Denver Holiday Highlights

Denver Zoo Lights

It’s been snowing like crazy here in Colorado for almost twenty-four hours. It looks like the ski resorts will be shaping up nicely  just in time for holiday travelers. I’ll be providing those snow reports soon enough but for now, I want to clue you in on some of Denver’s highlights. Many travelers will be stopping off in Denver on their way to or from the mountains, so here are some of my recommendations for this festive season.

Denver’s performing arts scene ranks as one of the most vibrant in the country. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) is actually comprised of many theaters that provide a range of talent and performances second to Broadway. If you act fast, you still might be able to land some tickets to Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, a classic production based on the renowned film of the same name that’s playing now through Christmas Eve. Dixie’s Tupperware Party serves up a bowlful of fun through December 30 complete with funny tales, free Tupperware giveaways, audience participation and laughs for those sixteen years of age and up. As always, DCPA has announced a stellar lineup of shows for 2013 including War Horse which opens January 8.

Van Gogh Wheat Field

Van Gogh Self Portrait with Straw Hat

Culture, culture, culture—I can’t get enough of it when I’m in Denver and thankfully there’s plenty to take in at all times. I love hitting the Denver Art Museum (DAM) whether it’s to go to one of their spectacular shows or to check out some of their collections. (Their American Indian Art is very rich. Hey, this is the West, isn’t it?) Carve out time for both their temporary and permanent exhibitions and be sure to shop in their Museum Shop, a great resource for creative gift items for you and treasured loved ones and friends. Becoming Van Gogh is the show of the moment, a lovely exhibition I took in in November. I was saddened to learn that this great artist’s career only lasted ten years, but what a decade that was as you’ll find out at this in-depth exploration of his work. The show runs through January 20; be sure to reserve online since many of the time slots are already sold out.

I say make it a whole day at DAM and plan to have lunch or brunch at Palettes, the contemporary-styled museum restaurant right across from the Hamilton Building, owned and operated by the Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group. For over a decade and a half, Palettes has been presenting fine food to discriminating foodies in this bright and airy decor. Best of all, the staff here knows how to reply to the demands of hurried museum goers—they also gladly accommodate diners that choose to swill wine at their table for hours. I love the French flair of the whole menu, something Palettes has taken to more delightful bon vivant heights in honor of the Van Gogh show. They have, in fact, created a Becoming Van Gogh menu, a three-course prix fixe extravaganza—including French specialties such as coq au vin—that will leave you feeling like you just stepped away from a wonderful bistrot in Paris, or even better, Arles. If you want to take the Van Gogh theme even further, choose from one of the restaurant’s featured Van Gogh cocktails, enticing concoctions prepared with Van Gogh Vodka. Mais bien sur.

Palettes at DAM

Fine Food at Palettes for Discerning Museum Goers

Reserve your evening dining for the Larimer Square area, the most happening part of Denver in the heart of LoDo (lower downtown). This place goes off from happy hour until the wee hours of the morning. I recently experienced Rioja, a busy, noisy, vibrant restaurant that’s clearly one of the most popular spots on the block. With a crowd as sophisticated as Rioja’s innovative cuisine, come here to take in Denver’s cosmopolitan scene. (Made up of young movers and shakers, many of whom are affiliated with green industries and Internet technology, it’s no wonder the mile-high city is fun for visitors and residents alike.) From the gorgeous selection of bread presented at the beginning to the poached pears I savored at the end, every part of my meal here tantalized my senses. Largely known for her handmade pastas, Chef Jen also wields a strong hand with regional specialties such as Colorado lamb and pan roasted venison. A nice, robust glass of Rioja at Rioja is a must and here they know how to recommend the best. Make that two.

Rioja on Lovely Larimer Square

Rioja Before the Crowd Arrives

My Handsome Dinner Date in Front of His Rioja Picnic: a trio of artisan meats, warm pine nut crusted goat cheese, Italian Mountain gorgonzola, olives, truffle fennel salad, orange confit and almonds

For a more subdued ambiance, perhaps by the fire, go to Randolph’s, one of my favorite addresses housed within the Denver Warwick Hotel. Chef Jean Claude Cavalera consistently woos diners with his own smoked salmon—a major component of holiday feasts in France—served on house made country bread with its traditional accompaniments all year round. His filet mignon is one of the most tender and flavorful you’ll ever taste. The crowd varies from quiet and calm during most times to large and celebratory on holidays. With special Christmas Day brunch and New Year’s Eve menus at a prix fixe that represent excellent price/quality relationships, it’s no wonder Randolph’s receives such high marks. Thankfully the smoked salmon is on both menus along with an array of other fresh and delectable offerings.

Randolph’s Romantic Interior Replete with a Red Rose on Every Table

Randolph’s Melt-in-Your-Mouth Smoked Salmon

By now, you’re perhaps wondering about shopping. Aside from a handful of lovely boutiques in the Larimer Square area, I think Cherry Creek offers the best shopping scene in Denver. Read Cherry Creek:  One of America’s Top Spots for Chic Shopping, Lodging and Dining to find out more. Sadly, I’ve become less and less of a fan of the 16th Street Mall scene, however, you might have fun poking around there.

Elephant Lights at the Denver Zoo

And how about something special for the kids? Take in Zoo Lights at the Denver Zoo, every night from 5:30 to 9 p.m. through January 2. With more than 150 animated animal sculptures illuminated throughout this spectacular zoo, you’ll be oohing and ahhhing, too. Plus, it’s fun to share our love and celebrate this exciting time of the year with the animals, too.

Happy holidays to all!

Happy Christmas to All and to All a Good Night from Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at the DCPA

Thank you DAM, DCPA, Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group, Rioja, Randolph’s, the Denver Zoological Foundation and my iPhone for the above images.

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