By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
Forty-six years. That's a good run -- a historic run, even -- for any restaurant. And that's what Emil-Lene's Sirloin House (see review,) has rung up since 1958, weathering every storm, every up-and-down surge of the economy, by following one credo: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
"You don't change something that's working," says owner Karen L'Anglais. "Everything about the place is exactly the same today as it was back then."
Bistro 250, the restaurant that her husband, Rod L'Anglais, tried to start in Cherry Creek eighteen months ago, never got the chance to put that motto into action. It opened in the subterranean home of what had been Bistro Adde Brewster to virtually no fanfare whatsoever and closed roughly thirty seconds later. That was hardly enough time for the stoves to heat up -- let alone for the place to establish a tradition.
16000 E. Smith Road
Aurora, CO 80011
Karen does have a point about the often overlooked virtue of constancy, though. And it's something I found myself talking about with another veteran Cherry Creek restaurateur: Mel Master, owner of Mel's Restaurant and Bar, who over the years has learned that change is not always a good thing.
"You eat in a restaurant and you have this great dish, right?" Master asks. "It's the greatest thing you've ever had. You dream about it. And then you come back to the same restaurant a month later and it's gone. The menu has changed, or the chef has gotten bored and stopped cooking it. Well, that's like going to see the Eagles in concert and them not playing 'Hotel California,' isn't it? There's an expectation there, and I often think that restaurants hurt themselves more by changing menus than by staying the same."
Certainly the folks behind Emil-Lene's -- where the board of fare hasn't changed one whit since the '50s -- would agree. But Mel's has long been known for its seasonal and changing menu -- for tastes that sometimes ebb and flow according to the whims of a fickle dining public and the talents of whomever happens to be in the kitchen. Now, though, Master wants to change that. He feels that Mel's certainly needs a theme -- a motif through which the kitchen can express itself -- but within that theme, there needs to be some stability and a steadiness of hand that can craft a menu that will endure through modern foodies' often flicker-quick revisions of taste and preference.
And so Mel's brought back a former chef, Tyler Wiard, rescuing him from a tough spot at the Fourth Story (now ably commanded by chef Chris Reap) and putting the future of one of Cherry Creek's best (and hottest) kitchens firmly in his hands.
While Reap steps up to wow 'em at the Fourth, Wiard has stepped back -- both into his old post and away from the complicated, worldly New American foofaraw that never seemed to be his strong suit, anyway. In the cramped, aged kitchen at Mel's, all of his past sins of excess and omission have been sponged clean by a return to simple, clean cuisine and a reinvention of himself as a classical cook, turning out Mel's standards like mussels la Cagouille dozens of times a night and preparing simple, roasted corn-fed chickens juiced with tarragon butter.
Asparagus "three ways" is a riot of flavor: asparagus flan, asparagus grilled, and yet more white asparagus turned into a subtle, rich sauce. Wiard's seared tuna with baby bok choy is a barely Asian concession to those foodies who now think no restaurant is complete without a little fusion on the menu. The seared foie gras is a monster portion of Hudson Valley product, not always ideally veined, but handled with skill and obvious love, served over grilled figs with a fantastic, bittersweet red-onion jam that lends a perfect spike of acidity to the luxuriant foie.
Wiard's found his way home. This man can cook, no doubt about it. He always could -- but there was an element of grudging misery to what he was offering at the Fourth Story. At Mel's, that seems to have vanished entirely, replaced in almost every dish he touches with a focused concentration and occasional overwhelming decadence.
The kitchen has even had T-shirts made, according to Marco Colantonio,Mel's new floorman and general manager who, until recently, was doing time as a PR flack. And what do those shirts say? Just two words: Food Rules.
Who says you can't go home again?
Time's up:"It's kind of beyond belief, but also kind of draining, you know? For them. It just doesn't let up." So says John Imbergamo, restaurant vet and local consultant, talking about his client Racines.
Business has been pretty much non-stop since Racines debuted in its new home at 650 Sherman Street a month ago. "Each week has increased over the last," Imbergamo says. Two weeks ago -- which is to say, the week that included Memorial Day weekend, not generally a big moneymaker for restaurants -- the new Racines did more business than the old Racines had ever done at any point in its two-decade run.