It’s been a few months since I ordered the chicken liver mousse at the Populist on North Larimer, but I still vividly remember—and often crave—the dish. (That’s saying something considering the number of times I eat out.) For the starter, chef Jonathan Power blends seared livers with 50 percent of their weight in cold butter. He emulsifies the mixture until it is exceedingly smooth, gently folds in heavy cream whipped to stiff peaks, and pipes everything into silicone molds. The resulting cubes of ethereally light mousse are served on a brushstroke of dark Callebaut chocolate. With butter, cream, chocolate, silicone molds, stiff peaks, gentle folding, and artful brushstrokes, the recipe sounds more like a dessert than a starter, and it's at the end of more recent meals that I’ve found myself daydreaming about the dish. "I think it can do double-duty as a savory dessert pretty well,” Power told me. “We had a few people do that this weekend.”
Power is not alone. Starters and entrées that are decadent enough to moonlight as dessert are popping up on menus across Denver. At Paul Reilly’s Beast + Bottle, the Uptown restaurant that opened in March, I’ve ordered this starter after my entrée: The Lou Bergier Pichin cheese with sweet, tomato bread and “olive candy” (dehydrated Castelvetrano olives tossed in caramel). In Jefferson Park at Matt Selby’s Corner House, I’ve selected the French-toast bread pudding entrée over the restaurant’s true desserts. For the dish, Selby tosses brioche, ciabatta, and sourdough with a thick, crème anglaise-like batter of egg cream, cinnamon, and orange zest. He serves the finished bowl with maple syrup butter and berries. Selby told me that 50 percent of the time the entrée is ordered as a dessert.
In a city not historically known for a deep roster of tenured pastry chefs, maybe our claim to sweet fame will be these small plates and mains that can stand in for dessert.
The Populist, 3163 Larimer St., 720-432-3163
Beast + Bottle, 719 E. 17th Ave., 303-623-3223
Corner House 2240 Clay St., 720-287-1895
—Image courtesy of Corner House.