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Bite Me

Quagmire

North comes to Cherry Creek North (190 Clayton Lane, to be precise) this week, brought to us by the folks at Bloom at FlatIron Crossing (already part of a three-restaurant mini-chain out of Tucson), in a space where executive chef Christopher Christianoand the owners can extend their reach beyond the New American/pan-Asian fusion fare that's been wowing mall-walkers for the past five years. With a public opening scheduled for February 28, general manager Michael Wilcox and chef de cuisine DJ Nagel (both Bloom veterans now in permanent posts in Cherry Creek) will be showing off their Italian chops, concentrating on the casual cuisine of Northern Italy, with proteins and seasonal veggies stealing the spotlight from the more traditional pastas and heavy sauces.

When I got Wilcox on the phone last week -- catching him smack in the middle of a training lunch -- and asked how he and his crew of nouveau Creekers plan to set themselves apart from the competition (namely, Mirepoix, just a hop, skip and a jump away at 150 Clayton Lane), he fell back on the company line, saying, "We'll be very similar to Bloom, offering the same standard of service, the same quality of food, with good prices and excellent wine."

And, okay, sure, he's a busy guy in the process of training a staff and getting his new kitchen settled in, but I was hoping for something a little more, I don't know...bloodthirsty than that.

Something like the nasty talk currently making its second round of the scene that claims Mirepoix is being booted by the good people at Marriott to make room for a wholly new, hotel-run restaurant. The story is one of those scurrilous bits of twaddle that's passed around from chef to bartender to cook like a secondhand Honda Civic and -- like all the best rumors -- simply refuses to die.

When I got Susan Stiff, the Marriott's press wrangler, on the horn to try and run this thing down once and for all, she'd just gotten back from a quick stroll down to North. "It's lovely," she told me. "It looks like it's going to be a really great spot."

I asked straight-up whether she or any of the other Marriott executives were looking at putting the boot to the restaurant put in place by Bryan Moscatello and the boys from Adega last year, and she laughed right at me. "The last time I heard that one was over Christmas," she said. "But, no. I understand that we've had some problems with the food and with the service in the past, but [owner] Charlie Biederman is very committed to Bryan and to Mirepoix. I mean, first of all, how could we close the place? If we were to operate without a breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant, we'd lose our Marriott flag. So we couldn't do that. And look, let me quote Charlie to you. He says that he spent forty million dollars on this hotel, so he can't afford for Mirepoix not to be great."

Fair enough.

Meanwhile, over at Adega, there's a true shakeup going on. Champion sommelier/ wine director/director of operations Chris Farnum is headed east and bidding a fond farewell to the Mile High City. Farnum has been there from the start, from the day the Adega gang broke ground at the 1700 Wynkoop Street space that's forever altered Denver's fine-dining landscape. The adega wine-storage room that both defined the joint and gave it its name has been his baby for almost three years, but any day now, he'll hit the road for Chicago and a position as operations director with Chipotle.

Yes, Chipotle, the homegrown burrito chain that's now in league with McDonald's. When I pointed out that the burrito joints don't serve wine, he, too, laughed right at me (that happens a lot) and said, "Wine will be a hobby, just not my profession anymore."

Farnum will be "working for the Chipotle family," in his words, on founder and owner Steve Ells's side of things, not Mickey D's. "What he really wants me to do is get the right people into the right places," he said of Ells. And after years of fourteen-hour days and six-day weeks overseeing the wine rooms and floors at both Adega and Mirepoix, Farnum is ready for a shirt-and-tie gig that will allow him to spend more time with his wife and fourteen-month-old kid. "This will give me the ability to balance my career and my family," he added -- a tough high-wire act for anyone in the restaurant game.

Figuring that since he was on his way out the door anyhow and would have no reason to be anything but honest, I asked Farnum about the Mirepoix rumor, too. Not surprisingly, he laughed right at me. "That again?" he asked. "Look. That's totally not true. We talk every day, and I've never heard anything like that. Are they [the Marriott management] happy? I know they're very happy with Bryan. I know they're happy with the food. We have the same problems we always had."

Namely, translating Bryan's food and menus into a format that both hotel guests and local Creekers will enjoy.

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