Review: Brazen Could Be Your Golden Ticket to a Great Meal

Danielle Lirette
Vegetables get lots of love at Brazen Neighborhood Eatery, as evidenced by these roasted Brussels sprouts with candied bacon.
Brazen Neighborhood Eatery
4450 West 38th Avenue

Given the excitement that chef's counters can bring to dining rooms, it's hard to believe they weren't always a staple of restaurant design. Rather than being separated from the kitchen by solid walls and a swinging door, a chef's counter lets diners perch on stools just feet from the line, feeling the heat of the flames, hearing the sizzle of ingredients in a hot pan, and taking in the cues -- "Four salmon, all day!" -- that keep the show running.

Not every chef's counter is successful, of course. I've sat at some where the cooks kept their eyes averted, as if they'd rather chop onions all day than make eye contact with a guest. I've had questions answered with a stiffness that says, "Please leave me alone," and been made to feel like a third wheel, tolerated but unwelcome. Counters like these are really booby prizes for diners arriving after all the other tables are full.

But at Brazen Neighborhood Eatery, which owner Chris Sargent opened this fall in Berkeley with chef Lance Barto, the chef's counter isn't a booby prize; it's the golden ticket.

See also: Brazen Neighborhood Eatery Is a Golden Ticket to a Great Meal

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Dae Gee Serves Authentic Korean Food -- So Authentic There's No Dessert

Danielle Lirette
Dae Gee's food is authentic -- so authentic you won't find desserts here.
In discussions of ethnic restaurants, the first question many people ask is, "Is it authentic?" Restaurateur Joseph Kim is aware of this, so at his two Dae Gee locations (I review the one on Colorado Boulevard this week), his cooks "are doing it exactly the way they would in Korea," he says. But what happens when authenticity bumps up against what customers want?

That's just the predicament Kim finds himself in, because what his customers want is dessert. And dessert isn't customary in Korea.

See also: Dae Gee Shows What Korean Food Is All About

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Review: Dae Gee Shows What Korean Food Is All About

Danielle Lirette
Pork bulgogi and the accompanying banchan, or side dishes, make for a filling meal at Dae Gee.
Dae Gee
827 Colorado Boulevard

The Inuit have more than fifty words for snow, which tells us two things. First, there's a lot of snow in the Canadian hinterlands. Second, and more important for our purposes, is that the more people know about something -- which snow is powdery (pukak), for example, and which is good for icing a sleigh's runners (matsaaruti) -- the better they are at describing it.

That's why Americans, who have little use for cabbage other than the occasional slaw in summer, could try the fiery beef short-rib stew that I liked so much at Dae Gee and fail to even mention that cabbage is in the dish. But Dae Gee's online menu not only lists cabbage as one of the stew's many ingredients, it specifies the use of outer leaves, a level of detail that's rare even in this era of highlighting everything from brand of cheese to breed of pig. If Dae Gee chef/owner Joseph Kim has his way, though, more people will develop this nuanced appreciation -- not just for cabbage, but for bulgogi, kimchee and gochugaru, the red-chile powder that stains everything from soups to side dishes. "We're letting them know what Korean food is about," says Kim. "We're reaching the masses."

See also: Behind the Scenes at Dae Gee

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Tiny Kitchen? No Problem, for Some Chefs

Danielle Lirette
Chef Joe Troupe turns out modern takes on French classics from the tiny kitchen at Amass.
The last two restaurants I've reviewed, the Bistro at Stapleton and Amass, seem to have little in common. With its long bar, community counter and seasonal patio, the Bistro serves as a home away from home for residents of restaurant-starved Stapleton, who drop by from morning to night for crepes, sandwiches and salmon. On the other side of town, Amass dishes up French-inspired fare - dinner only, with brunch on weekends -- in a sleek space that feels like a treehouse. Look closer, though, and you'll find a common thread: the chefs are making do with one hand strapped behind their back.

See also: Two Reviewers, Three Duplicate Restaurants Reviews in Three Months

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Review: The Bistro at Stapleton Changes Course for a Hungry Neighborhood

Danielle Lirette
Salmon en croute shows that the Bistro at Stapleton is more than a wine bar.
The Bistro at Stapleton
2955 Ulster Street

Over the past fifteen years, Stapleton has morphed from a land of tumbleweed and prairie dogs to a thriving community, with enough houses to constitute its own suburb. Though the development has been a success, the restaurant scene in this corner of northeast Denver still has room to grow. With eating options tilting heavily toward chains such as Smashburger and Panda Express, it was a relief when the Bistro at Stapleton opened last spring, far from the bright lights and big boxes of Quebec Street.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Bistro at Stapleton

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Two Reviewers, Three Duplicate Restaurants Reviews in Three Months

Danielle Lirette
Amass was the subject of two reviews last week -- one in Westword, one in the Denver Post.
Unless you're a loyal reader who gets all your restaurant news from Westword (and if you are, thank you!), you've no doubt noticed that Denver Post critic William Porter and I seem to be tracing each other's footsteps. Over the past few months, we've had reviews of the same restaurant published on the same day not once, not twice, but three times -- most recently in the case of Amass, which we both reviewed last week (albeit very differently).

See also: Amass Wants to Be a French Bistro, But It Lacks the Critical Mass

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Review: Amass Wants to Be a French Bistro, But It Lacks the Critical Mass

Danielle Lirette
A bowl of spectacular mushroom bisque. See what else Amass has to offer.
2240 Clay Street

Imagine you're in a movie theater for a showing of your favorite film. The lights dim. The music starts. But instead of the opening scene, what flashes on the big screen is a montage of pivotal moments, snippets of the movie displaced from the chronology of the script. In two minutes, the house lights come back on and everyone shuffles out. You stand, blinking in the brightness, trying to figure out what just happened. The characters were there, the basic plot was revealed, but where was the depth? I asked a similar question after dinner at Amass, where I felt like I'd been served a trailer, not a full-length film.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Amass

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Three Vegetarian Ramen Options That Will Bowl You Over

Danielle Lirette
Ramen air at Tokio.
People swoon over tonkotsu ramen, with pork bones -- including heads and trotters -- boiled for twelve or more hours until the broth turns opaque. Vegetarian versions don't have quite the same heady effect, but some chefs are trying to change that. In my current review of Tokio, I write about what chef-owner Miki Hashimoto calls "ramen air," with noodles suspended in a thick, orange base fashioned from sweet potatoes, pumpkin, soy milk and miso. The soup stands out from the rest of the menu, higher in natural sugars than umami, making it a good dish to share.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Tokio

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Review: When Miki Hashimoto Closed Japon, He Used His Noodle to Open Tokio

Danielle Lirette
Ramen air is a vegetarian hit. Check out more of what's on Tokio's menu.
2907 Huron Street, Unit 103

With his chic, minimalist noodle bar, global restaurateur David Chang did for ramen what Julia Child did for coq au vin, putting the Japanese soup once relegated to Styrofoam cups squarely on the American culinary map. In the decade since Momofuku opened in New York, enough copycats have sprung up from coast to coast that the curly, alkaline noodles we've all slurped could reach from here to the moon.

From Denver, Miki Hashimoto watched ramen's rising star and knew that his future would be linked to it. "Sushi's not an exotic food anymore; anybody can grab it anywhere," says Hashimoto. So in 2013, when he and his partner decided to close Japon, the sushi restaurant they'd owned in Washington Park for eighteen years, he started planning a venture that would tap into the latest fascination. The result is Tokio, which opened this past summer in the apartment jungle that has sprouted in the Prospect neighborhood.

See also: Behind the Scenes at Tokio

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The Top Ten Dishes in Denver for 2014

Danielle Lirette
To the Wind escargot empanadas.
I ate hundreds of restaurant meals this past year, comprising thousands of dishes. Narrowing those down to the ten best dishes I ate in 2014 wasn't easy -- especially when you consider the energy coming out of the 300-plus bars and restaurants that opened over the past twelve months and the well-crafted fare executed by established eateries around town. Still, there were ten that definitely stood out.

See also:
Ten Ways the Denver Restaurant Scene Has Changed Over 100 Reviews

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