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Le Bilboquet is the tony new kid on Denver’s proverbial bistro block, and, like any flashy transplant, it’s drawn a lot of attention. Google reviewers love it; Yelpers are less enthusiastic; local food writers are lukewarm (and even uncomfortable). So, after attending the lavish multi-course media preview a few weeks ago, I decided to go back with friends to get a feel for what it’s really like to dine at the city’s newest French restaurant.
Turns out, Le Bilboquet—born in 1986 as an elegant, 38-seat Upper East Side bistro (which has since expanded into larger Manhattan digs and outposts in Atlanta, Dallas, and the Hamptons) and dubbed “snobby” by the New York Post—is over-the-top when compared to most of metro Denver’s more laid-back restaurants. But, located at the corner of St. Paul Street and 3rd Avenue in Cherry Creek, on the ground floor of the striking new St Paul Collection luxury apartment building, Le Bilboquet is also perfectly at home.
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There, the linen-bedecked tables, wicker-backed chairs, and blue velvet banquettes are inhabited by posh locals who have shed their Lululemon gear and baseball hats for skinny jeans and blazers. Large parties of investors/developers/hedge-fund managers clink flutes of Champagne on the expansive shaded patio, while families order French fries and chocolate mousse and neighbors crowd around the gorgeous pewter bar. All of the above are attended by a cast of servers and captains and managers—there’s even a maitre d’—that outnumber the casts of some off-Broadway shows.
Nattily dressed and attentive, the front-of-house team not only folds your napkin for you when you leave your seat, they also pull up a chair for your bag to rest on, lest it be sullied on the ground (or on the terrazzo floor, should you sit inside Le Bilboquet’s colorful, orchid-filled dining room). They employ the overused “we”—Are we having cocktails this evening?—and gently steer you to the house specialties: hulking portions of beef or tuna tartare ($23 and $20, respectively); strangely bland “Cajun” chicken ($26); steak frites ($31). Your server may even grace you with an awkward round of hand shakes as you’re presented with your credit card slip. (That happened.)
Amidst all the caretaking and people-watching, food and drinks arrive. Some of it is quite good: The thick slice of silky foie gras terrine ($25) with toast; a bitter endive salad with tangy Roquefort ($14); and mussels in a pitch-perfect white wine-garlic broth ($23) with crispy, salty fries. Cocktails ($13–18) are well-made, and the Francophile wine list includes more than 20 by-the-glass options.
In other words, sure, you’ll pay at least $100 per person for a full meal with drinks at Le Bilboquet. And no, it’s neither the best nor most imaginative French restaurant in Denver. But is it intended to be? I don’t think so. Le Bilboquet is simple: It’s a high-end restaurant in an upscale part of Denver hoping to appeal to the diners who frequent similar spots nearby (think: Quality Italian, Matsuhisa, True Food Kitchen).
My take is that team behind Le Bilboquet nailed its Mile High City location and decor, staffed the restaurant to deliver a luxe experience, and the food, which is fine, is simply icing on the gâteau.