu listed my choice of grilled naan or flax crackers, I received take-’em-or-leave-’em pita wedges—which was fine; I’d have polished off the cashew ranch dip (left) & green-olive chutney (right) on cardboard. While the former was intensely thick & creamy & the latter surprisingly airy, both were luscious—not just twists but improvements on their respective standards. So was the beet “cheesecake” with date-pistachio crust (center; click to enlarge): tinglingly tangy yet balanced by its silken texture, savory-sweet, just superb on all counts.

As was most everything else. Linger really does capture the zeitgeist, don’t it? Local sources, worldly results; craft cocktails, ever-changing beers, wines by the glass for the enophile as well as the novice; electric but still comfy, not painfully edgy, vibe. I’m not sure the falafel balls made with carrots & lentils as well as the traditional chickpeas exactly matched their description: cashews, gingered shiitakes, zucchini pickle & more were also listed, yet may or may not have been present, & fried shallots weren’t listed yet clearly played a role. Regardless, their flavor was smackingly vibrant, enhanced by the chile-dusted lemon-tahini-yogurt dip, & smartly served on Bibb lettuce leaves, since their interiors were fairly soft & loose.

Also inspired were the French-onion mussels. Italians aren’t wrong about much, culinarily speaking, but their insistence that seafood & cheese don’t go together is way off-base. The umami of the broth, the salty gruyère & parmesan, the sweetly meaty shellfish, the tart crispness of sliced apples & fennel, the crunch of the warm grilled sourdough for sopping it all up—this dish was a reminder that there’s virtually nothing that can’t be combined if you’ve got the vision & the touch.

As for the coconut milk-based Thai soup known as tom kha gai, it doesn’t usually contain butternut squash or avocado, but their addition here provided buttery sweetness & warmth.

My companions & I dug into some other goodies as well—unusually creamy salmon ceviche with super-papery root-veggie chips, for instance,

as well as some bao, tacos & dosai. But it’s the raw dishes that will continue to, yes, linger in my thoughts. On that note, sister restaurant Root Down hosts a monthly Raw Food Night—I’d best amble over soon.

Denveater’s “Year in Eater” Standbys

In Eater’s roundup of local writers’ top picks for 2012, I named Beatrice & Woodsley & Panzano my standbys. I’d have said the same last year & the year before that too, pretty much by definition. Granted, there are plenty of places I love equally, for all kinds of reasons. But a place becomes a standby for rather personal ones. It’s not just that everything on the menu appeals but also that you feel so good there: inspired & transported, as in the case of B&W, or utterly relaxed, as at Panzano. And whaddaya know—I’ve been to both in recent weeks, & done as right as ever by both.

If you’ve visited neither in some time, here are a few current items worth trying. At B&W, the wilted-greens cobbler with sausage & cheddar spoonbread (behind the cheese plate, below) boasts that bygone sensibility, that deeply homey savor that is chef Pete List’s hallmark, as though he’d found his recipes written in cursive in a yellowed old notebook, invoking potbellied stoves & well water. (Actually, he does do lots of research on historical American cookery, so there you go.) I once had escargots here that were way too salty, but this batch (pictured right) was spot on, bathed in butter spiked with Pernod & piquillo pepper alongside warm, soft olive bread—enough to sop up all the drippings.

The cod on the left came with bright pea brandade & smoked onions; how the delicately flaky fish stood up to both I can’t fathom, but it did. On the right, earthy, crunchy-velvety feta-&-oat croquettes made a splash amid spaghetti squash in tomato vinaigrette—much like a dish I dug recently at Euclid Hall.

As for Panzano—I usually avoid chefs’ counters, because putting my nose in their business while ignoring the business of the one that brung me strikes me as doubly awkward. But this place is an exception, because it’s too much fun to watch chef Elise Wiggins switch from English to Spanish while balletically navigating the closet-sized open kitchen with her crew.

Like everyone else, I’ve had brussels sprouts in every way, shape & form over the past few years; it seems they, of all things, have finally succeeding in nudging beets out of the top veggie spot. (What’s next? I hope it’s celery. I mean, celery’s key to mirepoix & so forth, but it rarely plays the central role its awesomeness warrants.) But here at year’s end, I’ve had 2 of the best takes on sprouts in quick succession: Ace Eat Serve’s & this one.

Both are fried, because fried! But while Ace’s skews Asian with shishito peppers, sesame seeds, & lime, Panzano’s version has an Italian agrodolce (sweet-sour) thing going on, tossed with toasted pistachios, reduced cider vinegar & rosemary salt & topped with green apple. Unexpectedly refreshing.

We also took delight in a special of baby octopus braised with tomatoes & capers over soft polenta. Set in a pool of spiced oil, this was, conversely, unexpectedly rich. Nothing wrong with that, of course, & Wiggins’ touch with every Italian starch—pasta, polenta, etc.—is so light & smooth.

That goes double for her gnocchi, which we had 2 ways that night: once made with pumpkin & served with the smoked pork chop I named one of my top 10 dishes of 2012, the other sauteed with rabbit confit, tomatoes, mushrooms, & leeks, then sprinkled with gorgonzola. Quite the cool combo, though I was so enamored with the chop I only had room for a few bites.

On that note, may 2013 be full of equally filling moments!



The Squeaky Bean: A Love Letter, An Apology

Sigh. ‘Tis true: though I rarely let my conscience get in the way of a hot food shot, there was something in the air at The Squeaky Bean on Wednesday night that deterred me from full-on flash action; everyone around us seemed immersed in deep conversation, to the point where such a gauche breach of etiquette was bound to earn me grand opprobium. Since snapping on the downlow got me nowhere—to wit:

—you’ll have to heed my verbiage.

Despite the seriousness of the clientele & the level of culinary prowess on display, it’s clear that Max Mackissock & his crew aim to pour on the playful charm from the moment you scoot into a booth through to the gut-busting end of your meal. The 1st thing you’ll note is that the menu is a heck of a juicy read—not only in itself (“variations of radish”! “whipped verjus”! “marrow emulsion”!), but also because it’s attached to a vintage cookbook: I got Vegetables, the Director Cooking on the British Isles. Adorable!

Not seconds after its arrival, you’ll be treated to a little thirst-quencher from the bar—in our case zippy cucumber soda—& garlic knots (of all things) so buttery, fluffy & soft they’re gone in a flash (no pun intended). And eventually, if you order right (not that it seems possible to order wrong), you might be presented with a little treasure chest whose lid is opened to reveal a pair of doughnuts filled with foie-gras mousse, sprinkled with foie powder, & topped with figs (top pic). Cartoonishly eye-rubbing as the presentation may be, these babies could be slung on a paper plate or just tossed in your general direction from the open kitchen and their deliciousness would remain intact. They’re as flaky as goldleaf, as creamy as pudding, as awash in sweet-salty funk as all get out.

Dehydrated, roasted, shaved & arranged neatly in a bowl of potage de Crecy poured tableside, “variations of carrot” (unpictured) are so intensely pure of flavor they almost overwhelm; good thing Mackissock, smart cookie that he is, keeps them in check with smidgens of lime cream & a tart-savory dollop of kaffir-lime ice cream topped with crushed “citrus peanuts”; the transformation that occurs as the elements meld is something to behold.

For the main course (middle pic), the Director went for the fat-wrapped Berkshire pork loin with corn pannacotta; though beautifully executed overall, the standout for me was a side of peaches so thoroughly roasted they transcend peachness—indeed, they’re suffsed with a startling but fascinating mushroomy savor. I opted for corned teres major with mustardy polenta, fried-to-a-crisp leaves of broccoli di cicco, roasted kohlrabi & slivers of white cheddar; that beef, my friends, is just nuts—so tender yet so aromatic & pungent, taking me right back to childhood in a way few things do (okay, maybe Chipwiches & eating spaghetti sauce out of the pot).

As for dessert, the one item that survived the move from LoHi to LoDo is the Fluffernutter (bottom pic): this, full disclosure, was brought out to us gratis with glasses of Pineau des Charentes, so I technically shouldn’t review the concoction of sweet brioche slathered with peanut-butter mousse & toasted marshmallow & drizzled with peanut caramel—but it hardly defies belief to admit the thing’s beyond rich & gooey, only enhanced by the lift it gets from the alcohol & zest of the stellar pairing.

Is it the best new restaurant of 2012? No doubt it’s among them, along with Bramble & Hare, Trillium (if that counts, since it opened at the end of 2011), &, I say rather to my own surprise, Central Bistro & Bar. But then, with the exception of Trillium, I’ve had only one meal at each candidate, so I’ll reserve my final verdict for the months to come. In any case, it sure has been a bang-up couple of years for this town, eh?

The Squeaky Bean on Urbanspoon

The necessity of Central Bistro & Bar

Does Denver really need yet another cheeky-chic purveyor of contemporary farm-to-table comfort food & craft libations? Rhetorically speaking, the answer would seem to be a big fat no. But the real-world answer is a bigger, fatter yes—provided the chef is Lance Barto, now installed in the kitchen at this killer LoHi newcomer. He will make you drink the cool kids’ Koolaid & like it.

I’ve been lax about posting for the past few weeks due to a slew of dragon-breathing deadlines exacerbated by a 7-day trip to Champagne. As special as the latter was, the meal I had the night at Central the night before I left for France hardly pales by comparison (both 1] apples & oranges & 2] hard to fathom as that statement may be. The thing is, you can only eat so much foie et fromage). Assuming my one experience so far is typical—except for the part where my table of 4 snarfed about 1/2 the menu—what’s going on here pretty much epitomizes the verve of our current dining scene.

Since I’m still under fire workwise, I’ll let the photos mostly speak for themselves (click to enlarge): suffice it to say the food, to a dish, is as thoughtfully conceived yet flat-out punchy as it looks—with the PS that if you, like me, think you’ve had just about enough of the pork craze, surprise: you haven’t even begun. Sticking a knife into any given cut was like stabbing a pink silk pillow. Bravo.

Left to right: crab mac & cheese with sourdough crumbs; corn & bacon risotto; superlative fried chicken—best I’ve had in some time—over johnnycake

Kandinksy-esque raw-vegetable salad & white gazpacho with green grapes, almonds & basil sorbet

Pork (belly) ‘n’ beans. Sigh—flawless.

BBQ pork chop with peach salad: bigger sigh. (Every bit as good as the chop I had last fall at the rather-underrated Satchel’s on 6th, which I named one of my favorite dishes of 2011.)

Lamb sirloin over spiced carrot puree

Striped bass over creamy tomato with beans (the current menu mentions lobster emulsion & clams; either this preparation was different or one of my companions got to the shellfish before I did. Either way, savvy).

Special of succulent bacon-wrapped halibut with root-veggie puree/garnish

Dessert sampler, including a chocolate torte to remind you why they became ubiquitous in the 1st place

You get the idea. My experience was up there with those I’ve had at twelve, Linger, Bramble & Hare, & other stars of the upscale-casual, modern American genre; one more visit & my rating might hit 5. Put it on your short list tout suite.

Central Bistro Bar on Urbanspoon

Duo: There’s a reason

it’s got a permanent place on the short list of local go-tos, one that has everything to do with the well-roundedness implied by the word “yet.” Rustic yet modern vibe. Polished yet laid-back service (if the pace is a bit slow when the dining room is full, which is always, so be it—the point is to relax over fine wine in good company). Smart yet sensual food; ever-changing yet grounded menu. Duo’s got nuance down-pat.

Hey, I think I just said it all. I wish my camera had done a better job of saying it for me, but the battery died after the first shot, so the cell lens had to do.

Saltine-crusted crabcake: moist, perfectly seasoned, light on the filler, hardly requiring the red-pepper aioli or the sharp, bright corn relish.

Crostini spread with luscious housemade ricotta & melting leeks under a bit of tomato, sparkling sweet-sour anchovies, & small dollops of salsa verde, parsley-fresh & caper-pungent.

I didn’t try the smoked lamb ribs over green tomato-Napa cabbage slaw, but a taste of the whiskey-infused bbq sauce made me wish I had fries with that.

Accompanied by caraway-flecked flatbread, house-cured gravlax with dill-&-cucumber-scented yogurt & pickled red onions was pristine yet soulful—as straight-up as it gets.

We’d only on planned on happy hour, but our little quartet stayed through dinner, a fact that speaks volumes about our comfort level here. The Director’s fried chicken showed a little too much greaseless restraint for my tastes—I guess I like it drippingly down & dirty— but the smooth buttermilk-mashed potatoes & tangy take on hoppin’ john hit the spot.

And my perfectly grilled hunk of ribeye, smothered in more of that luscious salsa verde, was tops, over a gorgeous (photo notwithstanding), snappy panzanella enhanced by green beans & shreds of fresh buffalo mozzarella.

Giving up on the camera, I didn’t capture A’s pancetta-&-spinach-layered rabbit roulade with carrot puree & mustard jus, though it was a thing of delicate beauty, nor M’s market fish special, nor their shared goat cheesecake with housemade graham cracker & mango sorbet. I think you get the picture nonetheless. This is savvy stuff: intelligently conceived, effortlessly executed. It’s as simple as that.

Duo on Urbanspoon

The Return of the Black Pearl

***Brief respite from blogging over at Globeater, in turn a brief respite from blogging over here.***

Long story short: Girl moves to Denver, girl falls in love with Black Pearl, Black Pearl loses girl with a string of iffy chef shuffles, girl returns on a whim that reignites the crush—this time with Seattle transplant Mitch Mayers. He’s a keeper.

Taking family there last week, the Director & I were presented with a menu that boasted all the much-missed hallmarks of the restaurant’s original, splashy style—bold flavors in unexpected combinations—with none of the recent drawbacks (what either were smaller portions at higher prices or simply seemed to be because I was annoyed; see “much-missed hallmarks”). It’s funny—it’s not as though Denver’s devoid of creative contemporary cuisine; far from it. But there’s a certain rare flair for surprising juxtapositions that speaks to me personally, & Black Pearl’s best chefs have had it in spades, to the point where I positively crave nearly everything they’re dishing up, be it deviled-egg salad with maple-horseradish vinaigrette or a bacon-stuffed bison burger with brown-mustard mole or goat-cheesecake with sage-granola crunch & red wine-marinated strawberries—& yes, all of the above are on the current menu.

We started, however, with an old favorite, the sesame-crusted calamari in sweet aged soy, tossed with slivered scallions, toasted garlic & pistachios. Having written about it often, I didn’t bother to snap a pic, so here’s an old one—

but rest assured it’s as good as ever. In his retirement years, the Director’s dad discovered he actually liked squid okay; as we smugly surmised, that was probably because he’d had it prepared properly for the first time in his life.

Speaking of firsts, he also gave the agave-glazed wild-boar spareribs over Moroccan-spiced quinoa with baked plantains & beet chutney a shot, & so pleased was he with the gorgeous results I didn’t dare ask for a taste.

Same went for his missus’ classy, throwback shrimp & crab salad with lemon velouté in a puff pastry shell (which, get this, was retro-colored in real life!).

Not that I wasn’t busy with my own entree: edamame-corn cakes topped with sauteed zucchini & served over chipotle crema-drizzled refried black beans.

Dense but fresh, pure & naturally sweet, the cakes stood up admirably to the smoky-rich beans, making for a smart play on masa & frijoles, while the squash ribbons added a dose of levity.

Of course, I was also busy with the Director’s hickory-smoked game hen.

Over nutty orzo, that crispy-skinned bird just kept adding to its own pilsner-splashed jus, accompanied by unbelievably silken quarters of grilled artichoke heart; the “hoecake” (really more like a corn muffin) pretty much gilded the lily.

I still say the markup is too high on the bottle list, however sizeable & interesting the cellar may be; wines by the glass & cocktails are a better way to go. And I do hope the warm chocolate-chip cookies & milk return to the dessert menu someday. But that’s just quibbling for the sake of not slobbering too hard or jinxing the delicate balance currently being struck at this sometime neighborhood ideal.

Black Pearl on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Lardo-Rosemary Flatbread at The Kitchen [Next Door]

I recall vividly the 1st time I ever had lardo, or cured fatback. It was 1998; I was in Italy for the 1st of what would be many starry times, seated on a restaurant patio with the cliffs of Amalfi to one side of me, the sparkling Mediterranean to the other. The view was basically something like this (to show off a snapshot of Positano I took about 6 years ago. Italy, you may be aware, doesn’t generally suck.)

My man at the time had ordered it knowing a) full well what it was & b) that I might not touch it—obviously this was a lifetime & a whole different set of aesthetics ago—if I knew what it was; by the time he confessed, I was hooked. Like all good fats—extra-virgin olive oil, farmstead butter, & for all I know whale blubber—it has as much flavor as it does the obvious advantage of unctuous texture, albeit one that’s surprisingly complex & fleeting: one moment it seems delicate & floral, the next animal & funky.

And that constantly morphing essence, enhanced by salt & set off by fresh rosemary, is beautifully showcased on The Kitchen [Next Door]’s grilled flatbread wedges.

The lardo is unusually crumbly even as it’s melting, layered between the thin, crunchy, pita-like (as opposed to puffy, chewy, naan-like) flatbread, sliced laterally & into wedges. When something so simple, with so few ingredients, registers & satisfies on so many levels—well, that’s what classics are made of.

Of course, The Kitchen’s forte has always been vibrancy by way of purity; it was doing farm-to-table fare before anyone remembered what farms were, & it remains a standard-bearer of the genre now that practically everybody tends a potager or piece of pasture. Case in point: the veggie antipasti.

Currently, it’s a mélange of perfectly roasted carrots & beets, respectively cumin-scented & salty-sweet; tangy, vinaigrette-marinated kidney beans & cannellini with onions; & Moroccan-style stewed chickpeas & tomatoes, plus grilled bread. So sunny for being so rootsy.

That same kidney-cannellini mixture gives earthy heft to the ultra-refreshing salmon salad—which, over lemon-spritzed arugula, is creamy but not too thanks to the firmness of the flaked fish & the crunch of diced celery & onion.

I didn’t try pal H’s chilled, herbed cucumber soup with toasted-caper garnish, but it sure looked swell.

There’s a lot more I’d like to try; the menu’s grazer-friendly, & the space has a more laid-back feel than that of the flagship, fine as it is—rather like that of the spanking-new Denver branch. Think I’m falling for The Kitchen all over again.

The Kitchen [Next Door] on Urbanspoon

Kicking It at The Kitchen Denver

The sequel that surpasses the original is, of course, a rarity in any medium, be it film, lit, or cuisine. It’s too early to say whether The Kitchen’s LoDo outpost will be that surprise gem, but I’ll tell you what: ambiance-wise it’s got the Boulder flagship by the balls, at least in my book. Where the latter, especially downstairs, always feels cramped, the new branch sprawls—filled with light & air, the tables generously spaced, the old woods & antique accents gleaming gently. Neither cluttered nor cold, it’s the kind of place you feel at home instantly. (I guess I’m not the only who digs it—check out this Denver Post profile on designer Jen Lewin.)

Cozying up to the bar at happy hour recently, the Director & I couldn’t get enough of one not-so-small plate in particular: pictured at top left, the burrata—boasting that characteristicly thick yet airy creaminess, plus the slightest pull—was smeared with pungent dollops of anchoïade (a garlicky anchovy dip) atop some of the best country-style bread I’ve had in ages: crusty, vaguely sourdoughy, grilled with enough olive oil to ooze flavor as well as moisture. Under all that cheesy goodness, I couldn’t tell if it was the same bread, clearly caraway-flecked, that accompanied the coarse-chopped pork terrine (made even funkier with the addition of chicken livers), but either way, & whether made in-house or bakery-sourced, it’s all good chewy stuff. The online menu refers to a porchetto tonnato, rather than a terrine, that I admit I felt a slight pang at not seeing on paper. Though it’s more commonly made with veal, this specialty of northwestern Italy is undersung stateside—thin slices of cold meat smothered in a creamy, lemony tuna-&-anchovy sauce? What’s not to love?)

Chock-full of root vegetables—parsnips, potatoes, celeriac—the turlu turlu was cooked a bit too al dente for my tastes, but the bright yet earthy flavor, highlighted by chickpeas, tomatoes & a cumin-scented yogurt (plus a squeeze of lemon), was plenty refreshing—& I could have polished off more than 1 smallish piece of the tortilla-like Indian whole-wheat flatbread known as chapati.

Still, for me the surprise hits of the evening were the proprietary house pours. Apparently wine director Tim Wanner had a hand in their making; if so, it was one assured hand. The white, a Chardonnay-Riesling blend, is at once full & elegant; the red, combining Syrah with Cabernet, balances candied violets & baking spices. Nicely done, sir.

***UPDATE, 5/19: Upon returning to interview co-owner Hugo Matheson for Eat Drink Denver, he bid me share an order of gougèresas the classic French cheese puffs are known.

Most commonly oozing with Gruyère, these—which are almost more like fritters than flaky pastries—contain a ticklingly pungent Gouda-style goat’s milk cheese. Bright-hot, crunchy fun.

The Kitchen Denver on Urbanspoon

Ambria After the Fall

The post-opening buzz surrounding Ambria was still echoing across town when news of its star chef’s ouster broke. With everybody feeling bad for everybody, I headed there accompanied by pals Mo & A in hopes of a Cinderella story starring the ex-Oceanaire sous chef who’s picking up where Jeremy Kittelson left off; after all, I’m rather a fan of the franchise seafooder, & a born rooter for underdogs.

Long fairy tale short: given the big glass slippers the new guy’s got to fill, it’s simply too early to tell how well (or if) they’re going to fit. Of several dishes on the new, decidedly simpler menu, a few showed real promise; others fell flat.

Then again, maybe the kitchen’s well aware of its shortcomings; for instance, the online description of the calamari a la plancha already differs from the version we tried a week ago, which was topped with a warm, herbed lentil salad & now appears to be served with preserved lemon, arugula & polenta. Then again again, the lentil salad wasn’t the problem—the squid was; though properly tender, it was completely bland, under- if not unseasoned.

By contrast, short-rib ravioli (which have also mysteriously disappeared from the website menu) were beautifully presented & wonderfully delicate—light, with a slight bite—but salty as hell, & that’s coming from someone who drinks pickle juice. The theme so far: texture’s important, but flavor’s key.

I’m nearly over meatballs, but not to the point where if they’re sitting in front of me I won’t budge. Nothing wrong with these parmesan-sprinkled minis over polenta, assuming you’re easy about polenta; there’s them that insist it should be creamy & smooth, them who like it a bit fluffier (as this was), & them who prefer stiffer, almost cornbready stuff. As with mashed potatoes, I like it all so long as it’s not grainy.

Damn, I don’t see the ceviche (pictured below left) on the menu anymore either! Fair enough, as it was neither here nor there—fresh & bright, but hardly a standout from the pack of marinated seafood plates currently roaming the city. The sherry-glazed duck breast over turnip sauerkraut & pear mostarda (below center) is still listed, though, & with good reason—rich & tangy in all the right places. As for the fried brussels sprouts (below right), impatient as I’m growing with their ubiquity (to point to another theme arising from Ambria’s somewhat-safe-playing repertoire), these were quite good: plenty crispy & punchy with a balsamic drizzle & a hit of parmesan.

I’m sorry to end on a sour note: the bread pudding flat-out blew, as dry as it was muddled in flavor. So I won’t; an excellent bourbon-based cocktail (whose name I sadly can’t recall) saved the day. That the bar would deliver the highlight of the whole meal came as a surprise twist to this little chapter in our saga.

It also suggests a moral thereto: do be so kind as to consider this less a review than a candid snapshot of a crew in flux, who for all I can fairly conclude from the above may well be killing it a month from now.

Ambria on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Butternut-Ricotta Gnocchi at Root Down

By the time Justin Cucci—easily one of Colorado’s savviest restaurateurs—had assembled a staff who was up to executing his considerable vision for Root Down, I’d sort of written it off, more out of laziness & misanthropy than anything; I just couldn’t muster the wherewithal to face a scene that packed with that many beautiful people from open to close.

But I’m terribly glad I finally rallied. Recently meeting our pals Mark & Amy at the bar for happy hour, the Director & I shared a pate of butternut squash & ricotta gnocchi that knocked me out. It was one of those bold concoctions that hits every mark on the flavor & texture spectrum—salty, fruity, rich, sprightly, unctuous, crunchy—thanks to a bevy of goodies: brown butter & hazelnuts, both chopped & in sage pesto; baby spinach & brown mushrooms; black currants & chile flakes; grated romano & a drizzle of balsamic. I can see how it might overwhelm some palates. Those palates are big babies.

The sliders with hoisin-confited duck rocked too, slathered in lemon crème fraîche topped with frizzled sweet potato. Brioche rolls have their detractors, but here in particular, their softness & richness evokes bao, making these sort of the love children of burgers & steamed buns. Gimme.