Eat & Drink

Comfort Zone

At Charcoal, chef Patrik Landberg dishes up refreshingly straightforward bistro cuisine.

December 2012

Charcoal - 3 stars
43 W. Ninth Ave.
303-454-0000
charcoaldining.com

The Draw A satisfying contemporary American menu enlivened with European touches and presented by an attentive waitstaff.

The Drawback The main dining space lacks warmth and cheer. 

Don’t Miss Lamb meatball, braised oxtail ragoût, grilled pork chop, french fries.

Price $$$ (Average price per entrée: $23)

FOOD: 3 stars

SERVICE: 3 1/2 stars

AMBIENCE: 2 1/2 stars

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If you watch The Food Network (and, really, who doesn’t?), you’re well aware of the kind of ego it takes to become an attention-getting, award-winning chef. It’s not enough to prepare good food in an artful way. To gain acclaim you need swagger! Backstory! Tattoos! If you can muscle up an air-sucking, tweet-worthy, zaniest-kid-on-the-playground persona…even better.

I don’t know about you, but I get tired just thinking about all that attitude. I just want a good meal in a grown-up restaurant free of arrogance and affect. I want a meal from a chef who’s not working out his or her issues in the kitchen. I want a chef who places my needs above his or her own.

Happily—and with great relief—I discovered these characteristics at Charcoal, a contemporary American bistro that opened last September in the Golden Triangle. Here, the kitchen is controlled by Patrik Landberg, 37, a Swede who relocated to the United States 12 years ago. You may not have heard of Landberg because he’s relatively new to Denver: He worked for just six months at Satchel’s Market in Park Hill before it closed. Before that, Landberg cooked for 10 years in New York City.

But I suspect the real reason you may not have heard of him is because Landberg is not that kind of chef. He doesn’t seek the spotlight through molecular this or sous vide that. He doesn’t break the rules in a bizarre way (no caviar with ice cream; no popcorn on fish). Instead, his menu is built around straightforward favorites such as pork chops and strip steak and salmon. Even when he does offer something relatively unusual for Denver—tangy mustard herring, for example, a traditional Swedish dish—he does so without fanfare.

This is not to say Landberg is above a bit of novelty. When Charcoal opened last September, his mission was to create a menu built around meats cooked on a customized grill using smokeless Bincho-style charcoal. This grilling method allows meat to cook swiftly at more than 2,400 degrees, crisping the outside while maintaining the juicy tenderness inside. But over the past year, his menu has evolved. While precisely grilled meat remains a mainstay of Charcoal’s menu, you’ll also find pasta and charcuterie and one of the most satisfying small bites menus in town.

Landberg’s starters lean heavily on assertive flavors designed to accelerate your appetite. The bacon-wrapped dates are chewy, sweet-and-smoky nuggets that pair well with anything from a bright glass of Albariño to a heady bourbon cocktail. His succulent and substantial lamb meatball explodes with Middle Eastern spices—cumin, turmeric, paprika, garlic—and is cooled by a pool of tangy, dill-laced tzatziki. And, at the risk of sounding extraordinarily pedestrian, Charcoal’s french fries—an enormous heap of crispy-salty addictiveness—are the kind of dish I might order for pickup in the middle of the day, to enjoy by myself. The light sprinkling of truffle salt and herbs (chives, tarragon, parsley) makes Charcoal’s fries a mature version of the grammar school staple.

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