(out of 4)
1109 Odgen St., 303-832-5788, www.potagerrestaurant.com
Old Favorites Potager's menu changes monthly, but its menu usually offers a delicious soufflé.
Must-try New Dishes Because of the restaurant's ever-changing menu, you'll always be eating fresh, seasonal cuisine.
Shortly after Potager opened in May 1997, 5280 critic Bill St. John dropped in to check it out. He found an urban restaurant busy with groups of friends and cultured diners enjoying simple, elegant meals made of local produce and top-of-the-line meats. This year Potager turns 12, but to much of Denver, the restaurant remains unknown. Teri Rippeto, Potager's chef-owner, has never been interested in media attention, and she rarely advertises. But among those who know Potager, serious compliments abound. Which left us to ask: If this restaurant is as good as its diners claim, shouldn't it be unveiled once again?
Danny Meyer, owner of New York City's acclaimed Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe, has a term for the kind of service he offers at his restaurants: "enlightened hospitality." Which means that if a diner accidentally knocks over a tray of glasses, Meyer's waitstaff quickly appears with a complimentary bottle of Champagne and a profuse apology. The diner must know the servers are on his side, because, according to Meyer, service is what makes a difference to modern- day diners.
Teri Rippeto and her staff at Potager adhere to the same philosophy. Upon entering, a host will show you to a table if one's available (Potager takes no reservations, so weekend waits are often inevitable) or to a tall seat at the concrete bar, where while you wait you can sip international wines, like the light Spanish Albariño ($5-$10) or dark French Roche-Audran Rhône ($4-$7). When you make it to a table, your server will encourage you to linger, as ours did, acknowledging that dining out is about enjoying your company. Throughout the evening your server will unobtrusively reappear, almost magically, whenever you need him to refill water, drop off courses, and offer dessert. Such service makes diners feel almost regal.
Potager's excellent service only magnifies the quality of its food. The restaurant staff takes such pleasure in serving its changing monthly menu, sourced at the Boulder farmers' market and local purveyors, that it's hard not to assume that pride upon eating it. Dipping deep-red beets into creamy Haystack Mountain goat cheese fondue ($12), or scooping up buttery lumps of lobster salad with sweet corn and edamame ($15), is the kind of refined eating you might enjoy at a farmhouse wedding. Silky soufflé ($15) and tender pork shoulder ($28), which appear with various garnishes throughout the year, are evidence of the quality craftsmanship that prevails in the Potager kitchen. In late summer, delicate crab and sweet corn were folded into the soufflé and the meaty pork shoulder sat atop cheddar cornbread.
But Potager is not fail-proof. While the kitchen prioritizes fresh, local ingredients, it does not always maximize the use of those products. A salad made of tender farm-fresh greens is a luxury, but arrived limp when served over a warm grouper fillet and an earthy Jerusalem artichoke sauce ($29). Another example: A roasted farm-raised chicken ($22.50) should awaken the senses with its buttery darker meat. But when the breaded crust and accompanying dressing-doused coleslaw do little to accent the meat, it's unlikely to impress. In these moments, when Potager's dishes taste thoughtless, the restaurant's high price tags feel stiff.
Potager's servers, though, usually smooth over these kitchen bumps. Boxing up the chicken and offering an affordable port flight ($10), they invite you to linger and enjoy the din of the busy restaurant, the buzz of the wine, and a moment of enlightened living.