Last month, Jeff Osaka brought an old restaurant back from the dead.
The chef and restaurateur behind Osaka Ramen, Sushi-Rama and Denver Central Market opened 12@Madison in Congress Park, effectively giving new life to his first Denver project, Twelve.
That restaurant closed about two years ago after a six-year run the Ballpark neighborhood. Part of me wonders if he’d been waiting all this time for a 12th Avenue at ____ address all this time.
Anyway, 12@Madison is meant to be more casual than its predecessor, but shares a focus on seasonal ingredients. And because the menu is made up entirely of small plates, it’s easy to feel like you’re feasting without actually eating way to much.
You found it, great! It’s not on the corner, and Google Maps might lead you to TAG Burger Bar instead.
Hope you have a reservation.
I booked a table for 7 p.m. the day before. It was almost full when we got there, and that hadn’t changed much by the time we left just before 9 p.m.
I wouldn’t try to come here with a big group, though if you give them advance notice they could probably make it work. Still, I’d be more likely to come here for a date or with a couple friends.
Bar seating was more available.
First things first: cocktails.
The 50-50 Martini is made with mescal, sherry, ancho reyes and orange. If you love mescal, get it. If you don’t, this is not for you. It mostly tastes like mescal and citrus. (I loved it.)
The first order out was the ricotta gnudi.
Cow’s milk ricotta balled inside the gnocchi-like dumpling and topped with sage, brown butter and cacio pecora.
(By the way, each plate will run you $9-15.)
Something light and fresh to follow the rich dish.
We destroyed this artful pile of baby lettuces, shaved vegetables, shallots, fine herbs, banyuls, vinaigrette, pecorino and parmesan before I remembered I was supposed to take a picture.
Pork belly time.
The crispy pork belly (a thin slice is hiding beneath everything there) is served with fermented brussels sprouts, rye bread pudding and pear mostarda. When you get everything into one bite, it somehow tastes like a very fancy burger with pickles.
The skirt steak comes with five-spice, puffed rice, chili oil and tatsoi. Careful you don’t send puffed rice flying at your neighbors when you try to break it down.
When you’ve got room to put in one more order…
I promise this one was very prettily plated before we made a mess of it: linguine with littleneck clams, preserved lemon, opal basil and chili flake.
Realize you should have ordered dessert for that remaining stomach space you had pre-linguine and vow to come back.
And feel grateful that you’re not walking away with likely-to-be-forgotten leftovers as usual.
12@Madison is open for dinner from 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Sunday brunch starts at 10 a.m.