Joel Klatt gets schooled in the Denver dining scene over dinner at Squeaky Bean
When looking for an explanation of why that might be the case, Reilly puts it well: "Very few ideas are reinventing the book these days. But all new concepts that sprout in Denver have a unique and pioneering overall theme to them. They embody the spirit of the West."
Many of Denver's top restaurants may be young and still developing character, but so much of what's happening now embraces that attitude. Chefs and restaurateurs can be innovative while embracing a sense of community. They can also, as Reilly says, "empower our guests with the knowledge of where great food comes from and how it is produced."
Maybe farm-to-table seems like it's already a played-out trend to some -- but they're likely people who chase trends. Those restaurants that take their food seriously -- but not themselves seriously, as the Squeaky Bean's Johnny Ballen put it -- can bring enjoyment and creativity to the guest without seeming strident about what's important to them. That's when trends become more than just passing fads, and instead soak into the city and become part of its culture.
Lori Midson Clam tortellini pooled in a sea urchin broth.
Maybe Denver has a ways to go, but at least the building blocks appear to be here -- and nobody is skating by on reputation alone.
Some final words with Klatt revealed that he's more than just a steakhouse aficionado. While he doesn't go out much in Denver because of the constraints of balancing travel with family time, he became almost reverent when discussing a favorite food discovered in his many travels: a California-style burrito stuffed with carne asada, French fries and guacamole from a vendor in Phoenix. He apparently once drove non-stop from Denver to Phoenix just to get one of those icons of American-Mex ingenuity. He also confessed to learning a simple but mouth-watering trick from an offensive lineman: a thick layer of butter on top of an Oreo cookie.
Anyone with that kind of insight into quality eating must be capable of redemption. So our next goal is to help Klatt find the best California burrito in Denver. Suggestions?