An Experience that LingersJanuary 15, 2012
Once in a while, a restaurant gets just about everything right – the right atmosphere, the right service, the right menu, the right flavors, and even the right price. Such a restaurant is the relatively new Linger, located right next to downtown Denver, Colorado. The MHK senior staff had the pleasure of dining there last week, and as the title of this post suggests, we are still thinking about the experience.
Linger’s name comes from the name of the building in which its housed – Olinger’s Mortuaries. Chef/owner Justin Cucci, rather than shy away from the morbid past, simply darkened the first letter of Olinger’s prominent neon sign to suit his place’s name, and changed the word “mortuaries” to “eatuaries.” Like many green-thinking restaurants these days, Linger’s interior is made from 70% recycled materials – large wood-beamed ceilings, cushy half-circle booths, and various lighting racks and other accouterments adorn the somewhat spacious place; it’s a little dark but not annoyingly so. The servers all have that “hip” look – tattoos, top hats, piercings, etc. You feel like you’re in with the in crowd, so to speak. It’s a very popular place – we booked our reservation 3 weeks in advance for a Saturday night, and the best time available was 5:30pm. We were seated right away, but every other table was filled, even that early. As the evening went on, we understood why.
Our server greeted us with a bowl of fresh popcorn; miso caramel popcorn, to be exact. Apparently they change up the flavors often, but it’s always an exotic concoction (our dining companions had an Indian spiced popcorn there on their first visit). It was an unexpected and fun way to begin. Linger’s drink menu follows the current trend of having unique ingredients for their signature cocktails; the “Donovan Electric Banana,” for example, has Scotch, vanilla simple syrup, and cola topped with banana foam & a mint leaf; the “Toronja Flip” features tequila, grapefruit juice, jalapeño simple syrup, egg whites & Luxardo Cherry Juice. Most of our party abstained from such indulgences, but I tried their caipirinha, which is like a Brazilian mojito – a Brazilian liquor called Boca Loca Cachaca is muddled with limes and sugar. It hit the spot…twice.
It’s very rare that we’ve been to a restaurant where upon reading the menu, there would not be one single thing we wouldn’t try. I tried hard to find something on Linger’s menu that didn’t interest me or that I would not try – it was impossible. Everything made my mouth tingle with anticipation. The dishes are all small plates – tapas style, as some call it, with recipes stemming from influences of global cuisine. Africa, the Far East, Southeast Asia, India, America, the Middle East, and Europe are all represented, and represented well. Here are a sampling of the items we did not have room in our bellies to try: Vietnamese skirt steak, ceviche, duck wings, short rib tacos, lamb belly tagine (have to go back for that one), and lettuce wraps stuffed with garbanzos, cashews, Turkish chile, scallion, pickled shiitakes, herbs & lemon-tahini yogurt. Plus the fried pork belly special they had that evening – I’m still not sure how we didn’t order that.
But now on to what we did have: African peanut soup, Mongolian BBQ duck bun, popper “breakdown,” saag paneer “fries,” roasted beet bhel puri, masala dosa, raw Indian “samosas,” and “Devils on Horseback.” What, you need an explanation of those? Good idea. The soup featured fire roasted tomatoes, yogurt, peanuts and cilantro, and the combination of flavors was fantastic. The sweetness of the tomatoes, the semi-firm peanuts, and the creamy yogurt all blended nicely together – it tasted sort of Indian, but sort of not. It was delicious. The duck bun was a very tasty sesame pancake of sorts filled with pulled duck meat, miso-pickled cucumbers, and scallions. The duck was soaking in an Asian BBQ sauce, and the dish was so good. The meat was super tender, and pancake/bun was almost crepe-like but thicker. I could have eaten six of those. The popper “breakdown” plays off the traditional jalapeno popper, deconstructing it.
Shoshito peppers, which are mild, were seared in a wok, and were served with tempura cheese curds – yes, I said tempura cheese curds; wipe up your drool – and an orange-habanero jam. Each item tasted amazing on its own, but combining them was a revelation. The smoky flavor of the seared peppers mixed with the crunchy and oozy curds was so enjoyable, and the jam gave it a sweet and spicy punch that knocked it out of the park. It was so very good. Saag paneer is very familiar to those familiar with Indian cuisine – for those who are not, it’s spinach cooked with cheese cubes, and it’s terrific. Linger’s saag paneer “fries” featured French fry-shaped cubes of cheese atop a spinach puree, served with rhubarb ketchup. It was another triumph; the cheese was seared on the outside to give it a firm texture, and when mixed with the puree, it tasted very similar to its Indian original. The ketchup added a nice touch of sweetness. The roasted beet bhel puri contained roasted beets, puffed rice, crunchy lentil noodles, chickpeas, red onion, cashews,
tomatoes, cilantro, yogurt, and a tamarind-date chutney. I’m not big on beets, and on their own I wasn’t too fond of these, but when mixed with all the other ingredients, the dish was quite good. Several different textures played off one another well; the crunchy noodles, the tender chickpeas, and the creamy yogurt really enhanced the dish. Masala dosa is a giant Indian crepe – it puffs up really high, making the dish look almost burrito-ish. Inside the crepe was potatoes, brussel sprouts, black mustard seeds, tamarind-date chutney & coconut chutney. I’d never had brussel sprouts before, but if they always tasted like they did in this dish, I’d eat them a lot more (but I doubt they always taste like this). And I’d never heard of
black mustard seeds before, but I know I like them. The potatoes were mashed very smoothly, and the mustard seeds really were a mustardy nice touch. The chutneys simply enhanced the other ingredients perfectly. The
“Devils on Horseback” were actually bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese, served with a sambal gastrique (sambal is an Indonesian/Malaysian chili sauce). The dates were huge, and their sweetness matched with the smoky, salty bacon perfectly. The goat cheese was unfortunately almost undetectable, and the gastrique was very good, but we could have used a lot more of it.
While we were perusing the menu, one of the managers, Ian, came over and asked if we had any questions and such. I asked him about the raw Indian “samosas” – we were curious how the dish was made. Samosas are normally fried balls of potatoes and peas, so if it was raw, how would that work? He told us it was for the more adventurous eaters – he said it had Indian flavors, but the consistency of a “Luna Bar,” one of those protein bars. That made us all raise an eyebrow, but we decided to be adventurous. Ian
told us if we didn’t like the dish he wouldn’t charge us, so we had nothing to lose. And it was…good! Three small conically-shaped mounds were topped with a cashew yogurt and served with a cranberry mint jam. Ian was right on regarding the texture – just like one of those protein bars. But the flavors were really good, the yogurt was a great touch, and along with the jam gave the “samosas” the moistness they needed. We did not ask them to take it off our bill.
Even with all those dishes we managed to save room for dessert. It was Mrs. MHK’s birthday, so Linger accommodated her with a complimentary chocolate bread pudding with homemade strawberry soft serve ice cream. It was quite generous – the ice cream was absolutely amazing, and the bread pudding was ok – it could have been more moist and more chocolaty. We also shared their Trio Plate, which featured half-sized versions of their “Peanut Butter and Jelly Cup,” “Mississippi Mud Pie,” and the “Ovaltine and Oreos.” You read that right – Ovaltine. Little Ralphie’s nemesis in “A Christmas Story.” But this is not our father’s Ovaltine, no sir. An Oreo cookie was topped with an Ovaltine Bavarian cream, marscapone, and a malt sauce. Somehow they made Ovaltine very chocolaty and delicious – this dessert was fantastic. The PB & J Cup was tiny but good – cabernet jelly coulis, whipped cream, bruleed bananas and candied peanuts changed a blue-collar sandwich into a fine dining dessert. And the Mud Pie was a dense chocolate cake topped with a miso butterscotch, cream and candied walnuts. It was very rich, but very good. What we didn’t try sounded just as amazing, like the grapefruit-ginger sorbet or the homemade brown butter-strawberry ice cream.
Prices range widely at Linger from $5 up to $19 for the small plates; desserts range from $5 to $10. But even with all the dishes I listed above plus two drinks, it was under $100 before tip, which made us think at first that they left something off the bill, but they didn’t. It was an incredible value for a wonderful dining experience. The eclectic food, the hip yet comfortable atmosphere, the friendliness of the staff, and again, the food, give everyone a reason to hang around, loiter, delay leaving, stay a bit longer, wait a while, etc. And of course, a reason to come back.
The Mouse House Kitchen gives Linger 4.5 out of 5 stars!