Several months ago, in response to a question posed during a 5280.com “live chat,” our food editor, Amanda M. Faison, had this to say about what makes a great restaurant: “More than anything, I think it’s important for anyone opening a restaurant (or currently running a restaurant) to remember that dining out is about the whole package. The ambience counts, the comfort of the chairs counts, the innovation in the kitchen counts, and the service counts. Restaurants of all shapes and sizes need to be able to deliver on all points, and do so gracefully.”
I couldn’t agree more with Faison, and as we unveil our fourth annual ranking of the 25 best restaurants in greater Denver, which starts on page 60, there seems no better time to celebrate our exciting food scene. Chefs all over the city are turning out inventive and well-executed dishes, from ChoLon’s soup dumplings to Mizuna’s octopus à la plancha to Old Major’s smoked fish plate. It’s not hard to get the feeling that Denver chefs, collectively, are at the top of their game.
Even so, Denver still doesn’t have the foodie reputation of New York City or San Francisco, or even Portland or Atlanta or New Orleans. Why is that, when it seems though our chefs can compete with the very best cooks in any market? My theory is that the Denver restaurant scene has not achieved a more national profile because—with some notable exceptions—very few local restaurants flawlessly solve the complicated equation of food + drinks + service + hospitality + decor every night of every week. In the Mile High City, service especially is inconsistent. At best, it can be flawless; at worst, it can seem listless. And that frequently leads to gaffes. At recent meals, 5280 staffers have experienced service hiccups including: having an old glass of wine dumped into a new glass; a maître d’ saying the computer confused her as an excuse for a late seating; improper dishes being served; and waiters giving pregnant women snide looks when they didn’t order booze. Really.
Which brings me to the number one restaurant on our list for the fourth year in a row. No one who’s been to Frasca Food and Wine will downplay the creative and impeccably prepared cuisine Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson puts out. But what Frasca really excels at is delivering an experience: From the moment you walk in the door to the time you pick up your coat, the front-of-the-house team takes care of you. As Faison writes on page 62, service at Frasca is so seamless you almost don’t notice it until after the fact. It’s a huge reason Frasca is at the top of our list yet again, and it’s the first place I’d take someone from out of town to show him or her the best of our dining scene. Here’s hoping that more restaurateurs will take their cues from all that Frasca’s doing right and pay the same kind of attention to service that they’re paying to their outstanding food. Only then will Denver be poised—finally—to compete with America’s very best dining cities.
4 things you should know about the making of this issue:
[ Dining Out ]
Amanda M. Faison, 5280’s food editor, dined out 43 times in 61 days to finalize this month’s “25 Best Restaurants” (page 60). That’s about once a day—a 50 percent increase over her average work week.
[ Paper Work ]
For “Fragile” (page 88), assistant editor Chris Outcalt handed 5280’s research department a stack of legal documents seven inches high for the fact-checking process.
[ Art Smart ]
After reporting for “Unveiled” (page 72), senior editor Kasey Cordell went home and moved every wall hanging in her house down by five inches.
[ Calling Dibs ]
For “Name Game” (page 24), we “invented” more than 40 new—and we thought clever—beer names that local brewers should consider. A few we found out were already taken? Statehouse Stout, Powder Day IPA, and Lug Nut Lager.