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.