The skyline of Denver, while not the tallest, looks like it is enrobed in the clouds and the reddish-pink-hued sunset that is painted across the Colorado sky. This view is always a show stopper and enough of a distraction to disrupt the drivers on I-25. Nothing compares to seeing this while gazing off the balcony of El Five located in the LoHi neighborhood. Its panoramic view of the city puts every aspect of the city into view.
El Five reigns above the other surrounding restaurants leaving it capable of an unobstructed view. The balcony even wraps around the restaurant just enough to give you an added treat of looking at the highest peaked mountains that are a classic Colorado spectacle. The atmosphere craves the spring and summer months allowing patrons to be able to step out onto the patio instead of staying sequestered in the dimly lit restaurant. It's highly doubtful that there is another view of the city that would have a local and out-of-towner both dropping their jaws in amazement. While the view is definitely a reason to check out this place, the food is right up there with it. Regardless of the view, their dishes will have you cruising through the countries of the Mediterranean with their flavors.
The Edible Beats restaurant group created another staple to the Denver culinary scene, along with their other renowned eateries: Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, Root Down, Vital Root, Vital Root and Linger. Each concept showcases fresh Colorado produce intertwined with origins from another place in the world. El Five is a tapas-style restaurant but instead of solely drawing influence from Spain, they have taken the challenge of incorporating all the cuisines harbored on the Mediterranean sea.
While at first glance it may seem like a disjointed menu in need of some continuity, the spices’ blends and attention to preserving the purity of each ingredient creates a concept that flows. A traditionalist might want a clear identity. However, as a melting pot country, it is fascinating to see how El Five can cultivate fusion in their food with countries that are so close but tend to food so differently. Each tapas plate offers the ideal amount to share and mix cultures on the wooden table in front of you. The communal environment supplements the social atmosphere the restaurant was designed for with the bold wall art that plasters the walls and music loud enough to be consciously heard.
Although they have proven to add their own interpretation to each dish, they still have a section claiming to be traditional tapas. Nevertheless, at a contemporary restaurant like this, there will always be a twist. A mix of cured meats, bread and cheese are required for a proper Spanish tapas feast. It's the ideal shared plate where a wide spread of flavors, textures, and combinations for all eaters at the table. It would be too mainstream for the chef’s at El Five to lay ribbons of prosciutto and salami. Rather thinly sliced jewels lay in the middle of their entire display–this being Jamón Ibérico & Cameros Cheese ($16). It can be thought of as the upper echelon of food–alongside wagyu, truffles, and caviar. Each, almost translucent, piece of Jámon Ibérico has a marbling unlike other cured delicacies, the ruby red color contrasts the pearly white threaded throughout. Together, it melts into a salty, rich, buttery bite.
Jámon Ibérico can easily be eaten along, yet they add other pairings as a compliment. The tart quince jam adds tanginess and a sour pucker, while the honeycomb gives its raw sweetness to the table. The marcona almond come in with crunch. The other headliner is the cameros cheese, which combines cow's, sheep's, and goat's milk for a cheese made in wine country–the one ingredient that any charcuterie board could use a glass of. After it's 6 months of aging, it developed pepperiness to add to its intensity.
Their Moroccan Lamb Sausage ($17) surpasses the likes of an Italian sausage stuffed into a hoagie roll with greasy peppers beginning to dretch the bread. Instead, the artfully plated dish comes with a base layer of smooth, velvety hummus where more flavors and textures begin to build from. The crumbled sausage is next with the gamy, distinct lamb flavor comes through with notes of fennel, cumin and coriander giving that warming feel that any good spice blend should. Although the beloved snap on a good sausage is missed, the juiciness of the meat is completely intact. These two rich components are balanced by the light refreshing lemon, mint and pea tendril salad delicately stacked on top to emulate the beauty of Mediterranean greenery. Finally, sprinkled with roasted fava beans, which could become the newest crouton trend, the dish is ready to be devoured.
At an American restaurant, someone at the table will always end up with a side of thin crispy fries and potentially a mound of ketchup–that may or may not be eaten. A Spanish restaurant has Patatas Bravas ($9) as their deep fried delicacy. Each little piece of potato resembles a breakfast home fry but has been decorated with far more than salt. It balances the heat from the spiced chorizo with the cool, rich notes of a garlic aoili. These two heavy flavors are balanced out by the acidity in the sherry gastric that lines the plate. For those needing their fry fix, the Harissa Eggplant Fries ($12) convert this unseeming vegetable into a star menu item. It combines sweet and spice by utilizing the North African smokey, spiced paste–harissa–with a sticky, earthy honey drizzle.
Instagram has shown its love for the soup dumplings–they explode with a Chinese version of chicken noodle soup whiled wrapped conveniently in a thin shell. El Five decided to pay homage to Israel with their version of soup dumplings as a mashup with matzo ball soup–Matzo Ball Dumplings ($11). The traditional chicken bouillon base is nestled inside the dumplings with the trinity base of any good soup; onion, celery and carrot cultivating into a rich broth.
Four adorable little dumplings arrive quaintly on a plain white plate with sprinklings of the trifecta on top. As unsuspecting as it may be, cracking into one dumpling gives you a mouthful of matzo ball soup that you would assume the chefs at El Five were on break and their Jewish grandma took over the kitchen. While the texture doesn’t resemble the iconic matzo ball, the flavors do the dish justice.
The time has come for the grand finale where El Five returns to Spain to offer the beloved paella as if we weren’t full already. There are a variety of interpretations that could cater to any craving from meat lovers to a salty seafood mix. The feeling of the sea swims closer when a pile of the ocean's finest array arrives at the table. The golden hue of the saffron rice provides a textural contrast from the fluffy interior grains to the crunchy bits that were roasted against the cast iron pan. The fish gently laid on top is flaked off with the touch of a fork while the clams and mussels waited to be released from their shells. Baby scallops will sneak onto your fork unexpectedly and offer a great tender addition to the rice. The final creatures to join the party are the head-on shrimp that retain all their sweetness and flavor from staying in their shells just a bit longer. The entire dish gets drizzled with a homemade aioli to accentuate the creaminess of the dish to emulate a risotto.
While El Five is not any every day after work hang out, going here is great for visitors and locals alike. A couple of starters and a small paella are more than enough for two or three, so bring a big group to split the cost and enjoy a new view on the Denver skyline and the food culture taking over the city.
They readily host events–the latest being a Sherry wine pairing for a seven-course meal. This exclusive service will take place on July 1st. Each prepaid dinner costs $175. More information can be found here.
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