Monday-Saturday, 5-9; Closed Sunday
Simmer owner-chef-sommelier Donn Wagner was playing the mixologist one recent evening, serving of-the-moment cocktails to some of his regular customers. His latest scheme, he confided, is to restock the bar with made-in-Colorado spirits only – which could make Simmer the first Colorado locavore (locabiber?) bar. A Leopold Brothers gin (distilled in Denver) was aromatic and rich with herbal complexity, the juniper flavor and scent subtle rather than overpowering, hinting at the possibilities of refined, small-batch spirits.
Wagner’s enthusiasm for the authentic, the local, and the simply delicious sets the tone at Simmer, where he is only the first among equals working in the kitchen. Also behind the range are Peter O’Brien, who has run kitchens at regional resorts, after having honed his chops at top restaurants in Austin and Dallas (The Mansion on Turtle Creek), and Gretchen Morfogen, who has worked in Napa, New York and Aspen (The Little Nell).
Wagner is a master of Oaxacan moles, and those silky smooth chili “sauces,” which don’t necessarily include cocoa, appear in select locations on the menu, the Oaxacan guajillo an outstanding choice with a charbroiled ribeye ($28 for a 14-16 oz. cut; $19 for a 10 oz. cut). But Simmer is more Mediterranean than Mexican. You can go French with a deeply flavored Bordelaise, which might just be an expression of O’Brien’s classical training. Or how about a fresh pasta, courtesy of Morforgen, who prepared the Fennel and Roasted Beet Tortelloni with an Herb Butter Sauce on a recent “Signature Simmer” menu?
If you are not a regular, you may never sample anything other than the Signature Simmer, the daily or weekly Prix Fixe menu, not only because these are an outstanding value at $25 for four courses, and only $39 with a half glass of wine paired with each course, but because they are so intriguing. Wagner’s wine pairings make it awfully easy to kick back and simply enjoy. This summer, for example, Simmer has been on a six-week tour of Italy with its prix fixe. The taste of Emilia-Romagna started with a salad of arugula and pears with Prosciutto di Parma, fresh shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, and chickpea wafers for earthy crunch. Then came the aforementioned tortelloni and after that a choice of Polenta Lamb Bolognese or Porcini Dusted Chicken. Not to discount the savory Bolognese, it was the braised Savoy cabbage and onion – resting beneath a perfectly roasted, crispy-skinned half chicken and cooked down into a flavorful sauce accented with the porcini – that will be unforgotten. Completing the extended family of professional restaurateurs, Wagner’s wife, Keithley, helps to keep the atmosphere unfailingly gracious in the dining room.
Insider’s Tip: If the Signature Simmer menu doesn’t capture you and you are eyeing the regular menu, the hot and crunchy red ruby trout, dressed in a “war paint” of sauces ($19.50), won’t disappoint. And if you’re not doing the Signature Simmer pairing, be sure to ask for Wagner’s guidance in choosing your wine.
The Vibe: If you’re not at Simmer to wine and dine a client, you’ll still feel like a power player relaxing in the dining room, with its sophisticated color palette, nods to the room’s culinary history (remember the Stockman Café and Bar?) and widely spaced tables. But if you are trying to close a complex business deal, this is just the spot to put everyone in the right frame of mind.
Fine Dining With a Twist: We almost rated Simmer at only $$ because of the unbelievable bargain represented by the Signature Simmer prix fixe menu. That’s not to say you can’t pull out the stops and easily go to $$$, which would certainly be worth the extravagance.