Aspen real estate may be even pricier than Denver's. So when the building that houses Zocalito Bistro was scheduled to be demolished in the mountain town, chef/owner Michael Beary didn't waste much time looking for a new Aspen spot. Instead, he looked to Denver and found the perfect spot. He'll bring Zocalito, which specializes in cooking with rare chiles and other ingredients from Oaxaca, to 998 18th Street in the Denver Place downtown.
Beary has traveled extensively in southern Mexico and Central America and started his own spice company to help revive some nearly extinct chile varietals. "I import some of the rarest chiles in the world," the chef explains. "That's what our menu is based on."
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Those chiles include red, yellow and black versions of chilhuacle and chilcostle peppers, as well as pasilla de Oaxaca. Beary also imports corn from Oaxaca for use in tamales and other masa-based dishes. "I have direct relationships with farms, and I try to buy up everything they grow," he adds. He also maintains a commercial dehydrator in Oaxaca so he can control the drying process once the chiles leave the farms where they're grown.
Beary's culinary background is rooted in French tradition; he worked at respected French eatery Cache Cache for years before opening Zocalito fourteen years ago. His cooking style honors Mexican traditions while incorporating French technique, so you might find mussels in a sauce stained yellow with achiote instead of saffron, or trout dressed in chilhuacle vinaigrette, but you'll also find Mexican moles, a straight-up pork pozole, and tamales wrapped in hoja santa, an aromatic leaf grown throughout Latin America.
Zocalito will take over a vacant space in the same building where Kevin Taylor just announced he'll be opening Mila in 2018. Beary says he'll be on the opposite side of the block, where a southern exposure will allow him to build a sunny patio with folding glass doors that will open into the dining room. He's hired KD Fikso, the same designer who created the interior design at Coperta and Beast + Bottle, to bring a bright, modern touch that will differ somewhat from Zocalito's Aspen location.
Beary hopes to have the new restaurant open by late spring or early summer, and will close his Aspen restaurant once he knows when demolition is scheduled to begin.