The new kid on the block: Humboldt Farm Fish Wine

The Colorado Statesman

Oh, Humboldt Farm Fish Wine, you sly dog, you. Winning my heart before I even had a chance to taste your food with the siren song of “Complimentary Valet” — music to any urban foodie’s ears. For a new restaurant with a lot to prove, the free valet service is a clever ploy. There’s nothing that kills the appetite more than getting into veritable knife fights with all the other hungry hipsters in the Denver metro area just to have a few bites of bao bun.

HUMBOLDT FARM FISH WINE

1700 Humboldt Street

Denver, CO 80218 • 303-813-1700

www.facebook.com/humboldton17th

humboldtrestaurant.com

LUNCH: Daily, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

DINNER: M-Th, 4-10 p.m.; F&Sat, 4-11 p.m.; Sun, 4-9 p.m.

HAPPY HOUR: Daily, 3-6 p.m.

BRUNCH: Sat & Sun, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

The not yet 2-month-old restaurant at 17th and Humboldt stands in the place of the iconic restaurant Strings, which, for nearly three decades, had been a fixture in the uptown neighborhood of Denver and a trendy gathering spot for politicos over the years.

The back hallway of Humboldt’s 17th Street restaurant lends a bistro feel to diners’ experiences.
Photo courtesy of Humboldt Farm Fish Wine

Humboldt is a creation of Concept Restaurants, the company that also owns Ignite, Via Baci and Woody’s Tavern. The kitchen is headed by executive chef DJ Nagel and chef de cuisine Kollin Gately. Nagel was formally the executive chef at Udi’s Pizza Café & Bar in Arvada, after working at Madison Street in Denver and Rustic Oven in Fort Collins.

Strings left big shoes for Humboldt to fill when they opened in October. Perhaps that’s the reason for the outgoing service and valet parking. But, dear readers, this review shan’t be biased because of how quickly my husband and I got inside the restaurant. Or how we easily we got a reservation during prime time on a Friday night. Or how we were seated immediately. Ok, well, maybe a little. But no matter how top-notch the amenities, swanky the surroundings, or attentive the servers, the most important element of any restaurant is the food.

Humboldt’s schtick is farm-to-table, with a focus on rustic seafood and meat dishes served with hearty vegetable sides and paired with a variety of wines. As any chef knows, great dishes start with the very best ingredients; and Humboldt makes a point of serving sustainable seafood and high-quality grass-fed beef.

Starting off, we chose the Crispy Broccoli ($8), a menu choice that shows me Humboldt’s owners are up on the trend of taking largely disliked vegetables and deep-frying them. The broccoli is just as the name says — crispy — due to the light coating of flour and the frying process. Sprinkled with Grana Padano cheese and swirls of pepperoncini aioli, this dish is just — well, for lack of a better word, awesome.

Our broccoli was so good that it almost overshadowed, or at least came in neck-and-neck with the Calamari ($11), which was served with pickled pepper-tomato sauce, tempura lemon, shishito peppers and aioli.

Moving on to our entrees, the Humboldt Burger ($14) was heavy and luxe, comprising about three light meals in a mix of eggy brioche bun, an extremely rich beef/bacon mix patty, and toppings (crispy onion, Tillamook cheddar, roasted garlic/onion jam).

I bypassed the Kennebec fries that the dish is usually served with for a more exotic-sounding side: Avocado-Mango Salad, $5 a la carte. This was not my favorite part of the meal. Simply seasoned with cilantro and s&p, the dish was too simplistic and seemed out of place with the other earthy, very non-tropical dishes. In retrospect I realize I should’ve just gone with the fries.

Our other entrée came off a special menu of various seafood selections, including our pick: swordfish steaks. Also slightly larger than life, the dish packed a punch with two thick portions of swordfish and a side; my companion chose sauteed brussels sprouts off the same special menu.

While I love brussels sprouts, this particular preparation wasn’t very memorable and definitely not as good as the versions offered by Ace Eat Serve and Steuben’s, both just a hop and a skip down 17th.

Despite one or two missteps, Humboldt does a lot of things really well, especially their preparation of meat and seafood. The burger I ordered medium came out pinker than anything I’ve ever eaten, but I was pleasantly surprised how juicy and tender the meat was.

The swordfish was equally well-cooked; not overly dry as fish easily becomes. You might call it a carnivore’s transition dish from turf to surf. Though turf-lovers and traditionalists have several good options: Filet Mignon ($33) with red wine demi-glace, potato puree and cipollini onion; Steak Diane ($29), a center-cut ribeye with brandy peppercorn sauce; and the most budget friendly, Steak and Fries ($19). Humboldt also offers a selection of oyster dishes, as well as preparations of pretty much every other variety of shellfish.

With our appetizers devoured and a good dent made in our entrees, we were too full to consider the desserts, which include Key Lime Pie, Molten Caramel Chocolate Cake, Crème Brûlée, Classic Brioche Bread Pudding and Apple Cherry Cobbler, all $7.

We opted for nothing but a large bag of leftovers, which would have made a fantastic Saturday brunch had we not left our doggie bag at the table. Perhaps we were momentarily stunned by Humboldt’s fantastic service; or maybe we were sedated by their big-boy portions. Whatever the reason for our forgetfulness, we left happy, full, and planning our next visit to Humboldt.

Maggie Tharp is and always will be passionate about eating good food and writing about it. She lives with her husband and kitten in Westminster and has dined in Denver, Boulder, Longmont, Vail and beyond. Thoughts? Suggestions? Maggie can be reached at Maggie@coloradostatesman.com.