We tossed our bags onto the floor of The Brown Palace and hurriedly got dressed. The boys in their dress shirts and I in my Diane von Furstenberg dress. We were going to Denver’s award-winning restaurant, Mizuna. I hoped that if at least we looked nice it would soften the impact of four antsy boys who had just sat in a car for five hours.
I came across Mizuna on the Nature Conservancy website. The restaurant was being commended for it’s sustainable menu where aspiring Chef Taylor Drew writes of the rising consciousness to grow and buy local food:
“Food is something we mostly take for granted. Where it comes from and how it gets to our plates is not always on our minds when we sit down to eat. As I learn more about creating cuisine, I see the need to develop an intimate understanding of the food I’m preparing or eating. But this shouldn’t just be the case for chefs. Knowing how something was grown, or where it’s from, or whether it was harvested in a sustainable manner can tell you a lot about the environmental impact of our meals. “My suggestion is to start with one dinner a week where you learn the story of each ingredient. Before you know it, you will be reading labels, asking more questions, spending Saturdays at farmers markets and making meals that you can take pride in preparing.”
At the hotel, Vince arranged for Leewood to pick us up in the town car and take us there. The boys shook hands with Lee who was a wealth of information having been in the driving and concierge business for over twenty years. In the short drive over he spoke of his interludes with Snoop Dog, Cher and other impressionable celebrities.
Coincidentally, as Leewood offered his hand to help me out of the car, an Aspen photographer I know, Jim Paussa, was walking by. Taking photos of us he kept asking, “Wait, so what are you doing here?” It’s hard to grasp the concept, I know, me with four boys, going out for a nice dinner in Denver.
The restaurant, a small slice of Europe in Denver, has lemon glazed walls that brought Limoncello to mind and fifty-four tables laid out in a charming space. But it does not stop there, Executive Chef and Proprietor, Frank Bonanno, is a Chef about town with Luca D’Italia, another award winning venue. Other restaurants he has opened that offer “quality and freshness, but at an accessible price point” are Osteria Marco, designed to be the little brother to Luca, Bones, Green Russell, an “adult cocktail joint” and Lou’s Food Bar, known as the little brother to Mizuna.
I read the menu that Bonanno describes as, “Cooking inspired by classic French techniques, but with the simplicity of great American fare.” I was eager to experience the food so beautifully described on their website:
“Locally grown items are at the peak of their flavor….Our chefs start their days with the sun—creating rich stocks from farm raised meats and wild fishes, kneading yeasty doughs, slicing the juicy hearts of ripe vegetables, spinning fresh ice creams. They taste and select cheeses, herbs and produce from local vendors like The Truffle, Verde Growing and Mountain Produce.”
Being with the boys precluded me from tasting all the delicious items such as; the Confit Baby Artichokes, Gruyere Fondue and Garlic Bread Crumbs or the Chilled Vichyssoise Soup. With a French father who owns my favorite deli in Aspen, Jour de Fete, Preston is my food confidante, adventurously trying food I offer him. But tonight he refused to break out of the mac and cheese box, even when offered the poached Maine Lobster & Mascarpone Enriched Elbow Pasta or the Spring Pea Agnolotti. He did share with me the Kiowa Farm Egg Omelet with Morel Mushrooms and Herbed Creme Fraiche. A light and deliciously fresh dish.
Although intriguing, I opted away from the Pan Roasted Ostrich Loin and ordered the Frisee Salad with Jamon Serrano, Macerated Figs and Midnight Bleu Cheese. For my entree I ordered the Pan Seared Wild Copper River Salmon with Baby Eggplant & Sishito Pepper Stir-Fry. The Salmon was perfectly cooked and played well together on my palette with the the spicy pepper, eggplant and crunchy Tempura Rice Cake.
The people sitting at the table adjacent to us were a lively crew but when they began to tell a story about one of their friends who had fallen off of his horse and was suffering from brain damage, I quickly deterred the boys from listening by telling them to show me their silly look. Preston was happy to show off his family fish face.
(thought I’d throw in the one of Tucker in a wine glass)
I was impressed by the restaurant’s home-made Grenadine and the die-free Maraschino cherries sporting the boys’ Shirley Temples, but the sugar content was still high and Brevitt was beginning to pick up the rambunctious pace. He is on Clariten to help with his ferocious allergies and I saw quickly that it does not mix well with sugar. I knew we were running out of time when they began to ding their forks on the glasses to make music and so I motioned for the bill. Alas, no dessert.
Bonanno’s attention to keeping things local goes beyond food. He is also philanthropic and gives back to the community by supporting the Denver Public School lunch programs, Mile High Squash, The Children’s Hospital and Judi’s House—raising over a million collective dollars in the past six years for Colorado causes.
I did not get the chance to meet Frank Bonanno but I will be back to visit his other restaurants and hopefully follow him around in the kitchen with my camera and one of his sustainable cocktails in hand.
**The Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch provides a pocket guide that breaks down seafood regionally into good choices, good alternatives and what to avoid. Seafood Watch now has an iPhone app.