Gretchen Kurtz just reviewed Vesper Lounge, the concept that Bonanno Concepts opened last November, when a space right between the flagship Mizuna and Bones opened up. With the addition of Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria this spring, Bonanno Concepts now has an even ten eateries (with an eleventh coming next spring -- more on that later). For a moment, we had the bright idea of attempting to rank those spots. But then we thought again, and asked chef/entrepreneur Frank Bonanno to share his favorite things about all ten pf concepts. His list, in the order of each restaurant's opening, follows. See also:When Bonanno Concepts took over Lancer Lounge, it created a real tot spot
Mizuna 225 East Seventh Avenue "From the sidewalk outside of Mizuna," Bonanno says, "the bread station is gently illuminated, and as you walk through the doors you're greeted by warm boules of bâtard and Kalamata bread. Zack nursed the starter -- her name is Chelsea -- from the yeasty remains of an enormous Denver apple crop couple years back. We've been baking bread at Mizuna since we opened in 2001, and to me, the bread station is the physical embodiment of a dedication to beautiful food. It starts here, with the bread, which arrives at every table with house-churned, salted butter as warm and generous (corny as it sounds) as the spirit of the cooks who work the line."
Luca d'Italia 711 Grant Street "For my father-in-law's last birthday, I sent him a package with fresh mascarpone, a half a white truffle and all the makings of our signature fussili pasta. Although the signature Wild Mushroom Fussili dish is one of my favorite dishes, period, it's not even close to the best pasta on the Luca menu. Every day Jed rolls fresh ribbons of pappardelle, curls fresh ziti, stuffs agnolotti. Stocks simmer all night for the rich accoutrements that make our pastas, and, yes, definitely the pasta at Luca is my favorite thing there."
Osteria Marco 1453 Larimer Street "I'm proud of how dynamic Osteria Marco is -- that there's a panini station in the middle of the dining room, pizzas in the kitchen, a fresh cheese station at the top of a high stack of stairs. In fact, I'll stop there, at the top of the stairs. At the Osteria (like at Mizuna), you're greeted by food -- burrata, in this case. It's so popular right now, but good dishes surpass popularity and trends. Burrata is one of the few cheeses that should be made fresh and served immediately, the way we do it at the Osteria. Warm, salty -- satisfying. I can't walk by that station without grabbing a fresh piece for myself."
Bones 701 Grant Street "I love how tight the Bones dining room is, and the best seat in the house is at the counter. Tucked at the corner, back to the door, I'll enjoy belly buns a steaming bowl of butter-poached lobster ramen noodles in a rich and a really great culinary show. Johnny, Michael, Chelsea -- a line of professionals. Man, that lobster ramen is insanely good. I'd be bummed if it ever left the menu."
Green Russell 1422 Larimer Street "The whole dynamic of that downstairs space -- walking through a kitchen door and just having a beautiful dark bar cast by lantern light open up and stretch on right underneath the sidewalk of Larimer Square. The bar appeals to me in the same way as the open line at Bones -- but the talent here are mixing drinks, cracking ice. It's probably the only bar I could in all honesty send anyone -- my parents, my co-workers, nieces and nephews only recently of age -- and know everyone will 'fit.'"
Wednesday's Pie 1422 Larimer Street "It's new, but I suspect that the Helliemae's Chili Palmer pecan pie is on its way to becoming a staple."
Lou's Food Bar 1851 West 38th Avenue "French dip. God-damn!"
Russell's Smokehouse 1422 Larimer Street "The brisket goes without saying -- but (my apologies to Lori Midson), I'm going to say it anyway. Moist."
Vesper Lounge 233 East Seventh Avenue "I love the cocktail on tap program at Vesper -- a testament to Hodak's skill and creativity -- but watch out for our signature drink. Wow!"
Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria 8401 Park Meadows Center Drive, Lone Tree "As far as design goes, this may be my favorite space. A really good night: zebras in the bathroom, an enormous Quang Ho mural, bright red chandeliers, pizza being pulled from an iron-and-copper-clad oven of our own design. Enjoying a lobster fra diavola pizza. Drinking a negroni."
And as an added bonus, here's news on a soon-to be favorite:
Salt & Grinder 3609 West 32nd Avenue "Right," says Bonanno, "we haven't opened yet. But there's a two-year prosciutto batch hanging in the Luca meat locker, waiting to address he copa and salami neighbors. I'm thinking with fresh mozzarella -- garnishes to be determines. A crusty loaf of Jeff Cleary's finest."
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