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Following service this past Saturday, Adega suddenly went dark. It came as a helluva shock.
3760 Tejon St.
Denver, CO 80211
Region: Northwest Denver
I mean, this was Adega. No place in the city had gotten better reviews locally or more love from the national press than this hip outpost at the corner of 17th and Wynkoop streets. Chef/partner Bryan Moscatello was the first in Colorado's crop of young uber-chefs to bring home Food & Winemagazine's Best New Chef award, and Esquirealso named his place one of the top new restaurants in America shortly after it opened three years ago. Awards aside, Adega also drew the numbers. In a climate where the new, hot restaurant seemed to stay new and hot for only a weekend or two before cooling considerably and then, almost inevitably, closing in disgrace, Adega kept people coming back. True, Adega was one of the few joints in town that consistently drew a notable share of the tourist and traveler crowd, and some locals came for the wine while others came for the cachet -- but the main reason it remained such a healthy and viable restaurant right up until the moment it closed was the kitchen. It never seemed to disappoint anyone. Without fail, dinner there was exactly as good as you'd expected.
But now, Adega, c'est morte. And what's more, c'est morte in a pretty big fucking hurry. Turns out that for the past few weeks, Bryan Moscatello had been in talks with the owners -- Cathy, Tom and Mike Huff -- about purchasing Adega from them. Those talks turned into serious negotiations, and last week, Moscatello laid things out: He wanted the place as his own, and if he didn't get it, he was ready to walk away.
"I told them, 'If I'm not going to get ownership, it's time for me to move on,'" Moscatello explained when I got him on the phone Sunday afternoon, his first official day of unemployment. "And you know, I wasn't trying to hold anyone over a barrel. This was just something that I felt I needed to do for my career, to move things forward. And in the end, we couldn't come to the right deal."
He offered to stay on until the Huffs could find a new chef, until some sort of transition could be made, but they decided closing down was their best option, Moscatello said. Why? With the exception of Mike Huff (son of Tom, and the conduit through which most of Adega's capital had flowed), Moscatello was the last of the original "boys from Adega" bunch; with him gone, there was nothing left of the legendary restaurant. Particularly not when Mike Huff wanted out, too, according to Moscatello.
"They weren't necessarily doing this just to increase their net worth," he said of the Huffs' initial decision to back a restaurant. "But it wasn't just like a hobby, either. It was somewhere in between. And with nobody in it anymore" His voice drifted off, then came back. "Anyway, it just wouldn't be the same."
"They can't just get another chef," Maureen Poschman, PR person for both Adega and Moscatello, pointed out. "Adega is Bryan."
Moscatello didn't know that Adega had been closed until he got a call Sunday morning telling him that he was out of a job -- out of a job, that is, after he broke the news to his kitchen crew and the service staff that they, too, were out of work. "I've had days that were less strange than today has been," he told me. "And I don't think any of us really expected this to happen. But business was business. Unfortunately, this was just something that I think needed to happen. For all of us."
Moscatello already has some gigs lined up that he'll talk about (and other possibilities, at restaurants both in town and out, that he won't). He'll do a cooking class in Aspen this week, then head back home -- back to the East Coast -- to help out some friends with kitchens in need of high-class staffing. "I love what I do," Moscatello explained. "But for now, I think I'm just going to hang out for a little bit. Take it easy."
Mambo Italiano: Although heat usually chases me away from the cuisines of Europe and into Asia and India, that seems to be changing. Maybe I've just seen too much of Batali on Iron Chef America (and everywhere else), or watched the uncut versions of The Godfather too often on cable. Or maybe, just maybe, I've finally come to terms with the fact that if I want Italian food like I remember from back East, I'm just going to have to confine myself to restaurants run by guys who come equipped with the same kinds of food memories that I have.
Whatever the reason, I've had Italian on the brain, and lately, I just haven't been able to get enough. Well, that's not precisely true: I had much more than enough at Gaetano's, the former Smaldones joint at 3760 Tejon Street now owned by the Wynkoop family ("All in the Family," August 4). But I still managed to drop by Patsy's, at 3651 Navajo Street, which got all the love that Gaetano's didn't that same issue. And then, as an upmarket palate cleanser and head-straightener, I stopped in at Luca d'Italia (711 Grant Street) just to make sure that chef/owner Frank Bonannoand his guys were still doing right by their pastas -- and they are. I had homemade mozzarella, artichokes, the potato gnocchi with lump crab and lobster sauce, and I swear to God it was better than when I reviewed the joint almost two years ago ("Way to Go," September 25, 2003) and said that -- should I ever find myself on death row -- this was what I would want for my last meal.
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