Colorado food / Dining and Restaurants

Flashback: Mizuna reviewed in 2001

Note: Here is a review I wrote in 2001 that popped up when I gained access to my RMN writing. Reading it now makes me hungry.
Grade: A
Where: 225 E. Seventh Ave.
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays
Food: New American
How much: $7-$13 starters; $17-$29 entrees
Information: (303) 832-4778
Rocky Mountain News
November 30, 2001
By John Lehndorff News Dining Critic

It’s rare that I leave a restaurant smiling from ear to ear and gushing about glossy sauces. It’s even rarer when it happens twice, as it did recently when I dined at Mizuna.

Mizuna came with an impressive pedigree. Owners Frank Bonanno and Doug Fleischmann are veterans of the well-regarded Mel’s Restaurant and Grill and the now-closed Starfish. The eatery occupies the site of the much-beloved Aubergine Cafe. Most of the first-rate wait staff was welcomed to Mizuna after Aubergine closed.
The warm space has been warmed up and soundproofed a bit, but the open kitchen remains. It’s intimate – but not intimidating – which seems appropriate for a place that serves fancy food that seems familiar.
One of those extraordinary / ordinary dishes we ordered on our first visit is TK’s macaroni and cheese ($10). This change-of-pace starter combines toothsome elbow macaroni in a silky butter and mascarpone-fortified sauce sweetened with big chunks of lobster meat and squiggles of coral-hued lobster-infused oil. The result is a sublimely satisfying dish. “TK” refers to recipe originator, chef Thomas Keller of Napa’s French Laundry.
My wife opted for the roasted sweetbreads ($9). Crunchy outside and soft inside, these tidbits were graced with an intensely concentrated porcini sauce, a noodle cake and the balancing bitterness of arugula puree. We were starting to understand why we’ve heard only praise for Mizuna.
From a 10-item list of main dishes, the Maple Leaf Farm duck ($24) spoke (or perhaps quacked) to me. It boasted a tender confit leg with rich caramelized flavors, served hot and juicy, and medium-rare roast duck breast slices set in red zinfandel sauce. The accompaniment is an impeccable crumb-topped casserole of big chewy cranberry beans and house-made garlic sausage.
Also appealing was the pan-roasted squab ($28). We loved the creamy celery root and potato puree and chestnut demi-glace. The small bird was decently roasted but was an awful lot of work to eat.
The establishment’s big white plates and bowls proved the perfect canvas for Bonnano’s good-looking but thankfully not vertical food. We were also pleased to encounter a menu that didn’t require subtitles.
Desserts at Mizuna carry on the familiar yet fabulous theme. The comforting chocolate mousse ($6) steps it up a notch with the use of four-star El Rey milk chocolate and whipped cream. The peanut butter Napolean ($6) is not for the kids. Peanut butter shortbread is layered with chocolate pudding and decadent peanut and caramel fondant.
It was a fine case of deja vu all over again when we visited Mizuna for the second time. Sean Kelly, former chef-owner of Aubergine Cafe, was in the kitchen filling in for the sous-chef. It was his first night back since closing Aubergine.
On our eager return trip, we were wowed by the earthy compilation of soft, wide black pepper pappardelle noodles ($8) with braised rabbit and crimini mushrooms. Glossy and chestnut-colored, the white truffle-scented sauce was silky on the tongue. The generous portion of rabbit tasted like, well, rabbit – and nothing like chicken.
Luckily, we had a basket of bread ready to mop up the other glossy wonders pouring from chef Bonnano’s kitchen. Besides Breadworks’ artisan loaf, Mizuna serves its house-baked Kalamata olive bread. The olives are pureed before addition to the dough, yielding a moist, speckled loaf that doesn’t taste olivey.
We cleared our palates with the hearts of romaine salad ($8), essentially a Caesar with white anchovy filet and grana cheese. However, the leaves were so lightly coated in roasted garlic dressing that we could barely taste it.
More often than not, when menus advertise “stuffed” pork chops the stuffing is served on the side. Not so here, where the substantial grilled bone-in pork chop ($22) is stuffed with fontina cheese and fresh sage. Each bite of charred pork includes a taste of stuffing. Crunchy herb-roasted potatoes atop a sauteed spinach soaked up another pan sauce. We were thrilled to chomp a chop minus the usual sweet fruity sauce.
John Dory ($28) is white, meaty fish that Mizuna pan-roasts until the skin and the bottom layer are crisp. Several large filets float atop a sea of New England chowder dense with in-shell clams and cubed potato. A stream of emerald chive oil pulls the flavors together.
Other entrees on the November menu included green tea-poached Chilean sea bass with spicy carrot sauce ($23), and grilled salmon with creme-fraiche mashed potatoes. Those mashers sounded so delightful that we ordered a side dish. One taste had us muttering “Oh yeah, oh yeah.”
I was thoroughly entertained by the mini carrot and golden raisin pancakes ($6). The moist mouthfuls were topped with house-churned rum raisin ice cream and drizzlings of intense Vermont maple syrup.
The seasonal pumpkin creme brulee ($6) was served out of its bowl over a phyllo crisp. My friend Andria was put off by the texture of the creme brulee, which was dense and cheesecake-like, rather than fluffy or custardy.
We can’t say enough about Mizuna’s knowledgeable, down-to-earth serving staff. Each of them clearly relishes the job of serving. Brilliant front-of-the-house maestro Doug Fleischmann casually visits each table during the meal even as he sets tables. The first night we visited Mizuna, we noticed that a son had brought his wheelchair-bound Mom in for a meal. She ordered a tenderloin and he tenderly fed it to her bite by bite. Fleischmann and company treated them like gold, not as an unsightly problem to be rushed out the door.
The bottom line is this: We left Mizuna after both visits very happy with our dining experience. It’s ultra-rich fare priced accordingly and more than worth every cent. This young eatery is already one Colorado’s best.
John Lehndorff was the dining critic for the Rocky Mountain News 2000-2008.

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