Sacre Bleu (see review this issue) has been in existence for only three months, and already general manager Ryan Fletter has called it quits because of philosophical differences with owner Julie Payne. According to Fletter, he wants the place to be more of a restaurant, and Payne wants it to be more of a nightclub. "In and of itself, that's not a bad thing," Fletter says. "But it's not what I signed on for. When we first hooked up and decided to do Sacre Bleu together, it was with the understanding that the place would be a restaurant until about midnight, and that then the metamorphosis would occur, where the focus would be more on the bar aspect. But the reality is, the place is turning into a nightclub earlier and earlier, and I think that really changes everything. And that's simply not where I want my career to go."
But Payne says Fletter is miscommunicating her intentions. "Sacre Bleu is not turning into a nightclub, per se," she explains. "Our goal is that it will be what it is -- the best restaurant Denver has ever seen. We wanted to do something that was more like New York or San Francisco, a European-style restaurant where you could continue on as a mature, educated adult after you have your meal." Since Payne doesn't think Denver offers much for "mature adults," she hopes Sacre Bleu will fill that niche. "There just aren't that many places where you can hang out for the evening after a meal, and the crowd we're catering to doesn't care for nightclubs, but they still want a livelier place to hang out," she says.
Fletter's vision was to make the place "a Barolo Grill-type atmosphere that, personally, puts me to sleep," Payne adds. "He felt we should stay more conservative, but I think there are a lot of people who don't want to be in that kind of boring scene. That's why Ryan is no longer with us."
Although Fletter has worked for several area restaurants, he does credit Barolo and its owner, Blair Taylor, with helping him hone his people skills and his wine savvy. While Fletter's gone, his wine list remains at Sacre Bleu -- and it's exceptionally well-chosen and well-priced, considering the tony, cash-flush crowd the place attracts. "I felt that with the kind of food we're doing, people would be coming there to eat a serious meal in an atmosphere that makes sense with the caliber of the food," Fletter explains. "They'd be dropping some money on the meal, and I don't think they want to watch bar-hoppers while they're doing it, nor do they want to be blasted out of their seats when the DJ comes on and the place gets rowdy."
I think Fletter's right: The majority of people who appreciate truffles and foie gras and are willing to drop the dough to get nouvelle quality aren't interested in watching the nouveau riche relive '80s excess. Granted, there's some entertainment value there, but it could get old quick. My advice: If you want to eat at Sacre Bleu, do so soon, before talented chef Don Gragg is tempted to move on, too. As for Fletter, he plans to hang out for a time while he considers his options.
This year's Best New Restaurant pick of The Biscuit (719 East 17th Avenue) came as a surprise to many people, including co-owner Sean Kelly. A past winner of the same award for his Aubergine Cafe (225 East 7th Avenue), which took this year's Best Mediterranean Restaurant honors, Kelly says he was "very surprised...and a little nervous" when The Biscuit, his venture with Hillary Gallagher Webster and Luna coffee company owner Chuck Rojo, won top honors. The award usually goes to a fine-dining establishment, but nothing in this past year's upscale upstarts really stood out. Among the more notable debuts: Sacre Bleu, of course, which received awards for Best New Bar and Best Place to Eat Dinner After 10 p.m.; Ambrosia Bistro (5410 East Colfax Avenue), the Best Tuna Melt; Restaurant Rue Cler (5575 East Third Avenue), Best Sides; and The Biscuit's closest competitor, Roy's Cherry Creek (3000 East 1st Avenue), which won Best Seafood Restaurant and Best Kids' Menu. But the first three restaurants, although all worthy additions to Denver's dining scene, didn't strike me as the scene's best newcomer -- and Roy's, while a newcomer to town, is part of a major chain. The point of the Best New Restaurant award is to reward what Denver has done, and it just didn't seem right to give an outsider the honor.
And so when I thought back over the dining experiences that had given me the most pleasure over the past year, The Biscuit kept coming up. No matter that it serves only breakfast and lunch; no matter that the kitchen is a bare-bones affair. The food that comes out of it is fabulous, and there's no other place in town that so captures the sense of this city.
Based on the phone calls I've received, many others agree. "Way to go picking something that isn't overpriced or important," one caller said. "I'm so sick of my boyfriend dragging me to these places where I always have to be 'on.' I hang out at The Biscuit at least once a week now just to recover from those places." Another testified, "It took me a few visits to get it, but now I'm totally hooked. It just has that feel, you know?" The lone naysayer thought the award should have gone to "someone that had more wide-reaching impact."
While it's true that The Biscuit isn't high-profile or high-impact, that's the point: It's low-key and laid-back, comfortable and simple, and many overwrought Denver restaurants could learn from it. "I'm just worried about customers' expectations," Kelly says. "We're getting phone calls from people who want to make reservations or who think we're doing full-scale dining. I think they're starting to get the idea, which is great, because I don't want to change anything."
After Great Northern Tavern (8101 East Belleview Avenue, Greenwood Village) made many changes for the better, it was my clear choice for Best Brewpub (see "Back on Track," Second Helping, July 6). Many Denver diners and drinkers, however, still feel a real allegiance to Wynkoop Brewing Company (1634 18th Street), the readers' pick. "I know it doesn't have the best food, but it was the first," Brad Weibel told my voice mail, and when I called him back, he added, "You can't possibly have any complaints with their beers." While I have to give him that, I do have qualms about the Wynkoop's food, which can be very good -- and very mediocre. Not to mention that the kitchen takes "hearty" to the extreme: the five-cheese fettuccine ($5.95) I had there for a Best of Denver tryout is still sitting at the bottom of my rib cage. My biggest complaint about the menu, though, is that it's always full of stuff you don't really want to eat. Sure, there are some things that sound okay -- the chicken and dumplings, maybe, or the beer-braised pot roast -- but in the summer, it's all so heavy, man.
But I'd stop by for a Railyard Ale any day.
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So would Lew Cady, a fan (and part-time marketing consultant) of the Wynkoop. In this week's Letters section, he points out that a brewpub should make its beer on site. It's a good point, but I think that the Great Northern Tavern, which serves beer made at its sibling brewpub in Keystone, still qualifies. (And for the record, if I had to pick a back-up Best Brewpub, my next choice would be last year's winner, the Walnut Brewery (1123 Walnut Street, Boulder, and 9627 East County Line Road, Englewood).
Heavenly Daze Brewery (208 South Kalamath Street) was another place that served good brews, but its food was mediocre (to put it mildly; for more details, see "Paradise Lost," October 29, 1998). A second outpost of a concept that originated in Steamboat Springs nine years ago, the Denver Daze closed about six months ago -- but as of this week, it's back in that same cavernous space, a former meat-packing facility. Expect live music, the same beers -- and, with any luck, a new menu.
The briefly abandoned Heavenly Daze headquarters had seemed a logical new home for Broadway Brewing (2441 Broadway) when it leaves the going-condo Silver State Laundry Building, but it turns out Broadway found a spot just a block away at 2401 Blake Street, in the old Mile High Brewing Company building. The whole shebang, including both brewing operations and the pub, may move by the end of summer -- "The last date I heard was August 31," says bartender Dana Thornton, "but don't quote me on that unless you say it's unofficial" -- and the owners hope to be open for business a week later. Look for the great Flying Dog brews we've all come to love, as well as a simpler menu, heavy on sandwiches and calzones and minus the pasta. Sadly, the eatery also dropped its fabulous rotisserie chicken about a month ago. "It just wasn't selling anymore," says Thornton. "We were sad, too."