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Crab Grab

Diners are snowed by Mr. Panda.

So instead, Douglas -- whose professed and primary loves are for sushi and, apparently, that modern Kellerian juxtaposition thing of goose liver and Peter Pan Crunchy -- decided that the right thing would be to open a Mexican restaurant. "Modern Mexican," he stresses, borrowing a page from Richard Sandoval's book of tricks. "Not necessarily traditional, but simple, clean Mexican. None of that Tex-Mex stuff." He says epazote. He says huitlacoche. He says the kind of food that you might get in Mexico if you had the pesos to get the really good stuff or the guts to eat the really good stuff.

He plans on doing lunch and dinner, and is still in the process of assembling menus. The day before, he'd come up with a blood orange-chipotle salsa that he liked -- but then he killed it, replacing it with a simple yellow-corn salsa. "I didn't know if people would want to eat blood orange-chipotle three times a week," he tells me. "I don't want to be too crazy or too out-there. I don't want to be Denver's next hot chef."

He and Kerri are renovating the place themselves. They want diners to feel like they're in a new restaurant -- not just a new version of an old place. And with the scheduled opening date of December 8 just three weeks away, it looks like a bomb went off. Still, Chris feels confident about Tula's chances.

"You know, the tile has already come in," he points out. "Things are coming along. All the ducks are in a row, but you know how it is. Anything could still happen."

Leftovers:I'm sorry to report that Kabul Kabob, my other Best New Restaurant pick of 2004 (it shared honors with Brasserie Rouge,and we all know what happened there), has closed. Its spot at 11002 East Yale Avenue in Aurora is now occupied by Afghan Village, a new restaurant complete with a new (but still Afghan) menu and staff.

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