I have often made the smartass claim that brunch exists only as a convenient excuse for those who want to get drunk in public before noon. This conceit comes both from my own experience as that drunk in question, and from my time spent on the other side of the swinging doors as the guy shlepping watery eggs Benny and carving prime for those same rummies. Brunch can be a mimosa-spiked mercy for those suffering on Sunday for Saturday's excesses, but under normal circumstances, it's also hell on the palate and tum-tum for foodies. And for cooks, it's purgatory -- a place for young hash-slingers to earn their chops, but also a dead zone for old dogs and also-rans, the last stop you make before hanging up the whites for good.
But then, brunch at the Fourth Story atop the Tattered Cover in Cherry Creek is not normal circumstances. At least, not anymore. Under the command of chef Christopher Reap, brunch has been reinvigorated and turned into a meal worthy of its fine surroundings and a wonderful view. In fact, the fresh, à la carte board of fare is so good, it makes me like the space even more.
The situation was different eighteen months ago, when I called the Fourth Story (then under the faltering stewardship of chef Tyler Wiard) "the first-class dining room of an elderly ocean liner bound for some wheezing, bloated culinary hell" ("Tale Spin," December 19, 2002). And brunch back then? Yeesh. The Eggs Fourth Story "were underdone, poached to about the consistency of gooey egg Jell-O, and served atop a good, crumbly chive scone that had been tragically glopped up with suspiciously lukewarm champagne hollandaise. If I'm sitting in some truck stop paying $4.95 for an artery-clogging plate of glorified eggs Benedict, I deserve what I get. But paying twice that in a swank joint like the Fourth Story, I expected something better. Hell, I at least expected competence. I don't care how busy a place is or how harried the staff, putting out good food under tough conditions is part of the job. As a matter of fact, it's the entire job."
Soon after, Wiard got another job (more on that next week), and the Fourth Story opened a new chapter with Reap, the latest in a long line of chefs (about one for every year the place has been open) -- and maybe the best. His brunch begins with the classic "Breakfast of Champions" spread of mimosas, Bloody Marys, the always fashionable screwdriver and seven-dollar flutes of Gruet Brut (New Mexico's finest bubbly wine). Add to that Ghirardelli chocolate mochas, fresh-squeezed orange juice and a very good Côtes du Rhône (which, in my professional opinion, is right up there alongside a clean Beaujolais as the perfect breakfast wine), and you're off to a good start.
With Reap in the kitchen, though, the hits keep coming even as the buzz starts to fade. The new menu still features sweet, buttery French toast stuffed with mascarpone cheese and topped with fresh berries swimming in Vermont's best tree juice, but there's also a white cheddar and Nueski's Farms artisan-smoked-bacon cheeseburger with onion jam, as well as a killer sandwich of grilled prosciutto, Fontina and asparagus that's classy but packs a heft.
And while I can't stand up in defense of yet another ill-conceived take on the Fourth Story breakfast burrito (made with pan-roasted shrimp, limp greens, roasted corn and avocado wrapped in a flour tortilla that's been drizzled with a lackluster red-pepper coulis and piled with sliced radishes, of all things), Reap's done wonders with his version of the "Eggs Fourth" that took the place of Wiard's doomed champagne Benny. I've seen (and made) a lot of limping, wussed-up and played-out versions of traditional eggs Benedict in my time, but rarely have I come across anything as good as this. Reap's crew sets perfectly poached eggs on rounds of buttery, toasted brioche (rather than English muffins), has tender and bloody-rare medallions of beef stand in for those rubbery rounds of Canadian bacon, adds soft, sweet roasted tomatoes and a lace of fresh, thick hollandaise, then mounts everything on a jungle of bitter watercress. Each bite is a heavenly mix of egg yolk and butter and blood, all the elements blending together into a sum so much greater and more composed than its parts, into something haute and base at the same time. It's one of those plates you just can't wait to try again.
And lucky us, we never have to wait too long: The Fourth serves its new and improved brunch every Sunday from 10:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. I'd suggest making reservations before you head over, though; the book on this one fills up fast.
Leftovers: The debut of Green: Fine Salad Company has hit a few snags. Opening day for the restaurant at 1137 16th Street -- tucked between The Palm and what had been a Big Bowl before that concept cratered -- was originally set for May 24, then June 1, then June 7, with a new target of June 9 that owner Jon Nassif is pretty sure he's going to make.
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"You know all these inspections that need to take place? Well, they've been rather... cumbersome," he explains, in the most politic way possible for a man tangled in red tape and a million little things that must be dealt with before any restaurant can throw wide the doors. Although one day he envisions a string of Greens, this is his first attempt at being a restaurateur. "Everything is just a...," he says, his words trailing off before he can say disaster. "There's just a hundred decisions to be made every day."
Fortunately, a lot of those decisions are behind him, and he's got a veteran partner backing him up: James Mazzio, of ChefJam and the late, lamented Triana. Mazzio, who now runs his own catering outfit, came on originally as a consultant, but quickly became a kind of co-founder. "He's a heavyweight, and now he's a big part of the vision behind growing Green," Nassif says. That vision calls for "a salad boutique" with ten signature salads, two dozen dressings created by Mazzio, and everything in the house fresh every day. The crews on Green's exhibition line will be working in full view of diners, using top-quality ingredients from local suppliers when available, organic when possible, and seasonal all the time to make both off-menu and custom salads. "We want to be responsible to the restaurant community," adds Nassif. "And to the dining community and to the environment. Salads are an important part of this, but they also kind of facilitate this bigger vision. Green, you know? That has a lot of meanings. Green is about doing one thing really, really well. And salad is all we're doing."
Green is also about the money that will come in -- once they finally get those doors open.
Two weeks ago, in rounding up the restaurants at the new Beauvallon project, I predicted that the lineup of Moda, La Dolce Vita and Wholly Tomato would create a Yuppie Little Italy. Not so fast, though: Tomato owner Stephen Anson says his joint won't be all that Italian. "I understand how the name might elicit the reference," he writes, "but we actually have a very diverse menu, with some Southwest dishes, Asian, Greek, Mediterranean and, yes, a couple of Italian dishes, like the portabella mushroom wrap." What's more, each dish starts organic and can also be made meatless, vegan, wheat-free, dairy-free, what have you. Good and good for you -- looks like we have another trend.