The Bite

Eating well for a good cause.

Garden parties: Pat Perry says she's still getting used to the idea that October 22 will be her last night as a regular restaurateur -- but she's excited about all her new plans for Highland's Garden Cafe (3927 West 32nd Avenue). Earlier this month, Perry announced that the popular seven-year-old eatery that fills two connected Victorian houses in northwest Denver will be turned into party central, with the gorgeous rooms converted into private dining areas, each featuring unique touches. (The upstairs "banister" room, for instance, will have a fireplace.)

"I think people are really looking to entertain more, but in a smaller context," Perry says. "We just weren't able to accommodate all of the calls we had for small, intimate, private parties, and that got me wondering if there was a market for that. I have really been worn out; it's been such a volume issue, and we really haven't had time to step back and think about where we want to go from here. I have felt like a hamster, just run, run, run, and now I want to do it better."

Location Info


The Oxford Hotel

1600 17th St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: Downtown Denver

McCormick's Fish House & Bar

1659 Wazee St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > Breakfast

Region: Downtown Denver

Bistro Adde Brewster

250 Steele St.
Denver, CO 80206

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Central Denver

Pita Jungle

2017 S. University Blvd.
Denver, CO 80210

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: South Denver

Jerusalem Restaurant

1890 E. Evans Ave.
Denver, CO 80210

Category: Restaurant > Health

Region: South Denver

Perry's coming up with a rental fee for each room, based on the number of people it can hold and the average check for a Highland's meal, offset by the amount the group spends on food and drink. "Everything will be set up in advance," Perry explains. "People will know what entrees they are getting and what wines. That way diners can work within their comfort level." She also plans to institute monthly "senior days," when people can bring their favorite senior, or seniors can come in groups and eat from the regular Highland's menu. And one weekend a month, the restaurant will be open for dinner. "I'll send out press releases in advance, and once we start them, it will be a regular thing they can count on," Perry says. "That way, I'm not going completely cold turkey."

So far, she adds, her staff has responded very positively -- but friends and family are still skeptical. "Then again, when I said years ago that I wanted to open a restaurant with a huge garden, they rolled their eyes and changed the subject," she says, laughing. "I think they might have been wrong about that, too."

Ch-ch-changes: Fins Fish House (550 Broadway) closed for several days last week to get its act together, including implementing the ideas of new staff members who recently jumped ship from Roy's of Cherry Creek (3000 East First Avenue). Now on board at Fins is executive chef Robert Esposito and head sushi chef Brandon Konishi, as well as manager Laura Patterson. "Hey, Roy's is doing so well, it's about time they shared a little," kids Fins business manager Janette Giardino. (Roy's is actually a client of the seafood wholesaler Reel Fresh Fish Company, which is owned by Fins owner Tony Barone.) "We've been in such limbo for a while with management," Giardino adds, "and we were having a lot of problems with consistency from the kitchen. So it wasn't so much that Tony decided to clean house as it was that we really needed some quality people in place to make this happen."

Patterson will share management duties with Christopher Aguiniga, who was hired a few weeks ago as part of Fins' reorganization. And Esposito and Konishi have already revamped the menu, retaining the popular fish tacos and fried-fish sandwich but adding an international roster of fish dishes. The half-price sushi happy hour still goes from 3 to 6 p.m. daily.

A few blocks from Fins, last year's hot-hot-hot new restaurant, Sacre Bleu (410 East Seventh Avenue), has changed ownership. Julie Payne sold the place to her ex-husband, Michael Payne, who bought the eatery in order to save it. Although no new general manager has been installed, Sacre Bleu's original sous chef, Hamilton Cowie, is now the head chef, and he's already introduced a new menu.

When I reviewed the restaurant ("Good God!" July 13, 2000), I praised the old menu but made fun of the overheated bar scene. According to Cowie, all that's in the past. "You wouldn't believe how having Michael here has changed the whole atmosphere of the place," says Cowie. "It's really been cleaned up, and the cocaine and all the other bad stuff is gone. It got a little bit out of control, but Michael has just jumped in here with his sleeves rolled up, and the morale has gone through the roof."

Before rejoining Sacre Bleu, Cowie had been at Restaurant Kevin Taylor (1106 14th Street), at the time overseen by chef Sean Yontz (who's now at Tamayo, 1400 Larimer Street); he also worked at Potager (1109 Ogden Street), which marked a turning point in his growth as a chef. "I was only there for seven months," Cowie says. "But I learned three years' worth of skills."

Those skills came in handy when he created Sacre Bleu's new menu. "We'd been doing French with Mediterranean influences," he explains, "and although we're still thoroughly grounded in French, we're also doing a lot of Asian-type stuff. I hate to use the word fusion, because that's so overused, but we are doing some mixing of cuisines."

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