Difranco’s Fresh Italian on Lincoln

Isn’t it wonderful that a talented chef can take everyday favorites and turn them into elevated experiences?  This is Difranco’s.  Familiar menu items, but everything just looks, smells and tastes a little fresher than anything you’ve had in a while.  A few traditional tables plus one long communal table in pleasing tones of beige and spring green.

My companion ordered an Italian Mixed Green salad with a meatball on the side.  Easily weighing in at 2+ ounces, the single meatball was a satisfying combination of roughly ground meat, finely ground meat, and diced onion just off-al-dente.  It resided in a small pool of marinara, making a perfect light lunch.  You taller guys out there could probably appreciate two of them, but one was fine for a weekday lunch where no afternoon nap was a possibility.

But back to the salad – perfectly fresh greens, a few beautifully ripe tomato chunks and some shaved fennel.  The dressing was a well balanced vinaigrette with a few fresh herbs; exactly the salad you would be served in Italy, either at a modest streetside café or a white tablecloth establishment.  It’s the only salad I have ever seen there; there is no messing with perfection.

Being the complete foodaholic that I am, I enjoyed the sweet torture of having arrived early enough to become absorbed in imagining the experience that each menu option would provide.  Easy with a menu of three pastas, a lasagne, two salads, three subs and three optional protein sides.

I committed to the Ricotta Ravioli, but requested Spicy Tomato Sauce instead of the Basil Pesto it indicated (see photo of my meal at the top of this page).  The ravioli were delicately seasoned in their tender-fresh pasta jackets, as expected, so the sauce was able to shine.  I liked the sauce’s texture of just-enough tomato body without being lumpy.  I have found that most people also like their marinara to be substantially un-chunky.  A bit more shaved garlic in the sauce than is my preference, but probably the right amount for many people.

The scale of room size and menu at Difranco’s is small, but it translates into a warm and inviting spot that easily filled to capacity by 11:45.  Clean and bright and easy (oh, and I do love the free underground parking).  I will be back, to ensure that I get to sample everything on the menu and decide what will be my eventual favorites.  A lovely selection of sweets and a display of sauces, cutlets and cookies to inspire take-away bliss.

Difranco’s is at 955 Lincoln, ground floor of an office building, 720-253-1244. Entrance to the parking garage is just south of the restaurant, so turn left as soon as you see the Difranco sign.  Generous operating hours of 9am – 6:30 weekdays, closing at 3pm on Saturday.   Go to www.Difrancos.com to get more information and a full menu.   Let us know what you ordered and how you liked it!


Paella at Lola

If dining experiences begin with what we see, before anything crosses our lips, then the stage was set last night for a lovely and flavor packed dose of what Lola had featured for us: Paella.  In truth, there were many little moments that made me ready to settle in for the evening.Denver Food Blog, Paella Dinner at Lola

The tables were preset with little plates, a glowing jar of local honey and a cute commemorative mini-poster.  The bar supplied us with their signature Coin Margarita, which is now pretty much the only kind I will consume.

A subtle display of restraint, the opening Ensalada Cesar was light yet creamy and smooth to the palate with the right touch of dressing and some perfect cherry tLocal Honey Welcomes Us To Our Placesomato halves. These subtle flavors were very satisfying, and little did we know that our palates were being saved for the gigantic flavors to come next.

The Paella arrived on a family style platter, of course, and the four of us wasted no time in reaching for the serving spoon as soon as the two annoying photo bugs at the table had grabbed quick shots.

Eat Paella slowly, my friend, because there are so many wonderful elements to experience.  Some dishes need to have all the flavors crunched together to get the right effect (think nachos) but you want slow, little bites of Paella to experience that little firm pea, the just-right tomato nugget and the heavenly aromatic caramelized red onion, to just name a few.

The perfect amount of pepper heat is one of my favorite food aspects.  Find me in a state of bliss when the dish leaves me neither requesting a bottle of a liquid inferno nor sipping water to mistakenly think I’m going to douse a too-aggressive pepper.  The kitchen told me they used Anaheim peppers for the heat, and I would say that is often my own go-to pepper.  Easy to control the level, and once the flavor sets, it is quite stable, unlike cayenne, which may continue to get hotter with leftovers.

The topping of fried calamari was a clever foil to the mostly dense, moist dish.  It was a bit like having your appetizer and main course arrive at the same time, perfectly paired.  My only regret was that, due to the large number of people being served simultaneously, the kitchen was not able to execute a socarrat for each platter, the crisping of the bottom rice layer by placing the pan over high heat for a few minutes just before serving.

Dessert was a chewy, sweet, lemony sugar cookie with just a tiny aftertaste of sea salt, which hit everyone at the table at almost the same moment.

The Paella dinner was hosted by Lola to benefit the Highland Farmers’ Market, along with a fine group of associations and sponsors.  Click the name above to get full information, including the various groups that work together with HUNI*.   The market will run Saturdays between June 2 and October 15.

I am told that Lola does Paella on Sundays – please check with them if you are interested.  Thanks to Stephanie Blake of Blake Communications for connecting me with this wonderful event!

Good Eating!

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TONIGHT:  A fabulous Paella Dinner at Lola, benefitting Highland Farmers Market, and we will have a review tomorrow.

Denver Food Blogs, Lola Paella Dinner