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.

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