While it’s true that Denver is landlocked, the sea’s bounty makes a remarkably strong showing at restaurant tables across the city, and Denver chefs are obsessed with responsible sourcing, sustainability, fishery management and reeling in fresh-caught specimens that are flown in daily, often because of partnerships and connections with the nation’s best seafood suppliers.
This excellent ode to poke bowls (and other fish stunners) is the brainchild of Celeste Pfeiffer, a former personal chef who combines Asian influences and Hawaiian inspiration on her menu at Hi Tide, a contemporary, cool and cosmopolitan hangout in the River North Art District (RiNo). Her signature poke bowls, stocked with sushi-grade yellowtail, salmon or ahi tuna, vegetables, chiles and Japanese seasonings, are habit-forming, but it’s her Thai green curry bowl with seared salmon and Korean-style yellowtail bowl that transform the ritual into a bona fide obsession. The latter, zested with orange peel, flavor-bombed with tart Chinese black vinegar and embellished with avocado, house-pickled jalapeños, crisped garlic, cilantro and a refreshing cucumber relish with just a hint of sweetness, is the thing of food daydreams.
Ceviche, raw fish or seafood marinated in fresh citrus juices, slashed with fresh chiles and cilantro and potent with raw onions, is easily one of the best culinary gifts the States inherited from Mexico. And at Mr. Peralta Mariscos, a stuccoed corner plot in Sunnyside, the ceviches are arguably Denver’s finest. The convivial dining room, humming with patrons slurping obscenely huge platters of ceviche and equally large seafood cocktail goblets plunged with shrimp floating in a tomato broth, pulsates with Mexican music. The cooks in the open kitchen add to the clamor, the thwack of their knives an indication that you’re about to embark on a delicious feast. The long syllabus of ceviches is offset by several chile-intensive aguachiles spiked with lime, shrimp dishes served every which way, seafood tacos and soups and molcajetes pointing skyward with crab legs, fried fish filets, clams and shrimp ribboned with strips of bacon.
Tammen’s Fish Market, one of multiple tenants residing inside the Denver Central Market, a superb food hall in RiNo, doubles as a full-service fish counter and counter-service restaurant that turns out a swell of sea-centric dishes: po’boys, vibrant ceviches, fresh oysters, clam chowder and fried smelts. With its casual surrounds, community bar that serves beer, wine and cocktails, and clam and mussel shells that grin from the impressive display case, it’s a terrific spot for lunch, dinner or a grab-and-go fresh fish and seafood jaunt that allows you to experiment with cooking your own specimens at home.
To travel through the dishes that define Cafe Brazil, a sensationally charming South American restaurant from Mauricio Zorrilla and Tony and Marla Zarlenga, is to drift into a land of gypsy chiles and vibrant spices, fresh herbs and sweet plantains, passion fruit and prawns, swollen scallops and bacalhau, all beautifully harmonized in heartfelt ways that explain why the Berkeley neighborhood restaurant has such a loyal following. Against a backdrop of color and whimsy, high energy and contagious laughter, shots of rum and caipirinhas, diners socialize over plates of seafood Copacabana, a medley of shrimp and scallops in a lush coconut milk sauce and the moqueca de peixe, an irresistible stew stained sunset with dende oil and liberally enhanced with scallops, shrimp and Portuguese bacalhau.
In any neighborhood inked with upscale boutiques, swanky bars and martini-leaning residents, a sleek seafood shrine is never far away. And so it goes for Blue Island Oyster Bar and Seafood, a sophisticated dock-to-dish restaurant in tony Cherry Creek that struts a ritzy seafaring motif flanked by a centerpiece bar that pours stiff martinis and bubbles, the requisite libation to match with the restaurant’s proprietary East Coast oysters. You could spend all of your clams on the bivalves, but then you’d miss the creamy New England clam chowder—and that would be a travesty. The daily happy hour, which runs from 2 to 6 p.m., is a real catch.
Chef and owner Kevin Morrison of Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey offers a fresh syllabus of sea creatures at his diminutive River North Art District (RiNo) restaurant that’s usually packed like a can of sardines with diners drawn to the beer-friendly, fish-intensive menu. A triumphant wood-grilled whole Colorado bass is a state ballad bathed in butter and sidekicked with roasted Brussels sprouts and Israeli couscous, while the king salmon filet with gnocchi, kale and crimini mushrooms is caressed with a cream sauce of butter and garlic. Oysters, mussels, peel-and-eat shrimp poached in Old Bay broth and terrific smelt fries round out the culinary roster, which pairs well with the rotating craft-beer lineup favoring Colorado breweries.
By Lori Midson
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