Dining out at the Wildflower

At Wildflower, the wildly popular restaurant and cocktail bar in LoHi’s boutique Life House hotel, a passionate group of people are pushing boundaries to elevate Denver’s dining experience.

Wildflower restaurant bar.
Photo by Paul Miller.

You eat first with your eyes.

The adage is nowhere more true than at Wildflower, the wildly popular cocktail bar and restaurant in Life House, Lower Highlands, a boutique hotel property tucked away on a residential street in the heart of LoHi. A feast for the senses begins as soon as you pass through the industrial exterior doors and into the ground-floor restaurant and cocktail bar.

It is, in the truest sense of the word, awesome, a sensory experience of audacity and enchantment from the moment you pass through its industrial exterior doors. Splendid in its ebullience, Wildflower’s decor offers a wealth of ideas from which those looking to go all-in on the moody maximalist trend can extract pointers. Everywhere you look is a new vignette of carefully considered and placed decor that gives not-so-subtle nods to the eponymous wildflower theme. The hundreds of artifacts on view hail from around the globe and across centuries: Low-slung vintage club chairs with wild flora-patterned velvet in jewel tones flank a rust-tone leather wraparound sofa and plush drapery. Everywhere, ornate dried floral arrangements are on display in Edwardian candelabras and amber glass vases.

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Meant to evoke a pioneer’s Victorian homestead, the wildflower-inspired restaurant and cocktail bar draws inspiration from the neighborhood’s original Italian and Mexican settlers. Through seasonal fare and as-local-as-possible ingredients, Wildflower’s executive chef Aiden Tibbetts and chef de cuisine Emmanuel Urban present a menu of vegetable-forward dishes that seek to tell the story of the neighborhood’s roots through a fusion of non-traditional Mexican and Italian fare.

Wildflower dishes clockwise from top: Grilled Artichokes, Scallop Crudo, Lamb Tart.
Clockwise from top: Grilled Artichokes, Scallop Crudo, Lamb Tart. Photo by Paul Miller.

Take, for example, the Scallop Crudo small plate, Wildflower’s take on traditional Peruvian tiradito, which combines elements of ceviche and sashimi. Tibbett’s version brings Italian flavors to the mix through crispy shallots and pomegranate, the fall fruit of Italian culture. The dish is delightful, both to see and to eat, the presentation carefully considered to deliver pops of bright colors that add layers of unexpected flavors to the dish.

“The scallop is really one of the prettiest dishes,” says Tibbetts. “The colors are just coming off the plate—fresh ingredients, really amazing color, a lot of impactful flavor.”

The artful fusion of those three elements is the focus for all of Wildflower’s dishes. Take, for example, the Lamb Tart, a medley of cherry-red tartare of Colorado lamb with a tomato and basil purée in a round pastry-like crust and topped with a dollop of meringue. A pastiche of color, the dish is a feast for the eyes as well as the plate. When the chef presents it at my table, I mistake it for a dessert.

Wildflower dish Quail Pibil.
Quail Pibil. Photo by Paul Miller.

“And that’s the kind of response we want,” says Tibbetts. “Our goal is to create a really intimate, curated experience that breaks a lot of expectations from the very first bite.”

This approach not only results in Reel-worthy presentation but a menu of dishes intended to speak to the Mexican and Italian cuisines as an homage to the cultures they represent. The Quail Pibil exemplifies this ethos. It’s based on the Yacatec Mayan conchita pibil, a traditional dish reserved for only the specialist of occasions.

“In Mayan culture, they do this traditional dish to celebrate something really important like a wedding or a birthday—it’s only for something really special,” says Urban, who is originally from Mexico. “And that’s what we’re trying to do, too. When we have our guests here, we want them to feel really special, we want to transmit that same vibe, the same energy, the whole experience.”

Wildflower dish Kabocha Mezzaluna.
Kabocha Mezzaluna. Photo by Paul Miller.

Wildflower’s pibil replaces the traditional suckling pig with quail stuffed with a version of the relleno negro dish that uses lamb in place of turkey and pork. While the main ingredients may be different, it still delivers the uniquely sweet, earthy aroma imparted by the host of spices in the Mexican original. The result is an elevated take on a classic dish that ultimately elevates the traditional experience.

“We tried a bunch of different things to make this work,” says Tibbetts. “But when it all came together, we knew this is a dish that is going to be on our menu for a long, long time. It speaks to what this place represents.”