Eat & Drink

Parallel Universe

The Kitchen Denver searches for its identity.

November 2012

The Kitchen Denver
1530 16th St.
303-623-3127
thekitchencommunity.com 

The Draw  An inviting and energetic modern space in the heart of LoDo; an unpretentious menu that emphasizes fresh, high-quality ingredients.

The Drawback  On busy nights, both the kitchen and waitstaff are easily overwhelmed.

Don’t Miss  Cold-smoked mussels, house-made merguez sausage, pan-roasted chicken, seasonal lamb loin.

Price  $$$ (Average price per entrée: $23) 

Food - 2 1/2 stars

Service - 1 1/2 stars

Ambience - 3 stars 

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Write the word “kitchen” on a flip chart, ask a group of adults to free-associate, and you’ll likely hear words like “dinner,” “nourishment,” “gathering place,” and, of course, “mom.” It’s a simple word, “kitchen,” and it nicely captures the welcoming spirit of the Kitchen Community, a group of restaurants that began in 2004 with the Kitchen in Boulder and this spring added a fourth restaurant, the Kitchen Denver, in LoDo.

Just as a kitchen is the central gathering place in a home, the Kitchen restaurants aim to be gathering places in the community. There are community tables and community dinner nights, as well as early lunch and later evening hours. The implied message: “Come on in, get to know us…and each other.” This approach has succeeded in the three small Boulder restaurants, where the intimate space makes you feel like you’re part of the inner circle. That’s not the case in Denver, at least not yet.

The new Kitchen is much larger than its Boulder progenitor—almost 200 seats to Boulder’s 75. There are more tailored jackets, more diners setting phone alarms to make that meeting after lunch, and they are spread across an expansive bi-level, three-roomed space on the kinetic corner of 16th and Wazee streets. The vibe? Urban. The decor? Restoration chic—black oak floors, white walls, original brick, groovy-cool light fixtures. The upshot? While the Kitchen Denver shares a name with its Boulder counterparts, it’s an entirely different restaurant.

Yes, the emphasis on approachable dishes such as pasta, roasted chicken, and rib-eye remains, as does the commitment to seasonal ingredients and high-quality vendors. But the cozy familiarity, the feeling that you are in on a secret, did not survive the commute.

Given the size, it’s no wonder. Large restaurants place great demands on both the kitchen and the staff. One lug of fresh produce becomes three; three servers become nine; timing issues multiply; training issues escalate. More bodies waiting on more tables mean more opportunities for things to go wrong. And at the Kitchen Denver, they do.

You’ll arrive thirsty after work, order a cocktail, and wait an interminable amount of time for it to appear. You’ll choose salmon on the recommendation of your server, it will taste fishy, and you’ll send it back. You’ll eagerly order the burrata and peach bruschetta because it’s peach season and there’s nothing that compares to the drippy sweetness of a ripe Palisade. But the fruit that arrives will be tart and crunchy.

The list goes on. You’ll wonder why the candied pecans aren’t sweet, why the spicy greens aren’t spicy, why the strawberries in the chantilly are hard, and you’ll be searching for your server throughout your meal. He’ll be slow to take your order, slower to ask about dessert, and by the time you’re ready for the check, he will have vanished entirely, turning what should have been a pleasant two-hour meal into a three-hour ordeal.

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