A rumor without a leg to stand on will get around some other way." John Tudor said that, and he was right -- which is why I'm not going to repeat everything I've heard over the last few weeks about the Hilltop Cafe out in Golden. Instead, I'm going to tell you what owner J. Allen Adams said when I reached him on the phone. No, he isn't closing the restaurant. It had been dark for about a week in early January -- but that was only to do a little cleaning, a little remodeling, calibrate some new equipment in the kitchen and give the staff "time to recharge" after the holidays.
"You know, it used to be that restaurants were family places," Adams said. "They used to be part of a neighborhood. And there were no goddamn chains. Places used to close for a week, maybe two, so people could be with their families. Relax. I don't know why more places don't still do that."
Maybe because the minute the windows go dark on a Friday night, the vultures start to circle?
True, the old house that has been home to the Hilltop since July 2000 is for sale, but Adams would like to move into a new spot, anyway -- a spot worthy of chef John Calloway, who beat zillion-time champ Frank Bonanno in last fall's Steel Chef competition and in the process created the best food, hands down, that's ever been served at Invesco Field. "I'd like John to have a bigger stage, you know?" Adams explained. "A bigger place with a real bar, maybe twenty more seats, and room for a banquet department. I know that a certain amount of the environment we're in has helped business, but there's no one else doing the kind of food we're doing here. I think our customers will follow us."
So do I, especially considering that one of the places Adams and company are looking at is the Golden Hotel. That space would offer the Hilltop crew more than enough room to work, give Adams the banquet space and bar he's always wanted, and treat diners to a terrific view.
Domo arigato: Sometimes we forget how lucky we are to have restaurants in Denver that foodies might travel hundreds of miles to eat at. Domo is one of those restaurants, pegged as number five in the United States by Zagat in 2001 -- that's fifth-best in the entire country. And here it is, right in our back yard. Our back train yards, to be exact, in an unlikely industrial spot at 1365 Osage Street.
Domo serves "country food," Japanese farmhouse cuisine, which includes simple, elegant sushi presentations in hand bowls, yellowtail steaks, salted salmon donburi and a whole flight of side dishes made fresh every day. Chef and owner Gaku Homma also has a traditional Japanese garden on site (one of the most peaceful places I've ever seen), an aikido dojo (Homma was the last live-in student of aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba), and a museum currently showcasing a collection of sakezuki (sake cups) used by the Japanese military from 1800 to 1945.
But most important -- to me, anyhow -- is that Domo, the restaurant, will expand its hours starting February 1 to include seven-day-a-week service. The new hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch, and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner. Daily.
Leftovers: The first month of 2004 isn't yet over, and already, those of you with weak will and intemperate spirit are second-guessing those New Year's resolutions. Here's one more thing guaranteed to make you lament that decision to cut down on the sweets: A. Korkunov chocolates are now available at the Boulder Book Store, The Market at Larimer Square and Cost Plus World Market locations around Denver. The Moscow-based chocolatier has been distributing in the United States only since January 2003 (thank you, glasnost) and doesn't yet have the brand recognition of, say, Scharffen Berger (what I now consider the second-best chocolate in the world), but it will. This stuff is amazing. Truly, sweetly unbelievable. One bite, and trust me, you'll never forget the name.
Using Italian (Piedmont) cocoa and some super-secret historic recipe, A. Korkunov has produced a 72 percent cocoa blend as smooth as milk, strong as dark and without the dry brackishness associated with some bitter and semi-sweet bars. The flavor is like ultra-high-grade black chocolate dipped in cognac and chased with a perfect espresso -- a remarkable and complex taste that's absolutely worth breaking promises over.
But there's also sad news for you chocoholics. Fannie May -- the much-loved, Chicago-based cocoa pusher -- has folded, along with its owner, Archibald Candy Corp. At the last minute, though, the eighty-year-old brand was picked up by Utah's Alpine Confections in a deal that gave Alpine -- a young company that already owns the rights to Hallmark and Harry London chocolates -- the rights to the Fannie May name and formulas. Still, the last of the real Fannie May pixies, bon-bons and mint melt-aways rolled off the production lines earlier this month, and final shipments of Valentine's Day candies went off to distributors last week. By mid-February, all of the Fannie May retail stores will be dark.
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If you're looking for a final fix, Chicago, the Windy City-honoring eatery at 6680 West Colfax in Lakewood, received its last Fannie May shipment last week and, as of this past weekend, still had some stock available. "Our regulars have been coming in and buying their usual," said Chicago's Diane Zimmerman. "But we've also had a couple heavy hitters come in to stock up. I think we may still have something left by next week."
And when that last Fannie May candy's gone, what would Zimmerman recommend for a replacement? "There is nothing!" she replied adamantly. "Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. There is nothing comparable out here, and the only thing I can tell people is to get in here quick before it's gone."
Good advice. I'm gonna head over right now and pick up one last Skyline Sampler for old time's sake.
More advice: If you like linking good food and good causes, head to the Oxford Hotel on Thursday, January 29, for the annual Red Wine and Seafood benefit for Volunteers of America. The event will feature live jazz, booze from the good folks at Southern Wine and Spirits, and food by McCormick's chef Stephen Vice. Tickets are sixty bucks per person, an even hundred for couples, and reservations can be made -- fast -- by calling 303-297-0408.