The precedent-setting Parallel 17

Parallel Seventeen (or “P17” as locals call it) is an ideal example of how a quiet, yet dignified bistro can slip into a neighborhood, seduce an entire restaurant-frequenting crowd and then maintain and sustain (for eight years), long after numerous nearby restaurants have come and gone – many times over.

P17’s moniker refers to the division of North from South Vietnam, a division that happened via the 1954 Geneva Convention. And so goes this eclectic menu and wine list. Located at on an inviting, southeast corner of 1600 East 17th Avenue in Denver’s uptown, Chef Mary Nguyen has crafted a delightfully inspired Vietnamese menu, infused with a French flair.

It would be easy to simply wax on about P17’s “standard” wine list. Chef Mary keeps the California Pinot Noirs (Angeline and Byron, Calif.) on her menu, and packs plenty of satisfying sensation with a Decero, Argentina Malbec and a Stonecap Washington Cabernet Sauvignon. She also hosts a White Blend, The Dreaming Tree, California, an Eric Montinin, France Sauvignon Blanc, and Pepi, Chardonnay, California as well.

But her “special feature” wines are remarkable. Ruffino wines were recently featured, as an example, and the night I was there, her Ruffino Il Ducale choice provided a balanced, elegant, vanilla/peppery red that gracefully celebrated her sausage-rice stuffed quail entrée.

But don’t wait until the time’s right to commit to a three-course, sit-down meal. Pop in and dig all the nuance, the enhancement, the honey-of-an-experience this corner delight offers. Happy hours that begin at 3 p.m. bring $3, $4 and $5 tapas-like plates that include elements like Chicken Potstickers with black vinegar dipping suace, Steamed Pork Bun, and Togarashi Caramel Corn. Draft beers, sangrias (red and white), and specialty drinks are all aplenty and deeply discounted.

Almost any day of the week brings a bargain at P17 (which helps it stay the neighborhood go-to escape hatch). Happy Hour All Evening is every Monday. Half-price select bottles of wine happen every Tuesday, Martini Madness is on Thursdays, and come Sunday, diners can get a Brunch Plate of Chicken & Waffles, Caprese Benedict or Stuffed French Toast and get in and out, drinks included for less than a $20 spot each.

Perhaps the most exciting element forthcoming from P17 is the Sept. 17 Wine Dinner. P17 Wine Dinners happen the third Tuesday of every month and the meal is built for wine lovers, featuring wines from vintners around the world and includes a four-course meal for $35 a person. I won’t miss September’s P17 Wine Dinner because this is a chef that doesn’t simply know haunting food combinations – she’s got the sixth sense necessary to know exactly the right wine required for each morsel.

Not everyone can do that.

Come October, Chef Mary Nguyen (who is chef-owner of Parallel Seventeen and Street Kitchen Asian Bistro) will unleash a third restaurant: Olive & Finch Eatery, Bakery & Market. It is located at 1552 East 17th Avenue, just two doors down from Parallel Seventeen.

It may not be important to everyone that a locally owned and run restaurant maintains a grace and an elegance – not to mention innovative, affordable cuisine – in an urban neighborhood that supports new high-rises, old brownstones and Section 8 housing alike. But for those of us who understand what it takes to first open and then establish a bistro amidst the kaleidoscope of retail and residential hubris, anchors like P17 restore a little bit of our faith in the ability to do something very well, over time, while maintaining excellence.

Bravo, P17.