Nothing says sophistication like simplicity.
The Monley family and their partners are capitalizing on that at Denver’s coolest art bar and haven for Francophiles: La Cour.
This unpretentious South Broadway bastion of joie de vivre exemplifies what makes stunning art and outrageous food so great: Less is best. In a truly Left Bank approach, the cafe offers simple dishes made from great things. The owners pour solid French wines that are great because they’re well crafted, not because they’re well marketed.
On Mother’s Day, we had a glass of Dauvergne Ranvier Cotes du Luberon, a typical Rhone blend with simple, stated, expert finishes. It was sumptuous. It was six bucks. An obscure, small-vineyard Vouvray was a perfect example of what artisans can do with chenin blanc, a feat that escapes vintners all over the world. It was impossibly bright and mellow. It was eight bucks. French wines not quite this good cost much more at Denver’s more uppity French and chic-chic venues. But these are the wines that come in pichets at favorite bistros and brasseries all over Paris. Borrowing heavily from the fun and lively blends in the south, a citrusy Bordeaux and crisp Loire wine were also part of the mix on this day. Closer to home, simply outstanding brews from Colorado crafters are offered alongside their grape counterparts. For now, Odell and Great Divide are getting all the attention.
Food follows the same theme. Simple things made with the great ingredients — often best because they’re local — make for complex tastes. Amuses bouches, three for five bucks today, were thin slices of baguette topped with a little smoked salmon and creme fraiche. Another was tender prosciutto and a tart reduction of balsamic vinegar. Another was fresh spring veggies and oils. Simple.
The classic French onion soup boasts stock and sweet onion, laced with something sweeter, maybe fennel or tarragon. Those baguette thin-ham-and-comte sandwiches with butter and pickles you can’t leave behind at Garre du Nord waiting for a train? They got ‘em. A host of tartines, open face sandwiches, which either inspired or copied the famous Danish smørrebrød, topped, not piled, with hams, fishes, cheeses, greens, strong flavors that are genially mixed. Quiches. Assiettes, Catalan-like dips, cheeses that surprise rather than overpower. Lots of little touches that deliver big smiles.
Chef Dan wanders the French region, plucking things like a thin-but-caramelly tart tatine from the north and spiced apple relish from Alsace. Lots of flavors reflect the simple tastes and staples of Provence. Olives. Tomatoes. Granache.
But this place is much more than food and wine. The entire two-story Victorian building is built as a gallery, currently featuring artists with a Picasso and a contemporary bent. Outside, a simple patio is backed up against an art wall, where different murals will come and go, similar to La M.U.R street art projects in the Oberkampf, and Leon.
And there’s music. Just like everything else at La Cour — French for “The Court” — good judgment prevails. Sunday, we listened first to traditional cobblestone-street music that sounded just like the flower stalls in spring along the Rue Cler or a square near the gates of Avignon. Later, we were treated to some of the best Django Reinhardt since Django Reinhardt: Gypsy Swing Revue. It was two guys, a violin and a guitar, about 15 customers and long afternoon of Berlin, Gershwin and Reinhardt. Simple. Brilliant.
You don’t really have to plan or dress or fret, just go. Drink some. Eat some. Watch the people, and savor the art. Simple.
La Cour French Bistro
1643 S. Broadway
Happy Hour 3-6pm & all day Sunday
Brunch Sat and Sun 9:30 a.m.- 2 pm
Tue- Fri open at 11 a.m.
Sun close 9 p.m.
Tue-Thur close 10 p.m.
Fri – Sat close 11 p.m.