A critic's lament: Maybe I shouldn't be so pissed off. After all, the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, which wrapped up June 12, did invite twice as many Colorado chefs as it had in 2004. Problem is, last year it invited exactly one -- Goose Sorenson from Solera -- and he was only jammed into the schedule at the last minute to fill in for some out-of-stater who'd canceled. So doubling that gave us all of two this year: Goose again (who was invited back after really stepping up last year and blowing everyone away), plus Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson from Frasca, who was there to get his award as one of Food & Wine magazine's best new chefs and to cook for those same swells who were crowning him. (Hey, I raved about him, too, in "Fantasy Land," my review of Frasca in the April 7 issue.)
But I am pissed off. This event takes place in Colorado and can only make space for two of Colorado's best and brightest? That's just not right. Yes, I understand this is a big-money event (with ticket prices running in the $800-to-$1,000 range). And yes, I understand that the good folks at Food & Wine, in order to give people the most bang for their buck, want to pack the schedule with as many headliners and celebrities as possible. Still, it irks me that while our mountains are good enough and our money is good enough, our chefs aren't.
Way back in the day, Hunter Thompson (late of Woody Creek) suggested that Aspen change its name to "Fat City" in order to stop the crowds of "greed-heads and land rapists" from coming in from out of state and wrecking up the place. Aspen, he surmised, just sounded too irresistibly cool to, say, ad-agency executives and magazine editors. But Fat City? Not so much. I think the good doctor was on to something there -- except that Fat City is actually a pretty good name for a place hosting a giant food festival. My suggestion? Change Aspen's name to Suckville and wait until the people who organize awards shows for porn movies start calling.
Anyway, until those responsible for the invitation list start asking more of our guys to play, I'm going to continue my one-man boycott of the Food & Wine fest. (Besides, the thought of dropping a cool grand to see Emeril bam-ing up some potluck or to get grilling tips from Bobby Flay makes me itch.) For the record, though, I hear that Goose and Lachlan acquitted themselves well during both the formal events and the myriad after-hours festivities. They gave their all for the home team, and since we could only have two, I'm glad the festival chose chefs who would be high on my list of picks to represent the 303.
Eco-devo, restaurant-style: Belmar has just released a list of every restaurant set to open soon in Lakewood's outpost of new urbanism. First up, Tacone: a chain adding Colorado to a list of five states, offering such yuppie chow as sandwiches, wraps, smoothies, salads and the like. Next comes the 221b Baker Street Pub and Grill, a chain with three locations in Texas, one in Oklahoma, and a concept that calls for Brit and American bar food in a Sherlock Holmes-y, faux-Barnaby Street, junk-all-over-the-walls kinda space that must have Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spinning in his grave. Following these two, though, there'll be the welcome addition of Home -- a slightly more upscale restaurant brought to us by Mark Tarbell, who already owns and operates The Oven ("Less Is More," May 19)-- and a second incarnation of Emogene Cafe, Jim Sullivan's bakery/coffee shop/patisserie that also has a liquor license. And that's good, because five or six aperitifs (and a Seconal drip) should be just what it would take to get me into a place like Baker Street.
There's also a Lucky Strike Lanes now up and running in Belmar -- which I wouldn't normally mention at all, but for the hundred-seat restaurant crammed inside and the full-service menus offered at each of the sixteen lanes. A bowling alley? Fine. A bowling alley with a bar? Even finer, because it takes quite a bit of liquor to get most people to stick their feet in rented shoes. And I can even get behind a bowling-alley bar with a snack bar attached, because bowling without nachos is like watching football without bean dip. But a blue-lit bowling alley like something straight out of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, set with massive 100-foot screens showcasing music videos and the work of emerging visual artists, a sports bar filled with plasma TVs and projection TVs and its own LED sports ticker, and a full service restaurant (offering burgers and dogs, salads, Mexi-Asian snack plates and a whole spread of desserts) all sprawling out over 22,000 square feet? Frankly, I'm surprised the crust of the Earth doesn't crack beneath this place and swallow it whole. Still, the Lucky Strike that opened at Denver Pavilions last fall seems to have survived nicely.
Leftovers: There's a new crew on board at Rhumba Caribbean Café (950 Pearl Street, Boulder), part of Dave Query's empire. Ian Clark has taken over the head chef's post from part-owner Joe Schneider, who will be stepping back from the burners and into more of a management position. And Sean Keefer (a veteran of Q's, Magnolia and The Kitchen) is stepping in for former sous chef Brian Fastabend. The menu will remain Caribbean-themed, obviously, but I'm curious to see what this infusion of new blood will do -- since I hated what the old blood did ("Going Nowhere," April 17, 2003).
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Jeff Kingsbury (ex of Mel's and Sacre Bleu) has joined the team at Steak au Poivre (231 Milwaukee Street) as floorman and front-of-house manager. According to managing partner Marco Colantonio, the restaurant got off to a smooth but slow start when it opened a few weeks ago -- but slow wasn't bad, considering that the bar doesn't yet have air conditioning. That work's scheduled for this week, though, after which Steak au Poivre will host a variety of official launch events. And in the meantime, the restaurant has already added lunches.
The Niwot Tavern, which opened four months ago around the old Flanagan's at 7960 Niwot Road in Niwot, has gone through its first big change, with new lunch and dinner menus executed by chef David Gray, expanded bar food offerings, and a longer happy hour. There should be plenty of happy hours at the Irish Rover -- a bar and public house in the tradition of jolly Gaelic drunkenness everywhere -- that's now open at 54 South Broadway. A second Benny's Restaurant and Tequila Bar -- this one a freestanding location next to FlatIron Crossing -- is set to debut the first week in July. Benny's two previous expansion attempts -- one in northwest Denver and one in Glendale -- didn't go well, and a rumored Littleton location has yet to pan out, but the original at 301 East Seventh Avenue (which was originally at 225 East Seventh) is doing better than ever, and residents of the northern burbs will no doubt flock to this joint.
Finally, the Public House, a theme chain out of Philly, has taken over the old Hooters/Rib Crib space at 1920 Blake Street. Set to open in July, it has ten-dollar burgers on its menu and what has to be the worst restaurant slogan ever: "Where sophisticated meets fun!"