Pity the upscale Denver restaurant and champagne lounge. City dwellers will flock to old standbys, food trucks, and over-crowded chain restaurants with major wait times, but just try getting us to eat in a local, unfamiliar restaurant. We may say we want a high-class evening in the city, but what we really want is something familiar and overpriced. For every one amazing and well-known Denver restaurant, there are five equally amazing and little-known restaurants fighting to make a name for themselves. And it seems Epernay may be one of the few to do just that.
Located on the edge of the epicenter of 14th Street, just outside the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, lies Epernay Lounge. Dim lighting and a blatantly modern, contemporary, and clean decor make up the interior. The male staff members don blazers with scarves and most (at least on this particular night) sport a neatly-trimmed beards, giving the room a slightly chic, hipster vibe that might make a skeptical and very cynical guy — like myself — roll his eyes and sigh, “Here we go again.”
And that’s exactly what I did, before many pleasant surprises converted me. Beginning with a little yellowtail sashimi to engage the palate, the taste buds are intrigued. Even my date, a meat and potatoes type from the heart of Texas, seemed (at the very least) appreciative of the dish. So far, so tasty.
Then came our second round — two bowls of warm spinach salad, which in all fairness seemed unnatural, but upon taste was perfectly balanced. In addition to the salad, we were faced with a quadraplate of sushi. From the Eve to the Tataki to the Don and even the Pablo, each roll offered something unique to meal.
Knowing my date had endured his fair share of raw fish, we looked for something a little more hearty and a touch more familiar. We landed on good ol’ truffle mac & cheese and bacon-wrapped scallions. If Epernay had a deck of cards, these two dishes might be their aces. Familiar — but completely unique — I barely managed to write down the items before a majority of the plate had vanished leaving only a cleanly-licked fork in its place. It was the perfect way to finish the meal because, while sushi is delicious in every way, on a cold winter night it’s good to eat something that sticks to your bones.
As I rubbed my tummy in satisfaction (yes, I actually rubbed my belly in public) I was proud that Epernay managed to pique my curiosity and give me hope for this particular restaurant and champagne lounge. Yeah, there was also the inattentive bartender with no real sense of urgency behind the less-than-crowded bar of seven, but with an improved sense of urgency (it took the couple next to me 10 minutes to get his attention) or maybe just a new bartender, and a menu that continues to appeal to even the most persnickety of eaters, Epernay Lounge might have a nice long future in the Denver Theatre District.
Epernay Lounge, 1080 14th Street, (303) 573-5000