We're midway through Denver Restaurant Week, and reports are coming in. Restaurant Kevin Taylor? Full to capacity. Barolo Grill? Booked solid. Luca d'Italia? Ditto. Owner Frank Bonanno (above) has said that he couldn't find a table for even his mother if she were to wander into Mizuna one night this week, hungry and looking for a break.
When DRW began, I was eating around the outside of the bona fide phenomenon that this annual event has become, visiting several restaurants that, for their own reasons, have chosen not to participate.
Pizza at the D Note in Arvada, sandwiches from Pat's #1, shrimp two ways and sweet-and-sour chicken from East China, a little barbecue, some corned beef hash and eggs, bagels from the Bagel Store -- all places where $52.80 could easily feed ten big hungry boys and where I (as just one big hungry boy) spent considerably less.
I wound up on Sixth Avenue at Montecito, the new California experiment from Mel, Janie and Charlie Master that's also not participating in DRW, and found Cory Treadway, Tyler Wiard's sous chef at Elway's, slouching goggle-eyed by the front door, smoking cigarettes and reliving the night's slaughter. Turns out that Tyler, Cory and their crew had done 404 covers that night. Which I thought was just stunning until I later called up Elway's and learned that on Saturday night, the house had done just a couple of tables shy of five hundred.
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In retrospect, I should've bought Cory a drink. Or seven.
While hanging around the door smoking cigarettes, I ended up chatting with a small group that had just rolled in from their Restaurant Week dinner at Aqua. They described an absolute nightmare of understaffing, terrible service and nightmarish conditions. The place was getting crushed, they said. It was steamy, humid and smelled like fish. There weren't any servers on the floor. People were walking out. The manager was being forced to comp checks left and right. And they, personally, had waited two hours just to get their first course. After that, they'd come to Montecito for drinks and snacks and were having a great time, telling their horror stories to anyone who'd listen.
Including me. There's a lesson here: When you piss off a customer -- especially during an event as high-profile as Restaurant Week -- that customer is going to talk. To everyone. I now know where the girl who made the Aqua reservation is going to be eating tonight, tomorrow night, the night after that. I know where all her reservations are. I know what restaurants she likes and all the ones she doesn't. And she knows how to get a hold of me the next time something goes bad wrong.
Just something to think about, folks. Let's be careful out there. -- Jason Sheehan