Big Time

Those crazy kids at Monkey Bean (see review) have a cadre of fans -- and they know how to use them. During last year's Best of Denver voting, the ballot-stuffing for Monkey Bean was so wicked it would have made Boss Tweed and those cats from Tammany Hall blush. The coffeehouse received something on the order of 117,000 nominations for everything from "Best Coffeeshop" to "Best Hair on a News Anchor," and though such practices are frowned upon by the trained chimps we employ to count all those ballots, you've got to give owners Monique Costello and Amy Rosewater credit for their enthusiasm.

Besides, it's long been my contention that success does not necessarily follow talent or skill or genius so much as it does raw, blind ambition and the sort of vigorous self-promotion rarely evinced outside the worlds of professional wrestling or American Idol. And it's exactly that kind of chutzpah that landed Monkey Bean a spot on the Food Network show Recipe for Success. Although the cameras and crew have long since departed the scene, Costello and Rosewater rarely let a conversation end before somehow sneaking in a mention of their upcoming fifteen minutes of fame. There are notes posted at the counter, on the register and on the Monkey Bean website, and all of them carry the pertinent info: The coffeehouse will make its TV debut at 7:30 p.m. February 21 on Comcast channel 47.

Monkey Bean isn't the only local joint getting play on cable, either. Another Food Network show, Tasty Travels, which is hosted by none other than the inimitable Rachael Ray (for whom I've always had a sort of lingering, low-grade obsession), is heading to Denver sometime in mid-February to burn a little tape at some of the city's more notable addresses. I got a call from one of Ray's producers not long ago looking for suggestions on places she might hit while in town. And after explaining that it probably wouldn't be much fun for the crew to drop in on, say, Adega or the Beehive (two of their proposed locations) since those restaurants were both closed, I managed to pitch a few of my favorite spots in town.


Monkey Bean

But something tells me that neither Ray nor the American viewing public will be quite so taken with Oshima Ramen and the Breakfast King as I am.

Location, location, location: I've said some harsh things about the restaurant space at 12200 East Cornell Avenue out in Aurora, a space once home to Maruti Narayan's and, most recently, Denver Woodlands. I've called it jinxed and cursed. Because it's stuck in the back quarter of an already oddly shaped strip mall with no view from the road and close to zero foot traffic, I've declared it one of the worst restaurant locations in the city.

That statement -- which I stand by -- recently inspired an e-mail from Neha Jhaveri, the space's leaseholder and de facto majority investor, who wanted to share just how things shook down with these last two closures. Jhaveri, who started out with no experience in the restaurant business and no desire whatsoever to be involved in the restaurant business, told me that after the owners of Maruti Narayan's -- originally a small, neighborhood restaurant focusing on quick lunches and casual service -- decided to expand into the dinner business, she dumped $100,000 for buildout and equipment at the space in the hope of being able to turn that around with a successful, white tablecloth Indian restaurant. And while she fully accepts the blame for having made the same mistake twice (after Narayan's bailed and Jhaveri was stuck paying the $3,500 monthly rent on an empty restaurant space for nine months, the owners of Denver Woodlands came in with the same low down payment she'd collected from Narayan's and another promise of high-end service), she pointed out that it wasn't just the location that was bad; the restaurant owners were, too.

What's more, the bad location didn't seem to hurt Denver Woodlands at all. "They were doing fantastic," she said. "The restaurant was at its peak point. Overnight, he decides to close the restaurant and leave."

And yet Jhaveri has hung in there, paying the rent and keeping the place up. And now she has a tenant that she thinks might break the losing streak at that address -- a restaurant called Boudreaux's Bayou Buffet, scheduled to open in early February.

"Now, finally, I have someone who paid me a good chunk of a down payment," Jhaveri told me. "And someone who is committed to making their restaurant work."

That "someone" is actually two someones -- Mike and Cindy Reimann -- who are coming to Denver in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which uprooted a tree that split their Louisiana home in two and flooded it with four feet of water. I got Mike on the phone last week as he and Cindy were preparing for their final trip our way, finishing some paperwork on the insurance settlement and sale of what's left of their house. They're using the money to open their dream restaurant. Mike spent ten years working for chefs in and around New Orleans, he told me, but he swore he'd never work in another restaurant unless it was his own.

Then came Katrina. Then came his big shot.

"We're excited," Mike said. "We think Denver ought to be a great market for what we're doing."

Boudreaux's will be a combo buffet/a la carte operation, offering all those Cajun classics -- the blackened chicken, gumbo, jambalaya and what-have-you -- alongside by-the-pound shrimp and (once the price comes down) crawfish done the same way, caught and steamed in the Gulf, then shipped to Colorado.

"No one will be able to say what we're doing isn't authentic," Mike said, and no one will be able to say that the Reimanns don't know how to throw a party. Come February 28 -- the 150th anniversary of the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration -- Boudreaux's will throw its own Mardi Gras right here, a benefit "for the crews down in New Orleans who didn't get to roll this year because their equipment was destroyed in the storm."

Leftovers: Good news from Parisi, which moved to 4401 Tennyson Street last year (with Cafe Brazil taking over its old spot at 4408 Lowell Boulevard). The basement space below the restaurant/market will soon become a prosciutto bar.

"This has always been his vision," manager Mat Berger says of owner Simone Parisi. And while plans for the prosciutto bar -- which will also serve as a wine bar and tasting room, with community tables, a manual slicer for the meat products and crostini, apps and Italian small plates on the menu -- are currently hung up over some licensing issues, those should all be cleared up within a couple of weeks, with an opening of the space slated for around Valentine's Day.

"It's not going to be one of those silly soft things, either," Berger says of the opening. "It'll be a good party."

I can't friggin' wait.


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