One thing's for sure: Wahid Hafsaoui has the look. And so does Couture's Bistro, in its own posh, French-meets-Mediterranean-mishmash kinda way.
The Algerian owner of this swank former Idorü and legacy laundromat spot — transformed after more than a year and half a million dollars — told the Indy in October that he aimed to "do the best food, even better than Denver." To that end, you'll find him dressed super-dapper, like one of the Mile High City's notable maître d's: fine light-brown leather shoes, skinny designer jeans, a dark suit vest and jacket obscuring most of an untucked button-down, plus a beret and reserved smile.
Following suit in the kitchen, Paris' Le Cordon Bleu-educated chef Ned Robinson says he's opting for "execution over concept," keeping the menu "simple and traditional" with French foundations but influences ranging from Spain and Italy to North Africa. A skinny-jeans aesthetic on the plate, if you will.
Big Van Gogh reproductions by local artist Carol Cromie grace the front dining room of lofted booths and custom oak tables, and her huge Parisian street-scene mural helps create a faux-outdoor-café patio area in the long eatery's midsection that splits a lovely, cellar-like back dining room and a dark, moody wine bar.
Atmospheric accordion music plays during Sunday brunch hours, where my pancetta Eggs Benedict plate ($13) pops with the jerky-textured, cured pork belly strips that are as potently salty as the Hollandaise is velvety and rich over the house-made English muffins. A Barista Espresso cappuccino ($3.50) complements, though it's worth noting that only a wine list is dropped, so you've got to navigate coffee and dessert options verbally.
From the latter, do grab an excellent panna cotta that bursts with orange essence and/or a delightfully less-cake-like, considerably cinnamon-spiked tiramisu rendition (each $7) with a pleasingly scant ladyfinger layer under a cream-cheese-heavy top in a parfait glass.
For apps, crunchy, pesto-garnished fried risotto triangles called Arancini ($7) sport a creamy center that could use a little salt. And a fabulous blue cheese fondue sauce over two small steak skewers and crispy polenta ($7) delivers the heavy mouth-hammer of happiness, besting the crispy duck confit ($14), which is nonetheless just fine and falls from the bone into a pearly puddle of Israeli couscous subtly laced with apricot sauce.
Dried apricot purée meets a kitchen-sink blend of flavors stemming from inputs like fried ginger, lemon zest, olives, cilantro and minced raw garlic garnish that gift Couture's Lamb Tajine ($28) a wholly unique and vibrant depth and complexity, plated over soft zucchini and potatoes in its braising juice. The likably light Salmon Acqua Pazza ($28) poaches the fish in a "crazy water" of white-wine-tomato broth and arrives equally wet with creamy polenta and veggies that are left with a little crispness for some tooth in the array.
Couture's bares its own teeth to the marketplace in terms of leading with the style and flavors that Hafsaoui (who also owns the neighboring Paris Crepe Euro Café) believes comprise true fine dining. It doesn't rival Denver quite yet, with understandable early growing pains — for instance, distributor issues that left our first choices for entrées out of stock — and menu items that just don't excite the senses like the multi-layer modern marvels on display at, say, Fruition or Squeaky Bean.
But it's damn good, and boastful talk and comparisons aside, a real beauty.