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This has been a helluva year for restaurants, full of adventures and tragedies, good times and bad. Although the rest of the economy continued to bump along, the restaurant economy picked up in a big way -- and for reasons that no one has yet been able to adequately explain to me. Some guys who made no money in 2005 suddenly started seeing a little green. And some guys who were already making a little money started making a lot. But many of my personal bests -- from a midwinter hunt for an illegal house restaurant to a big dinner at the Palace Arms -- were simply priceless.
2413 W. 32nd Ave.
Denver, CO 80211
Region: Northwest Denver
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What follows is a month-by-month recap, my highlight reel -- like one of those videotapes they advertise for sale on TV at three in the morning: World's Greatest Car Chases, World's Bloodiest Circus Accidents. Only in this case, we're talking about restaurants: Denver's Most Notable Industry Moments, 2006. But that doesn't preclude a good car chase, of course...;
January kicked off with the closure of Mao, the Sullivan Restaurant Group's big bid to dominate Cherry Creek, which later resurfaced as Ocean. Around the corner, at 250 Josephine Street, Chris and Keri Douglas opened Tula -- a good restaurant at an address that has swallowed many other concepts. One was Larry Herz's Go Fish Grille; Herz, who'd vowed to "never open another restaurant again," started the year by leaving the gig he'd taken with the Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group. Another Cherry Creek venture, Steak au Poivre, failed to get traction during the holiday season and went belly-up, setting off a schizoid series of name changes and space divisions. It became Euro, split off half its square footage for Bar Luxe, brought on Olav Peterson as chef de cuisine -- and kept right on losing gobs of money.
My year began with an epic quest for Ghanaian goat-nipple soup as photographer Mark Manger and I wandered the stranger quarters of Aurora's African immigrant neighborhoods, looking for a secret house restaurant on its last night of service ("Mama's House," January 5). This snowblind adventure had everything: danger, new friends, unusual hairdos, strange foods, plus hours and hours spent driving in circles, lost. Many cigarettes were smoked, many wrong turns taken. But it was one of my favorite stories from 2006 and one of the best nights of the year. It's so like me to peak early.
February began with another sort of quest, this one led by Sean Yontz and Jesse Morreale, who took me into the bowels of the All-Inn, the hotel that Morreale had bought on East Colfax Avenue. Perry's had occupied the main floor and basement of the place when it was the Executive Inn Motor Hotel, then been sealed off for three decades, pretty much forgotten until Yontz and Morreale opened a door one day and found the perfectly preserved spot waiting. Morreale has since resurrected the space as RockBar.
Later that month, Lola closed its location on South Pearl Street (it's now occupied by BB's Bistro) in preparation for a move to north Denver. Meanwhile, owner Dave Query got into a legal slap flight with a coffee shop on 15th Street over rights to the Lola name. Query won, and Lola (the coffee shop), went on to become Leela, then disappeared altogether before the year ended.
By March, the edge of Highland was becoming a very hot restaurant neighborhood, as I discovered when I managed to blow my cover in something like eight different ways during just one dinner at the excellent Duo ("Busted!" March 9). Over in Aurora, a new tenant -- Boudreaux's Bayou Buffet -- opened in a space at 12200 East Cornell that had already seen three restaurants come and go just in the time I'd lived in the neighborhood.
In April, Super Star Asian blew my fucking mind over and over again with the best dim sum I've ever had outside of a proper, big-city Chinatown ("Sum More, Please," April 6). I fell totally, completely head over heels in love with this place (an emotion that has not slacked one bit over the intervening months), and even went so far as to order my first bowl of shark fin soup there. It cost $46 and was sadly bland, so it will probably be my last bowl of shark fin soup as well.
Back in Cherry Creek, Euro was still going through rough times. But they weren't nearly as bad as they were on the east side of town, where Chapter One Bar-B-Que was sold, became Chapter Two Bar-B-Que and suddenly started sucking. And Boudreaux's closed after less than a month in business. But Lola got open at 1575 Boulder Street, and at least Query wasn't involved in the next name fight -- this one between Chris Douglas at Tula and lawyers representing Tamayo, who claimed that owner Richard Sandoval had invented the term "Modern Mexican" and that by calling his place "Tula Modern Mexican," Douglas was violating trademark. By my count, there were 117,998 Google hits for the phrase "Modern Mexican" -- and only two of them led to Sandoval's website, www.modernmexican.com -- but Douglas went ahead and dropped "Modern Mexican" from Tula's name.
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