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Mouthing Off

If at second you don't succeed: The coffeehouse biz can be a real grind, and no one knows that better than the Art of Coffee. For the second time in two years, this LoDo meeting place has closed its doors at 1836 Blake Street, and this time, it sounds like it's for keeps. "The business is for sale," says the voice on Art of Coffee's answering machine. "And any suppliers looking to get paid will have to wait until the sale goes through."

But that non-success story doesn't scare the folks who recently opened the Abstract Caffe at 8250 West 80th Avenue in Arvada. "Abstract brings that warm, homey feeling of a LoDo bistro to suburban Denver," its tiny menu claims. Talk about strange brew: The place sports such for-decoration-only items as a shoeshine booth, traffic lights and barber chairs, and a local phone call costs 10 cents. The usual coffee suspects are available, along with the ubiquitous panini.

Another concept that popped up all over Denver like chicken pox in the past two years was the "fresh Mexican grill," and now the weeding-out process has begun. All of Colorado's ZuZu eateries have closed, and I can't say I'm sorry to see them go--the food was boring, and it wasn't service they offered at the site in Cherry Creek North, it was somnambulism. The other good news is that Zuma, whose original at 550 Grant Street has done a booming business in the last year and a half, will expand to LoDo in the old Seattle Fish Co. building at 1533 Market Street, as well as three other locations. Co-owners Bob Hauser and Tony Miller have to change the name because there was some confusion with ZuZu (that is, until anyone actually ate the food at either place, which is when the difference between ZuZu's low-grade stuff and Zuma's killer burritos was readily apparent) and they plan to go national. Careful there, guys. My prediction: They will knock out LoDo competitor Wahoo's Fish Taco, at 1521 Blake Street, about which I continue to collect complaints regarding slow service and poorly cooked food.

I hadn't heard any complaints about Jane's on Madison, at 120 Madison Street (the old home of Philippe's), since the place had gotten a new chef, so I was surprised to learn that the charming restaurant closed on New Year's Day. So did Marina Landing, 8101 East Belleview Avenue; by May, its space will be filled by the Great Northern Tavern & Brewery. The kitchen at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park (think The Shining) has closed for renovations; it's scheduled to reopen in time for Valentine's Day. Meanwhile, the Hyatt Regency Denver, at 1750 Welton Street, has hired John Treusein to replace the chef it lost to the Houston Hyatt. And the parent company of Sfuzzi, 3000 East First Avenue, has recovered from Chapter 11 bankruptcy--after selling the Cherry Creek spot and thirteen other Sfuzzis across the country to Toscorp, a company owned by a New York restaurateur. Soon Sfuzzi will be called Coco Pazzo (Italian for "crazy cook") and will focus on Tuscan food. Let's hope it focuses on more exciting food than Sfuzzi was putting out. With the exception, of course, of Pastabilities lobster-stuffed herb ravioli. The Denver company (and its ravioli) rated a plug in the January 6 Wall Street Journal, in a story detailing how upscale restaurants (such as New York's Sfuzzi) often serve prefab food. According to Pastabilities president William Curtis, his company sells tons of ravioli each week to restaurants across the country. "They come up with the concept, we create the item," he told the Journal.

Denver restaurants also are showing up in national cooking magazines on a regular basis; Mel and Janie Master are often responsible. A recent Bon Appetit names their Starfish, at 300 Fillmore Street, among the "best of the year's new restaurants."

And then, of course, there are even newer restaurants--and old restaurants in new packages. Al Fresco and European Cafe are finally making the move a few blocks from their original Market Street homes over to Brooks Towers; Sam Taylor's Bar-B-Q has left City Park for southeast Denver (more on the moves next week). On Wednesday, the long-awaited Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House officially opened its doors (dinners Monday through Saturday) at 8100 East Orchard Road. Concert promoter Barry Fey, who knows good steaks (and proved it when he joined me for dinner at the not-so-good Brook's Steak House ["Prime and Punishment," September 5]), reports that Del Frisco's steaks are the best in town; he gnawed his porterhouse bone clean.

Dakota's is booking the blues at 2401 15th Street, formerly occupied by Maxfield & Friends, but no longer singing the blues about the odd off-track betting business the restaurant/club inherited from the previous occupant (and which Dakota's had moved to the basement); as of this month, all bets are off. Maverick's Mesquite Grill & Sports Bar, at 4851 East Virginia in Glendale, celebrates its first month in business (lunch and dinner seven days a week) with an open house from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, January 17. Festivities include music by Bobby Wells and the Healers and a tasting buffet ($5 per person) by executive chef Peter Barry Holder; a portion of the proceeds goes to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Another good way to put your mouth where your money is: Red Wine & Fish, sponsored by McCormick's Fish House & Bar, in the Sage Room of the Oxford Hotel, 17th and Wazee streets, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. January 22. The $25 ticket benefits Volunteers of America; your tastebuds benefit from the innovative combos of seafood and red wine.

--Wagner

 
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