If you’re a Denverite with the resources, time, and love interest (or lovely friends) willing to venture out for an indoor dining experience, make a reservation for yourselves at Wildflower, the new-again restaurant in the lobby of the Life House hotel on Navajo Street in LoHi.
It’s new again because Wildflower first opened its doors in November—and remained open for nine whole days. Then, thanks to Level Red dining restrictions, the restaurant had to close down and resort to take-out service only. But that was then. Almost three months later, Wildflower is back, welcoming guests for breakfasts and dinners in its beautiful lounge and dining room. (You can take meals to go, but the menu is more high-end now than the pizza and sandwiches Wildflower served last year. More on that in a moment.)
The Life House hotel building is contemporary, but the restaurant decor inside Wildflower is decidedly not, instead embracing the eponymous theme that’s woven throughout the space. Jewel-toned velvet banquettes and leather love seats are flanked by heavy draperies and floral upholstered chairs. Framed artwork of wildflowers, cacti, and horses adorn the hand-painted wallpaper, which was created by Life House designer Lei Xing and which depicts a snowy Western landscape. Xing also created the whimsical mountain-and-flower mural that spans the patio wall running alongside the dining room.
General manager Oren Cohen, a former co-owner of There restaurant (located just down the street from Wildflower until its pandemic closure in March 2020), has brought his hospitality expertise to bear at the new hotel and restaurant, lavishing guests with just about anything their hearts desire; leather-bound journals and aromatherapy treatments await you in your room at check-in, while fresh edible flower garnishes, packed separately, come with bottled to-go cocktails should you not be staying in one of Life House’s 17 rooms. (Several of the rooms have full-size luxe bunks, and all the beds are made up with Revival Egyptian cotton linens, so expect to be tempted when Cohen recommends a nightcap and a slumber party after dinner.)
Whether you stay over or not, definitely plan on cocktails at Wildflower—even if you choose not to drink alcohol. There are three thoughtful zero-proof options and they’re no cranberry-juice-and-soda throwaways, either. The JR, for instance, made up of fresh lemon and orange juices, muddled green cardamom, demerara syrup, two kinds of bitters, soda water, and Ghia, a nonalcoholic aperitivo, is complex, aromatic, and refreshing. On the boozier side of the beverage program, lead bartender Jacob Berndt, formerly of There, is slinging modern cocktails ($13 to $16) with high-end ingredients, such as black lime and prickly pear in the margarita and mezcal and Montenegro amaro in the restaurant’s take on a negroni, called, naturally, the Wildflower.
The wines at Wildflower are natural and all of the beers are brewed in Colorado. You’ll also see a unique section on the drink menu: Centennial State mead, or honey wine. Dragon Meadery in Aurora, Denver’s Queen Bee Brews, Honnibrook Meadery out of Castle Rock, and Annapurna Meadery in Colorado Springs are all included on the winter menu, offering a range of styles from mead flavored with green chiles or apple cider to botanical infusions like Dragon Meadery’s semi-sweet chamomile mead warmed with a hint of bourbon vanilla bean. You’ll find mead in the Gimme Thyme cocktail, as well, where it balances nicely with a scotch wash, Spring 44 Distilling gin, wildflower honey, fresh thyme, and lemon.
Last but not least, go to Wildflower for a taste of executive chef William Harris’ creative cooking. A native of Coronado, California, who has worked in high-end kitchens in New York City as well as at Denver’s True Food Kitchen, Bistro Barbés, and, most recently, Linger, Harris is up to something unexpected in the Wildflower kitchen. Calling on as many local ingredients and producers as he can and sprinkling in Mexican and Italian techniques and flavors as homage to the original residents of LoHi, he has created a vegetable-forward, root-to-tip menu of mainly shareable small plates, each one more intriguing than the next.
Take the fluffy house focaccia, which is almost upstaged by the juicy sun-dried Colorado tomatoes and edible flowers on top; it comes with a silky-smooth garlic “whip” for dipping. Or consider the ethereal potato croquettes, four to an order, made from roasted Boulder-grown potatoes that Harris mashes finely, mixes into a pâte à choux dough, flavors with garlic confit oil, and fries in local sunflower oil. Garnished with a dab of Harris’ four-day black garlic mole and thin slices of pickled celery, the croquettes are delicately crispy on the outside and cloudlike within; they’re easy to share, too, but you won’t want to.
Goat cheese and rutabaga tortellini are equally delicious, filled with Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy First Snow cheese and sitting in a bowl of dark, deep mushroom-and-caramelized-onion broth based on the shiitakes that farmer Tom Bailey grows in Fort Lupton at Eukarya Farm. But the shining star of an early tasting had to be the smoked sweet potato dish, described as such: “Chipotle, Chamomile, Pine, Goat Butter, Honey, Coriander, Pine Nuts.” Translation: A red garnet yam is roasted with chamomile and honey, then cooled and left to air-dry in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, the yam is smoked over local pine needles, and finally, sliced and seared in a screaming-hot cast iron skillet to caramelize around the edges. More honey and chamomile, as well as powdered goat butter, chipotle powder, pine nuts, fresh herbs, and a dusting of toasted coriander finish the dish, which has a melting texture and rich, sweet, smokey, savory, and earthy notes all at once. It’s an indication of Harris’ drive to coax the most from his ingredients, and it will be tasty date-night fun to see how he furthers that ambition when Colorado-grown fresh fare hits markets this spring and summer.
Wildflower is open Tuesday through Saturday, 4:30 to 10 p.m.; 3638 Navajo St., 720-706-6615