I’ve said many times that Oceanaire is the only chain restaurant in town I cotton to, but that’s not quite true; I’ll sheepishly confess I don’t mind North, the Cherry Creek link in an Arizona-based franchise that manages to help meet Denver’s sore need for mid-priced modern Italian cuisine. I minded it a bit on Tuesday, however, when my conversation with a bartender went like this: “Will you be showing the Spurs-Heat game?” “Most likely.” (The Director & I sit down.) “Except that those guys over there want to watch the soccer game, & no one else has asked for basketball.” “So you’re showing soccer then?” “Well, it depends on what gets the most requests.” “But at present it’s soccer?” “Yes.” “So—not ‘most likely”?” “Right.”
We stood up, headed out, and found ourselves peering into a quiet, unassuming little nook I’d wondered about occasionally in passing: The Weber, on the ground floor of the Inn at Cherry Creek. The menu posted out front looked okay—not widely diverse or wildly inventive, but fine; more importantly, the tiny bar area had a TV that nobody was paying any mind.
Thus commenced a weird but pleasant little meal that evoked the streetside cafés of Europe in myriad amusing ways, particularly with respect to the service provided by a lone waiter named Miko—tall, straight spined, with a courteous yet decidedly unhurried & even slightly deadpan air about him & a thick accent we later learned was Hungarian—& the chef himself, Mike Hendricks, whose signature is printed right on the menu. He’d wander out of the kitchen every so often to chat & catch a bit of the game, whisking me right back to a trattoria in Trieste many years ago, where my companion & I dined on horsemeat in a room that was empty but for the mamma cooking in her slippers in back & her figlio up front, who plied us with grappa every time the team he was cheering for on the tiny TV behind the bar scored a goal.
Speaking of booze, though the small wine list consisted of your most basic stuff, we could hardly complain given the prices—$8 by the glass & $30 by the bottle across the board. And the food was just right for the mood as well. We started with breakfast for dinner: a nicely maple-smoked hunk of salmon accompanied by toasted brioche, crème fraîche, capers, & a fried egg—a strange yet intriguingly hearty substitute for the more-common chopped, cold hard-cooked egg.
Then there was my honking pork chop, not quite juicy but thankfully not dry, & aided on the succulence front by cinnamon-apple chutney; the smashed red-potato dish on the side wasn’t exactly the “gratin” it was described as—no breadcrumbs, the key by most definitions—but it was pretty delicious, layered with onion & loads of melted cheese.
Simiarly, the Director’s “boneless half chicken” seemed to lack body parts, but it was generously portioned nonetheless as well as perfectly browned & juicy indeed, set over a bed of roasted potatoes, red peppers & buttery artichoke hearts.
We left rather charmed by the whole affair, & the next day I received an e-mail about an upcoming 4-course wine dinner: Hendricks will be serving smoked-oyster risotto, wild salmon over roasted rainbow cauliflower & goat cheese, & more paired with pours from the Pacific Northwest—for all of $60. Not too shabby.