Dining Out: Beckon/Call, Departure, and Jovanina’s Broken Italian

A restaurant with a delicious split personality, plus chic Asian and improvisational Italian.

A plate of food, perhaps chicken, perhaps fish.
Photo by Cassandra Stiltner

Beckon / Call

Scandinavian, American, European

Why choose one restaurant concept when you can cook it all? That’s the question Beckon and Call executive chef Duncan Holmes and co-owner Craig Lieberman posed to me while I sat at one of Beckon’s 17 seats, enjoying an eight-course feast. The newly opened fine dining restaurant is sister to Call, named a Bon Appétit Best New Restaurant last year—the places, considered two parts of one restaurant, share a wall.

I was there to test their query: Could a restaurant that is split into two experiences, Call serving fast-casual breakfast and lunch and Beckon a dinner tasting menu, make equally delicious meals? The answer, fellow Denverites, is a resounding yes.

Holmes’ Scandinavian roots, along with American and European tastes and techniques, inspired both menus, each place featuring open kitchens and an inviting staff. If our offices were downtown, Call would be my go-to breakfast and lunch spot. It’s light and bright with a dog-friendly patio and a menu that revolves around house-made breads. The tartines, open-faced sandwiches topped with protein (we devoured the house-smoked salmon with curried onion, $13.50), use sourdough as the base. The aebleskiver ($6.50), a “Danish pancake puff” with fruit and ricotta, makes a great shareable dessert. And Call’s famous chicken salad, made with chicken confit (starting at $4), can take you to comfort food heaven with just a spoonful. The house cocktails and coffees are also impressive—hot buttered rum ($10) is a must-order.

Beckon, dark and a little moody, brings a new idea to Denver’s table. It’s a dinner spot featuring a new eight-course menu each night, which you pay for when you make your reservation ($95 per person). The 17 bar-style seats encase the open kitchen. The house sommelier selects the wine or beer and cider pairings ($65 more per person). Our courses included a savory aebleskiver bite, smoked local trout, buttery langoustine, and sourdough bread made with aspen tree bark. We’ll be back again; at Beckon, no two meals are the same. —Kendall Kostelic

Beckon / Call
2845 Larimer St.

Wontons held with chopsticks.
Courtesy Departure

Departure

Sophisticated Asian

Denver is, in many ways, a farm-to-table city. Our best restaurants lean disproportionately toward the local, earthy, and quaint—but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a bona fide big-city dining experience if you’re in the mood for one. For proof, look no further than Departure, the modern Asian restaurant attached to the Halcyon Hotel in Cherry Creek.

Run by a powerhouse duo—culinary director Gregory Gourdet, a Top Chef finalist, and executive chef Khamla Vongsakoun, formerly of Buddakan in Philadelphia—Departure feels like a joint plucked from Midtown Manhattan and shipped, staff and all, to the middle of the Mountain West. The main dining room features a space-agey wraparound bar, splashy art, and accents of white and candy apple red. That high-energy aesthetic is matched by the encyclopedic ambition of the menu, offering everything from sushi favorites— shrimp tempura rolls with trout roe ($15), tuna poke with avocado and taro ($19)—to more creative dishes like the Chinese BBQ short rib with pumpkin purée ($26), curried Colorado lamb chop ($14), and miso black cod with bacon dashi and roasted sunchokes ($24).

But the menu’s unquestionable star is the striped bass ($40), a tender fillet cooked with the skin and bones on, fried, topped with a mango-cashew salad, and served flamboyantly whole: a beautiful, curling form with an open mouth and flexing tail, gaping up crisply from the plate. It’s a dish that aims to dazzle, in a restaurant that does the same. —Andrew Weaver

Departure
249 Columbine St.

Chicken in a pot.
Courtesy Jovanina’s Broken Italian

Jovanina’s Broken Italian

Modern Italian

You’ll find no fustiness or pomp—frequent scourges of Italian fine dining—at Jovanina’s Broken Italian, a new LoDo restaurant on Blake Street. The lunch and dinner eatery, whose launch was managed by Denver’s Bespoke Concepts, trades white tablecloths for millennial-approved quirk, with charming touches like an antique Vespa used as a host stand, chandeliers made from aged metal gears, candelabras dripping wax onto the tables, and, of course, lots of exposed brick.

The menu veers between true Italian food and an interpretive, “broken” variety, the latter options as cheeky as the wallpaper pattern of iPhones, computer mice, and rolls of 35mm film. The mortadella pinwheel sausage ($12), for example, with carrot top vinaigrette and red pepper jelly, comes spiraled and skewered on the plate like an old-fashioned lollipop. The corn soup ($8), served “cappuccino” style, is topped with a frothy dollop of potato whip.

Wonderful though these improvisations are, the heart of the menu is the handmade pasta, which mines incredible drama from simple ingredients. On a recent visit, I got the cavatelli fiorelli ($19), a dish in four parts, combined tableside: the pasta, a base of emulsified butter, a mix of seasonings, and a column of bubbly beef marrow scraped fresh from the bone. “Dinner and a show,” my waiter said, tossing the dish. I might have heeded the wallpaper’s suggestion and snapped a photo, but by the time I thought to do so, my plate was half empty. —Andrew Weaver

Jovanina’s Broken Italian
1520 Blake St.