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After visiting Carmine's on Penn (see review), I decided to check in with Carmine's original owner, Larry Herz. I hadn't talked to him since he announced he was closing his Go Fish Grille, at 250 Josephine Street (which had replaced his Indigo at the same address), and going to work for Kevin Taylor at his new restaurant at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
Come to find out, Herz is about to move on again, leaving Kevin Taylor, in his words, "to pursue other restaurant opportunities." He won't say more than that, except to repeat his sworn promise to "never open another restaurant again."
The operative word being open.
250 Josephine St.
Denver, CO 80206
Region: Central Denver
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With that conversational avenue closed, we talked about the old days -- the time he spent as King of Carmine's, and what prompted him to sell such a successful place. "I was annoyed by being pointed at, you know," he explains. "I would go out and people would say, 'Hey, there's that guy from Carmine's,' and it's stupid -- I know it's stupid -- but I was a celebrity. A serious celebrity. I didn't like it, so I decided to take the money and run."
All the way to Scottsdale, as it happened, where he opened another Carmine's that never quite rose to the level of the original. Then he returned to Denver (drawn back by the fact that he couldn't sell his house), spent a year playing golf, eventually opened and closed Uncle Sam's, then took on the 250 Josephine address.
Does he regret selling Carmine's?
"What do you think?" he replied. "Yeah, every day. Every fucking day, man. I've been chasing that goddamn money ever since."
And soon he'll be back on the chase, involved in some restaurant venture or other. "I'm an addict, you know?" Herz says. "I've never had the drugs, but it's always been restaurants."
Space case:The old Go Fish space is now occupied by Tula, owned and operated by Chrisand Kerri Douglas, both Kevin Taylor veterans. I got Chris on the phone one afternoon last week, exactly two weeks after they got Tula open (they missed a projected date of December 8), to see how things were shaking out.
"I haven't had much sleep lately," Chris said, laughing. "I've been here from eight in the morning 'til close every day, but you know, with a first restaurant and a first-time owner, you have to."
Ain't that the truth.
Still, actually cooking in Tula's kitchen is a big improvement over what Chris and Kerri were doing the last several months of 2005: remodeling the entire place themselves (there's still some art hung up in Customs, and the wall sconces haven't arrived yet). Chris spent much of Tula's first week modifying and playing around with the menu, changing it every night -- much to the horror of the guys on the line, who had to deal with the new specs and new prep. But now things are beginning to calm down. "I'm getting more and more comfortable with it," Chris told me. "Now that I'm in the kitchen and not on my hands and knees on a wood floor, I'm more in my element. But the way I am, I don't know if I'll ever be pleased."
As of last week, Tula was rolling sixty covers mid-week; it had turned a cool 140 on its first non-holiday Saturday night. Those are decent numbers for that location (not great, but decent), and Chris says that lunches are also starting to pick up. The food is "modern Mexican," with traditional burritos and enchiladas for the noon crowds, then some nice tricks at dinner, including prickly pear and butter-poached shrimp, and a chile-dusted beef-and-asparagus dish topped with epazote and a double shot of veal and pumpkin-seed sauces.
Walking the line between straight-up white-tablecloth cuisine and traditional Mexican fare has "been a little tricky," Chris explained. But he's got a good, all-Mexican crew backing him in the kitchen (including Jaime Juarez, a veteran of Zengo, Mao and North, and a woman who comes in every day just to make tamales) and Kerri watching the front of the house, so things seem to be working out. For now.
"I don't know," he said as we were wrapping up. "Before you called, I just got off the phone with one of the critics, the food writers, asking if it was okay for him to come in tonight, so we'll see."
Leftovers:At this time last year, the Manhattan Grillwas still in business at 231 Milwaukee Street. Now its replacement, Steak au Poivre, is finally, completely and totally dead and its former home split in half. The right-hand side opened this past weekend as Bar Luxe, a hipper-than-shit martini bar with DJs, a limited hors d'oeuvre menu and plenty of space for Cherry Creek's beautiful people to stretch out and just be, well, beautiful.
The other half is still under construction and should reopen as Euro on January 26 -- one day before manager Marco Colantonio turns forty. Euro will feature "eclectic European cuisine," which Colantonio promises will be both moderately priced and "understandable." (Unbelievably, he'd blamed the failure of Steak au Poivre on customers' inability to correctly pronounce "poivre.") "Like a European version of the Cherry Creek Grill," he explains, with a simple Italian, French and Spanish menu designed by chef Michel Wahaltere (who's signed on to stay full-time through March and as a consultant through the end of the year), and "living room" décor, with sofas, bookcases and warm, welcoming colors.
Over the weekend, I heard that Colantonio and Wahaltere had picked a permanent chef: former 1515 exec Olav Peterson, who left Gene Tang's restaurant at 1515 Market Street at the end of November after a solid four-year run. Tang filled the hole in his kitchen with chef Ulises Salas, who arrived at 1515 after turns at the California Cafe, Le Central and (like everyone else, it seems) the restaurants of Kevin Taylor.
Heading off what promised to be a pointless slap-fight between lawyers representing Lola, Dave Query's popular Mexican fish restaurant at 1469 South Pearl Street (for now -- it's moving to Highland in a couple of months), and Lola European Cafe, the comfortable 24-hour coffee shop that Ron Ven-Ariopened last fall at 820 15th Street, Ven-Ari changed the name of his place a couple of weeks ago to Leela European Cafe.
Just down the street from Lola, at 1529 South Pearl, Black Pearl, the très nouvelle and very, very New American restaurant that opened last summer (and closed for a week earlier this month for kitchen repairs and employee vacations), is now serving lunch. So if you're in the South Pearl neighborhood and looking for some deconstructed clam chowder, truffled mac and cheese or just a burger and a $5 martini, now you know where to go. Black Pearl also recently brought on manager Jason Crosby (formerly of Cafe Star) to run its front of the house.