By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
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My voice mail keeps filling with calls regarding Sacre Bleu, at 410 East Seventh Avenue ("Good God!", July 13), which continues to inspire much local chat as well as national interest: GQ recently visited the restaurant for a story about Denver's must-dos, and owner Julie Payne says the New York Times and Gourmet also have something in the works. (Sounds like she's taking a tip from restaurateur Kevin Taylor -- focusing on national press rather than worrying about the folks back home.) Meanwhile, Payne's brother, Jesse Slaughter, who'd stepped in to take over for the recently departed Ryan Fletter, has also handed in his keys and called it quits. And all of this action at a place that just opened at the end of April! Fletter is now at Barolo Grill; Slaughter did not return my calls.
Now the scuttlebutt has Charlie Master, son of Mel's Bar and Grillowners Mel and Janie Master, quitting his well-paying management gig at the Caribou Club in Aspen in order to take on the daunting task of restoring some order to Sacre Bleu. Charlie's not talking, but he and Sacre Bleu chef Don Gragggo way back, starting at Barolo and then at Mum and Dad's Starfish (which reopened just over a month ago as Ombra).
If Charlie Master takes on the job, he'll have his hands full, judging from recent reader calls. Payne says that Sacre Bleu was designed to offer entertainment for "mature adults," who don't have much to do in this town; her disparagement of Barolo inspired this: "I don't think the atmosphere at Barolo's bar is boring in any way," said John Barrett, who called a second time to let me know that he's "thirty, drop-dead handsome, and always there, so if any cute chicks want to come see for themselves how fun it is, they can look for the very tall blonde guy."
3601 W. 32nd Ave.
Denver, CO 80211
Region: Northwest Denver
Other calls focused on Sacre Bleu's food. "I took my two friends from New York there the other night," reported Jamie Watley. "We're talking about people who already have reservations at Alain Ducasse, so you know they're pretty serious about the food. I told them this was the hottest restaurant in town right now, and they just laughed when we walked out. First, the service was just okay, and the food tries way too hard. And the way people were behaving at the bar? Even these two New Yorkers thought it was in bad taste, especially considering what they're trying to pretend they are with the food. I was so embarrassed."
Another caller was disappointed in Sacre Bleu's overly complicated -- and often unsuccessful -- entrees. "You were right on when you said the chef doesn't have to put everything in one dish," she said. Such disappointments are a shame, because Gragg is truly talented, and he's done better food elsewhere, particularly at Starfish. And the ingredients he features ad nauseam at Sacre Bleu -- truffle oil, hazelnuts, fava beans -- have so much potential when they are used more sparingly.
At Mel's, for example, chef Frank Bonanno does a fusilli dish that combines the pasta with wild mushrooms and sage in a heavenly white truffle sauce primed with Asiago ($16). The flavors make sense, and you don't feel like you're being hit over the head with an "important" ingredient. On that same Mel's visit, we also sampled Bonanno's incredible foie gras ($12.95), each slice impeccably seared and served over caramelized apples and onions and a piece of smoked bacon that we thought would be overkill but turned out to add a crucial salty element. Some lucky woman is about to become Bonanno's wife this month -- but as he rather sheepishly points out, "She's a vegetarian."
Neighborhood watch: Bang! is about to move across the street and down the block to 3472 West 32nd Avenue from its current home at 3609 West 32nd Avenue. But rumors to the contrary, it won't be partnering in the venture with Mondo Vino, the great wine store located at 3601 West 32nd. "Not true," says Jeff Oakley, one of Bang!'s owners. "They're looking to move into the space we have now, which is, I guess, where that started."
With Bang!'s new digs will come a liquor license, and since the kitchen will be bigger, the menu will expand, too. The target for the reopening is the end of August, but, says Oakley, "more realistically, I think it will be the middle of September."
With Bang! relocating, that block is becoming a mini-restaurant row: On one side is the excellent Trattoria Stella (3470 West 32nd), and on the other, in his old Sabor Latino spot (that restaurant's now located at 4340 West 35th Avenue), Dan Jimenez plans to open a breakfast joint.