By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
I thought my review of Encore had gone so well. I had a couple of fine meals there, found the town's Best French Fries, identified a problem or two, and filed with a clean conscience — happy for partners Steve Whited and chef Sean Huggard, because I knew how many headaches they'd had to deal with to get the place open last December. Contrary to my reputation as someone one who delights in slamming restaurants over the littlest things, I really do love it when a hardworking team pulls everything together. Every good restaurant in this town adds to the overall quality of the scene, and I only delight in meanness when I catch someone slacking, shortcutting, falling down on the job or flaunting an obvious lack of talent and calling it genius. In those cases, I pull no punches and enjoy watching the rats panic as the ship goes down.
And you know what? In those weeks when I really put the screws to someone (which I haven't done in some time, now that I think about it), I almost never hear much in the way of argument. Oh, sure, some cook's mom will sometimes write in demanding that I lose my job for being a potty-mouthed jerkoff. But nine times out of ten, I'm not telling anyone anything they didn't already know. Kitchen guys know when they're in a bad place, when they're in a house going sour. They know better than anyone when things are being done wrong, when the food going out the door is embarrassing, shameful or ridiculous.
It's the reviews that I think went smoothly that always seem to come back and bite me on the ass. Encore's, for example.
2550 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80206
Region: Central Denver
For starters, I spilled some ink over the restaurant's bad tables — describing how Whited and Huggard, in their attempt at greening up the place and keeping everything as earth-friendly as possible, had bought a bunch of center-section four-tops made out of recycled materials, tables that had immediately started to warp and crack and twist in really amazing ways. I actually used the idea of recycling as the entire theme of the review — tortuously extending the metaphor to cover Huggard's resurrection of cedar-plank salmon and all sorts of other things.
But even as the April 3 issue was leaving the press, the Encore crew was taking delivery of its brand-new tables and rushing to get them on the floor for dinner service. And then, as people who'd read my review came in and started asking about the tables — asking what in the hell I'd been talking about because the tables looked just fine to them — Whited and his managers answered by shrugging their shoulders, rolling their eyes and claiming that there'd never been anything at all wrong with the tables and that I'd obviously been drunk, or worse.
"Literally, the tables were replaced the day the newspaper hit the stands," Whited told me when we talked last week. "When people asked, when they said, 'There's nothing wrong with these tables,' we just agreed and said that we had no idea what you were talking about."
Was I pissed? Hell, no. In the restaurant business, you're only as good as this seating, this service. Past is past, and anything you can do to make yourself look better, look smarter, look cooler than the next guy — that's fair game. And when the next guy happens to be a restaurant critic who just took a shot at you? All the better.
Encore's other design problems won't be as easy to fix. I'd also found the place punishingly loud during busy seatings, owing to the low ceilings (a compromise between the designers from Semple Brown and the dictates of the Lowenstein's historical landmark designation) and the composite stone floors in the dining room. Even those savvy Encore owners couldn't pull off the trick of getting the place carpeted between when the review came out Thursday morning and the first seating Thursday night. Carpeting is in the works, though. In keeping with their earth-lovin' principles, Whited said that he and Huggard have ordered some special "recycled content carpeting" that's due to be laid in a couple of weeks — right around the time they're hoping to get a new patio open for spring.
And they've made another aesthetic fix: In response to my comment that the black, muffin-top toques the kitchen crew wore made them look like the cast of Strawberry Shortcake: The Musical, they got a new batch of hats knocked up — pictures of which can be seen on my blog, From the Gut.
Light 'em up! Regular readers already know that I am a filthy, degenerate smoker. You should also know that I am an obdurate and pig-headed fellow who doesn't like being told what to do. Therefore, when Colorado's fun police decided to ram their nanny-state anti-smoking ordinance through the courts, I took it upon myself to find every way possible to get around it.
Actually, I first took it upon myself to whine and moan incessantly for a few weeks, and then I started looking for loopholes, willful non-compliers and places where I could still combine three of my favorite pastimes: drinking, smoking and dodging work.