Telluride Inside…and Out, Denver: TAG, the restaurant, not the game

Telluride Inside…and Out, Denver: TAG, the restaurant, not the game

IMGP1122 It's a long way from Telluride to TAG. Start by jumping into a rabbit hole.

If you are lucky enough to get in – the place is one of the hippest, read jammed, in Denver's oh so hip Larimer Square district –  expect the unexpected in this Wonderland of food, where, for example, onion soup winds up inside a dumpling. (Try it, you'll love it.)

Ignorance is bliss – or we have a guardian angel. We showed up without reservations with friends, former Telluride locals Jade and Ernie Graham, also TAG virgins, and managed to waltz right in. (With a little help from the charming young man at the front desk.) But it was a Monday night and TAG was merely full: pulsing, but not hyperventilating.

Executive chef/owner Troy Guard describes what he does as "Continental Social Food," which he deconstructs as follows.

"Continental," refers to a culinary journey inspired by the global table. Guard knows global tables from the West Coast to the Pacific Rim. He trained with the legendary fusion chef, Roy Yamaguchi, including gigs at Tao in New York and Doc Cheng's (at The Raffles) in Singapore, before opening the Latin-Asian fusion home run, Zengo, in his adopted hometown.

"Social" alludes to the fact the menu is designed for sharing with your travel companions, like-minded souls who enjoy traveling the world on their bellies.

And "Food" sums up the action at TAG from soup to nuts: fresh local ingredients and refreshingly original preparations, a (yummy) mouthful that boils down to this: Guard's legerdemain, his gift really, involves stopping just short of over the top. He manages to remain on this side of elegant, without sacrificing signature twists that underline his virtuosic skills. Guard delivers just enough, but not too much. A tour de force.

Prepare to turn on the faucet in your mouth. Following TAG's protocol and the suggestion by our attentive and thoroughly engaging water Luis, we shared all three courses until we reached the point of diminishing returns, which was right around dessert. (But Luis twisted our arms and we agreed to just one for the road.)

Appetizers included taco sushi (charred ahi, sushi rice, guacomole, Li-hing mango salsa) and the aforementioned onion soup dumplings (maui onions, veal gelee, gruyere cheese). Main courses, likewise divided family style, included prosciutto wrapped scallops (like butter), Szechuan Colorado rack of lamb (spicier, but ditto) and a New York steak (you guessed it: ditto, ditto). Dessert  was a TAG-style chocolate cake, which means not just any chocolate cake. This confection featured candied nuts, Saigon cinnamon-spiced cajeta sauce, and creme fraiche ice cream.

Every bite from every course was seasoned with imagination.

TAG (named after the chef and his pet bull dog). You're IT.

TAG is open for lunch, social hour (2 – 6 p.m.) and dinner. Off-street parking and garage parking on Market St. between 14th-15th. Larimer Square offers valet parking for $15. Phone: 303-996-9985.

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