Whether it is your first date or your fifth anniversary, romantic ambiance is key to having a memorable time. But when you're dropping a lot of cash on dinner, it is also imperative that the food taste as good as the place looks. Luckily Denver has quite a few restaurants dishing up both.
Of course romance has many different meanings, so we've included restaurants in a variety of style, cooking and dating categories. For instance if you are trying to impress her on a first date you might go for a Colt & Gray, because they have a really sexy downstairs lounge where you can start with hand-crafted cocktails before moving upstairs for a proper dinner. Or you could check out the super tiny Cart-Driver in RiNo, because it is casual enough to not freak your date out, while still feeling romantic serving oysters and bubbly.
But if you've been together for ages and are celebrating an anniversary, then dinner at Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House, followed by a show in one of the Denver Performing Arts Center venues is in order. If one of you is training for the next Iron Man race, then you'll want to a health conscious venue that still manages to keep the entrees interesting, something that Bittersweet Artisanal Cuisine and Fruition both do effortlessly.
Here are our 10 favorite places to seduce your sweetheart in the Mile High City:
Inspired by the Carrettiera, or Cart-Driver, who brought goods from Southern Italy's farms to its villages via horse-drawn cart, stopping along the way to serve people, this tiny pizza and oyster shack is all about sharing be it food or conversation.
Dining here is an experience. With a maximum capacity of just 29, and tucked into a 640-sq-ft shipping container space, it is an intimate experience to say the least. But it's also kind of cool, being in such a small place, you can see food cooked in front of you, and whether you are dining on a date or solo, the atmosphere feels congenial and not stuffy and the service genuine.
Best of all is the food. The menu basically feature fresh oysters (selection changes daily), prosecco on tap and the best wood-fire pizza I've had in Denver. Try the Cart-Driver which is topped with crispy kale and sausage.
Mediterranean influences inform the menu that includes extraordinary handmade pastas by Chef Jennifer Jasinski, who is also co-owner of the restaurant. The cavatelli is served with black truffle chicken sausage, morel mushroom, peas and spring onions, while the beet gnocchi has strawberries, hon-shimeji mushrooms, walnuts, tarragon and horseradish-fromage blanc. Among the phenomenal starter offerings are a roasted beet salad and the Rioja "picnic" plate with artisan meats, warm pine-nut-crusted goat cheese, Gorgonzola, olives, fennel salad, orange confit and almonds. And whatever else you do, save room for the beignets stuffed with sweet goat cheese and black mission for with a ruby port reduction for dessert. If you drive, take advantage of the valet parking rather than trying to park around Larimer Square on your own. (303-820-2282)
To say the least, Domo Restaurant is enchanting. It steps outside your typical restaurant ambience beginning with the dining room reminiscent of a charming cottage with its tables made from stone and seats from tree stumps. The backyard is an urban oasis, almost as if you're dining in an exquisite display garden. No matter where you choose to dine, you'll enjoy Japanese country cooking, such as eggy tojimono, donburi bowls topped with fresh raw fish, and a fantastic list of noodles. Entrees are served with sides of pickled vegetables, yams and fermented soybeans. If the weather is nice, try sitting outside on the patio. (303-595-3666)
Open for dinner only, Mizuna offers an intimate dining experience and arguably one of Denver's most romantic restaurant experiences for that reason. At Mizuna, you will not find the loud clamor that seems so popular in many restaurants today. There is a warm yet minimalist aesthetic at work here. A handful of conservatively appointed tables dot the intimate dining room; soft lighting and professional, unobtrusive service complete the elegant scene. The menu creatively combines unusual tastes and textures resulting in such mouthwatering offerings as pan-seared ostrich loin and grape-seed-oil-poached escolar, along with decadent plates including lobster mac 'n cheese, which is beyond decadent and delicous made with poached Maine lobster and mascarpone. (303-832-4778, 303-525-1702)
Colt & Gray
In a great location right at the base of the Highland Bridge, Colt & Gray, which recently expanded to add a sexy downstairs lounge, Ste. Ellie, draws a loyal crowd for its flavorful and well-presented mains as well as an experiential dining experience.
Owner and executive chef Nelson Perkins serve a menu that fuses modern American with global flavors to create dishes that will never be described as bland (at times the intensity can be a little over-powering). The restaurant is known for its rotating range of cured meats on its charcuterie menu that the staff know very well. The menu includes both small and large plates – the lamb is revered – and excellent desserts like the sticky toffee pudding.
The chic dining room and sexy lounge downstairs, Ste. Ellie, complete the picture – it's especially convenient if you want to completely separate night experiences in same building. (303-477-1447)
"Yearly visits to Italy inspire the cuisine, wine list and the pace as well as the ambience," says the management here. The cuisine--contemporary northern Italian rooted in the regions of Piedmont, Tuscany and the Veneto--is complemented by a deep wine list that is heavily Italian but also includes bottles from France, Spain, South America, California and other highly regarded wine-producing regions of the world. While much of the menu is seasonal, there are likely to be examples of thoughtful pairings of U.S. and Italian preparation and ingredients, such as aged prosciutto di parma or slow-poached baby octopus served with Rocky Ford cantaloupe. Among the pasta dishes is hand-cut tajarin noodles tossed with braised rabbit, baby spinach and pecorino Toscana, while secondi dishes include grilled free-range hen with summer corn caponata and roasted eggplant puree. (303-393-1040)
Guard and Grace
In a sleek downtown locale that is all post mod glass and steel, Guard and Grace is the second latest venture from one of Denver's most entrepreneurial chef's Troy Guard. (He has since opened Los Chingones, a taco joint near Coors Field, and also has the SugarMill next door plus LoDo's TAG and Congress Park's TAG Burger Bar).
At Guard and Grace, steaks are front and center with 22 different options in three categories: Prime, Angus and Grass-fed, all of which are made from Colorado-raised beef. The meat is always cooked to order: be it blue (very red, cold center) or well done. If you don't dig beef, the creative menu also includes oak-grilled chicken enchiladas and Rocky Mountain trout.
Unless you don't eat shellfish, the raw bar is the way to start. If you won't try American sturgeon caviar, tuna sashimi or oysters, however, then try the oak-grilled carrots. (303-293-8500)
Stoic & Genuine
Seafood lovers will want to check out Stoic & Genuine, where fresh seafood is flown in from both coasts and Japanese fish markets daily. The restaurant is another concept from Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch (Euclid Hall, Rioja and Bistro Vendome) and chef de cuisine, Jorel Pierce.
The New England Lobster roll, which is packed with lots of juicy meat, is one menu top choice. But the real star here is the Surf and Turf, which somehow manages to blend a skirt steak and tuna pico into one item. Every bite taste perfect, especially when dipped into the jalapeño cream sauce served on the side.
The restaurant has a nautical theme and pops with teal and dark wooden beams along with fishing net glass floats encased in the walls. For drinks try a Granita. (303.640.3474)
Bittersweet Artisanal Cuisine
Away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Denver, find Bittersweet Artisanal Cuisine in the Washington Park Neighborhood. What was once a former 1950s gas station is now a high-end restaurant serving up thoughtful and innovate dishes like pork belly with strawberry puree and pickled Fresno peppers. Organic produce from two on-site gardens (600-square-feet total) provides many of the fresh ingredients inside the chef driven and chef owned restaurant.
The love child of Olav Peterson and Melissa Severson, Bittersweet is the culmination of the couple's hard work and the hope for a bright future and much of what you eat has been created in house (or grown in the garden).
Try the smoked mussels to start. While the duroc pork rib-eye (English peas, bacon, truffled pea pur�e, fried spring onions, natural j�s) or the scallops (smoked rock shrimp & pasilla risotto, sweet corn sauce) are excellent main choices. (3037254353)
Kevin Taylor's At The Opera
Located in the Chambers Grant Salon in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House serves pre-theater cocktails and dinner and is also available for private catered events, but is only open when there are performances at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Buell Theater or Boettcher Concert Hall.
One of Denver's most celebrated chefs, Taylor has been creating innovative contemporary American fare for decades now. For a main try the Maine lobster ravioli or the Colorado rack of lamb with lentils to Maine lobster ravioli. The ambiance is romantic and old world opulent. (3036401012)
About Becca Blond
Becca Blond is an award-winning Denver based freelance travel writer. She has authored more than 30 Lonely Planet guides on five continents. She also writes about Colorado and the world for Afar Media, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, Cadillac Magazine and others.
When not out of the country, Becca loves hanging with her three dogs, Duke, Bobbi and Poppy (who review hotels with her). She loves Denver for its sunshine, craft beer scene and outdoor activities.
Read more about Becca Blond here.
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