While waiting for my dinner guest in the frenetically busy bar at NoRTH Restaurant, Cherry Creek’s fabulously trendy Restaurant of the Moment, I’m approached by Ed. Confident, suave Ed is here on business, but he won’t reveal how he makes his bucks. Nonetheless, he’s more than happy to flirt, twirl my ringlets and mess up my mind with martinis. We chat until my date arrives.
Then, like a nitrogen-fueled rocket, Ed lifts off in a flurry, his shiny black shoes skyrocketing toward a group of scantily clad women celebrating girls’ night out. I watch with amusement as Ed moves in and makes his kill on a pretty blond who feigns interest.
They saddle up to the bar, and Ed is back at it again, running his manicured fingers through her straight blond hair. To be sure, NoRTH is a magnet for calendar cover girls; wealthy, divorced men; Armani-clad armies of trust-fund boys high on hormones; and society-type gossipers. The only things missing are the stretch limos and flash bulbs.
NoRTH, it seems, is the object of everyone’s desire. It’s sophisticated and provocative, and it taunts you with its raw sex appeal and cosmopolitan vibe. The centerpiece in the bar is a long communal wood table, the stain on the slick hardwoods is the hue of espresso, and the breezy, loft-like main dining room showcases a floor-to-ceiling wall of windows, rounded celery-hued leather booths, and milky-white leather chairs.
But while the restaurant’s gorgeous decor makes jaws drop, the din is beyond deafening, and the kitchen struggles with consistency and performance. NoRTH has all the makings of a mega movie star. Now it needs to smooth out the wrinkles.
Fox Restaurant Concepts, an Arizona-based management company that also opened Bloom restaurant in Broomfield, oversees the operation at NoRTH. It brought in a veteran team of friendly, eager, but not always knowledgeable servers and assembled an experienced kitchen staff plucked from various other restaurants housed under the Fox umbrella.
The chefs devised a modern Italian menu that runs the gamut from an excellent antipasta brimming with Italian meats, blocks of pecorino, roasted beets, grilled baby carrots, and sundried tomato goat cheese to a disappointing burnt bread salad to thin-crusted, designer-topped pizzas that occasionally arrive hot and crisp-crusted. Too often, however, the kitchen gets sloppy, and the undercooked, soggy bottoms double as flip-flops.
Some dishes are memorable, with a unique sensibility that inspires you to take notice. But while the kitchen excels with risotto, the pastas are lackluster. Strozzapreti — Italian for “priest stranglers,” having derived the nickname from an old tale alleging that a priest ingested too many of these twisty ropes — should be thick and chewy, but it was neither.
Its accompaniments — spinach, pine nuts, and mushrooms — provided no solace to the boring butter sauce in which they bathed, and our server, who cautioned that I would be eating their version of fettuccine alfredo, failed to mention the absences of requisites like parmigiano-reggiano and cream. But I found nothing wrong with seashell pasta in the Bolognese or in the Bolognese itself — except that it was lukewarm — which leads me to believe the kitchen can’t maintain its consistency.
This may explain why my date lucked out in ordering the faultless short rib osso bucco sided with the easygoing pleasure of polenta, while I suffered through the indignity of gnawing my way through raw slices of duck breast cowering under a cloyingly sweet port raisin reduction sauce.
NoRTH is not inexpensive. Sure, you can order a $12 sausage and caramelized onion pizza, and it might even arrive with a crust that snaps instead of sags. But plan on spending $9 for an appetizer and $19 for a main plate. Toss in an extra $5 if you can’t live without that side of sautéed spinach. Add wine by the glass — poured with unyielding precision in those little wine carafes — and it’s easy to drop 100 bucks here.
But, hey, the privilege to commune and converse with the Brad Pitts and Angelina Jolies of Denver might be enough to make you pony up the cash. NoRTH is undeniably a rising star. Behold her beauty. But take your time falling in love.
If You Go
NoRTH, 190 Clayton Lane, Denver, (720) 941-7700
Lori Midson, Colorado AvidGolfer’s restaurant critic (www.coloradoavidgolfer.com), makes a career out of wining and dining her away around Denver, where she lives, a city ripe with culinary surprises. She is a frequent contributor to Sunset and CITY, the local editor of numerous Zagat Surveys, and the Denver dining writer for AOL CityGuide. Midson, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism, has also written for other publications including 5280 magazine, Executive Travel and EnCompass.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.