I didn’t like mussels until my worldly husband introduced me several years ago. He had spent six months in Paris in college and earned a Parisian point-of-view. We found the best petite bar in Denver at Bistro Vendôme. A short walk into Larimer Square through a courtyard and poof! a warm and welcoming bar, set for 8, rests within this pristine French restaurant.
While the dining room is beautiful and full of superb tables and adoring wait staff, we found the high bar and our buddy the bartender to be a place we could be regulars at. Enclosed, but with a high ceiling, the bar has a rich back-glow. There’s no pretension. You can use coupons. And you can order a beer from California (get Racer 5, if you do).
I’ve recently gotten big into sour beers. It’s a genre growing in popularity, but it’s been around forever. One of the most amazing tastes the world has ever had comes from a goblet of Duchesse de Bourgogne. My first go at this Flemish Red from Belgium was at The Cheeky Monk in Denver (coincidentally, also paired with mussels). I love sparkling wine and this beer is incredibly similar. The carbonation, oakiness from being aged 18 months in barrels, and acidic and tart bite. For my ladies who love craft beer out there, or even those just getting interested in it, I highly suggest trying these sours, sold as krieks and lambics:
- New Belgium Lips of Faith Series La Folie, quite an introduction into sours
- Lindemans Framboise, well-known Belgian beer found in nearly every liquor store
- Odell Friek, brewed with raspberries and cherries
Back to downtown Denver and a female chef-driven bistro.
Rather than refer to this place as a café, Owner & Executive Chef Jennifer Jasinski purposefully and aptly named it for its origins:
Place Vendôme, considered a favorite among Parisians, is a renowned historic square located the heart of Paris. This is purposefully a bistro, not a café nor a brasserie. The selection of the name “Bistro Vendôme” reflects the desired image in the community: a local favorite in a downtown rich with history that offers an exceptional dining experience in a charming, neighborhood setting.
Sunday through Thursday nights draw us in. The special du jour is Mussels & Frites for $9. It’s a serving for two stomachs and paired with Denver’s Top French Fries (2004, 2005, 2006). A light simple syrup sweetens the thin strips of potato that also come garnished with thyme, kosher salt and a crisp fired crust.
Dinner arrives, armed with two bowls, one of the marinating mussels and another to discard in. I met the shells, soaked in white wine, butter, garlic and herbs and knew my palate couldn’t resist. Vendôme doesn’t bake its own bread, mostly because of its limited kitchen space in the historic Sussex building (1880). A local bakery uses the restaurant’s own sourdough recipe to produce a divine dipping instrument for the mussel’s broth.
While cracking open mussels isn’t the sexiest, the bar is definitely romantic. So if you can’t get to the City of Lights, take your sweetie on a date for a bowl of mussels, sparking libations and most definitely an evening ending in French kisses.