Grilled octopus graces many Denver restaurant menus these days. And while the trendy dish can be forgettable, not so at downtown’s Panzano, where new executive chef Nicolas Lebas recently debuted the “polpo carbonizzato” on his winter dinner menu.

French-born Lebas, who’s previously spent time at the Kimpton Hotel’s Zamora in St. Petersburg Beach and the Waldof Astoria’s Bull and Bear restaurant in Orlando, came to the Hotel Monaco’s 20-year-old restaurant three months ago. He’s brought several crowd-pleasing dishes to town, including a beef tenderloin carpaccio enlivened with pickled mustard seeds and a house-fermented black garlic aïoli, as well as Colorado lamb chops with a silken cauliflower purée and herby fennel sauce. But it was that octopus that most captivated me at a recent tasting.

Lebas first sous vides the cephalopod to just-right tenderness before shellacking it with olive oil and throwing it on the grill, where it picks up a hint of smoky char. The almost creamy tentacles are then plated with acid-forward pickled giardinera, eggplant caponata, and a drizzle of aged balsamic glaze. Garnished with colorful edible flowers, it’s the sort of winter dish that manages to comfort without feeling heavy. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do with our local bounty come springtime.

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Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin is a writer living in Westminster, and has been covering food and sustainability in the Centennial State for more than five years.