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?

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