Small Space, Big Flavors

To the Wind Bistro brings cozy charm to East Colfax

Tender Tentacles: The Spanish octopus is a must. Photography: Annette Slade Photography

The Spanish octopus is a must. Photography: Annette Slade Photography

How often does the chef greet you when you walk in the door to a restaurant? And how often do you feel right at home the instant you sit down? To the Wind on East Colfax Avenue is that kind of place.

With somewhere between 20 and 25 seats, it feels like Chef Royce Oliveira and his wife, Leanne Adamson, pushed away the living room furniture and invited passersby in for an amazing dinner party.

Their children often are in the restaurant as well, which only adds to the comfort level.

“There are worse places for kids to be than a restaurant,” Adamson tells me. I agree, having learned a lot by hanging about in my grandfather’s diner in Michigan.

To the Wind is so intimate, in fact, that when Oliveira adds a new spice to a pan, you can catch the aroma as it ripens and fills the room with a beautiful aroma. Oliveira works from a six-burner stove that defies any home cook’s desire for a big open concept kitchen. Despite the exceptionally small space, he and his only other chef seem to be in perfect unison with one another.

The menu is as compact as the restaurant’s square footage. Our server tells us some menu items come and go quickly, so it pays to be a regular. I hope (make that pray) Oliveira, formerly with Mizuna, Axios and The Village Cork, never takes the Spanish octopus off the menu. The table next to me raved about it when we sat down. It looked lovely but I was skeptical about tentacles on my plate–not because I am squeamish–but because cooking anything in the cephalopod mollusk species can go oh so very wrong.

However, with Oliveira at the helm, there’s no need to worry. He tenderizes the meat in a drawn-out soaking of beer and milk that transforms the normally toothy and rubbery texture from silicon to silky and sweet. Grapefruit and orange, a jicama slaw with a hint of jalapeno heat and crushed macadamias balance out the seafood’s sweetness. This is one of the best dishes I have tried in some time.

Pork shoulder tops the cornmeal waffle. Photography: Annette Slade Photography

Pork shoulder tops the cornmeal waffle. Photography: Annette Slade Photography

The cornmeal waffle with roasted pork shoulder and coleslaw is a small plate with a nice Southern drawl that will please meat lovers. My appetite didn’t have room for it, but fellow food writers swear by the escargot empanadas, with oyster mushrooms and greens that are topped off with a creamy and sharp parmesan sauce. More than a few plates of the pastry pockets that passed our table were met with oohs and aahs as they were received.

To the Wind, which opened last spring, offers just a handful of entrees, but, even so, the decision on which one to try isn’t easy. We opted to follow our small plate precedent of seafood and Southern, with Yakama sturgeon and buttermilk chicken. My favorite way to eat sturgeon is with a pearl oyster spoon filled with caviar, but this dish made my tablemate and I fast fans of the fish. The assertive flavor jumped up a notch with a combination of bitter Picholine olives and a light textured sauce that had a pronounced savory and salty sea flavor. It was served with generously portioned and plump gnocchi dumplings and topped with thin shavings of zucchini.

The old-fashioned buttermilk chicken was a two-part dish. The tender chicken with a creamy glaze and sweet potato hash was the stuff of childhood memories (think Sunday dinners with family), while its pairing with oyster mushrooms and brown cider glaze was reminiscent of the grown-up table.

The bar at To the Wind includes a few beer taps with a craft IPA, ale, two stouts and a cider. The craft beer bottle list is extensive and looks a lot like an educated beer drinker’s wish list with at least 25 options. A modestly sized wine selection and a bottle spirit list are offered, and while there are no preconceived cocktails, you can work out the right drink with your server.

The Yakima sturgeon is served with gnocchi. Photography: Annette Slade Photography

The Yakima sturgeon is served with gnocchi. Photography: Annette Slade Photography

To the Wind does not take reservations, but you can call ahead and put your name on the list. There is no spare space to hang around, so head over to one of the neighboring bars or eateries until your table is ready.

A small restaurant like To the Wind is a refreshing change from expansive cavernous restaurants, which are easy to get lost in amongst the crowds and noise. Throughout the evening, nothing slipped by the servers. The small space allows for all eyes to be on all the tables. Chef Oliveira immerses himself in each dish with few distractions, while Anderson fills in the front of the house gaps and needs as diners and come and go.

To the Wind’s size makes it unique and the ease of service makes it seem effortless, but it’s the food that makes it truly memorable.

To the Wind
3333 E. Colfax Ave.
303.316.3333
tothewindbistro.com

 

THE LOW DOWN

DRESS: Easy-going; wear whatever

VIBE: Comfortable, cozy and welcoming. The best table in the house is the counter that borders the tiny kitchen allowing you to watch as the plates come together.

EVENTS: To the Wind features works from local artists that adorn the walls. Check the website for art release dates and special events, such as beer and wine dinners.

RESERVATIONS: Not accepted. Call ahead to put your name on the list.

HOURS
Closed Mondays
5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday
5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
On Sundays, To the Wind becomes a.m.BS, a pop-up restaurant serving causal breakfast sandwiches, run by Jared Brant and Todd Somma.

UP NEXT: Holding Down the Fort: A Q&A With Holly Arnold Kinney, Proprietor of The Fort

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