While the crowds at Lola (see review) can seem downright predatory in their quest for the perfect table, the scene at Vega (410 East Seventh Avenue) -- which opened just two months after Lola and started out billing itself as "nuevo Latino" -- can be fairly sedate. According to chef-owner Sean Yontz, "Our first three months were a little up and down. But now we get a crowd that's coming in to sit and dine." And not just stopping in to see and be seen before running off to the night's next big event.
One thing you won't be seeing at Vega anymore: Super-floorman Marco Colantonio, an expert at coddling serious, long-haul diners, who left the restaurant last week. Yontz, who partnered with Colantonio (and building owner Michael Payne) to open the upscale spot just a few short months after leaving their former posts at Tamayo, is understanding. "We had a rough opening," Yontz says, going on to explain problems with the buildout and rushed training for the staff. "Expectations were high. He [Colantonio] had a lot on his plate, and I think he was tired of the ten- and twelve-hour days. A lot of it was personal. He was unhappy."
Colantonio's leaving, arranged well in advance, was far from the usual throw-down-the-apron-and-tell-everyone-to-fuck-off style of giving notice that's generally practiced at most restaurants. "He wanted more of a life," Yontz says. "But I really, really am going to miss him."
Assistant managers Katie Anderson (who's worked with Yontz for nine years) and Josh Niernberg (another Tamayo veteran who also did time with Yontz, at Restaurant Kevin Taylor) will be picking up the slack. Anderson will handle the wine-and-beverage side of things; Niernberg will watch the back office, and both of them plan to work the floor and try to fill Colantonio's shoes.
Yontz says it's "the best staff I've ever had -- ever," so he's not overly concerned about Colantonio's departure. "Nothing is going to change. Now we're coming into our own, and I think people know what to expect."
Leftovers: Want a place to get smashed with no pretension whatsoever? The Stout Pub (2052 Stout Street) pours 99-cent Pabst Blue Ribbon drafts at happy hour, from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Bottoms up!
Nothing goes better with booze than chicken wings. And soon, all of you good people out in Lakewood will be able to grab a quick dozen at the newest Wingman restaurant, opening at the end of March at 3333 South Wadsworth Boulevard. Mark Wolfe and crew will dish up the goods seven days a week for lunch and dinner, showcasing their super-secret wing sauce that took top honors at the first annual Buffalo Wing Festival last year in the temple of the chicken wing, Buffalo, New York.
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Second-best thing to go with a night on the sauce? Pizza (paired with a strong burgundy, if you just can't get past the wine thing). And there's a new pie joint up and running, too. Papou's (5075 Leetsdale Drive) was pointed out to me by an alert reader who was totally overwhelmed by the charms of -- are you ready for this? -- Connecticut-style pizza. What that means is a Neapolitan pie with a crisp, pan-baked crust charred just a little by the heat of what would ideally be a coal-fired oven but here is brick. Papou's has been open about a month in an otherwise uninspiring strip mall and is starting to draw some sizable crowds.
For the morning after, check out Cosmopolitan Bread Cafe, opening to the public on March 9 at 2636 East Third Avenue. It will be serving Belgian waffles, homemade soups, coffee, tea, hot panini sandwiches and -- of course -- bread. Most of the baking will be done in-house by the crew assembled by owners Lin Carson (who, near as I can understand, has her doctorate in grains, doughs and bread-making; had I known such a thing was possible, I might have chosen a very different career path), husband Dean and father David Carson, who's got thirty years of baking experience under his belt and is coming to Denver all the way from Singapore to help open the cafe. In addition to house loaves, Cosmo will import artisan breads from all over the world, starting with dark German breads, danishes from Holland and a specialty black-cherry-and-chocolate bread from Sweden. Granted, importing bread sounds a little...strange. But that's not going to stop me from checking this joint out.
The Ballpark neighborhood's about to get another joint: Blake Street Tavern will open this month at 2401 Blake Street, in the warehouse space that had been Tony's and, before that, the Flying Dog Brewery. Although we'll miss Tony's fried cheese curds (a winner in the Best of Denver 2002) and Wisconsin flavor (Schlitz and fried fish on Fridays!), Blake Street is brought to us by Rich Salturelli, who's done well by Denver at restaurants ranging from CityGrille (321 East Colfax Avenue), a political hot spot, to the long-gone Bay Wolf, a Cherry Creek hangout in the '80s. On the same street but a world away, India House offers a distinctly different kind of dining. This space at 1514 Blake Street had been Delhi Darbar -- a popular destination in lower downtown before LoDo was even nicknamed LoDo. But last year, owner Ghughi Singh decided the city was ready for a modern, chic Indian restaurant and poured millions into giving the place a new look and a new name.
And finally: Project Angel Heart -- which, for the past eleven years, has delivered hot meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other debilitating or life-threatening diseases -- is having its annual fundraiser on Thursday, March 13. And the only thing you have to do to help is eat out! Hundreds of restaurants in Denver, Boulder and the surrounding areas are participating this year, donating 25 percent of every diners' bill to the project that delivered over 200,000 meals to those in need in 2002. The full roster of restaurants is available at www.projectangelheart.org, but a short list of house favorites includes: all Chipotle locations in the area, all Old Chicago and Wahoo's Fish Taco outposts, Sam's No. 3 (2580 South Havana Boulevard in Aurora), Benny's Cantina & Ristorante (301 East Seventh Avenue), Clair de Lune (1313 East Sixth Avenue), Cuba Cuba (1173 Delaware Street), Mizuna (225 East Seventh Avenue), Le Central (112 East Eighth Avenue), Watercourse Foods (206 East 13th Avenue), Rodney's (2819 East Second Avenue), Lola (1469 South Pearl Street) and Racines (850 Bannock Street), which has the honor of being the first restaurant in town to support the project, giving up a plate of lasagna that fed six people back in 1991.