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Adega Restaurant & Wine Bar(1700 Wynkoop Street), whose May opening was the talk of the town, just got a big boost to its reputation as the defining restaurant in Denver's up-and-coming food scene with its inclusion in Esquire's 21st-annual "Best New Restaurants" survey. Food and travel writer John Mariani checked out more than 250 hot spots across the country before picking his top twenty. (Julia's Kitchen at Copia, in the Napa Valley, took restaurant of the year -- no surprise there.) Adega made the cut because of its "sexy lounge and seductive decor," chef Bryan Moscatello's "lusty but refined cooking," and the voluminous 800-bottle wine list overseen by master sommelier and partner Kenneth Fredrickson.
But Fredrickson is no longer tending personally to that weird, green-lit wine tower, because he's left Colorado (and Adega) to pursue other opportunities in Las Vegas. When I called Fredrickson a few weeks ago to ask about the rumor that he was leaving, he lied outright: "I'm one of the owners," he said. "Where am I going to go?"
Well, to Vegas, apparently, and while I've been told that Fredrickson is still involved with Adega in his role as a partner -- and as a "consultant" on the wine list -- he's no longer in the house as sommelier.
Ryan Gaudin, Adega's general manager, told me that Fredrickson, a Vegas transplant, had returned to Sin City to oversee a wine-distributing business that's been in the works "for a couple of years now, from what I understand." According to Gaudin, "Chris Farnem has been running the wine service since day one, so there's no hard feelings on either side, and we wish him luck." And Farnem's staying put at Adega.
I'd also heard through the grapevine that Gaudin was asked to be the lucky fella at the center of ABC's The Bachelor. Turns out that's true, too -- and it's all thanks to the Esquire piece. Seems the producers were looking for someone in the food industry for next season's show, saw Mariani's rundown and "thought Denver sounded like a nice, wholesome place," Gaudin recalls. "Not like L.A. or New York City."
Sadly, Gaudin's girlfriend wasn't too happy with the idea of him being wooed by 25 young lovelies, so he's out of the running. But Denver, and Adega, may still get its shot at the small screen. "I turned them on to my buddy Aaron Forman," Gaudin says, referring to Adega's wine-bar manager. Still, what is it they say, Ryan? It's an honor just to be asked...?
And before those of you who do still work at Adega get to thinking too highly of yourselves, understand that while you made a top-twenty list for America, another Colorado favorite has been voted one of the top ten in the world. Johnson's Corner -- the truck stop/restaurant/cultural institution just off I-25 outside Loveland that celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last week -- held its own against places in Penang, Malaysia; Yangshuo, China; Provence, France; and Taroudant, Morocco, for Travel and Leisure magazine's "Top Ten Breakfasts in the World." Johnson's Corner has been featured in a movie (okay, so it was Larger Than Life, which starred Bill Murray and an elephant, but it's still a movie); it's been open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year since its doors first opened in 1952; and it's been honored in the 105th Congressional Record (in 1999) as exemplifying "the industrious spirit and can-do attitude that has made America great."
Top that, Adega.
Back in August, Bon Appétit handed laurels to the Painted Bench (400 East 20th Avenue) and Lounge (1509 Marion Street) as two other local restaurants worthy of national recognition (Bite Me, August 22). And Denver hit the bigtime again this month with five hot spots on Conde Nast's Epicurious Essential Eateries list.
The Mile High City even rates a little ink for trying to lose the "cowtown" image that's dogged it for a century. According to Colorado freelancer Claire Walter, who put together the list and reviews for Epicurious: "Denver has recently blossomed into a culinary hub. Ten years ago, only a modest number of fine restaurants were scattered around the city. For the most part, their classic but conservative kitchens did not attempt cutting-edge cuisine -- fine dining was mainly limited to good steaks or fancy French classics."
Fresh-produce growers, artisan bakers and cheese makers, better seafood availability -- all of these things were part of the necessary infrastructure that had to grow along with Denver's new crop of restaurants. And chefs and restaurant owners also had to have confidence that the customers would keep coming when things like ceviche, tapas, pho and samosas started hitting their plates.
It took some time, but now "patrons are eager to try anything the unleashed chefs prepare," Walter reports. "Dishes from the South of France and the north of Italy, fusion combinations like blue-corn tortillas with chèvre, updated traditional American fare such as crab cakes with aioli -- all now appear on the city's menus, and Denverites are gobbling them up."
So what five places did she pick to represent the new, daring tastes of Denver's pax culinaris? Aix (719 East 17th Avenue), for starters. The French Provençal-style restaurant, named after Aix-en-Provence, rated special mention for its foie gras au torchon,herbed salmon and the attention paid to the flavors on its seasonal menu. Nicois (815 17th Street) got the nod "because I really wanted to do a Kevin Taylor restaurant, and Nicois was his newest, but not too new," according to Walter. Bang!(3972 West 32nd Avenue) was chosen for its reasonably priced menu and accomplished kitchen, which turns out a rainbow of Pan-Asian-American-Creole-Caribbean dishes. Panzano (909 17th Street) made the cut on the strength of chef Jennifer Jasinski's faithful Northern Italian dinner menu and Tuscan-style pizzas. Rounding out the list was Richard Sandoval's high-end, contemporary Latin joint Tamayo (1400 Larimer Street), which recently lost chef Sean Yontz and front-of-the-house maestro Marco Colantonioto Vega, the new restaurant they've opened together at 410 East Seventh Avenue, in the old Sacre Bleu space.