Nearly a decade after the award-winning partners — Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson — launched Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, they came up with the idea for Tavernetta, a project three years in the making. They applied their iconic strict quality standards for food and service, passion and traditional Italian influence to the concept.
Just a few days following the grand opening and Denver buzzes about the makings of a dining destination, somehow tranquilly situated amid the commotion of an emerging downtown core and transit hub.
Turn off of 16th Street to a quiet corridor and a bulky wooden doorway and step inside Tavernetta — arguably Denver’s most anticipated culinary unveiling of the year — to a homey space where old meets new and playful meets the profoundly thoughtful. The first wall art visible upon entry is a large-scale Slim Aarons photograph of a doughy child with a distant gaze, devouring a vanilla waffle cone and resting atop a timeworn lion sculpture. The image evokes mischief and pure contentment — simplicity — that speaks volumes about the entirety of the restaurant it now calls home.
The clean, airy eatery — designed by Semple Brown — is broken into distinct, but flowing spaces, providing nuanced experiences for the inevitable mix of downtown professionals, hip urbanites, foodies and celebratory diners alike. Upon entry, the bar-lounge provides views of the trains and passersby, perfect for snacks and an aperol spritz. Just around the bend from the bar is a 12-seat private dining room, bounded by glass cases containing bottles, largely Italian, that wine director Carlin Karr carefully selected.
More colorful Slim Aarons photos freckling the walls, depict Italians going about their day-to-day affairs — some glamorous and romantic, others more average — all voyeuristic, fresh and dating back to the late 1950s through 1970s era.
A dimly lit white sandstone grotto with banquet seating leads into another dining area with dark, art-adorned walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and big canvas umbrellas off the outdoor patio on 16th Street.
The “back of the house” isn’t behind much of anything, lacking defined borders — cleverly inviting guests into the comfort of a familiar kitchen for a memorable meal. On the fringes of fiery action is “Bobby’s Eddy” — available upon request — a nook with seating to view the live-action culinary show, and an eight-seat chef’s table that offers a similar view.
Tavernetta aims to be more approachable than Frasca, and more affordable at that. Portions of the menu will adapt with the seasons, and Chef Ian Wortham says he has some surprises up his sleeve, but the bulk of the menu will remain consistent.
Wortham’s kitchen is staffed with nearly 30 people, drawing from his experience and influences throughout Italy, he says simplicity characterizes the regional a la carte menu.
Charcuterie selections lead off the fare, followed by dishes such as the porchetta tonnata made of roast pork loin and tuna conserva, a light and refreshing starter. The campo di fungi comes with two flattened lasagna noodles layered with ricotta, seasonal mushrooms and lemon zest. The carpaccio alla cipriani stays true to the traditional ingredients and preparation with a thin layer of beef tenderloin, topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano and aioli. For lunch, the menu is condensed and includes daytime specials including the panino of mortadella, prosciutto and salame, as well as the rotisserie chicken for two.
Happy hour will run from 3 to 6 p.m. seven days a week, offering $4 to $5 snacks, spirits and glasses of vino.
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