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

Danielle Lirette
Modern steak at modern steakhouse Guard and Grace
Guard and Grace
1801 California Street

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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Review: Gozo is a real hot spot -- in more ways than one

Danielle Lirette
The skin-on sea bass is one of many tempting entrees on offer. Browse more favorites from Gozo's menu.
30 South Broadway

Denver's restaurant scene is flourishing, which means two things: It's harder than ever to decide where to eat, and just as hard to know what your money will buy once you get there.

For a recent review meal at Chai & Chai, the no-frills Indian-Arabian restaurant in Aurora, I waded through dirty dishes to find a seat, quaffed lukewarm water from a plastic bottle, and filled up on rice because there wasn't much meat on my lamb mansaf. A month later, I walked into Gozo, an Italian/Spanish-inspired eatery that opened on South Broadway in March, without a reservation and was shown to the chef's counter by the wood-burning oven. For just a dollar more than I'd paid for that rice-mounded mansaf ($21 instead of $19.95), I received a plate of fish so spot-on in concept and execution, it could've been part of a cooking-school demo.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Gozo

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Review: El Chingon's chiles rellenos have a soft landing on Tennyson Street

Danielle Lirette
Chicken enchiladas. Check out more of what's on El Chingon's menu.
El Chingon
4326 Tennyson Street

If you've been in Denver for any length of time -- say, longer than a layover at DIA -- you're aware that we take green chile seriously here. So seriously, in fact, that it's earned a spot on the list of topics to avoid at family gatherings, along with pot, politics and when you're going to produce that first grandchild. If you like a goopy, flour-thickened smother and whoever is running the show (mom, dad, uncle, whomever) falls on the side of straight-up tomatillos and chiles, you'd better keep your mouth shut or risk no seconds on dessert.

Green chile isn't the only food that sparks fightin' words in this city. Pizza, burgers and edibles have no shortage of supporters on both sides of the fence. Now El Chingon, a family-run Mexican restaurant that relocated to Berkeley from Arvada last year, is doing its best to add another to the list: chiles rellenos.

See also: A Closer Look at El Chingon

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Review: Olive & Finch was a bright idea, even if this fast-casual is sometimes too casual

Danielle Lirette
Shaved-fennel salad, $6, at Olive & Finch. Delve into Olive & Finch's menu in our slideshow.
Olive & Finch
1552 East 17th Avenue

I dropped by Olive & Finch for a salad, and what I got was certainly green. But rather than a jumble of leaves and vegetables on a plate, my order came in a tall, clear cup, a product of this Uptown eatery's juice bar. While I try to eat healthy -- when I'm not reviewing, that is -- I'm not much of a juicer. But how could I resist something called Rejuvenate, billed on the menu as "the perfect recovery drink after your intense workout or a long night"? I didn't need help recovering from those particular situations, but if a few sips of the green stuff could help me recover from my food coma -- too many restaurants, too little time -- I was all in.

See also: A Closer Look at Olive & Finch

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Review: Man could live on bread alone at Chai & Chai

Danielle Lirette
Uttapam dish at Chai & Chai. Browse through more of Chai & Chai's menu slideshow.
Chai & Chai
12501 East 17th Avenue, Aurora

Last fall an unassuming little place named Chai & Chai opened in an unlikely stretch of fast-food restaurants at the heart of the Anschutz Medical Campus. I'd heard it had good dosa -- good enough to nab the Best Dosa award in the Best of Denver 2014 -- so one night I headed east, past City Park, past Stapleton, past the Latino businesses that spring up along Montview Boulevard, until I turned onto the campus, where brick behemoths that are beehives of activity during the day grow eerily deserted at night. I thought it would be easy to find parking at that hour, but the adjacent garage was for staff only, and the gravel lot down the street required a permit. Finally, I decided to risk a ticket and headed for the lot, assuming that parking would be my greatest adventure of the night. I was wrong.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Chai & Chai

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Review: Work & Class delivers a square meal -- and an aha moment -- for a fair price

Danielle Lirette
Gluten-free meatballs over polenta at Work & Class. Delver into their menu in our slideshow.
Work & Class
2500 Larimer Street

If I were Scheherazade spinning tales to save my life before a disgruntled king, I'd look to Work & Class for inspiration. Within the confines of this much-anticipated Ballpark restaurant, which opened at full tilt four months ago and hasn't looked back since, there are stories to last a thousand and one nights, maybe even a thousand and two.

See also: A Closer Look at Work & Class

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Review: Palettes presents an unfinished culinary picture

Danielle Lirette
Roast pepper soup at Palettes. Check out more photos from our slideshow of the restaurant.
100 West 14th Avenue Parkway

The roast pepper soup stared up at me, an edible riddle. Since it was from the special exhibition-themed menu at Palettes, the white-tablecloth restaurant inside the Denver Art Museum, I knew the dish must be related to the Modern Masters show, but how? Was it a riff on Andy Warhol's Campbell's soup cans, only made with roasted red peppers rather than the iconic tomato? Was it a culinary take on Georgia O'Keeffe's poppies, the flowers' red petals transformed into red soup, their yellow and white accents brought to life through swirls of yellow romesco and citrus crème fraîche? Or maybe red peppers were Willem de Kooning's favorite vegetable, and the soup was a subtle tribute to the abstract expressionist.

See also: A Closer Look at Palettes

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Review: Jax Glendale is a net gain for the Denver dining scene

Danielle Lirette
The pan-seared halibut at Jax Glendale. Check out more photos of Jax's menu.
Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar
650 South Colorado Boulevard, Glendale

Years ago, when I heard about the Seafood Watch pocket guide produced by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I printed it out and tucked it in my wallet. Then, before ordering at restaurants, I'd scan the list to see if the fish I wanted fell in the red "avoid" column, skipping it if it did. Although the guide helped me make conscientious choices, it also led to many awkward moments. Servers often grew flustered, ill-equipped to answer my queries about where and how the fish was caught. Friends viewed my questions with suspicion, as if I were a high-maintenance version of Meg Ryan ordering dressing on the side.

See also: A Closer Look at Jax Glendale

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Review: After a Kitchen Nightmares wake-up call, change is good at Pantaleone's

Danielle Lirette
Pantaleone's pizza got a makeover. Browse through more photos from our visit to the restaurant.

2120 South Holly Street
Pete Fafalios is passionate, stubborn -- and no longer stuck in the past. Nor is Pantaleone's, the pizzeria on South Holly Street that he founded in 1985 with his wife, Paulette, which survived not just Denver's downturn in the '80s, but the recent recession, as well. When business failed to really bounce back -- the dining room sometimes turned only one or two tables a night -- they turned to Kitchen Nightmares and were contacted by the show's producers the next day. And last month, when the episode devoted to last summer's remake of his restaurant finally aired, it followed a segment on the owners of Amy's Baking Company in Scottsdale, who handled criticism by screaming and branding naysayers as "trolls."

Fafalios couldn't have scripted a better lead-in to his story.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Pantaleone's

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Review: Looking for a hangout in Park Hill? The Abbey Tavern is a lucky find

Danielle Lirette
Rise and shine: Irish breakfast at The Abbey Tavern.
The Abbey Tavern
5151 East Colfax Avenue

There's no shortage of places in this town where you can quench a thirst, but that didn't discourage Glen Eastwood. And after enough plot twists to fill a Frank McCourt novel, last fall he and business partner Andrew Cudden opened The Abbey Tavern.

That was after a lease at Fourth and Broadway was signed, then fell through. After they found a replacement spot on East Colfax Avenue, and the new chef didn't show up on his first day. After another job search found a replacement chef, who dropped out a day before he was supposed to start. But nothing deterred these two Irishmen, who'd met on a soccer pitch in the '90s and stayed friends throughout the years. "It turned out to be a blessing," Eastwood says of the move to Colfax. "This was a better location for what we're trying to do," away from "the white noise of Broadway."

See also: A Closer Look at The Abbey Tavern

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