Review: Guard and Grace looks lovely, but faces some hard realities

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Danielle Lirette
Modern steak at modern steakhouse Guard and Grace
Guard and Grace
1801 California Street
303-293-8500

I knew I'd need a steak knife for dinner at Guard and Grace, the steakhouse that Troy Guard opened in March in the bottom of 1801 California Street, a newly renovated 54-story building downtown. I just didn't know it would be for dessert.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Guard and Grace

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Danielle Lirette
The stunning interior of Guard and Grace.
But the shiny spoons the server had given us weren't sharp enough to make headway in a mud pie that must've been pulled from the deepest recesses of the freezer. We hacked. We pressed. We wiggled our spoons back and forth. We even moved the plate away in case a hunk of espresso ice cream became dislodged through our efforts and flew across the table. No dice. So we gave the pie a rest, and eventually managed to pry off enough ice cream to dip it in the caramel and Madagascar chocolate sauces we'd been enjoying plain. Still, the Oreo crust refused to yield, and in disappointment, we asked for our check.

I wouldn't have predicted such a snafu at Guard and Grace, a restaurant with the kind of pricing that promises the best of everything to justify the tab. Then again, I wouldn't have predicted many of the oversights we experienced on that and other visits.

Named for the restaurateur and his four-year-old daughter, Guard and Grace is the sixth enterprise from Guard, a Hawaiian-born, internationally trained chef who'd worked in several kitchens around town but whose breakout moment came with the opening of TAG. When that restaurant debuted in a two-story spot carved out of Larimer Square in 2009, Guard made the most of the location by putting out plates so inventive (hiramasa with Pop Rocks?) that people were willing to eat them anywhere, even underground.

This time, Guard has no need to atone for an awkward space. Guard and Grace sweeps elegantly across more than 8,500 square feet, with a series of increasingly private (though noisy), mood-lit spaces that do as much to advance Guard's interpretation of what he calls a "modern steakhouse" as the menu itself. Gone are the red leather chairs and windowless, clubby dining rooms that characterized the meat temples of yore. Tall windows frame cityscapes and bathe the bar and lounge, situated closest to the door, with natural light. If you come for cocktails and to cheer on a team, either after work or because you've walked over from the Marriott, this is where you'll likely stay, perched on gray cubes and stools to enjoy selections from a menu of starters as sprawling as the room itself, including oysters, crab legs, charcuterie, flatbread, salads and more than a dozen small plates.

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Danielle Lirette
The wan chai salad ($8).
Come for dinner, though, and you might be led deeper into the restaurant -- to a raised, six-person booth with a bird's-eye view of the striking space, or an intimate, two-top booth upholstered in classy herringbone, or the charcoal leather banquette that borders the kitchen. Lighting is dim; votives flicker. This is where steaks are delivered, where deals or relationships are celebrated, where the charms of the restaurant are supposed to sweep you off your feet.

But sometimes things fall flat. When a hostess walked us through an empty dining room to the farthest table in the house, the one so far back it's in the main traffic pattern and in full view of the bright lights of the back kitchen, my guest, an older gentleman with the kind of gray hair that usually brings out the best in people, whispered, "What is she trying to do, get rid of the worst table first?" The server who arrived minutes later, looking sharp in his dark pants and gray striped apron, didn't help matters by assuming my companion wanted olives with his Gibson, a drink known for its onion garnish.

There were moments when we enjoyed the attentiveness we'd expected. As late afternoon succumbed to evening, we watched members of the forty-strong front-of-house team meticulously line up tables, using a taut white string as a level. Water glasses were refilled after what seemed like every sip. Bottles of white were whisked out to encourage me to stray from my habitual New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; I discovered a fine Falanghina.

But the server who delivered it also admitted that the wines were too cold to fully appreciate. That was after he'd been interrupted by a runner impatient to deliver warm potato brioche buns; despite his rush, they came too late for the party, arriving long after we'd finished our appetizers. Another night, a runner delivered entrees to the wrong person -- understandable with a party of twelve, less so with a party of two. I've watched guests dodge fast-striding staff, as if the diners were a disruption in the dining room. Servers neglected to tell us of specials until after we'd placed our orders, inaccurately described levels of doneness (sticking to a definition of medium rare as having a cool center), and failed to inquire about preferred cooking methods (1,800-degree broiler or wood-fired grill). And no one asked why we'd left some plates nearly untouched -- or why we were hacking at that mud pie.

Keep reading for more on Guard and Grace.

Location Info

Guard and Grace

1801 California Street, Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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9 comments
Nohavec
Nohavec

I went there today for lunch and truly enjoyed the whole experience.  I had the Alaskan Black Cod, and it was to die for.  I know several people who dine daily and they love the place.  The only down side was the Mud Pie, and the waiter warned me that it was frozen and that they needed a few minutes to let it thaw, I did not have the time to wait so I had the same experience and the writer of this article, however it was delicious.  I think people are coming down to hard to this place, because all the reviews I am hearing from people is exceptional and now I add my own stamp of approval to the list

Rasputin Sane
Rasputin Sane

Ouch! Two things that drive me nuts when I'm in the kitchen: • A FOH that is oblivious, and don't have a full understanding of the things they are serving. • Fellow "chefs," and BOH staff who do not know, and/or have no respect for, food.

rawdoggin
rawdoggin

I think the concept is fundamentally flawed. I looked up the menu and even the layout betrays a lack of focus.  What is a "modern steakhouse"?  Seems like another attempt to take something old and established, rub some hipster and irony on it, and call it "modern".  


From the menu and based on the review, it also appears to be a unfocused mash between a decent modern American restaurant and average to sub-par steakhouse that can't cook meat to proper temp.  It's somewhat like the hesitation of ordering a hamburger at a Mexican restaurant or ordering carnitas at a diner.  


It just looks like two restaurants in one, with no particular excellence in either area. 

Steve Florentine
Steve Florentine

I can instantly tell I couldn't handle 2 minutes with Gretchen Kurtz, even if the food sucks there, food critics just come off as such pompous hoity toity pricks.

Vic-Stevinson
Vic-Stevinson

I have dined at G&G twice and no more. I prefer to support the ethos that guides the kitchen at Panzano. G&G is all about conspicuous consumption, and Troy Guard obviously knows how to reel in the stupidest folks with very deep pockets (or stunning credit card bills).

After two visits, I'm back at Panzano.

G&G exhibits all the capability and artless design that pleases upscale Denver, but is devoid of the kind of passion that once characterized such an experience with warmth, care and pride. My girlfriend's uncle remarked afterward, "It's like Furr's Cafeteria with nicer finishes."

The current trend of noisy dining spaces is out in our book. We want to share the experience with each other, not have a shouting match.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

How many times have we seen over-reaching, ambitious Denver chef/restauranteurs  spread themselves so thin expanding their empires that they ultimately fail because they lose focus on the basics?  Stick to your knitting Chef Guard and focus on delivering consistently wonderful dining experiences rather than seeing how many "concepts" you can bring on line.

IsBoulderBetter
IsBoulderBetter

@Denver Dave I lean in the other direction -- think how many great Denver-area restaurants wouldn't exists if Chef's just stuck to their guns -- Bistro Vendome and the rest of Jen Jansinki's "empire", Frank Bonnano's varied restaurants, Pizzeria Locale and even Jeff Osaka's Ramen highly anticipated (by only food bloggers, potentially) ramen shop.


Personally, I'm all in favor of talented chefs expanding to new concepts. Worst case is that the food doesn't work and I don't go there -- but at least it's not another chain.

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