Eat & Drink

Imperfectly Appealing

Amerigo Delicatus, Iain Chisholm’s tiny Ballpark restaurant, serves controlled chaos—and does it well.

June 2013

Amerigo Delicatus
Restaurant & Market
2449 Larimer St.
amerigodelicatus.com
303-862-9850
2 1/2 stars

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The Draw
A casual, inexpensive Italian restaurant that serves an ever-changing lineup of high-quality, handcrafted dishes.
The Drawback
The small space fills quickly, and when it does, it takes on an air of barely managed chaos.
Don’t Miss
Goat cheese with basil pesto, house-made ricotta, linguine with Italian sausage, gnocchi, beef cheeks
Price
$$ (Average entrée $14)

Food: 3 stars
Service: 3 stars
Ambience: 2 1/2 stars

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I have a friend who entertains often, but you’d never know it. She opens the door, hair half-combed, and before saying hello she’s asking if you know how to open a wine bottle without a corkscrew because even though she has about a dozen she can’t seem to find any of them. There are never enough chairs for the dining table. Dinner always takes longer than expected. And there’s always one dish, if not several, in which the seasoning is not quite right.

And yet, I’m always eager to be invited back. Even if the meal isn’t memorable, even if we eat while standing, I always feel like I’m part of something special.

Dining at Amerigo Delicatus Restaurant & Market is a lot like dining at my friend’s house. The restaurant is as inviting as it is imperfect. Meals are fulfilling but occasionally vexing. On busy nights, you’ll have to stand, awkwardly, by the door while waiting for a table that will take longer to open up than anyone predicted. But the host—Anna Chisholm, who co-owns the restaurant with her chef-husband, Iain—will look you in the eye and make you feel so welcome that no matter how hungry you are, you’ll find yourself reassuring her that the wait is no problem, no problem at all.

And you’ll mean it.

The Chisholms opened Amerigo this past August with a vision to create what Iain calls a “real” restaurant built on quality ingredients, humble dishes, and—as cliché as it sounds—family love. After several visits, I’d say they’ve largely succeeded.

Despite being located on a dark, underdeveloped stretch of north Larimer (although, not for long; the neighborhood appears to be on the cusp of explosive growth), despite its small size—just 42 cramped seats—and despite its clunky name, Amerigo has gotten the attention of the dining public. (In addition to other local accolades, the restaurant landed on our best new restaurants list in March.)

A big part of Amerigo’s draw is the nurturing, insider-y, dinner-party feeling it offers. Sure, you may have to wait for a table, but like waiting for a meal at my friend’s house, you know the host is glad you’re there. The restaurant’s casual vibe and mixed twentysomething-to-empty-nester crowd also lend a friendly, let’s-invite-all-the-neighbors feel.

Another part of the attraction: You won’t feel taken advantage of. At Amerigo, you can order several antipasto selections (say, Burrata, pulled pork, and balsamic tomatoes), a couple of salads, and two hearty entrées and, if you skip the wine, get out for less than 50 bucks. But the food isn’t typical of cheap eats. Offerings include house-made cheeses, seasonal produce, and some of the best-cooked pasta in Denver.
The menu is built around an ever-changing lineup of four entrées. Always—as a result of diner demand—you’ll find linguine made from silky fresh egg pasta and topped with a generous mound of crumbly sweet-hot Italian pork sausage. The dish is fulfilling but simple. You can taste the fennel in the sausage, smell the garlic in the sauce, detect the sweetness of the fresh tomato base—but the overall effect is one of clean, straightforward flavor. This is comfort.

Other entrées, all of which have been inspired by traditional Italian fare, might include tender gnocchi that have been browned in butter; tossed with rosemary-roasted Brussels sprouts, bitter rapini greens, sweet red onions, and toasted walnuts; and topped with a flat triangle of shaved pecorino. The seasonal dish is visually interesting thanks to the contrasting colors, texturally satisfying due to the various layers of crunch and chew, and fragrantly seductive with the enticing aroma of butter and rosemary.

Polenta is also a frequent visitor to Amerigo’s menu—often as support for some type of meat, such as succulent beef cheeks braised in red wine with porcini. Save this dish for the next rainy night—it’s warm and comforting and just rich enough to demand a bottle of reserve Chianti.

Iain’s best dishes are those in which the ingredients work together like guests at a dinner party. Collectively they create a lively synergy, but each maintains its own distinct personality. In the pork loin with herbs, for example, you’ll taste the savory meat (although it was a bit dry and overcooked the night I ordered it), the sautéed herbs, the porcini and cremini, and the slightly firm garbanzo beans. Less successful are dishes such as the seafood lasagna, where the layers of pasta, cream sauce, seafood, and cheese are too rich to complement one another. Rather than working in unison, each ingredient vies for attention.

One of the most attractive aspects of Amerigo is how easy it is to create a fulfilling, inexpensive meal from the antipasto list alone. On a typical night, you’ll have your choice of about 14 appetizers, priced at just two bucks a pop. My favorite—one I’ve ordered every visit—is the tangy goat cheese topped with an herby basil pesto and pine nuts. The tender, braised pulled pork, shiny house-made Burrata, and crunchy house-pickled vegetables are also perfectly executed.

This small-plate lineup, along with an accessible if slightly lackluster wine list, makes Amerigo a perfect spot to dine midweek, before the theater or after a ball game. These are also the best times to visit because 7 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night is when the wheels come off. During prime time, silverware is often forgotten, salads arrive underdressed, and—because the space lacks a separate bar or waiting area—diners gather near the front door, creating a small, desperate crowd of hopefuls waiting for tables to open up. If you’re already seated, their pleading eyes make it difficult to relax. If you’re the one standing, you’ll wonder what’s taking so long.

So yes, dining here, especially on weekends, can be somewhat maddening. But knowing all of this in advance will improve the odds you’ll enjoy yourself. I go to my friend’s house knowing I’m in for a night of controlled chaos, thus reducing my expectations and enhancing my enjoyment. The same is true at Amerigo Delicatus. Go expecting imperfection, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.