Sip & Savor
1889 16th St., Denver
Salumi and small bites, $7-$12; starters, $10-$22; entrees, $19-$46; pasta, $15-$22
Partners Bobby Stuckey, chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, and Peter Hoglund wanted to bring a more casual version of their renowned Boulder restaurant Frasca Food and Wine to Denver. Chef Ian Wortham, former chef de cuisine of Frasca, traveled throughout Italy to design a menu inspired by dishes from the country’s bustling cities and seaside villages. Wortham explains, “Throughout Italy, no matter what region I visited, the philosophy on food was always the same: great ingredients and pure flavors. Whether a streetside osteria or train station café, nothing was over-complicated or manipulated. That’s the cuisine I wanted to create for Tavernetta’s menu – direct, delicious food – because in the end, that’s what people want to eat.”
The vibe: Located at the end of the Born Hotel, Tavernetta is part of Union Station. Guests enter to a bar/lounge and continue to the huge open kitchen, and seating around the area. The setting is contemporary and upscale, including vintage photographs by Slim Aarons. Tavernetta appeals for a date night, the bustle of Union Station, and to see and be seen. As in many new restaurants, the noise level can be high.
The menu: Start with salumi and cheeses--build your own, followed by antipasti. Sformato, the rich warm custard with sunchoke, Parmigiano, shavings of black truffle and tarragon, makes a rich, indulgent treat to begin. Pastas are many but pillow-light. Try the gnocchi with lamb ragu and Pecorino, and a marvelous homemade tagliatelle done simply with perfectly poached lobster pieces, Calabrian chile, and preserved tomato, and celery. This pasta brings spice from the chiles but remains light with the tomatoes that are barely cooked and combine to make for an amazing preparation. The signature Pollo Girarrosto is a treat. The herbed whole, slow-roasted chicken is cut into fourths, and served atop potatoes roasted in the chicken drippings. Add greens and enjoy this dish for two. There is a 55-minute wait, so settle back with starters, pasta and beverages as you relax.
Sips: The wine list is top notch as Stuckey wins many top awards on his selections. Prices are on the higher end for his wines. Cocktails are a treat.
Must try: Tagliatelle with lobster and chicken.
The wine list is top notch as Stuckey wins many top awards on his wine lists. Cocktails are a treat. Prices are on the higher end for his wines.
Good to know: Gluten-free options are available. Happy hour features a special menu only featured in the lounge. Lunch is available as well. Park at the Born Hotel for the easiest access and walk over while watching the trains at the entrance off the Union Station platform.
1472 S. Pearl St., Denver
Starters, $9-$17; entrees, $24-$28; pastas, half, $8-$14; full, $14-$26
Owner Patrick White’s mission for adding a Northern Italian concept to his restaurant group came from his travels to Italy when he was in the wine business. He encourages better eating through the preparation of seasonal and local foods, saying “We pride ourselves in providing simply prepared complex foods that are is season.” Chef Tyler Cyre adds his own experiences to the plate. White’s feeling of community accounts for not only Palizo but his other eateries, Una Mas, Yardbird, and Kaos all on South Pearl Street.
The vibe: Palizo has an upbeat, casual, classy feel. The restaurant is one room with a separate bar area with tables for dining, and a great patio. It can be noisy when crowded because of hardwood floors and lower ceilings, but the millennials as well as the slightly older group like the resulting ambience. The waitstaff is knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful, making the dining experience special.
The menu: Start with antipasti, baby octopus salad, soup, and the three-salad special served daily. Homemade pasta makes dishes special, including the Pappardelle Bolognese, tagliatelle all’ Amatriciana, ravioli and gnocchi. Lasagna Bolognese brings this dish to new heights. Among the “secondi” are veal Milanese, brick chicken and ossobuco, steak. Desserts change often.
Sips: A terrific Italian wine list complements meal and is offered at affordable prices. Eat at the bar for a night of pampering.
Must try: Vongole, Bolognese, ossobuco and the awesome vermouth tasting (worth the visit).
Good to know: Chef Cyre accommodates any dietary need and gluten-free choices are available. General manager Trish White is a charmer. They are open nightly for dinner with happy hour on weekdays.
1390 S. Colorado Blvd.
Starters, $5-$15; entrees, $16-24; pastas, $10-$16; pizzas, $10-$15
Erica Keys, formerly at Elway’s, and her husband Dan Dunne, past owner of Cigars on 6th, decided to give up serving and tobacco and pursue their dream of Italian food and pizza by opening their own place. Their goal? “A place people gather for excellent food at a neighborhood hangout.”
The vibe: You’ll find Viale tucked into the back of a strip mall off busy Colorado Boulevard in Virginia Village. Enter a bright room with a long bar, open kitchen and casual dining room. Great murals of old Denver and two cigar-smoking Cuban ladies are on the brick or gray-painted walls. Add reclaimed barn wood, white quartz tables with burgundy banquettes and high ceilings, and get ready for appealing Italian food. This is an affordable neighborhood find for families, college kids, date night and seniors.
The menu: Among the large selection of appetizers, sample the mussels prepared with Italian sausage, white wine and shallots, which make a perfect broth to sop up the grilled bread that comes with the dish. The artichoke bruschetta is made with Humboldt fog goat cheese, garlic and spinach topped with Parmesan and aged balsamic. It’s addictive. Fans of Caesar will love the simple salad of crisp romaine, croutons and traditional Caesar dressing. Pastas shine but the traditional Bolognese done with pappardelle shows the broad noodles at their best as the rich tomato and meat sauce coats the noodles with every bite. For the Chicken Parmesan, the chef wraps prosciutto around the chicken before sautéing, and the cheese on top is sprinkled with crispy pancetta, all served with a side of rigatoni in marinara. The pies fill the need for a pizza fix with their thin crust, preparation in a 900-degree oven giving that slight char at the bottom, and tops ranging from red sauce with sausage to a white pie with mushrooms and truffles. Save room for dessert and indulge in apple bread pudding or a chocolate chip cookie, both served warm in a cast iron skillet topped with ice cream and chocolate.
Sips: The bar features wines from several areas of the world, a strong selection of scotch, craft cocktails and beer.
Must try: Mussels, Bolognese
Good to know: They don’t accept reservations for fewer than six people, but take call-ahead seating. Gluten-free options available in pasta and pizza. Happy hour from 3-6 p.m. with featured apps and pizza. The noise level is high when full. With affordable prices and ample parking, it’s a place to visit often.
Speaking of Italian (the eateries above), Valentine’s Day is near and for that special night out, Barolo Grill is the top pick—ask for the table by the fireplace. Ryan Fletters’s list of Italian wines rates a 10 while Darrell Truett’s food brings cooking to a new level. Plin (pasta) and the signature duck shine.
The Broadmoor is another great choice—a getaway an hour out of Denver with fabulous surroundings. Make reservations at Ristorante Del Lago for Italian cuisine at affordable prices. Or totally splurge and dine and dance the night away at the very pricey Penrose room, the ultimate in service.
Or if romance is not top priority, enjoy Il Posto, Cattivella Wood Fired Italian, Lo Stella, or Shells and Sauce. Check to see if you must take the special menu or can you order a la carte.
Pat Miller, AKA The Gabby Gourmet, hosts The Gabby Gourmet Restaurant Show on KHOW, AM 630 from 1-2 p.m. Saturdays. Miller writes the popular Gabby Gourmet Restaurant Guide. The 30th edition brings special features as is available throughout the Denver area. For more, visit gabbygourment.com or find Gabby Gourmet on Facebook.
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