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A view of Beckon (left) and Call. Photo by Matt Nager

Restaurant Review: Call and Beckon

These two, side-by-side tiny house restaurants in RiNo fit well together, signaling an exciting Scandinavian phase for Denver's dining scene.

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Call

3 Stars

The Draw:
Inventive Scandinavian-inspired food and drink in a casual space.
The Drawback:
Dinner service is limited.
Noise Level:
Minimal.
Don’t Miss:
Nonalcoholic drinks, tartines, the pork-and-egg sandwich.

Beckon

2.5 Stars

The Draw:
Chef’s counter tasting menu with superb wine matches.
The Drawback:
Some dishes fall short of the promise of the room.
Noise Level:
Moderate.
Don’t Miss:
The wine pairings.

Beckon and Call sit beside each other on Larimer Street like little peak-roofed, modernist cottages parachuted in from Copenhagen. The white one, Call, feels more open to the world—there’s a patio out front—and serves midday foods, along with liquid concoctions both alcoholic and virgin. Beckon, painted a grayish khaki hue, is a bit closed-off and mysterious: a reserved, fine-dining yang to Call’s cheery, counter-service yin. This review will consider the merits of both, because they are two parts of an intriguing whole.

When Call opened in late 2017, it gained quick praise for the particularity of its daytime menu of toasts, tartines, salads, shrubs, espresso drinks, and cocktails. (It also toyed with a Scandinavian tapaslike evening menu that failed to lure in p.m. diners before retreating to focus on its early day offerings only.) But Call is far more than another knock-off lunch spot. The food tastes chef-driven because it is: Executive chef Duncan Holmes had worked at the meticulous Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, as had Call’s director of experience, Allison Anderson. A simple fried egg sandwich at Call, for example, features house-smoked pork, a soft brioche bun, gooey egg, and lemony arugula to cut through the richness. It is, surely, one of the best fried egg sandwiches in the city.

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Executive cheff Duncan Holmes. Photo by Matt Nager

Anderson, Holmes, and their team have given the little restaurant a playful feel that manages to be both crisp and relaxed at the same time. Call quickly became one of the most propitious places in Denver for day drinking, with a “happy hour” that started at noon and ended when the joint closed at 2 p.m. The bright attack of the room’s design was—and remains—a delight. There are reddish-orange chairs and an in-counter Mavam espresso machine painted the same color; Boos Block maple tables; a digitally projected menu; and playful typography throughout the restaurant. There’s something refreshingly unhip going on at Call—a happy warmth that is, one hopes, the new cool.

Call recently returned to serving a few snacks at night, and most of its food remains dead simple and well made, like a chicken and brown rice soup with a fine mirepoix and meaty stock that warmed me on a chilly afternoon a few months back. Others have more complicated constructions. A carrot tartine, for instance—piled high with rainbow carrot ribbons, Burrata blobs, assorted herbs, a Yemeni spice mix, and an orange purée of carrot and ginger—looked as fancy as an Easter bonnet but was straightforwardly delicious.

Call’s egg sandwich and turmeric tonic. Photo by Matt Nager

I particularly like Call’s nonalcoholic drinks, which can range from a tangerine plum shrub one day to a pineapple-orange spritz another, both vibrant, fresh, and of brilliant hue—what mocktails should aspire to. The cheery staff also pulls an impressive espresso shot.

Beckon opened almost a year after Call, featuring a chef’s counter approach and a design that will wow you. Upon entering the house, you’re welcomed in a small anteroom where staff, on my two visits, were furiously polishing wine glasses. Beyond that is the dining sanctum, a Scandi-vibe space dominated by a squared off, horseshoe-shaped counter surrounded by 18 tall chairs. The room is dramatic yet cozy, with a vaulted ceiling and walls that transition from black to white through a stippled effect.

To gain entry to the Holmes dinner show, you pay through Tock’s online ticket system, like reserving seats for a play. It’s a first for Denver, which came late to this sort of performative prix fixe cooking, in which diners face food makers and the stakes are high for both. The chef promises an intricate ritual that demands expensive ingredients and huge amounts of advance prep. The diner commits to a long meal that, when things go awry, can feel like an endless, absurdist culinary frog-march.

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The good news is that Holmes approaches the tasting counter ceremony relatively modestly: only eight or nine courses intended to last 2.5 hours and priced, as of press time, at $115, mocktail matchups included. For another $65, you can swap the mocktails for course-by-course wine pairings, while $95 buys premium reserve pairings from older vintages.

The menus have hippie-dippie lunar names that change monthly. But don’t consult Beckon’s website for clues about what you will be eating. In May, the only explanation of the Flower Moon menu began like so: “Spring comes to full climax in May, offering just the beginning of what Colorado does best.” Perhaps friends shouldn’t let friends wax poetic.

Langoustines in sauce Américaine at Beckon. Photo by Matt Nager

My first meal at Beckon began, after a few snacks, with Scottish langoustines: perfect bits of sea candy under a foamed sauce Américaine that had exactly the concentrated, lobster-shell flavor one wants. There were little potatoes, too, cooked to ideal tenderness. Sommelier Zachary Byers chose a laser-sharp, dry Chenin Blanc by biodynamic Loire winemaker Thibaud Boudignon to go with the seafood, and the flavors worked perfectly.

And so it went, with small servings of well-considered food served on interesting, locally made stoneware, paired with unexpected wines that highlighted good work from small producers. A fillet of Boston mackerel, perfectly fresh, came with shaved fennel and a clam vinaigrette that added more briny sea notes to the fish. With it, Byers poured a dry Riesling from Rebholz, an organic producer in the Pfalz region of Germany, that was all mineral fruit and tongue-pricking acidity. Sweetbreads seem to be having a moment in the Mile High City, and the ones served as the next course—seared, with crunchy, pickled sunchoke shavings and a brown-butter sauce—were the best of a recent spate, with a crisp exterior and a soft, just-right interior. I’d argue that the sauce, which involved pear, was too fruity and the meat a bit too salty, but Byers’ choice of a Pinot Noir from New York’s Forge Cellars overcame my quibbling; it did its own Pinot thing without mimicking Oregon fruit or California heft.

A chicory salad was the mid-meal highlight. Leaves of supple radicchio sat on a coffee-roasted celery root cream, which indeed tasted of roasted grounds, with “vadouvan,” a French mixture of Indian curry spices. Here were layers of bitterness without remorse, and I loved it.

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The meal proceeded pleasantly through a dish of duck with spring garlic and turnips served with a biodynamic red blend from Domaine Léon Barral in Languedoc, but then we reached a course of venison. I often find that the red meat dish is the weak link in tasting menus, and so it was on that evening. Thick discs, cut from the loin, were unpleasantly raw without a trace of gamey interest. Lingonberries in the mix felt too obvious.

Seared sweetbreads from Beckon. Photo by Matt Nager

Dessert began with honeyed ice cream that had an Earl Grey perfume and sherbet-y chewiness, over which a self-described bergamot consommé was poured until the dish resembled what my friend called, as praise, a “country fair slush float.” There was a delicate, milky, white chocolate Bavarian cream, too, with ultra-smooth beet ice cream, which unfortunately reminded me why I prefer my beets roasted.

Both nights I dined at Beckon, every seat was filled, the mood was merry, and the noise level was civilized. Service was generally deft, though the layout of the room requires glassware changeups and pourings from behind, and the tempo of those felt rushed. (I should disclose, as I always do when anonymity fails, that I knew one of the wine glass polishers.)

If there was a disappointment, it was simply that most dishes at Beckon did not achieve the exquisite self-actualization to which tasting menus aspire. The tricky effect one wants is a series of small revelations concerning the essential nature of the thing being served, a sequence of perfect miniatures that avoids the twee. Holmes isn’t tempted by fussiness, but he needs to deliver more wonder.

Finally, when I returned the following month for a menu called the Crow Moon, I was served many of the same dishes and some of the same wines. Mushy skate was swapped in for mackerel, but the fish was dressed again with clam vinaigrette and fennel. The duck was about as good as the first time, but bits of orange in the chicory salad were Del Monte bland at a time when extravagant, intense Sumos were piled high in area grocery stores. A morel was soggy. These were not minor misfires, because Beckon, with its theatrical setting and obvious ambition, begs for national comparisons. Its website promises a “unique culinary journey” at every meal, and I didn’t get that.

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Nonetheless, taken as a pair, Call and Beckon are both impressive. Call punches well above its counter-service weight, and Beckon provides an experience you won’t find elsewhere. Both are low on pomp, fair in price, well designed, inventive with drinks, and friendly. The dinnertime show in the cottage on the left simply needs a bit more dazzle.

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