Periodic menu changes offer a veritable variety of flavors
Our friends were late for our reservation. They forgot, as we did, that it was a game day. Every block near the ballpark was a parking lot. The Rockies were on a losing streak, but it didn’t matter; this was a fireworks game. Every seat from the Rock Pile to the Mountain Ranch Club was sold. So, we waited.
Incomplete tables make restaurant staff twitch. A slow table means it won’t turn. At Twelve Restaurant, no one flinched. Unfazed, our server jumped in right away, and made drink and small plate suggestions to help pass the time and allow us to decompress after fighting traffic.
Two cold glasses of French chenin blanc appeared with a perfectly pink duck Rillette dotted with a sliver of radish, the smallest carrot I’ve ever seen, purple flax flowers and some other edible floral buds that I didn’t recognize. We coated slabs of bread with the country pate while taking in the room.
The restaurant is a mix of sparse décor; not Pottery Barn minimalist, but with modern art, old-fashioned chandeliers and Edison bulbs, butter colored walls and Thomas Keller’s cookbooks stacked under the windows. In all honesty, the interior would be out of place if the restaurant sat on any other street in Denver. Twelve’s eclectic block includes a tattoo parlor, an electric tool shop and Big Daddy’s Bar. It’s only fitting that Twelve isn’t too overdone and includes a little of this and that.
When our friends arrived, the staff easily started over and explained again how the menu changed monthly—hence the name—and the wine list. It wasn’t until then that we realized Twelve doesn’t have a house cocktail list, or as far as we could tell, they didn’t have a bartender. But they do have a massive oak bar that looms large over the room. It’s not a negative, just peculiar in this day and age of mixology and cocktails.
To review a menu that will not be available by the time this goes to press is not a typical review. As you read this, remember that none of the foods we ate except one chocolate dessert will be available in a month’s time. However, what we tried of Chef Jeff Osaka’s restaurant is proof enough that a return visit is warranted for each new menu. As someone who seldom cooks the same thing twice, I like the idea of a menu that never gets tired. And, the staff was so easy going I have no doubt they are good at staying calm and carrying on with each menu change.
That said, there were some dishes worth mentioning because they speak to Osaka’s ability to marry flavors. A cured Arctic Char and a bed of young spring sorrel came with a rich, thick smear of cold hollandaise. The chilled hollandaise was an unexpected change from traditional smoked fish sauces made from sour cream or crème fraîche. Another appetizer, Miso Eggplant with crab was less memorable, mostly because the eggplant skin was too tough.
A generous plate of Scallops with potato confit, chorizo and Fresno peppers was a surprisingly comforting jumble of sweet seafood and spice. Contrary to the blast of flavors in the scallops was a surprisingly mild sea bass with summer squash and lemon puree. It whispered a little too softly and needed more sauce to punch up the flavors.
Of all the dishes on the July menu, one stood out for its originality. Never have I tasted red cherries, purple beets and smooth duck liver with thick chocolate in the same dish. Did it work? Absolutely. It was so good I had to wonder why I had never seen those flavors on the same plate before. It was a testament to the reason Osaka was nominated as a semifinalist for a “Best Chef of the Southwest” James Beard award this year.
During the last few bites of the Chocolate Trio dessert (the only monthly menu repeat) and delicate Goat Cheese Panna Cotta in a pool of bright red strawberry soup, I could see Osaka’s vision a little better than our first glance around the room. Focus on the food, listen to the seasons, get it right and then let it go.
2233 Larimer St., Denver
303.293.0287 | twelverestaurant.com