Many restaurateurs have promised to open new places by the end of the year (and before the post-holiday lull), and at least a few are going to make it.
Last Friday, Larry Herz opened his new spot, Indigo, in the former home of Papillon Cafe, at 250 Josephine Street. The space has been stripped down, replacing Papillon's casual elegance with a spare, cool mix of light and dark blues -- including a great-looking tiled bar. Chef Ian Kleinman (formerly of Golden's Hilltop Cafe) and sous chef Ben Alandt (the artist formerly known as sous chef at 1515 Market) have put together a very ambitious menu. It's like they hung a blank piece of paper on the wall, mixed a dozen different world cuisines together in a bucket, and then splashed the mix on the paper to see what stuck. One item that landed on the menu, a lobster-and-shiitake-mushroom risotto made with English peas and topped with a lemon sabayon, has at least four culinary traditions duking it out on just one plate. I can't even imagine how the flavors come together in the "open-faced duck and brie ravioli in a lingonberry broth." And how about the "honey-lavender painted ahi tuna over a battered, fried portobello mushroom cap with macadamia nut sweet potato mousse"?
If it weren't for the fact that I've tasted Alandt's considerable talents at 1515 and know of Kleinman's by reputation, I'd be very wary of this menu. And if it weren't for the fact that Herz, the man who brought us Carmine's on Penn, recently stopped working at Bella Ristorante (although he maintains an ownership role in that restaurant at 8770 East Arapahoe Road) to focus on shaping Indigo, I'd be worried. The kitchen is presenting a weird, ungainly and oddly balanced board of fare -- but I've seen talented guys pull off stranger menus than this in spaces far less suited to culinary risk-taking. Kleinman is known (and loved) for the things he can do with soups and appetizers, Alandt is an artist with flavors and plate design, and Herz is a veteran operator who cut his teeth in the restaurant game more than two decades ago. These guys are the A-Team, and if anyone can pull it off, they can.
Not to be confused with Indigo, Intrigue is rushing to open this weekend at 275 South Logan Street, in the space that had been Nate's Contemporary American Cafe until the end of October. Jeff Cleary, formerly of Cafe Bohemia, has done a fast-forward job of converting the place into a French-American bistro. "Things are coming along well," he reports. Although he didn't have to do any structural work, the hardwoods have been restained, the walls have been painted in softer colors, and some of the tables and chairs have been replaced to give the dining room a larger, more comfortable feel. "We don't want people to feel intimidated," Cleary says. "I want people to feel like they can just come and hang out for hours."
But not before this Saturday. "My wife doesn't want me to open on Friday the 13th," Cleary explains, so they've targeted the opening for December 14. Check out the Web site www.intriguedining.com for updates, a peek at Cleary's sleek new menus, an extended bio on the chef and a killer deal: Fifty dollars' worth of complimentary gift certificates just for joining Intrigue's mailing list.
Also just under the wire: Aquarela, a Brazilian/French restaurant that opened last week at 3000 East Third Avenue (dinners only, right now); Casabona's, an Italian joint that replaces the Vietnamese/Italian/American Rose's Cafe in the 1515 Madison Street space that was once home to The Normandy; and Fat Daddy Urban Eatery, at 12 East 11th Avenue. The very urban Fat Daddy, which debuted this past Monday, boasts a Southern-comfort-style Creole and bayou menu and incredible hours: It will be dishing up the grits till 10 p.m. on weekdays and until 4 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Owner Regas Christou obviously knows his market: Fat Daddy stands at the center of Christou's nightclub empire and directly in the path of all those hungry club-goers come closing time.
The last opening of the year should be Ted's Montana Grill, which will roll out the bison-hide carpet on December 27 for the grand opening of a second Colorado location, this one at 1401 Larimer Street in Larimer Square. The newest link in the mega-chain being forged by Ted Turner and George McKerrow Jr. (of Longhorn Steakhouse fame) complements Ted's first metro spot, which has been up and running since November 4 at 7301 South Santa Fe Drive, in Littleton's Aspen Grove shopping center. And a second Hacienda Colorado started serving "mountain Mexican" and over a hundred tequilas -- some very choice (and pricey) -- last week at 10500 Bierstadt Way in Englewood. More Hacienda Colorados will soon follow; the original in this homegrown mini-chain remains at 5056 South Wadsworth Boulevard, Littleton.
One casualty report amid all the holiday hubbub: Splinters From the Pine (1932 Blake Street), a sliver of a baseball bar, has closed its doors for good. After a full week of closing festivities, the neighborhood hangout finally went dark on December 1.
Chef jam: Quick! What local chef, who was named one of the ten best new American chefs by Food and Wine Magazine in 1999, who trained under both Daniel Boulud at Restaurant Daniel in New York City and Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, who got his start by gutting fish at Main Line Seafood outside of Philadelphia, then busing tables at Mezzaluna and cooking for executive chef Charles Dale at Renaissance in Aspen, and who has cooked (twice!) at the James Beard Foundation and once in Chicago for Bon Appétit magazine, will now cook for you personally whenever you ask?
Give up? It's James Mazzio, who left his post as executive chef at Boulder's Triana to start Chef Jam -- a catering company based at 1200 Miramonte Street in Broomfield. And that's where Mazzio has introduced his Wednesday-night "Supper Club," when the Chef Jam kitchen is temporarily transformed into a reservation-only, $50-per-person fine-dining experience. Mazzio and crew create a new menu every week. At the Supper Club the last week in November: pan-seared Prince Edward Island mussels with tomato and fennel, balsamic grilled Belgian endive salad, mushroom-stuffed guinea hen with white truffle polenta, fresh Maine lobster with herbed risotto, and an eggnog crème brûlée. That's four-star grub from a guy who knows his way around a galley.
Like many chefs who go the catering route at some point in their careers, Mazzio no doubt missed the hustle and flash of life on the line. Catering is a good gig if you can get it, but something about the heat and the stress of cooking under pressure for a dining room full of people gets into your blood like a drug, and you can get addicted to the rush. If Mazzio's Supper Club is his answer to that need, we should all be thankful for it.
But rumor has it that Mazzio's missing the kitchen so much, he's planning on picking up an empty restaurant space on East 17th Avenue, where he'll open Seny next summer. (Mazzio's obviously busy doing something, because so far, he hasn't returned my calls.)
Meanwhile, if you want something more from one of Colorado's star chefs, information on booking Mazzio's catering and menu-planning service (in addition to updates on the weekly Supper Club menu) is available at www.chefjam.com.
Leftovers: You've probably eaten Michael Bortz's bread before and not even known it; the restaurants featuring his work are pretty much a who's who of the best joints in town. Vega, Mizuna, Adega...the list is long and dignified. But even if you haven't had a chance to eat at one of those hot spots, you can sample Bortz's bread at Paradise Bakery and Cafe now by stopping in at the 16th Street Mall location (1001 16th Street), or at the 105 East Seventh Avenue spot, where there's no cafe in sight, but plenty of fresh-baked breads, sweets and desserts for sale.
At that storefront outpost, executive baker Bortz (most recently of Denver Daily Bread) and his crew are putting in solid eighteen-hour days and putting out some of the best artisan breads I've had in a long time -- from a simple, crusty, naturally leavened sourdough boule to a buttery brioche and a raisin-pecan miche that I could eat for breakfast every morning for the rest of my life. Bortz clearly has sold his soul to the bakery devil and gotten a real good deal in return. I suggest you grab your sleeping bag and camp out in front of the Seventh Avenue Paradise so you'll be good and ready when the first loaves start coming out of the oven around 5 a.m.
Sushi on the Fly, a new, all-sushi catering company, provides the traditional box lunches and trays. But it can also provide experienced chefs -- overseen by Nathan Houser, formerly of Tommy Tsunami's and Japango -- to serve up the goods fresh at your location; call 303-359-2683 to hook 'em and book 'em. Metropolis Coffee (300 West 11th Avenue), which opened October 19, is now pumping out the java from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends; as business picks up, look for those evening hours to extend.
Adding daytime hours: Highland's Garden Cafe (3927 West 32nd Avenue), which is offering lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday in December, in addition to regular dinner service. Finally, if you need to eat lunch at your desk, Big Bowl Asian Kitchen (in the Tabor Center) is offering lunch deliveries for downtown businesses between 15th and 17th streets; call the carryout desk at 720-946-1878 for more info.
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