Adega Restaurant & Wine Bar (1700 Wynkoop Street), whose May opening was the talk of the town, just got a big boost to its reputation as the defining restaurant in Denver's up-and-coming food scene with its inclusion in Esquire's 21st-annual "Best New Restaurants" survey. Food and travel writer John Mariani checked out more than 250 hot spots across the country before picking his top twenty. (Julia's Kitchen at Copia, in the Napa Valley, took restaurant of the year -- no surprise there.) Adega made the cut because of its "sexy lounge and seductive decor," chef Bryan Moscatello's "lusty but refined cooking," and the voluminous 800-bottle wine list overseen by master sommelier and partner Kenneth Fredrickson.
But Fredrickson is no longer tending personally to that weird, green-lit wine tower, because he's left Colorado (and Adega) to pursue other opportunities in Las Vegas. When I called Fredrickson a few weeks ago to ask about the rumor that he was leaving, he lied outright: "I'm one of the owners," he said. "Where am I going to go?"
Well, to Vegas, apparently, and while I've been told that Fredrickson is still involved with Adega in his role as a partner -- and as a "consultant" on the wine list -- he's no longer in the house as sommelier.
Ryan Gaudin, Adega's general manager, told me that Fredrickson, a Vegas transplant, had returned to Sin City to oversee a wine-distributing business that's been in the works "for a couple of years now, from what I understand." According to Gaudin, "Chris Farnem has been running the wine service since day one, so there's no hard feelings on either side, and we wish him luck." And Farnem's staying put at Adega.
I'd also heard through the grapevine that Gaudin was asked to be the lucky fella at the center of ABC's The Bachelor. Turns out that's true, too -- and it's all thanks to the Esquire piece. Seems the producers were looking for someone in the food industry for next season's show, saw Mariani's rundown and "thought Denver sounded like a nice, wholesome place," Gaudin recalls. "Not like L.A. or New York City."
Sadly, Gaudin's girlfriend wasn't too happy with the idea of him being wooed by 25 young lovelies, so he's out of the running. But Denver, and Adega, may still get its shot at the small screen. "I turned them on to my buddy Aaron Forman," Gaudin says, referring to Adega's wine-bar manager. Still, what is it they say, Ryan? It's an honor just to be asked...?
And before those of you who do still work at Adega get to thinking too highly of yourselves, understand that while you made a top-twenty list for America, another Colorado favorite has been voted one of the top ten in the world. Johnson's Corner -- the truck stop/restaurant/cultural institution just off I-25 outside Loveland that celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last week -- held its own against places in Penang, Malaysia; Yangshuo, China; Provence, France; and Taroudant, Morocco, for Travel and Leisure magazine's "Top Ten Breakfasts in the World." Johnson's Corner has been featured in a movie (okay, so it was Larger Than Life, which starred Bill Murray and an elephant, but it's still a movie); it's been open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year since its doors first opened in 1952; and it's been honored in the 105th Congressional Record (in 1999) as exemplifying "the industrious spirit and can-do attitude that has made America great."
Top that, Adega.
Back in August, Bon Appétit handed laurels to the Painted Bench (400 East 20th Avenue) and Lounge (1509 Marion Street) as two other local restaurants worthy of national recognition (Bite Me, August 22). And Denver hit the bigtime again this month with five hot spots on Conde Nast's Epicurious Essential Eateries list.
The Mile High City even rates a little ink for trying to lose the "cowtown" image that's dogged it for a century. According to Colorado freelancer Claire Walter, who put together the list and reviews for Epicurious: "Denver has recently blossomed into a culinary hub. Ten years ago, only a modest number of fine restaurants were scattered around the city. For the most part, their classic but conservative kitchens did not attempt cutting-edge cuisine -- fine dining was mainly limited to good steaks or fancy French classics."
Fresh-produce growers, artisan bakers and cheese makers, better seafood availability -- all of these things were part of the necessary infrastructure that had to grow along with Denver's new crop of restaurants. And chefs and restaurant owners also had to have confidence that the customers would keep coming when things like ceviche, tapas, pho and samosas started hitting their plates.
It took some time, but now "patrons are eager to try anything the unleashed chefs prepare," Walter reports. "Dishes from the South of France and the north of Italy, fusion combinations like blue-corn tortillas with chèvre, updated traditional American fare such as crab cakes with aioli -- all now appear on the city's menus, and Denverites are gobbling them up."
So what five places did she pick to represent the new, daring tastes of Denver's pax culinaris? Aix (719 East 17th Avenue), for starters. The French Provençal-style restaurant, named after Aix-en-Provence, rated special mention for its foie gras au torchon, herbed salmon and the attention paid to the flavors on its seasonal menu. Nicois (815 17th Street) got the nod "because I really wanted to do a Kevin Taylor restaurant, and Nicois was his newest, but not too new," according to Walter. Bang! (3972 West 32nd Avenue) was chosen for its reasonably priced menu and accomplished kitchen, which turns out a rainbow of Pan-Asian-American-Creole-Caribbean dishes. Panzano (909 17th Street) made the cut on the strength of chef Jennifer Jasinski's faithful Northern Italian dinner menu and Tuscan-style pizzas. Rounding out the list was Richard Sandoval's high-end, contemporary Latin joint Tamayo (1400 Larimer Street), which recently lost chef Sean Yontz and front-of-the-house maestro Marco Colantonio to Vega, the new restaurant they've opened together at 410 East Seventh Avenue, in the old Sacre Bleu space.
All five of Walter's choices -- and her reviews of them -- are on the Web at www.epicurious.com/restaurants. Log on and see how Denver stacks up against other cities in the Essential Eateries category.
Quick, everyone on the bandwagon! Okay, so I've already mentioned that Larry Herz, who will soon open a restaurant (tentatively called Indigo) in the former Papillon Cafe space at 250 Josephine Street, will be accepting those unredeemed Papillon gift certificates that so many of you got stuck with after the abrupt closing of Radek Cerny's restaurant (Bite Me, October 10). Herz decided to take them at fifty cents on the dollar as a goodwill gesture to Denver foodies left in the lurch, and other restaurateurs must have thought that was a pretty good idea, because now Gabriel's (5450 West Highway 67, Sedalia) will be accepting them, too. Anyone left holding a certificate can redeem it -- for full price -- at Gabriel's through the end of November. The sudden closing of Papillon "left a bad taste in my mouth," explains owner Mathew Bundy. "Mostly I wanted to do this just to take care of those people left out in the cold."
The downtown Broker (821 17th Street) is also accepting Papillon gift certificates through the beginning of December (not the end, as has been reported elsewhere). As a matter of fact, the Broker is taking gift certificates (specific dollar amounts only) from any place that's closed recently. Papillon, Gussie's, Sacre Bleu...it's been a rough season for the industry, and "people feel taken advantage of when they buy a gift certificate for cash and then the restaurant closes," says Broker manager Laura Bloss. Broker owner Ed Novak and general manager Jerry Fritzler both feel that the restaurant business should be more responsible for its image, she adds, so they're committed to taking care of customers who might otherwise have nowhere to go.
Leftovers: Since the day Prohibition ended in 1933, Monaghan's Tavern (3889 South King Street, Sheridan) has been slapping down the suds in a building that dates back to 1892. It claims to have the oldest continuously operating liquor license in the state of Colorado, and bullet holes in the ceiling lend historical credence to its reputation as a rootin'-tootin', ceiling-shootin' Wild West burgers 'n' beer kind of joint.
But now Matt Landy, who bought Monaghan's in August, has decided to move it into the 21st century, so he's transforming the saloon into Freestyles Music and Sports Grill. Just a suggestion: Before you go through with this, Matt, why not call the guy who thought it would be a good idea to turn that classic Wild West burgers 'n' beer joint, the Punch Bowl (2052 Stout Street), into the Punch Bowl Baja Bistro a couple years back? Then again, it might be tough to find him: The place was such a disaster that he's probably in hiding. For the record, the spot's been sold and is now the Stout Pub.
Chef Christopher Cina is shaking things up at Tuscany at the Loews Denver. He's changing the direction of the menu to a more Mediterranean feel, dropping the prices drastically (like 30 to 40 percent), and brightening up the rather drab dining room with new colors and table settings. Want to have a look? Tuscany is doing a Beaujolais-release tasting on November 21, with four courses and wine for $45. For information and reservations, call 303-782-9300.
Papa Keno's will open its second location (the first is at 827 Colorado Boulevard) sometime around November 1, at 1530 Blake Street. That's right next to the Lemon Sisters market -- and a block away from both the Wazee Supper Club (1600 15th Street) and Two-Fisted Mario's (1626 Market Street), two LoDo spots famous for their pizzas and late hours. Let the pie fights begin! Maggiano's Little Italy is continuing its march toward world domination with the Halloween opening of another link in the chain at 7401 South Clinton Street in Englewood.
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