Review: Linger

With Linger, Justin Cucci fills a niche Denver didn’t know it was missing.

December 2011

All of this is merely set design, however. Linger’s star attraction is the menu of global street food organized by roadway and region. Listed on the menu below Karakoram Highway (the high-elevation road that links China and Pakistan) are Asian dishes such as pad thai and Korean pork. Under Avenue of the Americas (the busy Manhattan thoroughfare) is a cross-section of North and South American favorites, including tacos and sliders. The Bhendi Bazaar (a popular market in South Mumbai) features samosas and other Indian selections. Don’t think you need to stick to one region; part of the fun is mixing and matching regional flavors.

Topping my list of favorites are the Mongolian barbecue duck buns. In them, shredded duck and pickled cucumbers are nestled inside a fat, steamed bun made almost buttery thanks to the addition of tahini. A close second is the carrot and lentil kofte—three crispy chickpea-and-cashew falafels served with slices of pickled shiitakes and tomato, and eaten inside butter lettuce wraps with creamy lemon-tahini yogurt. Turkish chile injects the dish with a fair amount of heat, but the spice is easily tamed by the yogurt.

Cucci and his team of chefs, including operations chef Daniel Asher, are hardly purists where street food is concerned. Although each dish respects regional ingredients, the creations themselves fall on a continuum from authentic to ersatz.

The masala dosa and bhel puri, both from India, lie on the more traditional end of the spectrum. The dosas are large rice and lentil crêpes filled with Brussels sprouts and masala potatoes that have been spiced with cumin, black mustard seed, and green chile. Cucci serves the dish with two chutneys: a sweet tamarind-date and a complex coconut. The bhel puri, a warm and crunchy salad of puffed rice, lentil noodles, chickpeas, cashews, and tomatoes, provides the perfect spicy-sweet accompaniment. Both dishes showcase the elegant alchemy of flavors Indian cuisine is known for.

No less traditional, but not quite as successful, were the Vietnamese goi bo (a spicy beef salad) and Korean barbecue pork. In the goi bo, the salad was overdressed with pungent fish sauce but the beef was under-seasoned. On the other hand, the Korean barbecue pork was well-cooked and succulent but suffered from too much Chinese five-spice powder.

Linger’s menu also includes genre-bending, nontraditional dishes such as saag paneer fries, an innovative take on the traditional Indian spinach dish. In this version, paneer cheese is cut into thick (perhaps too thick), french-fry-like planks, coated with spices, and fried. It’s served atop spinach purée with a side of sweet-and-sour rhubarb ketchup. The dish is certainly creative, but the fried, tofulike cheese was dry and tasteless. The whole combination felt a little off—as if paneer isn’t the right vehicle for fries, after all.

If you’re unfamiliar with items on the menu—and you likely will be—ask for advice. Every time I’ve dined at Linger, the servers have offered reliable answers to my questions. Plus, there is an army of them. One night, no less than six members of the waitstaff visited my table, and the coordination between them was seamless. After a while, I forgot who my main server was, but it didn’t matter.

If anything, Linger’s steady-but-unobtrusive march of servers allowed me to focus more fully on the overall experience, from the setting sun reflecting off the glass towers downtown and the large photo of a hearse above the open kitchen to the water served from brown glass laboratory bottles. No matter what mood you arrive in, these details and other subtle attention-grabbers will revive your spirit—something the building’s original inhabitants would likely have approved of.