Review: Atticus wants to be a grown-up restaurant, but it's suffered growing pains
Danielle Lirette Caribbean-style fish mini-tacos get in the swim. Dive into more photos from our visit to Atticus.
1115 East Evans Avenue
Neighborhood restaurants often remind me of kids. Even when they're noisy and a bit rough around the edges, you still smile at them, knowing the potential within. Atticus is that kind of place. Sure, it might want to be president when it grows up, but for now the latest venture from Table to Tavern -- the restaurant group behind Boone's Tavern and Handlebar Tavern -- is more of a tween: lovable one minute, frustrating the next.
See also: Behind the Scenes at Atticus
Located near the University of Denver, Atticus stands out from other campus-oriented hangouts -- including Boone's, its adjacent sister property -- by attracting a crowd that turned its tassel not weeks, but years ago. With a stone fireplace, inviting off-white and blue walls, and fun touches such as a typewriter and a long-handled pizza peel hung in groupings, the space feels comfortable and cohesive, like a vacation house you wouldn't mind renting for the summer. A bar made of corrugated metal and beams from the old Stapleton airport squats in the center, but there's no community counter, making Atticus a spot to talk among friends, not necessarily pick up new ones.
Danielle Lirette Atticus has become a draw in the DU neighborhood.
Interestingly enough, Atticus wasn't conceived as a restaurant. "The neighborhood has changed my place completely," says Brian Midtbo, CEO of Table to Tavern. "We were supposed to open more as a bar with shared plates, but everybody kept coming in and thanking us for putting a restaurant in there." So Midtbo listened, changing course in April, two months after opening. The new menu, designed by former sous- and now executive chef Diego Coconati, is traditional in approach, filled with the kinds of entrees normally associated with destination restaurants: seared duck breast and duck confit, housemade ravioli, scallops with blood-orange gastrique. There's a burger but no sliders, and certainly no nachos or wings. Starters are also more individual than shared in nature, with offerings such as mussels, beet salad and a pea flan that showcases the vegetable's sweetness. Folks who feel like sharing are steered toward cheese and charcuterie plates -- and judging from my visits, more tables than not are in the mood to share.
Many dishes, entree or otherwise, hint at Coconati's years in Puerto Rico, Florida and his native Argentina, with flavors both spicy and tropical. Colorado lamb is ringed with a plucky sauce of ancho chiles and red-wine demi-glace that tastes like a swirl of barbecue and plum. Skirt steak is marinated overnight in soy sauce, pineapple juice and ginger, and plated over fingers of deep-fried yuca with cilantro and lime. Jack fish tacos, a tasty starter that could easily be a light meal, sparkle not with pico de gallo, but mango salsa and jalapeño slaw. Coconati has brought more seafood, vegan and vegetarian dishes to the original lineup, and he smartly sneaks in vegetables where you'd least expect them, tousling fennel, avocado and arugula over steak, for example.
Danielle Lirette Grilled lamb sirloin comes in a demi-glace that's a swirl of barbecue and plum.
It all seems very grown up -- until the food arrives. Then you realize how much growing Atticus has yet to do.
Keep reading for the rest of our review of Atticus.