Brother and sister Paul and Aileen Reilly go back to their roots with Beast & Bottle.
Because of these many strengths, Beast & Bottle isn’t just an excellent choice for an informal Tuesday night dinner; it’s also a restaurant where I took a Colorado native who was home between jobs at Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry and Per Se restaurants. It’s a place where a discerning co-worker celebrated a wedding anniversary. While the spot is in many ways worthy of such important meals, there are also a few things the Reilly siblings can work on to live up to the expectations that come with special-occasion dining.
On one visit, a rich duck liver mousse overpowered fried green tomatoes that the menu suggested would be the star flavor. A dish of basil-seared quail set between black quinoa and grilled kale was disjointed. It came with a wedge of Valdeon cheese (a salty, Spanish blue) on the side of the plate. My date and I were unsure if we should add it to each bite or save it as a cheese “course” after we finished the rest of the dish. At brunch, strands of braised pork shoulder were tender but not overworked, and eggs from the restaurant’s flock of Rhode Island Reds were expertly sunny-side up. However, off-season corn kernels weren’t sweet enough to be served raw, and a house-fried tostada was too grocery-store crisp for a dish without enough moisture to soften it. And even on a scorching summer day, when Colorado cherries, peaches, and melon were all in season, a list of brunch sides didn’t include fresh fruit. At all meals, desserts looked as beautiful as the savory selections, but several revealed elementary mistakes. Too much ginger overwhelmed a rhubarb-custard tart. An ice cream sandwich was so hard we joked that we might chip a tooth. A doughnut hole served in a pleasantly bitter espresso cream was dry and dense, almost as if it were stale.
For pairings, it’s best to stick to the wine list. Cocktails—with the exception of a Bloody Mary made from vodka infused with fiery habaneros for far too long—were forgettable. Spritzers and a list of six mules are effectively executed, but this isn’t a location where you are going to find raw-egg flips and the latest mixology trends.
Although the waitstaff’s knowledge of all beverages and dishes was most often spot-on, there was one glaring exception to the service: noticeably awkward delays. On each of my visits there was a lengthy wait between our appetizers and entrées and more frustrating holdups when it came time to get the bill. There is no reason to hold customers hostage at the end of their meal. Both siblings told me they are having a lot of fun (Paul with his “brothers” in the kitchen, and Aileen “throwing a great dinner party every night”). Such an energy should enhance the vibe of a restaurant, not become a source of distracted service.
Despite these easy-to-fix glitches, there is much that Beast & Bottle is getting right. But I get the impression that the Reilly siblings won’t settle for good enough. Paul and Aileen’s idyllic childhood didn’t just inspire a welcoming restaurant. It produced a duo with the courage to put a map of Denver in their restaurant’s dining room alongside those of New York City, Los Angeles, and Lyon, France. The Reillys have the quiet moxie to plaster menus from DBGB Kitchen and Bar, the Breslin, Redd, and other restaurants from some of the country’s most esteemed chefs on Beast & Bottle’s bathroom walls. Paul was driven enough to attend the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center)—the school where Bobby Flay, David Chang, Dan Barber, and Wylie Dufresne trained. And the Denver chef is so talented that he nabbed one of just eight worldwide spots in the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious Jean-Louis Palladin professional work/study grant program to train in sustainable fishing and butchery. I am confident the Rockwellian upbringing that shaped such a dynamic pair will inspire the Reillys to relentlessly polish and hone the Beast & Bottle experience until it becomes one of Denver’s most impressive restaurants.