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Redefining Magnolia


Downtown Denver, while no culinary mecca, has its share of high-end success stories: Rioja, Kevin Taylor, Vesta, etc. And, for the most part, they share fairly close real estate. Anyone in a couple-mile radius of downtown, or Boulder for that matter, has an abundance of fine-dining options—many within walking distance.

Not so in suburbia. Finding high-end dining in sprawling neighborhoods takes a little more driving. Not to mention, many restaurants are housed in newly-minted developments, still getting their feet on the ground. Which is why I was ecstatic to find Magnolia, under new ownership, taking on a new mantra—the American steakhouse. The meat is plentiful (necessarily so), the service on point, and the ambience, mostly unobtrusive.

The dining room exudes the feel of an industrial condo living room—steel railings and raised seating cut the room in half while stainless steel table tops (usually reserved for commercial kitchen prep lines) dot booths on the other side.

Mood lighting suffuses the room with calm and dulls the tabletop glares. I will admit that, as comfortable as I got with the décor, the odd mix of ’80s rock and John Tesh piano flourishes strained to make sense.

Still, the meal was a remarkable success. I was never duped into thinking Magnolia was a destination for its eccentric culinary output. Quite the opposite, its marks of traditional Colorado ingredients were refreshing. It was a welcome departure from hotspots filled with classicist winos where chic meets inventive. Dinner at Magnolia was simply a Colorado experience—with food in the spotlight.

The Forever-Braised Colorado Lamb Shank ($24) served as a perfect example. It was exquisitely tender, accompanied by a texture-wild assortment of rice, barley, and crisp, salty green beans dressed in butter. The Glazed Salmon ($17) exceeded expectations with an evocative mustard-tomato jam that served more as a sweetly acidic garnish than a side, and the tender Pork Tenderloin ($16) spoke (loudly) for itself, never being drowned by the maple-bourbon sauce.

Last but not least in the procession of entrées, the menu special, a Beef and Lamb Stew ($16). Its herb spätzle volleyed between the ungodly heaviness of traditional European braises and a pervadingly intense beefiness that, eventually, endeared itself to my friend. Individual quirks aside, each dish was devoid of trendy artistic flourishes.

They were simply prepared, and eminently satisfying. No flavor really marched to the fore; richness was the predominant characteristic.

Not too rich to preclude dessert, however. We scarfed an Almond Joy and a Pear Crisp ($7 ea.) with relish, taking only enough time to breathe and sip a bit of our wine.

It turns out, Magnolia offers a remarkable deal on Wednesday nights. Dubbed Wino Wednesdays (an inelegant name, if appropriate), all wines offered by the glass come in full-bottle glory at half-price. Which is one way to get a crowd in on an otherwise slow weekday night.

Left to its own devices, Magnolia could rival the ostentation of high-profile restaurants in Denver and Boulder.

Its advantage is both its location and the relative scarcity of high-end spots in the North Metro suburbs. Add to that the ability to order sushi from Magnolia’s sister restaurant next door, Sushi Mara, and you have quite a catch. Sure, it’s not an every night indulgence, but it could master the ubiquitous steak and age-old braise in a matter of months.


1381 Forest Park Circle, Lafayette
Bottom line: A great spot for once-in-a-while dining; food is rich, and universally satisfying; ambience is relatively comfortable, though the music is imbalanced.

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