Chef Richard Sandoval’s tequila library concept has been transported from NYC to the heart of Riverfront Park, elevating Denver’s tequila scene to connoisseur status. A tequila lover’s dream, La Biblioteca offers a diverse collection of over 350 varieties of tequila, mezcals and agave spirits. Nestled at the foot of the Millennium Bridge, La Biblioteca shares space with Zengo yet asserts a unique personality all its own. Dotted with bronze library lamps, a steady red hue envelops the entire lounge and invokes a mysterious, funky intimacy. Abundant glowing candles cast a flickering light over each table with mismatched dark leather chairs and cozy booths. Individual lockers of softly-lit bottles line the walls, waiting for their possessors to uncork and enjoy.
“We are the biggest tequila library in the country. I’ve said it many times before and I haven’t been challenged yet.” Centering the space is master bartender Ben Carrington, expertly tending his patrons with an enormous collection of tequila soaring high above the bar. A spirits aficionado but more importantly a tequila enthusiast, Carrington has an unparalleled historical knowledge of tequila culture. His enchanting narrative weaves eloquently through the methods of production from the growth and cultivation of the blue agave to the distillation process. His sophisticated description of the magic required for his house-infused creations will delight even the most casual tequila fan. Carrington’s cocktail infusions marry a variety of choice flavors including pineapple, blueberry, lemon, serrano and cinnamon into a base of blancos, reposados and anejos to create a custom-flavored spirit that overwhelms the senses.
Flights of tequila permit a cross section of experiences. Tequila tasters can compare flavors produced by different distilling families or the unique tequila characteristics created from aging the spirit in traditional wine or American whiskey barrels. Carrington enthusiastically sums up La Biblioteca’s mission, “We want to be the quintessential establishment to go for tequila in Denver.”
Stand Out From the Crowd
Their play on the tequila library theme makes La Biblioteca stand out from the crowd. The library locker program allows patrons to enjoy personal bottle service. “Library card” holders who want to keep track of their favorite spirits are able to check out private library lockers that store their favorite tequila or spirit. This status of “tenured scholar” also entitles regulars to exclusive bottle pricing. “Our goal is to educate people on tequila, make it something that is as accessible as other spirits like vodka and bourbon,” Carrington explains as La Biblioteca wins over more and more Denver tequila converts with mixology that remedies any misconceptions about this sweet spirit.
The sultry waves of bottled tequilas are matched in perfection by the Latin-Asian small plates offered by the Zengo-shared kitchen. Dishes range from ceviche and sushi to bacon-wrapped dates and carnitas tacos. Beautifully presented, each plate easily lends itself to sharing, which allows patrons to sample an array of appealing choices. The Wagyu beef tatiki tiradito melts the moment it hits your mouth, the one-of-a-kind pork belly steam buns have a hint of pineapple and mini Banh Mi sliders have a grown up taste that delivers. La Biblioteca’s pastry chef delivers flourless chocolate cake, crispy churros and pumpkin empanada. The kitchen also offers a gluten-free menu and their weekend, bottomless brunch challenges your appetite and thirst. Tempting patrons with roasted plantains, fluffy pandan waffles and chorizo-kimchi eggs benedict plus free-flowing cocktails, which includes a Bloody Maria bar makes La Biblioteca a draw for the most discerning Denver brunch authorities. Offering something for everyone, La Biblioteca is becoming an essential Denver establishment for studying up on tequila, mezcal and delicious cuisine.
When You Go:
La Biblioteca De Tequila
1610 Little Raven St., Denver
Brunch: Saturday and Sunday, 10:00am-2:30 pm
Happy Hour: Daily 4:00-7:00 pm
Meet the Maker: First Thursday, 6:00-8:00 pm
Blueberry Lemon Margarita
1 ½ ounces blueberry-lemon house infused tequila
¾ ounce agave nectar
¾ ounce lemon juice
¾ ounce lime juice
Shake over ice, serve in a rocks glass with salted rim
Tequila Old Fashion
2 oz Dulce Vida Organic Anjeo tequila
2 dashes angostura bitters
Muddle orange, cherry, and a sugar cube in a rocks glass filled with ice. Add liquids, stir.
Lamb Meatballs with Zucchini and Goat Cheese
Italy is not the only country that makes delicious meatballs, and just about every cuisine has a version. This is a Mexican rendition with ground lamb, a cut that deserves to be used more often in this country. This kind of braised dish is often made in a cazuela, an earthenware cooking casserole that does double-duty as an attractive serving utensil. A heavy skillet (but not a cast-iron one, which could react with the tomatoes) works well, too. Serve it with rice or pasta to soak up the spicy sauce.
For the Lamb Meatballs:
2 pounds ground lamb
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons smoked sweet paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup panko crumbs
⅓ cup heavy cream
For the sauce:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
One 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes in juice, preferably San Marzano, pureed in a blender
½ cup brine from Spanish green olives (see Note)
2 medium zucchini, cut into ½-inch dice
2 to 3 chilies de arbol, seeded and stemmed, or 2 tablespoons pure ground ancho chile and ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup crumbled goat cheese
Chopped fresh mint, parsley, or thyme (or a combination of all three), for serving
Make the meatballs: Using your hands, mix the lamb, garlic, thyme, parsley, mint, salt, paprika, and the black and cayenne peppers together in a large bowl. Do not overmix them. Add the panko and cream and mix again just to incorporate them. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for 15 minutes. Using a heaping tablespoon for each, shape the lamb mixture into meatballs and transfer to a baking sheet. Gradually heat a 12-inch cazuela over a 5-minute span from low to medium-high. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and swirl the cazuela to coat. (Or heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat.) Cook the meatballs in two batches, turning them occasionally, until they are browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, return the meatballs to the baking sheet.
Pour off and discard the fat from the pan and wipe it out with paper towels. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the pureed tomatoes, olive brine, zucchini, and chilies and bring them to a simmer. Return the meatballs to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, occasionally stirring, until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce has reduced slightly, about 30 minutes. Season the sauce to taste with salt. Sprinkle it with the basil and serve the meatballs and sauce hot from the cazuela.
Bio: Jamie McAfee is a freelance writer based in Denver. She is a recent tequila convert who also enjoys writing about architecture, education, local artists and delish Denver cuisine.
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