- Griffin Swartzell
- We're fond of more affordable lunch plates at Four.
Springs diners don't go crazy over new eateries. So when Mayor John Suthers shows up for an invite-only soft opening dinner, as he did at Four by Brother Luck, it's a big deal. But if any Springs chef can be called a culinary celebrity or rock star, it's Brother Luck.
Four opened on May 4, Luck's new digs with long-time friend Aaron Rivera of Charlotte, North Carolina's now-sold eatery Tapas 51. Locals know Luck for the now-closed Colorado Avenue spot, Brother Luck's Street Eats, as well as appearances on Food Network's Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay. Rivera's also won on the latter. But if television hype and culinary chops correlated one-to-one, Thomas Keller would be a household name and Guy Fieri would have Michelin stars. TV's all sizzle with no steak — either Four has good staff, good ingredients and a good plan, or something's wrong.
Let's start with the most visibly ambitious part of that plan: the dinner menu. It's split into four sections, each highlighting a major culinary influence in Southwestern culture. There's an American Western section, a Mexican section, a Spanish section and a Native American section. Each can be ordered as a prix fixe four-course dinner for around $50, with appetizer, soup/salad, entrée and dessert, or diners can order individual items á la carte. The menu's a collaboration between Luck and Rivera, though Rivera has held the fort down solo since opening. (Luck went to Japan for two months and has hinted at something big on the horizon he can't yet announce.)
We opt for the Native American course, selecting the Tamaya blue cornbread, the foraged squash, the seared buri and the maple bread pudding. We add baccalao fritters from the Spanish menu as a second appetizer. The fritters present as a small plate of crisp-fried orbs of dried salted cod, powerfully salty but otherwise mildly fishy. Raisins and a swirl of saffron aioli add counterbalancing sweetness and richness, respectively.
The cornbread, made with Tamaya blue cornmeal from Santa Ana Pueblo outside Albuquerque, comes tender, atop honey swirls and piled with diced Pueblo green chili and wojapi, a delicious blueberry-forward berry sauce. The chili's minimally spicy, and the bread's tender — overall a winner if delicately portioned.
Locally farmed butternut and spaghetti squash meet baby zucchini, all cooked tender, under fresh tomato and red onion, finished with cilantro, parsley, cherval and thyme. There's a rich, savory butter-veggie stock emulsion as a sauce, which brings the whole dish together. The buri arrives a touch overdone. Tender Anasazi beans and wild mushrooms meet baby leeks for a powerfully savory accompaniment to the mild fish. Our bread pudding has consistency problems — creamy in spots, dry in others, and burnt at the tips. Maple-based sauce and candied pepitas add depth, but it's the least impressive course.
Luis Rodriguez, formerly of The Famous, manages the bar. We try a Spiced Axe Manhattan, made with Axe and the Oak whiskey and St. Elizabeth allspice dram, atop traditional sweet vermouth and bitters. The dram and the whiskey meet powerfully spicy, suggesting winter holidays, and there's an almost tannic dryness, making an overall rough sip. The web menu says this drink usually gets High West whiskey — maybe the spirit swap threw off the balance.
We're happier with the IV margarita, which goes big on spicy and tangy notes, blending smoky Ancho Reyes verde (green chili liqueur) with Don Julio silver, apple shrub, apple-infused agave, and lime. We're fond of the intense swirl of flavors, but it's better sipped from the top than through the straw, mellowed by lime essence. We wonder why it's served in a Collins glass with ice — a coupe or cocktail glass would guarantee that balance. My fellow food reviewer has since noted excellent course-by-course wine pairings care of Sommelier Steve Kander.
All told, we're more impressed at lunch. Sonoran spiced calamari stagger with freshness and tenderness, some of the best we've had. Blue corn coating delights, and herb aioli at the bottom of the bowl adds surprise creaminess to the appetizer. It's near perfect.
An ancho Caesar salad, also on the Mexican dinner menu, sees smoky, mildly spicy dressing balanced with crisp, refreshing jicama matchsticks and cucumber rounds, with tortilla strips adding yet more crunch. A duck torta comes mildly gamey and fatty — so much so that there's a puddle of liquid fat left on the plate — on a tender bolillo roll with fresh tomato and a mix of raw and pickled red onion. We're much happier with the pork belly Cuban sandwich, with pickles and Dijon aioli refreshing against fatty meat.
Coffee comes from Barista Espresso, functional as drip or a cappucino. We add a slice of strawberry pie from the American Western dinner menu. It's more like a shortbread tart, plated with sliced strawberries and strawberry purée under rich sour cream ice cream. It's a neat exploration of berry done three ways, but the small portion stings at $9.
But whatever the portion per price, the food's real and, for a few dishes, impressive. You can't eat fame. You can't eat hype. Those may bring people through the front doors once or twice, but it's what goes from kitchen to plate that keeps them coming back.