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Bite Me

American Dreams

This time last year, there was a lot of talk about the big man, Bryan Moscatello, and the guys from Adega Restaurant + Wine Bar(1700 Wynkoop Street) trying to clone their phenomenal success at, first, Table 6 (in the former home of the Beehive, at 609 Corona Street), and then at a hotel, of all places. A JW Marriott that had yet to be finished.

Any conversation with someone in the trade would inevitably stray into Adega country. "What are they thinking?" was the most common query, followed closely by "Who do they think they're fooling?" Sure, Moscatello had just been named one of the ten best chefs in the country; Gourmet, Bon Appétit and Food & Wine had all come calling; the moneymen were eager for a taste of their next project; and Table 6 sounded like a can't-miss Adega lite. But Mirepoix? A hotel restaurant whose name hotel guests wouldn't even be able to pronounce?

Most pros have been seduced by the siren song of hotel work at some point in their careers. The money is generally very good, and from the outside, hotel chef looks like a sweet gig. But on the inside? Think menus controlled by some dipshit exec flying a desk at Corporate (which may be in Paris, in NYC or in Amsterdam, while you're sweating through your whites in Dubuque, Dallas or Denver); responsibility for both room service and catering; and the fact that, as chef, your position is far down the chain of command. You're answering to floormen, to hotel managers, to guest services. You're begging pocket change off the food-and-beverage manager for an extra bottle of EVO for the line. You're not a part of the management team, you're just a monkey -- one step up from the dishwashers -- and no one wants to hear anything from you besides how happy the overnight guests are, how many room-service turns you did, and how fiercely you were able to rape the people from the Widget Manufacturers Convention on their catering bill.

Now, that doesn't apply to every hotel job, just 99 percent of them, and we've all been there. Hell, Moscatello himself was there, having come to Denver from a hotel gig in Panama. So after those conversations strayed into Adega territory, they'd lead off into tales of our own misguided forays into the hospitality industry before finishing with the inevitable "I guess that's the end of Adega."

The talk continued into the new year. Liquor-license snafus delayed the debut of Table 6, forcing the Adega crew to take a more arm's-length approach, at least legally, to that restaurant before it could finally open this winter. Still, Moscatello remained intimately engaged with all three ventures -- he'd even signed a contract with the Marriott folks promising that he'd be personally involved in the Cherry Creek restaurant -- and people kept saying he was spreading himself too thin. The late-May grand opening of Mirepoix was less than grand, and chefs who tried the place proclaimed it a failure. When I stopped, I had to agree. It was pretty, yes. And as swank as you'd expect of a high-end hotel restaurant in Cherry Creek. But the kitchen had gone goofy with the showboating: Everything was figs and foams and lola rosa.

But Jesus, what a difference a few months can make. As things stand today, there's no restaurant in Denver quite like Mirepoix (see review, page 57). Having hit its stride in the dining room and survived its first menu change, this restaurant is now a local exemplar of the proper New American cuisine I was talking about when I recently put the boot to Cafe Bisque ("The Shlock of the New," October 21). The kitchen is bringing to the game the kind of love and focus and freaky-smart talent required by that particular culinary label, and I'm more than happy to eat my words of a few months ago. Mirepoix has become the restaurant that no one but Moscatello believed it could be, and he did it in a hotel -- which no one, but no one, thought possible.

So now, if you'll excuse me, I have some phone calls to make. Just as I was quick to leap into the chorus of detractors when Mirepoix looked like a disaster in the making, I want to be the first to start calling everyone else stupid for not seeing what a brilliant idea this place was from the start.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Creek: When Elway'sopened to the public on Friday, October 22, it seemed like the rest of Cherry Creek might never be the same. All the old hot spots would go dark as rabid fans and trend-hoppers duked it out in the parking lot over prime seats and reservations. Grown men would beg at the hostess stand and mothers would sell their children -- all for the opportunity to eat a T-bone and bask, however briefly, in the reflected glow of Big John's gigantic teeth.

But not so fast. After dinner at Mirepoix on Saturday, October 23, I strolled through the Creek and checked in on some old haunts to see what kind of hit the neighborhood was taking. And to my surprise, I found that the new steakhouse hadn't scored all the business. Campo de Fiori was loaded; it didn't even have room for me at the bar. Mel's had a mob propping up the long oak and a good dinner shaping up. The Manhattan Grill was down, but I didn't exactly see floormen getting ready to hang themselves. Mao had more tables than I expected -- about a half-dozen early on a Saturday, second turn, which is five more than it deserved. And the Cherry Creek Grill had a mostly full house, although no line that I could see. That could be blamed on the Elway Effect, but it's also possible that people have finally realized there's more to dinner than good architecture and green salads.

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