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Bite Me

Red Alert

"It's Continental European," Sansone says, explaining that the concept incorporates a little of everything he likes and everything he's learned during his time in the trade. While Sansone isn't always in the kitchen, the recipes and menu are all his, and he never hesitates to step back onto the line when an extra hand is needed. In the meantime, he's a hands-on floor guy, making sure everyone is having a wonderful meal and excellent service.

"I make it a point to come out and meet every customer," he says. "And things have been going pretty well. We have some really good days, then some days we wonder where everyone is -- but that's just the way, right?"

In an attempt to get more bodies through the door on those slow nights, Sansone plans to have an open house for the media at the end of the month -- sort of a delayed opening party that he put off until he was positive that he had his staff, his menu and his kitchen entirely in line, exactly the way he wanted them. "It's the kind of thing where you want to be able to put your best foot forward," he says. "And I think we're there now."

Location Info

Map

Rioja

1431 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80202

Category: Restaurant > European

Region: Downtown Denver

Leftovers: Boulder's Cream Puffery, a storefront joint I fell in love with a year ago ("Do You Believe In Magic?," November 6, 2003), has fallen on tough times. All that great Cuban food -- the ropa vieja, the pastellitos and croquettas -- has been slowly disappearing over the past few months. First the dinner specials were canceled, then the lunches, until all that was left were a few savory pastries in the bakery case -- and those available only if you showed up early enough to get them.

Last week, I finally got Puff owner and patissiere Amy DeWitt on the phone. "Are you calling about my plight?" she asked. No, I replied, I was calling about mine -- I hadn't had a decent dulce de leche or ham-and-cheese croquetta in months.

And that's when she gave me the bad news: The Puff was done, over, finito. I talked to her on Thursday; the last day of business, she said, would be that Saturday.

"You know, during the wedding-cake season, we were rocking," she said. (The Puff did a great business in wedding cakes -- and DeWitt will keep her hand in that even after her place closes.) "But now, it's so dead, I can't pay my rent."

So sometime soon, DeWitt will hold a funeral service for the Puff, where friends, regulars and addicts can gather and mourn. "Look, I'm a great artist," DeWitt concluded. "And I'm a good-looking woman. But I am not a good businessperson. I can admit that. And it's just a relief not to have to be chasing my tail all over this place day after day anymore."

Also busted in Boulder: Prufrock's Cafe & Bakery, whose space is turning into a sub shop.

And although I'm sad about the Puff, I was glad to hear that chef Mike Long will offer his "Artist Homage" dinner at Opus, at 2575 West Main Street in Littleton, on December 2. That's when his kitchen prepares a special menu based on some of the twentieth century's most influential artists. It's five courses, five wines, five painters, seventy-nine bucks a head and reservation-only -- but check out this lineup: a creamy tomato-lobster bisque a la Warhol; tuna and foie gras "cubism" with smoked gelee in honor of Picasso; Monet done in freshwater shrimp, watercress broth and vegetable "flora"; Pollack rendered in spattered beef risotto; and Long's "Persistence of Chocolate Memory" dessert paired with a d'Arenberg port for Dali.

Long does dinners like this every few months, taking some theme -- classic kitchen movies one time, Island cuisines another -- and creating a specialty menu. It's fun for him, fun for diners and always a kick for me to see a guy who knows his stuff getting a chance to show off.

And finally, while the big news on Larimer Square this week is the opening of Rioja -- and rightly so -- three more spots in the neighborhood have either just opened, are about to open, or will soon reopen. The venerable (read: played out at three decades) Josephina's closed on September 27 for a major menu overhaul and remodel (it even gave up some of its space to the next-door Rioja); it should be rolling out the red carpet and a new look in the next week or so. "We're thinking the 9th or 10th of December," says Joe Vostrejs, general manager of Larimer Square Management. But it could go as late as December 13.

Dates for the grand opening of Martini Ranch, which has been renovating the old Soapy Smith's location around the corner on 14th Street for months, are similarly inexact. "Those guys are still being coy," says Vostrejs. "Let's say December 15, but that's very approximate."

Meanwhile, Gelazzi Gelato Italiano Cafe opened last Friday at 1411 Larimer, right next to Ted's Montana Grill. It's an Italian gelato shop designed for urban consumers -- a yuppie ice cream stand, to be blunt -- but before any of you class warriors start getting your undies in a twist, consider this: Gelazzi is an ice cream store (and espresso bar and mini-pastry shop) with a liquor license. And you know what that means: Yeah, baby, alcoholic ice cream. Gelato sauced with Baileys Irish or girly peppermint schnapps; warm lattes spiked with Kahlúa. More booze and ice cream -- that's what it's gonna take to get a miserable old crank like me through the upcoming holiday season.

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