(3 1/2 out of 4)
1420 Larimer St., 303-825-3232, www.bistrovendome.com
Must-try New Dishes Salade campagnarde, oeufs bénédicte aux crabe
Old Favorites Steak frites, croque monsieur
In 2004, 5280 restaurant critic Rachael Graves and her husband took their parents to brunch at Bistro Vendôme. On a charming patio, over a warm Gruyère and mushroom-stuffed omelet, the family experienced one of the restaurant’s highlights: its outdoor dining. And despite the inattentive patio service, they finished their meal full and happy. At the time, Bistro Vendôme was under the co-ownership of chef Eric Roeder, but in 2006 restaurateurs Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch, the owners of the neighboring Rioja, bought Bistro Vendôme. They revamped the menu, service, and wine list, creating a modern bistro that fit their standards of quality and consistency. We returned to Bistro Vendôme after two years of Jasinski and Gruitch’s management to see how the French restaurant fits into Denver’s dining scene.
Brunch is the most popular meal at Bistro Vendôme. On weekends, from mid-morning to early afternoon, families gather in groups in the yellow-hued dining room. Bright red Bloody Marys ($5) fly by on silver trays, and sunshine slants onto the tucked-away patio and into the dining room, lighting the stage for quiches, flaky croissants, and classic croque monsieurs. On this particular Sunday, I have gathered my own family around one of the wooden tables, and our conversation is alive with all things French. Remember the fried egg on that spinach salad in Paris? How about the pain perdu at Le Central? We encouraged each other to think French, act French, know French.
This interaction is akin to the one I imagine chef Jasinski and manager Gruitch had when they took over Bistro Vendôme. They immersed themselves in French flavors and wines so they could create the type of restaurant common in New York City but rare in Denver—an accessible nook dedicated to high-quality béarnaise and luscious steak tartare, with prices that diners could budget in once a month, or even once a week. Their menu, the two decided, would reflect modern bistro cooking, rooting itself in French classics but playing with international ingredients.
This brunch is the third meal I’ve eaten at Bistro Vendôme, and it’s clear that Jasinski and Gruitch have attained their goal. On previous visits for dinner, I scooped up flavorful forkfuls of salade campagnarde ($7)— fresh greens dressed with a fried egg and flavorful bits of bacon—and dipped tender bites of steak ($23) in a sweet port reduction accompanied with robust Roquefort. Today, I delight in a refreshing orange French soda ($3) and a crêpe de jour ($7), stuffed with tender chicken and sweet dates and topped with a golden fried egg and mild red pepper crème fraîche. The oeufs bénédicte aux crabe ($12.50) arrives with tiers of brioche, poached eggs, creamy avocado mousse, and crab, drizzled with buttery hollandaise sauce—all encircled in crispy french fries, made sweet with a coating of Champagne-vinegar-and-sugar reduction.
Chef de cuisine Matt Anderson runs the day-to-day operations. Much of the menu is his, and consistency is his responsibility. Friendly servers in jeans deliver Anderson’s dishes with unhurried precision, and when asked they offer precise wine suggestions from a balanced list of French big-name and boutique pours. Anderson’s kitchen and the servers’ style fit the reputable, not too froufrou experience Jasinski and Gruitch want for their diners. Restaurant-goers who expect French dining to mean traditional food and formal service should know that Bistro Vendôme’s cuisine is dynamic—a blend of classic and modern—and its service is friendly and conversational.
Under Jasinski and Gruitch, Bistro Vendôme has further established itself as a Denver staple, both for those in the mood for relaxed fine dining and those in search of contemporary French flavors. My family is already planning its next brunch.