After nearly a year since Mission Yogurt Inc. founder Rod Tafoya, who runs a stable of food concessions at Denver International Airport, purchased the restaurant space that was previously Session Kitchen, Que Bueno Suerte is ready for its public debut on Sunday, December 11. The newest eatery to arrive on Old South Pearl Street will serve a menu that general manager Jennifer Wenstrom describes as "global Latin American."
Behind that menu is a dream team of chefs with a combined resume from some of Denver's top restaurants. Dana Rodriguez, executive chef at Work & Class, has been consulting on the menu and restaurant development. "This is a chef-driven restaurant," Rodriguez explains, pointing out the variety of experience at Mexican, French, Italian and Mediterranean eateries her team has had.
Vicente “Vinny” Sosa is Suerte's executive chef; he's also a Work & Class veteran and worked under chef/restaurateur Jennifer Jasinski for nearly a decade. "I worked at Rioja for eight years, so the dishes here will use a variety of techniques," Sosa notes. "I was also the first butcher at Euclid Hall." Those skills will be put to use with housemade morcilla (blood sausage) and chorizo, among other meaty offerings.
Also in the kitchen is chef Ivan Ceballos, a Brown Palace alum who has extensive training in Italian kitchens, including Sarto's and Grappa in Lakewood, and who worked his way through numerous family-owned restaurants while living in Spain to learn the ins and outs of Spanish cuisine. "This is not a typical Mexican restaurant," Ceballos says.
Que Bueno Suerte opens onto Old South Pearl Street in the former home of Session Kitchen.
Instead, regional Mexican cooking will share space with dishes from other Latin American countries, with European techniques giving added flavors and textures. A traditional Oaxacan mole, for example, will be plated with duck confit because Sosa likes the way the rich, complex sauce works with the crispy skin and tender meat of the duck. And cochinita pibil, a slow-cooked pork dish from Yucatan (Sosa's home state), will be made with pheasant, which he explains is a commonly eaten bird in southern Mexico.
Ceballos grew up in Vera Cruz, on Mexico's east coast, and lived and worked in Baja California on the west coast, so he adds a repertoire of seafood, in both traditional dishes like pescado ala veracruzana as well as more modern interpretations.
While the team doesn't mind using the word "fusion," they all agree that Suerte's theme represents the evolution of modern Mexican cuisine as influenced by chefs who have studied abroad as well as by immigrants to Mexico from other Latin American countries. So while chimichurri may be of Argentinian origin, it feels perfectly at home accompanying a dry-aged steak next to a starter of roasted bone marrow served with housemade tortillas with sweet-hot jam and salsas.
Sosa points out that many trendy cuts — pig ears, trotters, pork belly, to name a few — are a part of everyday cooking in Mexico, and that he hopes to introduce them in a way that's not intimidating to diners. "Now it's time to bring it the right way," he says. "These are things we grew up eating."
Rodriguez adds that bone marrow was a part of her childhood, too, a hidden treasure in pots of caldo de res that you'd be lucky to find if you were early to the table. "This is exactly the place that these two guys can do exactly what they want," she says.
Beyond regional and international styles, the team notes that food memories are most important to building a menu that resonates with diners. And between Rodriguez, Sosa and Ceballos, there are plenty of memories of learning to cook alongside family member in Mexico. "We grew up on a farm, we killed our own chickens," Rodriguez recalls. "When you're born there, you don't need to follow a recipe."
Bolstering the menu will be a spirits, wine and beer program assembled by Wenstrom, whose bar team includes Anthony Giovanni and Vanessa Combs. Tequila and mezcal are important components, but Wenstrom has also brought in a range of wines she selected to pair with each dish from the kitchen. So if you don't want a margarita with your pibil-style pheasant, Wenstrom suggests an Italian sangiovese or super-Tuscan.
Those who set foot in Session Kitchen will recognize touches left over from the impressive decor, including a light fixture above the bar made from vertically suspended fluorescent tubes. But much of the industrial street style of the former occupant has been replaced with bold colors and Mayan touches like back-lit glass panels etched with native-Mexican art and a ziggurat above the kitchen that vaguely resembles a Mesoamerican temple. An upstairs alcove has been converted into additional dining space that can also be used for private events, and a raised bar sports an enormous Aztec calendar on its back wall.
Que Bueno Suerte will be open daily from 4 p.m. for dinner service with happy hour until 6 p.m. Rodriguez says brunch will likely be added in the spring when the street-facing patio can be utilized, and Wenstrom adds that more outdoor seating will also be added to the south side of the building in 2017.
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For more photos, see our complete slideshow of the new Que Bueno Suerte!