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Mouthing Off

Low spirits: Sostanza at 1700 Wynkoop is closed until this Monday, December 1, while it serves out its seven-day suspension for liquor license violations. Except that the owners, Steve Owen and Don Betts, aren't the ones who did the violating. That honor belongs to Sostanza's former chef, Marco Casas, also known as Marco Patricio Casas, Marco Casas-Beaux and Patricio Marco Casas. Why all the names? Well, Mr. Casas has a shaky history of truth-telling, according to Sostanza's owners, from his assertion to them that he was from Italy (he's from Argentina) to his assertion to the Division of Excise and Licenses that he had no prior felony convictions when he applied for Sostanza's liquor license. Turns out he was convicted of felony theft in 1981 in Texas, according to state records, and he's been arrested there and in Washington for other offenses. Excise and Licenses says he also used different Social Security numbers on application forms from a previous restaurant, the now-defunct Botticelli in the Tabor Center, for which he failed to pay sales taxes before the place went bankrupt.

The shame of it is, Casas is nowhere to be found--the rumor is that he's back in Argentina, despite Douglas County's attempts to nail him on forged-check charges--so Sostanza has to pay the penalty in the form of lost business. The only thing the restaurant is guilty of is lousy judgment.

But the news isn't all bad. Sostanza was recently named Denver's hottest table by Fortune, in the November issue in a story called "North America's Most Improved Cities." Sostanza could probably get the award for Denver's most improved restaurant: Since Casas left this past June, the eatery has made a remarkable turnaround under the tutelage of Colleen and Michael Herrick, who cook and manage, respectively.

Brew ha-ha: Shortly after the Bonnie Brae Tavern opened in 1935 at 740 South University Boulevard, a Coors Brewing Company representative told Bonnie Brae owner Carl Dire that he'd never stay in business without having Coors beers on tap.

Wrong. Over the next sixty years, as the neighborhood around it changed--University was paved, a small shopping center grew up on the block and other eateries opened their doors: the Saucy Noodle, the Campus Lounge, Pour la France!, Cucina Leone, Bonnie Brae Ice Cream--the Bonnie Brae did just fine without a Coors tap. In fact, the place just keeps packing them in.

A few weeks ago, though, Carl's sons and current Bonnie Brae owners Michael and Hank Dire decided a change was in order. "We've always offered Coors and Coors Light in the bottle," says Hank. "But we figured that, since Coors has been good to us over the years, it was time to join the fold."

So the restaurant has devoted two of its nine taps to regular Coors and the brewery's seasonal Winterfest. Both are ideal accompaniments to Bonnie Brae's excellent pizza, which appeals to softball players and socialites alike. And so does the restaurant's paper menu, which includes ads for services ranging from "the ultimate preschool experience" to banking outside the U.S. for "privacy" to self-defense pepper spray ("same strength as the police use!") to products called Touchfire His and Touchfire Hers, which "add fire and spice to your love life."

Open-and-shut cases: Cafe Brazil, at 3611 Navajo, is closed until Tuesday, December 2; it's on its "annual Brazilian holiday." In the meantime, you can find great Brazilian sandwiches at a cool place called Coffee Break (10890 East Dartmouth Avenue), which some readers turned me on to. This little cafe is run by people who couldn't be nicer and who serve organic Brazilian coffees, quiches and muffins as well as sandwiches.

The Italian invasion that saw the debut of Cucina! Cucina! Italian Cafe in the Ice House (1801 Wynkoop) two weeks ago continues, with last week's opening of Bravo!, complete with singing waiters, at the Adam's Mark Hotel, 1550 Court Place. A few blocks away, Maggiano's Little Italy is slated to join the club when construction of the Denver Pavilions is finished. And next week, the long-awaited (even if it is a link in a chain) Il Fornaio, 1631 Wazee Street, will introduce itself at a series of parties before opening to the public on December 8. Come spring, Il Fornaio and the next-door McCormick's Fish House & Bar (1659 Wazee) will both boast outdoor seating, thanks to a sidewalk expansion that's been gumming up LoDo traffic for the past month. (Although we gain two outdoor cafes in a city that's crazy for them, we'll also be losing some parking in the most parking-hungry part of town--the old diagonal spaces in the 1600 block of Wazee will be replaced with half as many parallel spots.)

Closed, at least for now, is the Italian Fisherman at 13250 East Mississippi Avenue in Aurora. The building suffered damage during the recent blizzard, but the owners hope to reopen at the beginning of the year.

Sake to me: Toast the approaching end of this year at a sake tasting and dinner this Wednesday, December 3, at Sonoda's Japanese Seafood House and Sushi Bar, 1624 Market Street. A sake expert will be on hand to discuss the virtues of Momokawa Sake, generally considered the best in Japan. Four of Momokawa's sakes will be tasted, including the top-of-the-line Dai Ginjo, rated a 90 by the Wine Spectator. The cost is $45 per person and includes Sonoda's delicious yellowtail collar; call 595-9500 for reservations.

--Wagner

 
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