Brian Sifferman has had a rough couple of years. Brought in for the opening of Corridor 44 (see review), he's the last member of the original team left, the one who's survived every cull, every shift in direction, every bad night, week and month. Now he's not only the manager, but also a part owner (he took on ex-chef Eric Laslow's share — that portion of the operation not already controlled by the Larimer Square partners), and to hear him tell it, he does a little bit of everything else, too.
"Let's put it this way," Sifferman began when I got him on the phone last week, then proceeded to list just about every restaurant duty outside of the kitchen: tending bar, ordering supplies, stocking the coolers, watching the door, waiting tables, bouncing drunks, changing lightbulbs, balancing the books.
But there are some guys who've been at this address even longer than Sifferman: the cooks working down in the basement kitchen, the guys who came aboard years ago — some sixteen or seventeen years ago — to cook at Josephina's when it occupied the space that's now home to Corridor 44 and Rioja next door, and hung on through all the troubles. "They've done it all," Sifferman said. "They execute anything we ask them to do."
And those guys have been asked to do some pretty terrible things. The food at Josephina's, for starters. They were the ones who had to work off Laslow's first menu, and then the second, awful menu that followed — and who had to keep cooking it even after Laslow was shown the door (losing not only his post and ownership stake at Corridor 44, but a promised deal with the Larimer Group on West 32nd Avenue as well). They had to adapt yet again when chef Carl Klein (late of Steuben's and Vesta Dipping Grill) was hired to turn Corridor 44 around. Klein wrote the menu I ate off for my current review — the cured-meat plate, the duck confit, the roasted mushrooms and that miso couscous were all his creations. But they were all made by the veterans in the basement, because Klein, too, has now left Corridor 44.
"Carl has been gone for about a month," Sifferman told me. "With the amount of volume we were doing, it was a management decision in the kitchen."
Which, of course, is a polite way for Sifferman to say that, among other things, he just couldn't afford Klein anymore.
Klein had put in just over a year at Corridor 44; had taken the kitchen from bad (very bad) to champagne idyll. But while Sifferman had nothing but good things to say about Klein, the most important thing he said was that Klein was no longer there. "We both worked really hard," Sifferman explained. "It's been a turbulent two years. You can understand my frustration with chefs."
That frustration is what led to Sifferman's most recent decision that, from here on out, Corridor 44 will have no executive chef at all. Instead, he'll stick with the guys in the basement, the serious veteran mole-people who'll cook whatever they're told, whenever they're told. And while that will be Klein's menu for now, while we were talking, Sifferman also let it slip that he's going to be working with a consultant on the next menu change, a little fella by the name of Troy Guard who'll help beef up the dessert offerings, do some champagne pairings, try to find some way to set the place apart from all the other operations on the block.
"It's hard," Sifferman said, "because you kind of get lost among the Riojas and Capital Grilles. But we want to bring it up a notch. We have our niche, the champagne-bar thing. Now we just want things to get better."
As for Klein, last Sifferman heard he was still on the prowl and maybe even considering a return to his former career as a professional snowboarder. And Laslow didn't just leave Larimer Square, but Denver, too. He bounced around Evergreen for a while, then landed in Boulder as the new chef at Restaurant 4580, taking the place of opening chef Kelly Kingsford.
And the hits just keep on coming: With the recent closings of Chama, Chi Bistro and Stapleton's Coral Room, this fall is looking like a rather brutal season for Denver's restaurateurs — a pre-holiday market correction that's leaving the field littered with empty addresses and out-of-work white-jackets. And the bleeding hasn't stopped, because the complex at 17th and Vine that had already lost Harry's Bar has now lost the Back Room and Milagro Taco Bar as well.
It's not surprising, really. I wasn't crazy about Milagro even when chef Frank Bonanno was a partner in the project with Mark Haber. And after Bonanno got out last year (he'll be opening Osteria Marco any day now in the 1453 Larimer space formerly occupied by Del Mar Crab House, just a few stumbling steps from Corridor 44), the place went completely off my radar, becoming just another joint serving overpriced tacos and super-call margs to crowds who didn't appear to know any better.
And now the entire place is dark, with a big "For Sale" sign on the front door.
A piece of cake: These days, a restaurant making it to its fifth birthday is something to celebrate. Mel's was all but venerable when it abandoned its Cherry Creek location after twelve years. So it's a big deal when two places hit their twenty-year anniversaries.
McCormick's Fish House & Bar, in the Oxford Hotel at the corner of 17th and Wazee, is partying from October 21 through October 25, rolling back the clock to its 1987 opening with a week's worth of food and booze specials. Twenty years ago, few people in town would have claimed that Denver had good seafood — other than maybe some trout and those tricky Rocky Mountain oysters — and even fewer would have ventured into this part of downtown, which had yet to become the official LoDo district, to try a seafood restaurant. But McCormick's was soon changing minds and driving habits. My favorite anniversary promotion is the '80s night in the Cruise Room on October 21, with '80s music on the turntable and '80s prices on cocktails and apps. For details, call McCormick's at 303-825-1107.
Back when the West End Tavern opened in 1987 in Boulder, it was just another neighborhood bourbon-and-beer joint that catered mostly to locals trying to stay off the mall. Today it's much, much more, and firmly under the control of Dave Query (the Rommel of Pearl Street). Although Query hasn't owned the West End from the start, he and his staff are celebrating its twentieth anyway — first with a $65 prix fixe dinner (including beer and bourbon pairings) on October 23, followed by such frivolity as a slider-eating contest on October 25 and a "1987 Halloween party" on October 31. For more details, call 303-444-3535.
Leftovers: Last week, Bill Ward finally got his "late-night club and pizza lounge" up and running in Larimer Square. Actually, down and running: It's in a below-ground space, with the entrance off the alley between Larimer and Lawrence streets. Now there's just one problem: He needs a name for the joint, which he'd planned to name Pi — until a new pizza joint in the new downtown Hilton beat him to the punch and he decided a legal battle wasn't worth it. "We can't be the no-name pizza joint off the alley," he says. "We're not going to be able to use Pi or the pi symbol, but we'll play off it." And he's looking for suggestions. So if you want a slice of this pie, send your ideas my way.
Down — but not entirely out — is Chutney's (880 West Happy Canyon Road, Castle Rock), the Indian restaurant opened last year by Kannan Alagappan (who once owned Aurora's Denver Woodlands, which I loved). On October 1, he closed the place unexpectedly, but according to Alagappan's answering machine, the place went dark in order to make "some changes to our cuisine." That message also promised a reopening date of October 16.
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But the message doesn't hint at how big those cuisine changes will be. Alagappan and his crew did some of the best traditional Indian food in the area — even after they moved way out of the area, into the far suburbs – but now I hear they may be turning the restaurant into an upscale steakhouse and Indian restaurant in order to cater to those Castle Rockers who love the creamed spinach that comes alongside a fine steak but are scared to death of ordering saag paneer. I'll be curious to see how this combination works — both culturally and culinarily.
Finally, two quick reminders. Sign up for our new, weekly Cafe Bites e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don't forget Westword's Menu Affair tonight, October 18, at the Fillmore Auditorium. If you haven't already gotten tickets, they're thirty bucks in advance (at www.westword.com) and forty at the door (with all proceeds going to Food Bank of the Rockies, so pony up).
I'll be easy to spot, since I'll be the only guy in a Mexican wrestler's mask and a tuxedo. Or at least I hope I will be...