Just as really, really ridiculously good looks can be both a blessing & a curse for humans (or so I hear), striking décor can render a restaurant either a promised land or a prison for its own staff. If culinary kudos are sufficient to excite serious-minded skeptics, all is extra-golden. But if style is largely perceived to trump substance, then return customers are bound to be surface-dwellers—scenesters rather than gastronomes. And once you’re stuck with ’em, you’ve gotta cater to ’em, like it or not.
Such is the trap in which this LoDo wine bar seems to find itself. With its creamy white leather booths, zebra-print accents & chandeliers as sparkling as the wines it specializes in, it’s been virtually empty every time I’ve arrived there for dinner—only to fill up much later with a depressingly obvious bevy of singles on the pre-club prowl, be they fedora- & hot pants-clad chickies & the dapper gents who pat their bottoms or darting-eyed cougars & their eternal frat-boy prey.
It’s a bit of a shame, because both the kitchen & the bar have real potential they’re constrained from fully realizing. On a recent girl’s night out—my 1st visit in a couple of years—pal @MO_242 ordered us a bottle of Pierre Gimonnet et Fils, & the beverage manager actually came over to compliment her on her taste & do the cork-popping honors, so clearly starved for enophilic attention among the flavored-vodka-&-schnapps swillers was he.
I can only suspect the chef is similarly frustrated by underappreciation (this is why we can’t have nice things, as the kids are quipping these days). Much of the menu is actually rather elegant, but what percentage goes out on any given night? I’m betting it’s pretty small. As a result, execution seems a bit half-hearted—& yet all the flavor’s there, just waiting to be taken to the next level, as with these escargots gratinés. Meaty & drenched in garlic-herb butter, they were really well done; with the addition of crustier, better-quality bread & a touch of color to the presentation, the dish as a whole would’ve been a solid-gold hit.
Likewise, a smartly conceived sandwich of hearty sliced short rib, melted gruyère & caramelized onion was left hanging by mediocre, flimsy sourdough; perfectly decent mixed-potato fries & sharply tangy aioli added enough support to leave me thinking, damn, so close!
A couple of oysters, a bite of foie gras, a few glasses of red, & all was pretty well right with the world; maybe these guys just need a little more encouragement to rise to the occasion.