Were I limited to one salient detail to portray just how meticulously and brilliantly prepared Amuzé Bistro's menu is, it would be this: The sherry vinaigrette-soaked spinach, weighted by orange slices pinwheeling out from a delicate tower of sliced beets layered in goat cheese, appears to have been plated one leaf at a time.
Rather than raining a capricious handful of stems every which way, as is universal to salad prep, hands in the kitchen have instead laboriously placed each leaf face-up, pointing dutifully toward the plate's rim.
The resulting composition could be called art before food, and it's only one reason you should call to find a vacancy in Amuzé Bistro's reservation book, which is already largely filled into July. You will pay, but you will savor.
Executive chef and owner Bill Sherman, with genuine humility, tells me that since opening in late September, he's had diners consistently signing his guest book with comments like, "This was one of the top five meals in my life."
When Sherman's joined by chef Kent Hildreth, line cook Matt Wasson, a disher and a single server, you get more staff than there are tables in the dining room — hence the attention to detail. (And the reason why I don't believe it mattered that said server happened to be an old acquaintance from my restaurant days.)
Originally constructed in 1874 as a bunkhouse for Denver and Rio Grande Railroad workers, the warm, cottage-sized space turned into the station agent's house in 1883. After several more tenants, it was zoned commercial; when Sherman took it over, it had most recently been a bakery. While he assembled his kitchen piece-by-piece over the course of a year, he ran a catering operation under the name Front Range Epicurean.
His small menu reflects a similar patience. Before the aforementioned beet salad ($8) arrived, we'd already relished a delicate amuse-bouche (complimentary chef's teaser) comprised of a tiny profiterole (puffed pastry) stuffed with a potent mushroom confit, and two divine diver scallops ($7) lofted on cauliflower puree. Granting the plate an elegant height, long, homemade potato gaufrettes (waffle chips) poked from the centerpieces, and blazes of chive oil and a red wine reduction bordered the plate. Like I said — art.
After relishing the beet salad, we sipped demitasse portions of immensely rich, heavy cream-based butternut squash and vanilla-infused tomato soups (each $3). The squash was fine, but the vanilla spike to the tomato was simply genius, emerging after about a five-count as a faint hint on the tongue.
Next came the seared wild Carolina duck breast ($32) and the most expensive plate I believe I've ever ordered, a $48, 8-ounce prime filet mignon. (Told you you'd pay.) Sherman notes that he procures the prime-grade meat from a Nebraska farm, and that only 2 percent of U.S. beef is of its quality.
On account of the meat being dry-aged for 26 days, Sherman must project his sales and place orders a month in advance. The part where he dolls the tender cuts up beside asparagus bundled by a wrapped green onion and a swirly mound of truffle-infused blue Peruvian and Idaho baker potatoes, then ladles out a dark ooze of raspberry demi-glace ... well, that helps buffer the sticker shock, too.
The dish was superb all around, but we were actually won over more by the unique huckleberry habañero sauce and vibrant Minnesota wild rice pairing with the buttery duck. The rich, fruity sauce brought neither significant heat, tartness or sweetness, but properly muted signatures of its components. Sherman says he cooks each of the rice varieties in the blend separately, which translates to each bite bearing a complexity of flavors versus a single fusion.
Drop food, not bombs
Considering these types of touches, it makes sense that Sherman transitioned to professional cooking (after attending Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., on weekends in the mid-'90s) after 18 years "designing parts that went on counter-measure platforms for fighter aircraft." This is a precision, high-tech approach to food.
Even dessert brings complexity: red chili appearing as a tinge of back-burn on the tongue with the crème brulee, and dried blueberries and cranberries and almonds in the chocolate paté (both $8). Sherman plans to unveil a new summer menu soon, aiming to serve as many organic products as possible, some from Grant Family Farms.
If there's one petty point I could pick with Amuzé Bistro, it's that it should upgrade to eco-friendly to-go boxes and ditch the foam containers, too.
Yup — that's just how far I'd have to reach to pin a flaw on this place.
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