Eat & Drink

Review: Coohills

Coohills has the looks, the location, and the crowd, but the French-American menu underwhelms.

May 2012

Coohills, 1400 Wewatta St., 303-623-5700, coohills.com

The Draw A gorgeous, grown-up space in LoDo that shows just how sophisticated downtown dining has become. Its location alongside Cherry Creek alone is worth a visit.

The Drawback Though well designed, the menu is not well executed. Flavors and textures compete rather 
than complement each other. 

Don’t Miss The lively bar scene and innovative cocktail list, house-made pâté platter, rustic apple tart with cinnamon stick ice cream.

Price: $$$ (Average price per entrée: $24)

Oh my, but Coohills is good-looking.

Walking in the door of the LoDo restaurant for the first time, I found myself falling in love. Coohills is sexy, with its warm chocolate tones, crisp modern decor, wall-to-wall windows, and lively bar scene. It’s smart, with a well-designed menu of French-influenced dishes. It’s got the right pedigree: Chef Tom Coohill, 47, founded Ciboulette restaurant in Atlanta, which Esquire named a Top 25 restaurant in 1992. And Coohills’ hip, urban location next to a train trestle on Cherry Creek puts it at the epicenter of the blossoming LoDo dining scene. This was the one! I knew it! A place I’d be more than proud to introduce to my family.

But alas. Now that I’ve gotten to know the six-month-old Coohills better, now that we’ve shared meals together, the infatuation has worn off. Though I still think the space is smart and sexy, and though I still desperately want to love the restaurant, there’s something missing. It’s not chemistry; it’s a matter of taste. Which is mystifying. 

Tom Coohill has designed a thoughtful menu that combines seasonal ingredients with timeless preparations, such as sweet butternut squash stuffed inside agnolotti pasta shells, and carrot purée nestled against a juicy lamb porterhouse steak. His menu acknowledges the staples (duck confit, seared scallops), but he also pushes diners toward less-clichéd choices such as grilled octopus and whipped brandade. Plus, his lineup includes all-time favorites like coq au vin, braised beef short ribs, and grilled strip steak. I like this menu; it aims to please without pandering.

Furthermore, when you talk to Coohill you learn of the time and toil that goes into each dish. Coohill trained under Michelin three-star chefs and has extensive experience inside seriously French restaurants; in short, Coohill is devoted to multistep, multiburner cuisine. 

Consider his blue crab flan. On the plate, the dish—a circle of plump blue crab sitting in a pool of rich cream sauce and topped with micro-celery—looks relatively straightforward. Peek into the kitchen and you’ll find it’s anything but. For the appetizer, Coohill begins with rich scallops. Then he creates a white fish purée that is chilled and then sautéed, and then embellished with a long list of ingredients, including cream, wine, tarragon, and shallots. Then there’s reducing and the addition of more ingredients including Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce, and then, finally, ultimately, he folds in fresh crab. (For the purposes of space, I’m omitting several fancy details.)

It’s the same way with many—if not most—dishes on Coohills’ menu. The salt cod brandade is a four-day dance of soaking, cooking, cleaning, creaming, simmering, whipping, and mashing. The chicken liver pâté—a silky standout on the menu—is a two-day effort that is equally arduous and involves liver, onion, cream, eggs, brandy, onions, port Madeira, pork back fat, a chinois, and a water bath.

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