Bistro One
out of 4
1294 S. Broadway, 720-974-0602

The Draw Friendly atmosphere, attentive servers, and a menu that goes above and beyond traditional bistro fare.
The Drawback Some dishes reach too far and overwhelm with their richness.
Don’t Miss Black mussels, smoked elk carpaccio, smoked salmon frisée, steak frites.
Vegeterian Options Sweet greens salad.

In a perfect world, I would leave all my insecurities at home. It wouldn’t matter if I arrived at a restaurant wearing flip-flops only to discover other women in stilettos. If I mispronounced “mignonette” it would be gracefully overlooked. And if I couldn’t afford the dish I really wanted, well, I’d happily choose a less expensive entrée.

Alas. Dining, like everything in life, reflects the best and worst parts of ourselves right back at us. Understand the wine list? Score 10 for worldly sophistication. Don’t know a Côtes du Rhône from a coat rack? Deduct eight, you silly American.

Savvy restaurateurs get this. They understand that diners are not just looking for a fulfilling meal, but also a psychological booster shot that elevates—if only for a night—one’s place in the world.

Chef Olav Peterson, along with owner Alex Waters, are two of these savvy professionals. With Bistro One, the duo has created a restaurant where beach sandals and high heels can coexist, where the menu has something for both the timid and the adventurous, and where penny-pinchers and fat cats are equally rewarded.

When I arrived on a Saturday night at 7 p.m., the place was already in hyper-drive with a democratic mix of patrons. Urban hipsters with straight black bangs sipped cold ones at the long bar. A table of four middle-aged women fluttered around a chocolate mousse. Two older men, one in denim overalls, swirled snifters of after-dinner something or others. Restaurants don’t draw such a mixed crowd unless they’ve assembled the pieces in such a way that diners leave feeling pretty darn happy.

So, what are those pieces and how do they work at Bistro One?

First, there’s the unassuming American bistro environment. Here, there are no precious lace curtains, no cliché lineup of daily specials on a nearby chalkboard. Instead, the restaurant sports modern horizontal lines with espresso wood tables, shiny white dinnerware, and oversize chocolate booths.

Second is the there-when-you-need-them waitstaff, all of whom seem to enjoy the process of ordering as much as you do. “The braised short rib?” asked my waiter. “Excellent! You will love that dish.” Next up is the accessible beverage selection. The wine list is short and simple, and ranges from a $6 happy-hour pour of Round Hill Cabernet to a $45 half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot. And if you’re feeling a little fancy, Bistro One offers a changing menu of specialty cocktails. I heartily recommend the Fleur-de-Lis, an icy swirl of vodka, St. Germain liqueur, and fresh red grapefruit juice—a drink so refreshing I’ve been tempted to list its ingredients on my e-mail signature.

Finally, there’s the food.

In launching Bistro One, Peterson and Waters aimed to take the fine-dining background Peterson acquired at Euro in Cherry Creek and 1515 downtown, and offer it at bistro-style prices. Five dollars buys you a caramelized French onion soup hidden beneath a thick layer of molten Jarlsberg; six bucks buys a white tureen of mussels clumped together in a buttery white wine broth; and a splurge of $18 buys the classic steak frites, a tender flatiron served with drippy tarragon butter and a tumble of skin-on pommes frites.

Aiming for balance, Peterson also lined his menu with inventive dishes that bring tastes and textures together in surprising ways. After several visits, I can report that Peterson has succeeded…mostly.

When his taste-and-texture combos work, they’ll have you high-fiving your dining companions for making such stellar selections. Among the standouts: the smoked elk carpaccio appetizer ($9), in which paper-thin rounds of house-smoked elk are presented with slices of sautéed red onion, shaved bits of tangy Grana Padano, and tiny cubes of garlicky croutons, all stitched together with a thread of sweet balsamic vinegar. Another winner is the salmon frisée salad ($7), a bed of frilly lettuce topped with salty lardons, smoky salmon, a sharp mustard vinaigrette, and one perfectly poached egg.

As it turns out, all my favorite dishes are starters—from the sinfully gooey crawfish mac and cheese ($7) to the sweet greens salad with strawberries, goat cheese, and candied almonds ($5)—and that’s because of the full flavor range Peterson embeds in each one. But while appetizers, soups, and salads are usually designed to rev up the palate, at Bistro One they also risk, due to the high satisfaction factor, in shutting the taste buds down.

Each visit, by the time the entrées arrived, I was eager for more but frequently dissatisfied. The crispy grilled monkfish ($24), which combines an earthy mushroom risotto with lobster sauce, was magnificently complex and layered—so much so that I had to put down my fork and beg for mercy halfway through. The maple leaf duck ($18) paired a tender breast with an eye-rolling confit—which would have sufficed. But Peterson then battered and deep-fried the confit, adding an unnecessary layer of fat and crackle. And I actually felt sorry for the blackened bass ($19), whose mild, sweet flavor was obliterated by spicy seasoning.

None of these are deal-breakers, however. The assortment of entrées on the seasonal menu is sufficiently broad to satisfy a fickle range of tastes. One lighter, more balanced standout: the ruby red trout ($16), served atop a subtle cucumber-mint tabbouleh and surrounded by delicate grapefruit broth. Besides, even a dish that overwhelms can be tamed by dessert. I give high marks to the lemon olive oil cake ($5) topped with a smear of crème fraîche.

Even with hiccups, you have to admire a chef who takes the long way around—curing his own meat, baking an ever-changing selection of bread, and growing herbs and veggies in a rooftop garden. If you can overlook occasional overreaching, you’ll find a restaurant that easily feeds an array of cravings and accommodates that need to feel good about your place in the world.

After all, sometimes the only therapy a person needs is a little bistro.