I recently spent an afternoon at the University of Colorado at Boulder, boring the pants off an entire classroom of aspiring food writers with tales of my misfit adventures. But when their questions inevitably turned to how best to get into the food-writing racket — and whether this must necessarily involve a move to New York, Los Angeles, Paris or Spain, I told them they could safely stay right where they are. They didn't believe me, of course, but that's beside the point, because the fact is, Boulder is suddenly booming with great new restaurants — among them Centro, which I raved about ("Real Genius," August 9) — and great, not-so-new restaurants like Frasca (consistently voted one of the best restaurants in the universe by anyone whose opinions matter a damn), L'Atelier (where chef Radek Cerny out-innovates most chefs half his age) and Asian Deli (a restaurant I'd like to pack up in my suitcase and take with me if I'm ever forced to flee these Mile High latitudes).
Right now I'd put Boulder in the top tier of the country's edgy and interesting food cities — behind Denver, of course — with more excellent big-time restaurants than I can count on one hand and more excellent small-time restaurants than I can count on both hands and both feet.
And soon there could be another to add to the list: Bimbamboo, a fast-casual Asian concept being brought to town by veteran "entertainment guy" (regional aquariums, East Coast entertainment venues and restaurant chain operations) David Wechsler, which is scheduled to open December 20 at 1710 Pearl Street.
By his own admission, Wechsler is not a chef. Front of the house, architecture, service and design are his specialties. So he brought in Ed Schmidt from the Range in Aspen as his exec, and together they've put together a menu "focused on simple food with complex flavors," Wechsler says. This culinary bon mot translates to what is essentially a Southeast Asian soup, salad and sandwich menu — a combination of Vietnamese banh mi and pho, Indonesian roti, Thai salads and noodles, East Indian spices and Japanese sake.
Yes, Wechsler acknowledges, there are other Asian fast-casual concepts already out there, but they're "becoming rather homogenized," he says. "I wanted to bring some fun and raise the bar on the level of cuisine." Which means fresh herbs, all-natural meats, homemade ginger ale and Vietnamese basil lemonade rather than fountain drinks, and a fancy chef like Eric Skokan (from Boulder's Black Cat Bistro, another in the list of restaurants I wanted to mention to those would-be food writers), brought on board just to make ice cream.
Of course, Wechsler isn't looking at Bimbamboo as an end, but just a beginning. "I couldn't have afforded to do all this, bring these kinds of guys on board, if I was just looking at one restaurant," he explains. "We're gonna build."
Leftovers: There's action down south, too. The Falcon (as in Millennium) is now open at 3295 South Broadway in Englewood, and has got to be the coolest (read: only) restaurant-slash-bowling-alley-cum-pinball-parlor-and-live-music-venue started by a Star Wars geek so seriously into his geekery that he named his joint after the fastest Corellian YT-1300 light freighter in the galaxy. And in Greenwood Village, Mel "Presto-Change-o" Master has renamed yet another joint. Last month, he turned his two Montecito restaurants into reincarnations of Mel's, the Cherry Creek mainstay that closed in April. And after just a handful of months as Annabel's, that former steakhouse is now Mel's Agave Grill — a high-tone Southwestern joint re-concepted to play to the strengths of returning executive chef Chad Clevenger (ex of the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe).
The original home of Mel's, at 235 Fillmore Street, is now Iron Mountain Winery. But that transition hasn't been smooth, either. Chef Eric Laslow (ex of both Corridor 44 and Restaurant 4580 in Boulder) had talked the owners into making Iron Mountain not just a wine shop, but a proper fine-dining restaurant with a "fresh and light" American/Mediterranean/Spanish menu. A couple of weeks ago, he told me that the new gig would allow him "to get back in the kitchen, which is what I really want to do."
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But that didn't last long, because I got word late last week that Laslow is no longer at the just-opened Iron Mountain. Marcus Carmean, whom Laslow had originally brought on as his sous, has now stepped into the exec chef's position. This is the second time this year that Carmean has received such a battlefield brevet: His first exec's gig was at the doomed Euro, where he took over after the departure of chef Olav Peterson.
When I got Carmean on the phone last Thursday night just ahead of service, he told me that Laslow had been let go over "a difference of opinion in management," which is polite code for anything from showing up drunk to stealing the silverware — but never code for anything good. At the time that Carmean and I spoke, Iron Mountain had been open for just two weeks and three days. And the folks behind Iron Mountain had already closed their FlatIron Crossing store (where the building, like so many others there, was apparently sinking into the earth), so they were really depending on the Cherry Creek opening going well.
Frying pan? Fire? It's all the same to a good chef, and Carmean is already stepping up. He told me that he was already standing the exec's post (having gotten his official promotion late last week), was rallying the crew and would have his own menu ready and in place by this week.
And then, of course, he had to hang up. It was getting dangerously close to dinner hour, and the man had a kitchen to run.