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Duy Pham has moved around a lot over the past few years. He first made a name for himself as the very young chef at Tante Louise (4900 East Colfax Avenue, now home to the Cork House) when it was run by Corky Douglass. He was the exec at Opal (100 East Ninth Avenue) when Opal was the greatest, wildest restaurant in the city, and then left owner Jay Chadrom in the lurch almost before the ink was dry on Opal's Best New Restaurant award in the Best of Denver 2003. At that point, Pham was looking at taking a gig in California (he had one foot on the plane and planned to work for Wolfgang Puck, if I remember correctly), but instead ended up taking a series of increasingly strange gigs. He ran Kyoto Asian Fusion (7301 South Santa Fe Drive in Littleton) before that space was taken over by Eric Roeder and turned into Table Mesa Grill. He went back to work with Chadrom at Aqua, across the street from Opal in the Beauvallon complex, a project he'd helped design years before, when that restaurant hit the skids (as discussed in back-to-back reviews in the June 7, 2007, issue). And at the same time he was doing that, he was also consulting and angling for a gig with Sage Hospitality, hoping to open the Nines, its newest hotel/restaurant property in Portland, Oregon, as executive chef.
But that job never materialized (it went to someone older, with more hotel experience), which pissed Pham off. He was offered a lesser position at the property, but didn't want to uproot his family for anything less than an executive gig. And about three months ago, he left Aqua yet again (the place was back on track, he said, doing good trade during prime lounge and nightclub hours) to do more consulting and some guest-chef gigs — including a sushi lunch for Google, which was weird, he said, "but it paid really well."
And at some point, he took a trip down to Pueblo (of all fucking places...) to do a charity job with a friend. Which brings us to Pham's most recent venture: opening a restaurant in Pueblo, of all fucking places. "I've been down there several times," he explained when I talked to him last week. "And I just sort of fell in love with the place."
Well, men have certainly done stranger things for love, I guess. And this project does have a couple of things going in Pham's favor. For one, there's not much in the way of competition. When I asked how the restaurant scene was in Pueblo — asked if there was a scene at all — he said, "Not a strong one, no." He figures there are only a couple of restaurants that will be competition, and said he was a little surprised that everything in that city shuts down by 8:30 p.m.
His new place will be European, he said, "mostly French...a French bistro." Which sounds like a good move, because for a guy who went on record several times during my early acquaintance with him as having no interest in doing Asian food or Asian fusion, he's been doing an awful lot of exactly that lately. He doesn't have a menu written yet, but he does have a name: Restaurant Fifteen Twenty One. And he has a space, right at the corner of First and Main, smack in the heart of downtown Pueblo.
A crew is coming together (including a front-of-the-house guy and sommelier that Pham is flying in from Naples, Florida), and he even has a vague idea of when he'd like to get open: "hopefully, by the end of August." Oh, and one more thing. This new joint is all his — no partners, no compromising for anyone. "It's just me," Pham said. "So this time, I've got no excuse to run away."
Here's hoping that this time, he's able to stick. It would be nice to have a reason to drive down to Pueblo, after all. And who knows? Maybe I'll fall in love with the place, too.
Leftovers: Former 1515/Euro chef Olav Peterson is now at Bistro One (1294 South Broadway), which was getting ready to open two weeks ago, and "on Friday, in the middle of the rush, we're in the weeds," he told me. "We were starting to work our way out, and then it just clicked." All of a sudden, his floor staff, his guys in the kitchen, his sous...they all just sort of got it. And that was good, because the public opening was Saturday — just a few short hours away.
"It all worked out perfectly," Peterson said. "Because also on Saturday, our first microgreens were coming up. So the first paying customers were able to get the first of the micro out of the garden."
On that Saturday, the house did about fifty covers — one good, solid turn. "It wasn't quite the big onslaught rush I was expecting, but it's been good," Peterson said. And it was also something of a break, since he and his staff had been putting in fourteen- to eighteen-hour days for weeks. "What I think it is, talking with the locals, they've been sending in their neighbors," he added. "Kinda like guinea pigs, you know? To check the place out."
And the guinea pigs have been very pleased, with a few coming back night after night after night for the same dinners, the same plates. "We're feeling good about it," Peterson said. Good, but not too good: "I keep telling my guys, we're about 75 percent there. As soon as we start patting ourselves on the back, we've failed."
Which is a good way for any new chef to look at the house he's building: every night, a few more tables; every night, better than the one before.