By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
And that's saying something, because the original location wasn't exactly sedate. The old Racines saw waits at the door on days when other restaurateurs would have danced naked on the rooftops if they thought it would bring in enough warm bodies to fill half the dining room. And on Friday evenings? You could forget it: Unless you'd started drinking early (and there were many who did), the bar was always full by quitting time.
Imbergamo laughs when asked what kind of troubles this sudden influx of trade can cause at a restaurant -- a restaurant, mind you, with an old name but in a new building with a new kitchen and an expanded crew. "There are plenty of other restaurants out there who wish they were having these kinds of troubles," he says. "But I'll tell you, it's not easy. On some nights, it just seems like there's no end."
And while such a rush of customers is great for the bottom line, it does present certain challenges. Ordering in the kitchen has to be recalculated; new staff has to be brought in and trained (talk about a trial by fire). With the kind of numbers that Racines has been seeing, the house is operating on a Saturday-night, second-seating clip seven days a week, and in time, that will start to wear on the crew. And while a full house is a happy house, it also means that diners who miss out on the initial seating are waiting longer and longer for a table. Some folks just leave, which is hell on a hostess when she has to go wandering around the restaurant looking for a party that's already pulled up stakes and headed over to nearby Benny's Restaurante y Tequila Baror Burger King. Others lounge outside, find their way to the bar or just sit sulking in the waiting area like the last kids picked for the neighborhood kickball game.
16000 E. Smith Road
Aurora, CO 80011
As a fix for this dilemma -- or at least to speed the process of locating errant parties -- two weeks after reopening, Racines decided to install a paging system similar to those used at some of the more popular chain restaurants. When the floor is fully committed, customers who check in at the podium are given a pager. When their table is ready, those pagers light up and buzz like really annoying cell phones. Actually, more like a vibrator for your beer -- because the pagers Racines is using double as coasters. Now, that's modern technology in action.
Leftovers:The aforementioned Benny's has completed the renovation of its enclosed sidewalk patio -- now, how about that pumpkin-orange exterior paint job? Lola, the popular coastal Mexican fish house on South Pearl Street, is pushing for a patio behind the usually jammed restaurant -- if fussy neighbors will just sign off on the plan. Hey, it works a few feet away at the Pearl Street Grill; it should work here, too.
Another Best of Denver 2004 award winner bites the dust. The Astoria Cafe (our Best Russian Restaurant) once held down the right flank of the Russian Plaza at Leetsdale and Oneida with a solid, dark solemnity. Sadly, it recently disappeared and has been replaced by Restaurant National, offering space for all your parties, weddings and special occasions. Luckily, just a couple of doors down (past the nail salon and karate studio, opposite the Taste of India restaurant and Russian medical supply store, but before you get to the RB+Russian book and video shop, the Balkan market or Ming Garden Chinese restaurant), the California Bakeryis still in business, serving the best piroshki and pastries in the area. The joint's also added pizza to its menu with a guarantee that the sauce is heartburn-free.
In a bit of good news for the local scene, Goose Sorenson and Brian Klinginsmith-- the guys behind Solera-- just got their marching orders to report for duty at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic later this month. They were on the back-up list of presenters and purveyors, and when some New York City restaurateur ditched out, Solera's number came up. With this honor come a few challenges, however. First, while every other chef and restaurant on the list has had something like four months to come up with a menu, arrange for provisioning and let the Aspen organizers know what they'll be cooking when, Goose and Brian had three days. A rush order, to be sure, but that's what being a pro means, right? And second, this is an Aspen festival -- as in sorta next door to Denver -- and yet the closest any local boy could get to playing with the big hitters was the back-up list? Something about that just ain't right. But, whatever. Their sandbox, their rules.
Regardless, Goose will be out there for all of us -- "pimping for Denver," as he so eloquently puts it -- and I suppose it's better to have one stand-up guy watching our backs in Fat City than having no one at all.
Finally, for all of the guys and girls in white who won'tbe headed for Aspen, Denver now has two more opportunities to S.I.N. Both Tamayo and Zengo are hosting service-industry nights every Sunday, when all restaurant, hotel and food-and-beverage vendors get a 30 percent discount on food. Tragically, booze isn't counted into this deal. And remember: Bring a business card or pay stub to prove you're walking the walk, not just talking the talk.