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.
TAMMEN’S FISH MARKET AT THE DENVER CENTRAL MARKET
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 host of sea-centric dishes, like quinoa crab cakes, shrimp on skewers, ceviche, poke, 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 come-hither stew stained sunset with dende oil and liberally enhanced with tender scallops, shrimp and Portuguese bacalhau.
BLUE ISLAND OYSTER BAR AND SEAFOOD
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.
FISH N BEER
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 asparagus spears and charred tomatoes, while the king salmon filet with gnocchi, kale and crimini mushrooms is caressed with a cream sauce of butter and garlic. Oysters, mussels, pan-roasted crab-and-corn cakes and terrific smelt fries round out the culinary roster, which pairs well with the rotating craft-beer lineup favoring Colorado breweries.
The quirky title of this RiNo restaurant concept is the nickname of chef-owner Troy Guard’s pop, a guy who spent many of his fathering years in Hawaii, cooking meals on the grill. And a wood-fired grill, alongside a rotisserie, are the primary cooking methods that Guard employs at Mister Tuna, a jovial fish and seafood emporium in RiNo that involves Guard’s signature playful twists, which include Hawaiian, Asian and Southern rifts, the latter of which are courtesy of executive chef Tristen Epps, who spent time cooking in restaurants of celebrity soul-food chef Marcus Samuelsson. Their menu, built for sharing, takes risks without overreaching: blistered mackerel is mated with passion fruit; barbecued octopus gets a boost from the addition of merguez sausage, a powerhouse of flavor; and the Vietnamese-style kampachi is dotted with little torpedoes of candied peanuts. The smashing cocktail list is every bit as fun as the food.
Food of the hook, line and sinker variety headlines the menu at this Denver Union Station fish and seafood restaurant that dispenses everything from fish and chips and lobster rolls to cioppino and linguine with clams. Emblematic of the new wave of fish houses anchoring in Denver, Wewatta Point leans on contemporary nuances—cast-iron mussels with Fresno chilies and deviled eggs punctuated with crab, for example—but if you’re a purist, the seasonal oysters, sided with mignonette and cocktail sauce powered with horseradish, steer clear of unpredictable flourishes. Like the cuisine, the space, with its blue and white color scheme, slants nautical, and the wine and cocktail list, including a rum-forward drink called “Dreaming of Summer,” conjures up images of seaside sojourns.
By Lori Midson