A little taste of Italy right here in the Rockies
Written by LOUIS H. FEINSTEIN
Photography by KIMBERLY DAWN
Hotel restaurants are historically dreary spots, populated by solo business travelers held captive
by mediocre food at ridiculous prices. But, oh, the lucky soul who finds herself booked into the Loews Denver and can nestle into one of the cozy chairs in the hotel’s lovely ground-floor dining room, Tuscany.
Tuscany is an award-winning restaurant that should be considered for diners from all over the Denver metro area who want to sample the flavors of one of Italy’s most popular regions. Executive sous chef Eric Frisk enjoystweaking Tuscany’s gastronomical palate, mixing traditional Italian staples such as olive oil, fish and pasta with Asian and Mexican accents. One example: seared tuna with a tropical fruit salad garnished with tequila lime vinaigrette.
Frisk changes the menu seasonally; his current offerings include an appetizer of seared foie gras with chocolate crepes and main dishes of seared elk tenderloin with duck confit and butternut squash cannelloni, and prosciutto gnocchi with lobster and Italian sausage ragu. This imaginative blending of tastes and textures is one of the reasons that Tuscany has been named
one of the “Distinguished Restaurants of North America.”
My dining companion and I happily shook the snow off our coats one frosty December evening and settled in at a cozy table for two in sight of a cheery blaze in the fireplace. The room is done up in calming cream and ochre hues with a faux finish on the walls. The gracious hostess remembered taking my reservation a week before and asked if we were celebrating any special occasion. That
was just a foretaste of the outstanding service that marked our dining experience that evening.
Our server, thankfully, did not introduce herself by name; she did ask whether we preferred bottled or ice water and left a wine list that featured a delightful and well-thought-out selection of domestic and Italian varietals. Hollywood director/vintner Francis Ford Coppola occupies a place of honor on the list, with an offering of bottles not ordinarily available in wine emporiums.
While we were contemplating the menu, a busboy appeared with an architecturally structured bowl of flatbreads in a design somewhat reminiscent of the ruins at Stonehenge. In addition to adding
a note of charm to the table, the breads were delicious, especially when dipped into the accompanying plate of fruity olive oil. He also produced an amuse-bouche for each of us, compliments of Frisk,
which consisted of miniature corn cakes topped with a sprinkle of micro-greens.
Warmed by the fire and with taste buds piqued by the tasty bite of corn cake, we made our selections. An autumnal butternut squash soup for me arrived brimming with earthy flavor and just the right amount of pepper. Crowned with a dollop of cranberry chutney, it was the perfect starter for a cold winter’s night. My dining partner sampled an apple, prosciutto and greens mélange, with leaves so fresh they carried a hint of a springtime garden. However, there was one fly in the ointment —
we still had not chosen a wine. Sensing the situation, our server came to the rescue.
Tuscany offers a number of half-bottles on its list. Why not, she suggested, choose one-half bottle for the appetizer course and then something different for the entrées? A brilliant solution and one that more restaurants should consider. We selected a Sonoma Valley Matanzas Creek sauvignon blanc, a crisp, medium-bodied wine, which complemented perfectly the soup and salad, as well as the flatbread (which reappeared after we devoured the first bowl).
After thoroughly perusing the menu, I chose fish and my companion, a pasta dish, although we considered other options, including a pan-seared duck breast with foie gras mousse, grilled fillet of beef with oyster mushrooms and roasted eggplant ravioli, and citrus-marinated Hawaiian snapper.
Our entrées arrived after a relaxing interlude that allowed us to sip our sauvignon blanc and carry on a leisurely conversation. My first bite of the above-mentioned seared tuna was slightly disappointing — the fish wasn’t quite right. I signaled our server, who, without a moment’s hesitation, whisked the
plate away and asked if she could bring me a glass of wine (on the house) while the chef prepared another plate.
Within minutes, a new platter of tuna arrived, cooked exactly to my liking — internally rare with a crispy crust. (The chef will hold the fish over the fire longer for those who like their food more well done.) The citrus salad, with its tangy vinaigrette, was a delightful accent to the silken tuna. A side
of sautéed spinach was pure heaven. Cooked in extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, the dish was scrumptious enough to turn any spinach-hater into a Popeye wannabe.
Across the table, my partner was happily tucking into a plate of pappardelle Bolognese, made with lamb sausage, veal and pork. This is a man who knows his pasta and likes his meat — his satisfied smile indicated that all ingredients more than met his criteria. A side order of herb-tossed fingerling potatoes was carbohydrate overkill, but so yummy that it was worth every calorie.
For our second taste of the grape, we selected an Australian Shiraz from the whimsically named Woop Woop vineyards. Lulled into a state of drowsy euphoria by the wine, the fire and the food, we perked up when our server presented the dessert menu.
For the two of us, dessert means just one
thing — chocolate, although the rest of the selections sounded scrumptious. Our choice was a no-brainer: chocolate truffle cake and caramel chocolate mousse with Amaretto Godiva sauce. Even though we are die-hard fans of anything made from the cacao bean, it was so rich that we could not finish it, although we gave it our best shot.
For diners who want a Continental conclusion to their meal, Tuscany offers a platter of Italian cheeses, which pairs beautifully with a vintage Port. As for us, an excellent cup of coffee and some chamomile tea served as nonalcoholic digestifs at the end of our meal and warmed us for our postprandial walk to the car, sated and content.
Tuscany serves breakfast Monday through Friday, 6–11 a.m., Saturday and Sunday 7–11 a.m.; lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner seven days a week from 6 to 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended for dinner. The adjacent, quietly chic T-Bar offers half-price food and drinks Monday through Friday, from 4 to 7 p.m.
4150 E. Mississippi Ave.