Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Linger - One of Denver's Best Restaurant

REPOST - As we head into spring and happy hour season, I thought it was worth bringing this post back:

The hype is not wrong.  Linger - Justin Cucci's iconic Highlands restaurant - is definitely all that the reviews have made it out to be.

Since Linger's opening a several years ago in the building of the old Olinger funeral home, Justin Cucci has been wowing Denver foodies with eclectic takes on street food from around the world.  Cucci, who is also owner of Root Down, is a true culinary artisan, and he knows how to run a world class restaurant.  Of course, all the hype has led to big crowds and long waits for people hoping to enjoy a taste of Cucci's masterpieces.  In fact, numerous people have put off going to Linger because reservations have been hard to come by.  And, during the summer months the waits are even longer as people line up to enjoy the fabulous rooftop views of the city, while purchasing drinks from the bar fashioned out of an old bus.  But true Denver foodies shouldn't wait.  Get yourself to Linger.

Happy hour at Linger is the best place to start, and that was my entry into Justin Cucci's world when I took the family for dinner following a great day of hiking in Evergreen.  We arrived early in the Highlands, so we stayed warm on a January day by sipping some tea at the Common Grounds coffee shop on Lowell and 32nd Street.  When the magical hour of 4:30 arrived, we headed over to Linger which was open and ready for business.  The tables upstairs offered a great view of the the city, and we went to work ordering nearly everything on the happy hour menu.  With small plates representing street food from around the world, Linger's happy hour menu is a lot of fun.  The french onion mussels were rich and perfect and we fought the urge to order a second round.  The pork belly and mongolian duck breast buns were succulent and filled with interesting flavors, and we complemented them with the waffle fries, which came with a great chipotle ketchup.  The sesame bbq tacos were excellent with Kobe beef and a nicely accented slaw.  But my favorite were the Wagyu beef sliders with aged cheddar and curried sour cream.  I am very careful about the beef I will eat, and Linger's Wagyu sliders were every thing a "burger" should and could be.  In fact, the smells of the beef alone were worth the wait.

Our server Rupert could not have been more helpful, as he guided us through the menu and kept us entertained, even as Linger became busier.  Being a bourbon drinker, I was intrigued by the menu's Dead Man's Daisy, but Rupert thought I'd be disappointed in the way the sweetness overwhelms the whiskey.  Instead, he brought out a Vieux Carre, which is one of the better drinks I've had.  It contains rye whiskey, cognac, Benedictine, and bitters.  Served with a single block of ice - to slow melting - and a lime garnish, it was incredibly smooth.  In fact, I was amazed at how the lime scent was prominent but almost vacant in taste, leaving the smoothness of the whiskey and cognac.  It was all that.

We finished up just as the crowds descended on Linger, but the ambience was never too much.  Despite a large crowd near the bar, our table remained warm and intimate.  We did venture beyond the happy hour menu come 5:30 for a great rendition of pad thai - though the citrus might be too much for some.  And, we had to pass on the desert menu, though Rupert satisfied our sweet tooth with some homemade sesame caramels along with the check.

All in all, an excellent outing.  We will be back to "Linger."

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