By Jamie Swinnerton
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By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
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In last week's Bite Me, I talked about Sushi Moon (6585 Greenwood Plaza Boulevard, Greenwood Village) and the troubles that operators Jessie Son and Young Joe Kwon were having finding their place in the already well-defined niche of pan-Asian fine dining. They'd recently lost a chef and were looking for someone who could fill his place and come up with a more cohesive board for the restaurant they'd opened a couple of months ago.
Then a few days ago, I got the news that Duy Pham's longtime chef de cuisine, Mario Olabera, would be taking over the Sushi Moon kitchen — and that the interview had been arranged by Pham himself, who'd been doing some consulting for Sushi Moon when he wasn't busy running Kyoto Asian Fusion (7301 South Santa Fe Drive, Littleton). And then I heard that Pham and his Kyoto partners had made a deal with Eric Roeder, formerly of Bistro VendÔme, for Roeder to buy 50 percent of the operation — and in the process, buy out Pham. Pham's last night in the kitchen was Saturday; Kyoto closed on Sunday.
When it reopens, Kyoto will no longer be Kyoto; since Roeder plans to reopen by July 16, he's not wasting any time. Last week, he'd already set up camp at the restaurant to take meetings with contractors and remodelers. He has a crew, a concept — an upscale Mexican restaurant, believe it or not, even though Roeder has always been associated with heavy-duty classical French cuisine (done everywhere from little bistros like Micoleand Bistro Vendôme to wine bars and nightclubs) — and a working name: Table Mesa. Kyoto's central sushi bar will become a ceviche and oyster bar; the kitchen will press fresh tortillas all day.
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When I got Roeder on the phone Monday morning, he told me that he has two guys who've been with him for ten years, cooks with a serious passion for their native Mexican cuisine. Table Mesa is going to be their shot, he explained. And even after he gets the new place open, he'll continue to do his classical-French thing and keep on with consulting work at places like Le Rouge(1448 Market Street), where he's been overseeing ops for the last couple of months.
But while things are going smoothly for Roeder, plans for Sushi Moon have hit a few bumps. Over the weekend, Pham told me that he was pulling out of his consulting deal with the restaurant and taking Olabera with him. The reason? Moon's owners had called him during service on Friday night at Kyoto, asking that he fax them over some menu changes and saying that they were no longer sure about Olabera. Pham said he was pissed: "I told them, 'It's Friday night! You guys aren't busy, but we are!' And then I hung up. So, no, I don't think I'm going to be working with them."
Right now, Olabera plans to stick with Pham (just as he has since their time together at Opal), and Pham is seriously looking for a place to call his own. He has a menu, a concept and (according to him) bags full of money. What he doesn't have is a space. "All the spaces that are available are available for a reason," he told me. "I haven't found anything yet."
But he's not about to give up. "I have options right now," Pham explained, "but I want to make sure everything is perfect this time before I jump. I want to do this next project myself, you know? I have a financial backer — not a partner, a backer. I have a name. I even have a menu already. And I can guarantee you one thing: No sushi bar. No Asian cuisine. World cuisine — ingredients of the world. One land, one food, one cuisine."
And, okay, that was guaranteeing more than one thing, but whatever. Pham told me that his new place — whenever and wherever he finds it — will be called Pangea, in honor of his new vision. He doesn't want it to be too big or too small. He wants it to be in the right neighborhood (maybe Sixth Avenue, where he's been nosing around recently). Fortunately, his backer — a regular who used to visit Pham at Kyoto several times a week — is patient, and willing to wait until Pham finds something he's satisfied with. "I think it's just time for me to do something that's 100 percent mine," Pham said — speaking more of the food than the name, the paperwork, the money. "The biggest thing is, I don't want to compromise. I'm not going to be forced into a round hole anymore. I'm a square peg, I know that. And I'm not going to round off my corners anymore."
Leftovers: If Pham is willing to shift his focus southwest toward Platt Park, a couple of spots have opened up recently. First, there's BB's on Pearl(1475 South Pearl Street), which poured big bucks into the space that Lolavacated back in February 2006 (and was the home of Roeder's Micole before that). BB's shut its doors on June 25, citing "unforeseen circumstances" — which included partnership problems and a crippling rent of five figures a month, according to a sign on the now-locked door. BB's Bistro in Parker (at 11280 Twenty Mile Road) is still up and running, although when I called there looking for a manager who could tell me about the "circumstances" on South Pearl, I was told that someone would get back to me soon. That was a week ago, and still no call.