I'm always looking for that breathtaking experience in light of a culinary adventure. More often than not, you can attach the old adage of "you get what you pay for" in terms of defining an exquisite meal or not. Lobster and caviar will always be more expensive than chicken. A fine french restaurant will always be more expensive than the pizza joint down the street. But somewhere along the way, there has to be a happy medium between quality and value. Though the anomaly, once I find one of these places I end up going back again and again.
In light of this noble quest- Jess and I regularly hit up the Happy Hour menus of greater Denver's culinary talent; in order to get a sampling of a chef's cuisine and also save a few Hamiltons along the way. Now don't catch me lying- often enough certain HH's can get a little out of hand, and end up being more expensive than dinner itself. But that's normally the sign of a successful offering that gives more than it gets.
After hearing quite a buzz about Cafe Aion on The Hill in Boulder, and being that it was one of the few of 5280's 25 Best Restaurants of 2011 that we hadn't yet dropped into, I decided to pick up Jess after yet another long day of law school to put the humble abode to the test. Would it take our breath away, or just take our money? I tried not to assume the former, but rather promised myself I would go in unbiased.
Nestled just around the corner from The Fox Theater in what looks like an old book shop, Aion has an unassuming rusticity to it. Exposed brick melds with contemporary contrasts and an art deco undertone, and ultimately welcomes in a diverse group of locals as a watering hole of sorts. A prominent U-shape bar boasts familiar and strange libations, and as we were lucky enough to get some prime real estate at said bar, the staff caught us up on the drink offering for the evening. Sangria and a Jalapeno Margarita quickly set the tone of our night as a Spanish-themed tapas dinner, which is true to Aion's design.
Dakota Soifer (previously of The Kitchen) presents a menu offering that is exclusively designed to share. A healthy list of tapas and a few 'Platters to Share' make up the dinner menu in its entirety. And though we were there for happy hour, I felt I was getting an accurate sampling of what was to offer on a regular night, and in turn didn't feel like I was being pushed off to the side as a frugal diner that should be deprived of something greater. So we got a little of this, a little of that, and ultimately deviated from the HH menu a little as well. And though some of these items might not be on the ever-changing menu, there are some parallels to whats offered on a regular basis.
|East & West Coast Oysters- briny and fresh somehow married nicely with tangy |
house-marinated olives. Lemon naturally tied the whole thing together.
|Aion's falafel was crispy and light, contrasted with a cool, |
fresh garnish that sort of resembled a deconstructed gazpacho.
|Crispy pork empanadas with a side of paprika-dusted cucumbers.|
|A regular menu staple- that should remain one. We engulfed this plate of Fried Cauliflower with saffron yogurt, cumin and lemon. Simple, yet unique how the flavors bloom, and temperature contrasts bring another sensory level to the dish.|
|The Cupcake du Jour (Bacon-Maple)- to go. Jess' only complaint was |
that it was too bacony. To which I said, 'is that possible'?
We honestly left the night feeling well served, and quite satisfied. The food was delicious, simple, and the concept comfortable. Fresh and local (wherever possible) sets the tone, and adds to an ever-growing list of greater Denver independent restaurants that boast this mantra. Aion's simplicity and style allows it to fly under the radar, and collect a loyal following. Plus the fact that it's open for breakfast and lunch 7 days a week make it accessible and easy to get a taste on a regular basis. This is the kind of place that's a day to day hangout- and I get the feeling that if I lived close by that I would spend a lot of time here. Probably a good thing that I don't.
Dish It Up!
Avg small plate: $8
Avg entree: $27
They have varying hours, so double check here before you fly
Happy Hour 5-6:30, and all night Tuesday
Metered parking available on The Hill, and neighborhood otherwise
Rating: Good (2 dishes out of 4)