Dining

Reviews: O's Steak and Seafood

O's Steak and Seafood Innovation in Westminster

By
June 2008

O's Steak and Seafood

(out of 4)
The Westin Westminster, 10600 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, 303-410-5000, www.westindenverboulder.com

The Draw Chef Ian Kleinman's futuristic flavors, textures, and presentations; kids love the s'mores cooked on the patio over a blazing bonfire.

The Drawback At times, salads can be overdressed and pastas oversauced; prices are steep, but Kleinman's innovation is worth it.

Don't Miss The weekend molecular tasting menus; s'mores; prime rib and short ribs; tableside liquid nitrogen sorbet.

Vegetarian Options Wood-roasted mushroom spinach manicotti with grilled onion Alfredo; grilled flatbread with tomato, roasted mushroom, artichoke, and goat cheese.

When the mist clears from our table, we see chef Ian Kleinman furiously mixing steaming liquid nitrogen, fresh Colorado peach purée, and a nice vintage Chardonnay in a silver bowl. Moments later, sorbet materializes before our eyes. We taste—and ooh and aah over—the creamy dessert, the tiny globes of Merlot "caviar," and the frozen thyme leaves that garnish the treat.

Clearly, this is no ordinary meal, and O's Steak & Seafood is no ordinary hotel restaurant. While O's is the culinary anchor point for the Westin Westminster, it also serves as the local ode to the wacky-sounding molecular gastronomy trend.

This increasingly popular cooking style (think space-age cookery where chefs eschew traditional technique in favor of extreme ingredients such as liquid nitrogen and xanthum gum) is gaining speed in cities around the world. Spanish chef Ferran Adrià of El Bulli restaurant in Catalonia, Spain, is largely credited with founding the trend, but within the last several years chefs such as Wylie Dufresne of WD-50 in New York and Grant Achatz of Alinea have made it a fixture on the American dining scene.

Local chefs have also dabbled with the high-science cooking, which employs the likes of Versawhip, agar, and activa to freeze, stabilize, thicken, congeal, foam, and adhere food in ways unimaginable with traditional methods. But none has been more dedicated than Denver chef Ian Kleinman.

Kleinman, who has been cooking professionally since 1994, has embraced this movement, and at O's he turns out mind-bending—and delicious—goodies such as balsamic foam, wine "caviar," and pomegranate essence. What makes him qualified to pull off such a complicated cuisine is not just his dedication to the science, but also the many years he's cooked on both the hot and cold sides of the kitchen. Born and raised in Breckenridge, Kleinman worked at fine dining venues in Summit County before attending culinary school and later cooking at the Tabor Center, Rattlesnake Grill, Hilltop Cafe, Indigo, and Emogene.

Now at O's, Kleinman (realizing not everyone is interested in molecular cooking) has crafted two menus—one with his cuisine and another with traditional steak-house offerings like certified Black Angus, a raw bar, Colorado lamb, chicken, pasta, and fresh fish. But even on the standard menu, Kleinman incorporates molecular techniques, such as meats slow-cooked with a sous vide thermal circulator, liquid nitrogen- frozen desserts, and sauces and gelées stabilized with new scientific procedures.

Satisfying dishes come from every part of the menu—and only rarely are there missteps, such as overdressed salads or oversauced pastas. Most dishes, like the lightly seasoned, seared Black Angus filet ($32) with black truffle potato purée, are cooked to perfection. Similarly, the sous vide-braised buffalo short ribs ($12) are cooked low and slow for 36 hours. Rich, almost caramel-like juices complement the meat, sautéed straw mushrooms, and a crispy patty of julienned sweet potato.

On the seafood side of the menu, the chilled seafood platter ($20 per person) impresses with massive Alaskan king crab, poached jumbo shrimp, tender littleneck clams, green-lipped mussels, a generous tail of steamed lobster, and oysters of the day. For dipping, a green-olive cocktail sauce, ponzu, and mojo jelly arrive nestled in the crushed ice.

But it's Kleinman's molecular tasting menus ($50-$75) that really dazzle. Although the offerings change weekly, an evening might include sweet-corn purée served in individual pipettes to be squeezed into the mouth and chased with pickled red jalapeño and bites of roasted lobster. Or, you might be served test tubes of contrasting elixirs offering the essence of sweet pomegranate, maple butternut squash, and ginger quince, followed by truffle-puffed wild rice, or finally beer-braised pork belly with cauliflower purée, elephant-garlic jam, and a dandelion reduction.

With so many dishes on the menu that beg for explanation, a well-trained waitstaff is essential to O's success. Veteran manager Patrick Kingston, formerly of Sushi Den, oversees the competent crew, and his team expertly pairs wines from the impressive list, as well as describes and explains the complex menu. Go where they guide you—when your server recommends ending dinner with the strange-sounding liquid nitrogen sorbet, you won't be disappointed with either the dessert or Kleinman's tableside show.

When the chef arrives tableside, ingredients in hand, it's easy to recognize his passion. As Kleinman works—mixing and transforming ordinary ingredients into something spectacular—he begins to talk. "What I enjoy most is how these new techniques put the mystery and romance back into dining," he says. "People are coming from Denver—even Aspen and Fort Collins—and they're amazed by these flavors and textures. When they can't guess the techniques...[it] turns the night into something really magical."

Whether you choose to dine on O's traditional dishes or the magic-inducing tasting menu, you'll likely leave impressed with chef Kleinman's skill. Clearly, this is a chef who understands cooking from the ground up. And if nothing else, Kleinman is bringing to Denver an intriguing trend that might just change your view of what's for dinner.