A new Denver restaurant opened this week with a big-deal chef at the helm, but you probably wont read too much about Bistro Barbès in the papers.
“We haven’t really done any marketing,” Chef Jon Robbins (formerly of Mizuna) tells a friend over the counter. “I’m concerned about crowding it out. We really want to have enough space for our long term Park Hill clientele.”
As if it was lifted from its namesake “Barbès” neighborhood in Paris, Bistro Barbès is community first. Good food, good people, zero pretension.
True to Paris form, the restaurant is narrow and lined with mostly 2-tops. You can see the staff handing off plates in the open kitchen behind the bar. It’s casual, and there’s something about it that almost feels like a pop-up; you immediately get the sense you’ve been here before, though maybe not here before. Someone in the kitchen speaks up, and I swear I hear French.
The menu drops and $5 – $8/ glass wine options pull my view. It’s an easy choice for a Wednesday night: a côtes du rhône that goes down easy and finishes clean.
Chef Jon is not the only Parisian transplant in the 28th Avenue bistro. His waitstaff and kitchen include other former residents who spent recent years leading cycling tours or cooking in Paris kitchens before Bistro Barbès was even an idea. These are people who know a newer Paris that breaks out of the duck à l’orange mold – it’s a more current Paris, a Paris of a working class, commuters, and vagabonds, rich with North African influence and flavor.
The menu is full of this neo-Parisian fare. Harissa sabayon and turmeric emulsions play on traditional preparations, enhancing dishes with a vibrancy and spices that feel as seasoned as they do fresh.
Though the menu changes semi-weekly, each dish seems like a nod to a different person. On tonight’s menu, there’s the bavette steak for the older construction worker who hangs at the bar and swigs down a big glass of wine before heading home; the refreshing beet salad for the student who pops in on her way from day classes to night job; the rhubarb panna cotta for the couple tucking into a low lit corner after seeing a concert.
This is the community touch-point. The food that crosses paths.
My côtes du rhône lasts a beet salad and a grilled octopus, served with roasted salsify, pea tendrils, watermelon radish, and that sultry harissa sabayon. A server pulls up at the bar stool next to me with a cod dish and a glass of draft beer while I cap my night with a reasonable $3 espresso. We talk of travels, tacos, and overpriced designer coffee, sharing war stories and recommendations.
He clocks out, I pay my handwritten bill, and on the walk back to my car, it feels like I’m home in Paris again.
Bistro Barbès is currently open for dinner Wednesday – Sunday, with plans for brunch service on the horizon.
5021 East 28th Ave.
Denver, CO 80207