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The restaurant space at 250 Josephine Street, former home of Papillon Cafe, has been the focus of much speculation lately. Since Radek Cernysuddenly closed Papillon's doors a few months ago, there have been hunches on top of rumors frosted with out-and-out lies about what was going to happen to this place. But now we know the truth. Or most of it, anyway...
Larry Herz has inked a deal with Cerny for the purchase of this hot property (the fixtures and other assets, not the building). Herz himself has long been a fixture on the restaurant scene: He once worked with Cerny at the European Cafe; is the former owner of Carmine's on Penn(92 South Pennsylvania Street) and Uncle Sam's (3946 South Holly Street, where Swiss Haven just closed); and most recently has been involved with Bella Ristorante (8770 East Arapahoe Road in Englewood). That's the second Bella, since the LoDo original closed years ago.
"I could just open Papillon right up again," Herz told me. "Everything is still there. I own the name now, too, and a lot of people would like to see it open again just like it was. People also ask me, 'Why not just open another Carmine's again?' but I don't want to do that, either." What Herz wants to do is something different, something that will keep him interested, so he's focusing on a contemporary American menu. Unfortunately, these days, "contemporary American" can mean anything from Tex-Mex to crabhouse to Asian fusion, so I asked if he could be a little more specific about his idea of the cuisine.
"I want to be 240 Union," Herz said matter-of-factly, and there are certainly worse places to emulate than the comfortably chic Lakewood restaurant owned by Strings's Noel Cunningham, chef Matthew Franklin and general manager Michael Coughlin. "I'm not embarrassed to say that. It's my favorite restaurant; it's where I took my wife on our first date. It's consistently been on everyone's top-ten lists for the last ten years, and how many other restaurants out there can say that?"
But as for specifics about the menu and kitchen, Herz isn't talking. He's still in the market for a chef -- and was amazed at the number of resumes he's received from qualified people compared to five years ago, when he opened Uncle Sam's and got none -- and is taking his time "redoing every inch" of the interior in preparation for an opening which, as yet, has no set date. "Obviously, this is a make-or-break restaurant for me," he said. "You can't open a place like this, fail, then expect to have a chance to do it again. I've only got one shot at a first impression, you know? So I don't care how long it takes. A few days, an extra week -- I don't care. I'll open when I'm ready."
And when he does open, he'll be accepting those Papillon gift certificates (at fifty cents on the dollar) that so many diners were left holding when Cerny shut the doors. (See, I told you to hang on to them.) "Even though I don't have to, I'm doing it out of goodwill," Herz said. "But I don't know why Radek isn't taking them at Le Chantecler." That's the Niwot restaurant where Cerny is now concentrating his energies ("Chef and Tell," August 15).
Herz's new restaurant will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and he promises that when it's done, it will be nothing like the old Papillon. "It'll be something entirely different," he told me. "I've got one of the best locations in the city." And as soon as he takes care of all those little details -- finding a chef, coming up with a menu, and gutting and rebuilding the place all by himself -- we'll see if the same magic that made Papillon the darling of Denver's burgeoning foodie culture will carry over to the new guy on the block.
School days:There aren't many culinary legends like Madeline Kamman left -- and the Cooking School of the Rockies (637 South Broadway in Boulder) has nabbed her for a one-time-only class titled "Madeline Cooks." Only Julia Childdid more to influence the early development of American culinary sensibilities: Just a few months after Child's first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, hit the shelves in 1962, Kamman started teaching classic French pastry technique at Philadelphia's Adult Education School, then went on to open her own school, Modern Gourmet, and the restaurant Chez La Mere Madeline in Boston, which was staffed by her Modern Gourmet students. By the late '70s -- before there was a French restaurant in every city in America and when only the most devout foodie knew the difference between a brioche and a baguette -- Chez La Mere had earned a sterling reputation for its wonderful, classic menu and talented cooking staff. Kamman went on to accomplish more than I can possibly relate here -- including authoring seven cookbooks, hosting TV shows and being granted a knighthood in the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres -- but the point is, she's bringing her rich resumé to Boulder for one day only. That day is October 14, when from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Kamman will be preparing new classics from the Loire Valley including, boudin blanc de Noël (white Christmas sausage), filet of beef with mixed mushrooms, celeriac canapes, haricots verts à la Tourangelle(baby green beans in nutmeg sauce) and a hazelnut meringue cake. The cost of the class is $110; check out www.cookingschoolrockies.com for more information.
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