American Elm: Strong Start for this Nouveau American Bistro

Opening new restaurant is an arduous, high-pressure endeavor. As soon as the first paying diner walks through the door, the hard work begins with working out the kinks — making sure servers and kitchen staff are working as one, tweaking the menu based on the first customer feedback, and dealing with all sorts of administrative and scheduling issues.

All the while, every subsequent night of service is a concerted effort to try to woo and impress each new guest in the hopes that they enjoy their experience so much that they’ll come back or tell their friends about the great new place they just tried. A lot of the times, things just don’t gel until a few months of being open.

Knowing all this, I was incredibly impressed with my experience sampling the happy hour and dinner menu at the newly opened American Elm in West Highlands and have been recommending this spot to anyone who has asked me about cool new restaurants over the last couple of weeks. Visiting earlier this month on just on their 16th day of service, I found the food to generally be quite good, with some misses, but a number of notable standouts.

The full talents of executive chef Brent Turnipseede (formerly of Guard & Grace) are on full display at this hip take on the American bistro and I recommend stopping in for a visit to give them a try and see what they are up to.

Here are some early thoughts:

Solid happy hour options, with a limited menu available 4-6p. Everything on the HH menu is $5 and guests can choose from classic drinks like Pimm’s Cup, an Old Fashioned or a house draft or wine.

On the food side we tried two items: the Roasted Olives & Nuts and the Deviled Egg. Both dishes were a surprisingly satisfying amount of food – my husband really loved the seasoning on the nuts and I fell for the devilishly good smoked yolk deviled eggs were the smoke flavor makes an impression and which really up-levels the dish IMHO. (I was told that they’ve been experimenting with a deviled eggs toast for the weekend brunch – which I think sounds awesome.)

Also on the HH menu are the “Animal Crackers” – a mixture of baked/fried/puffed versions of various animal products (chicharrones, duck skin, etc.) sounded pretty appealing – a definite interest for me for the next time I visit.

We also ordered the Lollipop Chicken Wings ($13) starter off the main menu. Although perfectly tasty (and great as leftovers), I would say not a must-order off the menu at this time.

A more refined choice for a starter would be the Colorado Striped Bass Crudo ($14), a pretty dish of thinly sliced fish wading in a shallow pool of watermelon aguachile, cucumbers, and corn nuts (yes, corn nuts).

One of my absolute favorite dishes of the night was the Heirloom Tomato Salad ($12) – a heaping helping of gorgeous tomatoes served with stracciatella. And I know you’re probably thinking, “um ok, Laura, but tomato + burrata dishes are a dime a dozen these days,” but the thing that sets this one apart are the fried ciabatta “croutons” – crispy on the outside, soft in the center – which add some wonderful texture and saltiness to the dish, making one of the better versions of this classic that I’ve had in a long time.

For the entrees we were thinking we would be going full carb with an order of the Summer Squash Linguine and the Bucatini Carbonara. However, to our surprise, the Summer Squash Linguine was in the process of a change-up in the kitchen and what actually was served was a lovely plate of gluten-free zucchini noodles (zoodles, if you will) served with marinated crispy tofu, cashews, and herbs. The tofu was overly salty that night, but with that one exception the dish was very successful and I would order again.

The other star of the night was the Bucatini – which were housemade noodles lightly tossed in a sauce of egg and cheese with a sprinkle of bacon. The amount of sauce coating the dish was spot on (not too heavy on the cheese) and the pasta was delicious. My number one recommendation for this restaurant!

I was very excited by the strong showing so early on and will be looking forward to seeing how the dishes and menu evolves in the future. Oh also, the fenced-in courtyard is super welcoming and a great place to hang, with the namesake American Elm standing tall in the middle of the area. The team has done an excellent job of making the area feel relaxing despite the restaurant being on a busy stretch of 38th Avenue.

Have you been to American Elm yet? If so, what did you think?

American Elm – 4132 W 38th Ave, Denver, CO 80212, (720) 749 3186

Please note: Financial compensation was not received for this post. I was invited by the PR firm working with American Elm to sample items off the happy hour and dinner menus. Opinions expressed here are my own.

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