But first meet H, a gal pal newly arrived from Boston, who, like me, lost her heart to a Denver boy & wound up here. As my date to Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar for the opening last night, she & I found ourselves on familiar terrain: from its cavernous, high-ceilinged dining room, woody amid twinkling lights & red leather upholstery, to a menu awash in shellfish & charcuterie, we might as well have been back home at Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks. For us, the similarities were striking, & while the comparison may not mean much to you Denverites, it’s pertinent as far as the main point: Le Grand is sticking to the straightforward formula of the American brasserie, which in the past decade has become a neoclassic genre in its own right—all big, bustling, glittery spaces, a vintage Belle Époque-era aura, a bar that’s solid on all fronts, & deceptively simple, hearty French plats.
It also happens to employ William, with whom we were both smitten pronto. For whatever reason, he managed to hone in on us as gung-ho eaters, & not only kept the hors d’oeuvres coming but totally hammed it up for snaps. He’s a character, that one, so I’ll be seeking his seating section out.
I should note that we didn’t need the special attention. Grand openings & preview parties are usually shitshows, with a shell-shocked staff getting swarmed at every turn by a crowd for which the kitchen isn’t quite prepared—but not this one: there was plenty of food for everybody, so the pace was relaxed yet efficient, not hectic. Owner Robert Thompson, head chef Sergio Romero & crew have definitely hit the ground running.
Of course, the evidence that Le Grand’s likely gonna be a smash came first & foremost from the sampling of appetizers. While platters of roast bone marrow were comme-il-faut, sweet Kumamotos & creamy Barcats dared to diverge: oyster purists would have been appalled at the dollop of Fumé Blanc Béarnaise, but ’twas a happy surprise when the sauce actually worked with the shellfish, not against it. (Oysters with more complex, delicate flavor profiles might be another matter.)
Other faves included the richly garnished duck confit, the house-smoked salmon—above all for the smooth potato pancake it came on—
the heady combo of smoked sardines on toast slathered with duck-confit compound butter,
& the judiciously truffled crème fraîche atop frico (basically a parmesan crisp), its mousselike texture melting in the mouth to make new & fresh what on paper seemed passé.
Come to think of it, the only bite that didn’t make H & me do the fried-butter dance was the chicken liver-&-pork butt pâté, which didn’t quite have its seasoning down pat, coming across as a bit muddled & overwhelmed by the shallot compote.
But all in all, Thompson & Romero killed it. I’m already jazzed to return for the ultimate litmus tests: beef tartare & moules frites. If Le Grand passes those, we’re in business. Nice blackberries.