Dining Out: Le Bilboquet and Run for the Roses

Bistro-style French dining and an underground cocktail lounge

Le Bilboquet Denver

Bistro-style French dining

In an era of food halls and Grub Hub, a pair of New York City restaurateurs have come to the rescue of Denver foodies who love to be coddled, pampered, and surrounded by beauty when they cough up their obligatory $100 each for a night out. There’s hope in Cherry Creek for the white tablecloth, and its name is Le Bilboquet.

Le Bilboquet is gorgeous inside and out, with its gleaming linens, pewter bar, blue velvet banquettes, well-dressed servers, stunning chandeliers, and fresh orchids. But let’s not confuse bilboquet with bibliotheque, French for library. Le Bilboquet means a kid’s toy, and in their first Western location owners Rick Wahlstedt and Philippe Delgrange have created a warm, vibrant adult playland, a far cry from what the New York Post once called “the snobbiest restaurant in New York.”

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Wahlstedt. “This is not a gastro experience where you sit for five hours and have eight courses.”

Photo by Emily Teater

The banquettes are comfortable enough for a leisurely dining experience, but you won’t need eight courses. Every entrée here comes with a side dish, so portions here suffice in two or three courses. A shareable beet salad ($16) yielded tender chunks in a variety of colors, and the gorgeously presented crabmeat and avocado salad ($17) won praise from East Coast guests. Oddly, Le Bilboquet’s signature dish is its Cajun chicken ($26), neatly sliced and sauced, served alongside heavenly (or sinful, depending on your waistline) french fries. But we can testify for the seared Colorado striped bass ($27), the mussels ($23), and the prime filet ($48). If you love heavenly/sinful mashed potatoes, the veal scallopini ($33) is the way to go.

Even if you prefer savory to sweet, at a French restaurant one of your courses should always be dessert. This is especially true at Le Bilboquet, which has nailed classics such as profiteroles ($10) and crème brûlée ($8). The star of our visit was La Vacherin ($11), vanilla ice cream and strawberry sorbet adorned with fresh raspberry coulis and clouds of crispy meringue.

As we left at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday, the energy still crackled from a full house and bar. The acoustics and layout of the dining room and adjacent patio give each party privacy without the need to shout, which is good because, well, Le Bilboquet is no library. Rather, it’s a refined yet rowdy and contemporary homage to the French bistro of old. –Susan Fornoff

Le Bilboquet Denver
299 St Paul St.

Run for the Roses

Underground cocktail lounge

At Run for the Roses, a new cocktail lounge in the Dairy Block, you won’t hear the work “speakeasy” thrown around by the staff. Sure, the bar is underground. Yes, it serves classic, Prohibition-style drinks. But according to general manager Seth VanLaanen, “Speakeasy is a loaded word. It connotes a lot of exclusivity. We prefer ‘cocktail lair.’”

Indeed, Run for the Roses isn’t trying to keep people out; the first-come, first- served watering hole is more concerned with inspiring delight than snootiness. The menu, printed on decks of playing cards, makes shuffling through the drink options a game unto itself. The offerings include 52 classic cocktails (the team at RFTR doesn’t invent new recipes) from Old Fashioneds to Manhattans to Martinis. You’ll need some lesser-known offerings like the Alaska and the Widow’s Kiss, as well as some seriously old-school takes, like a Mint Julep made with cognac—the cocktail’s original spirit— instead of bourbon. The menu also includes 75 wines, special “reserve” cocktails made with spirits from the bar’s collection of rare historic bottles, and sharable drinks served in elegant antique punch bowls.

For food, RFTR sells “parlor-style” snacks; think deviled eggs, shrimp cocktails, and caviar. If that sounds too swanky for your taste, don’t worry. “We’re the type of place where you can order a martini and caviar,” says VanLaanen, “but you can also get Coors and a shot of Jim Beam. We try to provide something for everyone.” –Andrew Weaver

Run for the Roses
1801 Blake St., Ste. 110