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During a recent date night, my husband and I hit a Denver newbie that we’d not yet been to: Mercantile Dining & Provision. It was a dinner loaded with an impressive abundance of details that I won’t soon forget. Among them, the dried red chile snipped tableside to taste. Waiters have offered diners a few twists of black pepper for generations, why not do the same thing with Italy’s “crushed” red pepper?
Chefs Alex Seidel and Matt Vawter dry the hot red peppers in house. During dinner service, the wrinkled capsicums are sent out in a basket to add heat to pasta dishes such as a tagliatelle with pork and kale, gnocchi with lamb ragu and smoked mirepoix, and bucatini with squid and breadcrumbs. It’s an idea Seidel picked up in Philadelphia and it’s a no-brainer once you are introduced to the concept.
“I saw dried peppers being offered at a place I had dinner at with about 15 chefs in Philadelphia called Le Virtù,” Seidel recalls. “The pasta was very good and I thought their service of dried peppers was a nice touch.” I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t seen it done before until recently. “Working with pasta for a long time and dining at so many great Italian restaurants, I have never seen it done so fresh and intact,” Seidel says.
Here in Denver, Seidel and his team have gone to great lengths to perfect the idea. The Union Station eatery opened its doors in September, during the end of chile season. The duo tested a variety of peppers, including Mexican, Italian, and domestic varieties. “We dried a lot because we didn’t know what was going to work,” Seidel explains. Ultimately they ended up using Calabrian, gypsy, and red Fresno, with plans to grow some hot Italian varieties this summer.