Downtown newcomer is quality
Two sides of Row 14
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 00:04
Jensen Cummings, the executive chef of Row 14 Bistro & Wine, is deliberately straddling the gap between rarefied dining and food that fills your most depraved nocturnal cravings.
The former Chef de Cuisine at TAG, Cummings brought some of that restaurant’s worldly focus and joie de vivre when he joined Row 14 last year. Eager to please jaded line cooks and dewy-eyed theater patrons with the same meal, Cummings’ menu is powered by what he half-jokingly calls “Pangean eats.”
Here, stylish salmon sashimi with watermelon relish ($7) stands side-by-side with cheeky Philly cheesesteak empanadas, dashed with scallion oil ($5).
Though dinner at Row 14 boasts some of Denver’s most buzzed about dishes, including the Espelette marinated rabbit ($26), cash-strapped students looking for a gourmet meal should stick with the cheaper offerings at lunch—served from 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., or the late night happy hour from 10 p.m.–12 a.m.
Soon after the suit-and-tie crowd had vacated, my server rattled off that day’s lunch specials: the house wines, the catch of the day ($20), and the soup du jour: cream of bacon—yes, bacon.
Like a classic cream of potato, the bacon soup ($7) was thick and comforting, the lard flavor warm on the tongue. I just wished the kitchen had topped it with more fresh chives to balance the fat and accompany the listless haricot verts floating within.
Then, from a daunting roster of sandwiches, I ordered the portobello Cubano ($12). First, the accompanying fries, Cummings’ Kennebec potatoes, are dusted with the requisite parmesan and salt, but also a spicy togarashi pepper seasoning. The pleasant spice on the fries was echoed in the sandwich, which contained the most succulent and best marinated mushrooms I’ve ever encountered.
But once the clock strikes 10, Row 14 reinvents itself as a populist hotspot. A canny move, given the hungry students in the Spire above and the barhoppers and theatergoers of 14th Street, all hunting for snacks and drinks.
Be it lunch or happy hour, Row 14’s kitchen certainly isn’t afraid to wield a fry basket, serving plate after plate of crispy chicken wings ($5), carne asada fries ($10), and Thursday’s special, rabbit nachos ($12).
Here’s the thing: They’re great at it. The chicken wings were perfectly crispy and crunchy, the fries had just the right shade of brown, and the yellow corn chips had the sheen and heat of a perfectly tuned fryer.
I had heard whispers of Cummings doing wonderful things with the lunchbox classic, ants on a log, and I wasn’t disappointed. Celery semifreddo was precariously poised on a peanut butter cookie, while a port-raisin smear cut the sweetness of the custard with a sharp tang.
Though it was only my second visit, walking through the dining room felt like walking through a new home. With food like that, I could get comfortable.