Restaurateur Justin Cucci can transform eclectic spaces in Denver into creative culinary experiences. Backed by fourteen years of experience at New York’s Ye Waverly Inn, Cucci is the force behind the Edible Beats concept group that has opened five stunning restaurants in Denver, plus one at the airport. Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox boasts the edge and entertainment factor of a brothel, the building’s former purpose. From Ballpark’s seductive “gastro-brothel” to LoHi’s Linger, a slightly macabre and persistently popular bar and restaurant, Cucci and his team consistently churn out hits.
El Five, the sixth Edible Beats much-anticipated venture, opened in April to the culinary community’s delight. The Mediterranean tapas restaurant is housed in a colorful and cinematic space on the fifth floor that showcases the Rocky Mountains and downtown skyline simultaneously. The Edible Beats philosophy of playing with food is demonstrated throughout the menu’s dishes that are infused bold, international flavors.
Here’s a breakdown about Cucci’s latest hotspot, from the critics’ mouths to your ears:
Vegetarian Appeal: El Five’s meat-heavy tapas menu doesn’t forgo quality or execution against its vegetarian dishes. A writer from The Denver Post, seduced by the green gazpacho and ash roasted carrots, unabashedly confesses that Cucci “knows how to make people eat their vegetables.” Diners can expect an array of vegetarian dishes as the El Five’s seasonal menus evolve. The matzah ball soup dumplings, a Chinese-style soup with dumplings packed like matzah balls, and a trio of diverse paellas are immediate standouts. Despite El Five’s slightly hidden and “kind of confusing” location in an office building, “Cucci’s got mega fans, so… people will make the effort.” [The Know]
Shaken, and Strained: Westword notes that the quality products and processes that drive other Edible Eats projects extend to El Five’s menu. Notably, the cocktail menu “stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the food.” Drawing upon Spanish culture’s love for infused gin and tonics, the beverage program “presents a variety of bright concoctions, bobbing with different combinations.” Ky Belk, the mind behind the drinks, intends to reduce ice use. The bar also boasts of a high-tech porthole infuser, affectionately known as “El Supremo.” Like the beverage menu, El Five possesses “glam finishes” that tend to entice the diner, throughout all of their senses. [Westword]
Nice on the Eyes, Less on the Wallet: Like other critics, the writers at The Infatuation are charmed by the panoramic views of the city from El Five’s balcony. The menu’s impressive flavors and the price nearly match the altitude of the Mile High City, however. While the prices are set at a higher point, the El Five experience “is definitely worth the splurge for a nice night out. An evening at El Five is recommended for a showy dinner with visitors, a girls’ night out, and special occasions. Conversely, patio seating is recommended 100% of the time. Pro-tip: if you can’t snag a patio table, the bar offers the same stellar views and quicker service. [The Infatuation]
“Exotic Playground in the Sky We’ve All Been Waiting For:” Since its first look into the restaurant, Zagat continues to rave about El Five. The fifth-floor tapa’s bar playful Mediterranean style fills a much-needed gap in “a town inexplicably devoid of the genre.” The restaurant guide featured the latest Cucci project in multiple round-ups, including a recent hot list. The matzah ball soup is again lauded for its delicate skin and hints of lemon and dill. This “Jewish-Shanghainese mash-up” are counted “among the most sensational creations we’ve encountered in the whirlwind of spring openings” in the summer “eat and drink” feature. The patio also is counted among the 18 “must-visit” rooftop destinations in Denver. [Zagat]