The night after we took the executives from U.K.-based Cambridge Audio out with us to the Cherry Cricket for burgers, they offered to reciprocate at a much nicer place than the Cricket - Strings Restaurant in Denver. Strings is an upscale contemporary restaurant in Denver's Uptown section, east of the downtown area (see map). It's been a hip destination for many of Denver's social elites for a number of years.
The owner/chef of Strings is Noel Cunningham (left), a native of Ireland who has been working in fine kitchens for over 45 years. Cunningham - who is approaching 60 - got his start in his family's restaurant in Dublin in his early teens. He then moved on to London to work in the famous Savoy Hotel. By the age of 23, Cunningham had reached the level of sous chef - something that wasn't very ordinary for a non-French chef of his age.
Cunningham and his family moved to L.A. in the late 70's when he became the sous chef at Harry's Bar and American Grill. Within a few short years, Cunningham became the executive chef for the Spectrum restaurant group - a close knit chain of upscale restaurants that included Harry's Bar, MacArthur Park in Palo Alto, Ca, and Drago in L.A.
Cunningham ran the kitchen briefly at an upscale restaurant called Touch in Beverly Hills for a number of years. When Touch was sold in the mid-80's, a friend convinced Cunningham to move to Denver and open a restaurant. Strings opened in 1987 and was soon followed by 240 Union in suburban Lakewood. In 1991, Cunningham opened a third restaurant in Denver, a contemporary Italian restaurant by the name of Ciao Baby. In 1995, Cunningham sold his interest in Ciao Baby, which closed in 1997, but hestill maintains ownership of Strings and 240 Union.
Strings went through a recent remodel and change in the kitchen when it hired Denver native Aaron Whitcomb as their new chef. Whitcomb, who went to the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Colorado in Denver, also has a wine background as he attained a first level certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers. But cooking was his major passion and he returned to Denver in 2008 after working in Chicago at the famous Alinea restaurant, as well as helping to open the upscale Room 21, which is housed in a building that was once Al Capone's largest illegal liquor warehouse and speakeasy during Prohibition. No doubt a lot of Templeton Rye was stored in that building.
Along with Cambridge Audio president James Johnson-Flint, marketing head Peter Brown and international sales manager Paul Masson, we were joined by four other Cambridge Audio engineers they brought along to the annual CEDIA Expo. We had 11 guys in our company for dinner, so there were 18 of us for dinner. We were ushered into a back room area at Strings, having a large table all to ourselves.
Instead of ordering directly off the dinner menu at Strings, the Cambridge Audio guys were convinced by the restaurant staff when they made the reservations that it would be easier if we would order off of what they call the "Prom Prix Fixe Menu". It's a fixed price menu that severely limited our options of what we could order at Strings. Still, the choices for main entrees were good - Pan Roasted Salmon, penne bagutta with chicken and mushrooms, New York strip and chicken Parmesan - but I would have liked to have explored Aaron Whitcomb's main menu.
But the one thing the Brits love to do is drink wine. God, love 'em. And because the wine list is mainly California varietals, they let ME pick out the wine! And I picked out a couple of good ol' standbys - a 2005 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay for the white and a bottle of the 2005 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet. Both were kind of expensive, but they didn't seem to flinch when I ordered them.
We had two waiters working our group and they brought us out three large plates of appetizers that included mussels, crab cakes, tuna tartar and beef carpaccio. We'd had a long day working the show, so the appetizers didn't last long.
We each put in our orders for dinner. I went with a Caesar's salad and ordered the New York strip - a very safe choice. It wasn't very exciting or daring, but it was OK for what it was.
And about 15 minutes after I finished my salad, our main entrees were brought to the table. My steak was very good, but it wasn't anything special. The mashed potatoes had a brown sauce infused with wine that was very good. But all in all, it was a good meal, albeit nothing fancy.
One of my colleagues next to me got the pan roasted salmon topped with shrimp bits in a lemon-caper sauce with garlic-mashed potatoes. He did nothing but rave about the meal. I'll say it did look considerably more interesting than my meal.
For dessert we had a choice of ice cream, creme brulee or a chocolate mousse cake. Well, I'm always a sucker for good creme brulee. And Strings' creme brulee was very good.
All the while after dessert was served, Peter Brown from Cambridge Audio asked if anyone wanted any more wine. A couple people said they wouldn't mind some more, so he ordered up two more bottles of the Cabernet. I think we ended up with 7 bottles of the Cabernet and 3 bottles of the Chardonnay. Now, that's drinkin' some fine wine!
Strings was very nice, but in a large group like that you really can't find out how extensive and exciting the menu may be. While the dining room had a great contemporary flair to it, the large room they stuck us in was pretty nondescript. Our service was very good and the food was very good, too. But I really liked the fact that the Cambridge guys liked the wine and kept ordering it up. Now, THAT was the fun part of the evening.