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For more information about how 5280‘s rating system works, read this post from critic Stacey Brugeman.
Beast & Bottle
719 E. 17th Ave.
A warm, New England–style farmhouse dining room; a knowledgeable waitstaff; an adventuresome wine list; beautiful plating
Some risky dishes have mixed results; service delays
Porchetta di testa; house-made pastas; sustainable fish; vegetable soufflés; unexpected and little-known grape varietals such as Spätburgunder
Entrées at brunch, $8 to $16; small plates at dinner, $4 to $14; entrées at dinner, $19 to $28. Small parking lot behind the restaurant. Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday beginning at 5 p.m. and for brunch Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations accepted.
Paul and Aileen Reilly have lived on the Front Range for a combined total of 20 years, but they grew up in Yorktown Heights, a Westchester County suburb of New York City. Together with a middle sibling, Erin, the brother-and-sister team behind Beast & Bottle used empty milk cartons to set up make-believe grocery stores in their backyard. They helped their mom shop for Hudson Valley–grown produce at the farmers’ market and followed her into the craft markets she frequented to furnish their home with touches of New England charm. But no matter how many errands they ran, they’d always be back in time for a homemade dinner. “It was never anything elaborate,” Paul remembers of their mother’s London broil and macaroni casseroles, “but it was honest food; it was scratch food. My friends would come over and my mother would feed all of them.”
It’s no wonder that, decades later, these East Coast siblings opened a suitably welcoming restaurant in Uptown. The dining room at the nine-month-old Beast & Bottle greets customers with mismatched chairs, unified by a coat of ivory paint, that look as if they were scavenged from Mrs. Reilly’s favorite antique stores. Black-and-white family photos hang from the columns dividing the dining and bar areas. Opaque jars made of milk glass hold a few seasonal blooms. A mirror on the back wall credits some 18 farms the restaurant works with.
But Beast & Bottle isn’t as simple as the wholesome Nantucket farmhouse vibe might suggest. It’s a place where, true to the restaurant’s name, Paul and chefs Wade Kirwan and James Rugile (who hail from Vesta Dipping Grill and the late Venue, respectively) might butcher a hog, a goat, two lambs, and countless guinea hens, ducks, grouper, and wild striped bass in a single week. “We get everything in whole and use as much as we can,” says Paul, who was the chef-owner at the late Encore on Colfax Avenue before opening Beast & Bottle.
This level of labor and care is obvious in many of the kitchen’s dishes. During recent visits I’ve eaten porchetta di testa (pig’s head) that was so impressively thin it was nearly translucent. Folds of delicate, house-made agnolotti came with precious carrot balls that were laboriously scooped with an eighth-inch melon baller. Pan-roasted Skuna Bay salmon was beautifully plated with a foamy emulsion of crème fraîche and smoked applewood stock—a nod to the fish’s smokehouse cousin. A salad of lolla rossa lettuce, plump dried cherries, candied pepitas, Haystack Mountain chèvre, and a white balsamic vinaigrette was noteworthy for its restrained simplicity. Steelhead trout—marinated in citrus, coriander seeds, and pickled mustard seeds—came topped with a generous heap of trout caviar from France. An exceptionally airy corn soufflé arrived along with the tender shoots of a sprouting popcorn plant.
There is no shortage of nuanced beverage pairings to accompany such thoughtful food: Aileen, the restaurant’s general manager, oversees one of my favorite wine programs in all of Denver. On a list that prudently mentions grape varietals at the beginning of each descriptor, Aileen and her team unapologetically offer lesser-known wines made from such grapes as Lambrusco, Aglianico, Furmint, and Counoise. She allows diners to explore the wine list by the glass, pot (nearly three glasses), or litro (a little more than five glasses) and is quick to offer a taste of anything you’re considering. There are also some 50 bottles on the list, grouped first by price then by color (pink, white, and red).
Aileen’s servers, who are coached nightly and tested with a written exam weekly, concisely introduce the restaurant’s mission, including the namesake nose-to-tail butchery program (which is refreshingly downplayed on a cleverly designed menu). They are quick to whip out their pens and notebooks to get accurate answers to your menu questions. Fresh, order-appropriate flatware is set down before each course. Tables are wiped clean with a damp cloth.
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.