Let's start with Jeff Osaka. The understated elegance and warmth of this chef/owner pervade "Twelve," our "local." When Telluride Inside… and Out heads to our Denver home, one of our first stops is always "Twelve," a favorite restaurant thats feels like our dining room – only with much better food and service.
Located at 2233 Larimer Street, Twelve is a 34-seat restaurant with a 10-seat massive oak bar bar in a neighborhood Denverites call Curtis Park, just blocks away from Coors Field and the heart of the uber hip LoDo district. But rather than an aggressively downtown demeanor, Twelve feels as comfortable as an old pair of slippers: the warm tones of the room, the laid back furnishing, the soft, very flattering lighting are conducive to leisurely dining, lingering conversations and the long glance looks of a romantic evening. The overall effect is warmly contemporary without a sense of trying too hard. Nothing about Twelve screams "Look at me": not the decor, not the patrons, not the farm-to-table menu. At Twelve, artistry and good taste replace the razzle dazzle of virtuosic flourishes, especially when it comes to the food.
And you come for the food. The neighborhood is a work in process. Not much going on at that end of Larimer Street except a few notable eateries: Snooze, Denver's favorite watering hole for breakfast and lunch; Marco's, one of Denver's favorite places for real Neapolitan-style pizza; and Twelve, for a fine dining experience.
And while at Twelve the cuisine is decidedly "haute," it is, like Jeff, utterly unpretentious. Twelve is Twelve because its menu changes monthly based on what local farmers and ranchers have on hand, so unless you plan to make a stop in the month of September, don't bother to remember the details of our wonderful dinner, just the feel of a meal that provided four more reasons to visit Twelve.
For starters, we chose to share a chilled rocky ford melon soup. The dish is a new spin on the classic prosciutto and melon combo, only re-imagined Ferran Andria (El Bulli)-style to form a soup. Both of our main courses – a pork chop served with seasonal hatch green chilis and my salmon, accessorized with Olathe sweet corn polenta and roasted baby heirloom tomatoes – were unfussy, flavorful, artfully presented with a pleasing heft to plates, as fresh as today, impossible not to finish. Promise, like us, at Twelve you will clean your china. Jeff described our shared dessert, a mashup of carrot-pineapple jello – the pineapple being the only ingredient from our dinner not native to Colorado – lemon creme fraiche, and toasted pecans, as "sort of Betty Crockerish." Sure, If Betty Crocker were Wolfgang Puck, who happens to be one of Jeff's high- profile friends and mentors. (Jeff worked under Puck in Los Vegas at the Asian-inspired restaurant, Chinois before moving to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to head up the kitchens at Restaurant Terroir and Koshu.)
Add service to the lists of reasons to trek to Twelve. The staff is fluent in the wine and food, but never overbearing. Our waiter that night was the agreeably affable Tristain. He recommended our wine choice, a 2009 Samsara Pinot Noir, velvety soft with a notes of raspberry, orange zest and cardamom spice, assertive but not bossy, the perfect complement to our meal.
Twelve is, in part, thanks to testosterone: Jeff Osaka's girlfriend, now wife, was based in Denver when he made the move. His choice of location came from Craigslist, otherwise, Curtis Park would not have been an obvious choice: LoDo, Cherry Creek, Highland Park, even Boulder would have all been safer bets. But Jeff is a pioneer – on and off the plate. Hitch your wagon to his star
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 5:30 – 10 p.m. Reservations recommended, go online, twelve restaurant.com or call 303-293-0287.