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Ground Zero

Larimer Square is hot -- not just as a fine-dining center, but also as a source of great restaurant gossip. And even in these scorching summer months, when almost everyone in white tries to put their heads down and survive, there's been plenty of action behind the swinging doors.

Take, for example, Bistro Vendome, at 1424 Larimer Street, which used to be Eric Roeder's delightful little French restaurant until it suddenly became Jennifer Jasinski's delightful little French restaurant over the course of a single weekend back in May. Jasinski and her partner, Beth Gruitch, took over the bistro (which is right across the street from their original restaurant, Rioja) and installed chef Shawn Cubberley, who'd worked at Luca d'Italia before joining Rioja as a pastry chef, then Jasinski's sous.

But things didn't work out with Cubberley, and he's been replaced by Matt Anderson, who was working as a private chef when he got the call from Jasinski to come stand post at Vendome. Anderson just started his new gig last week, and as of a few days ago, Cubberley was still wondering whether to resume his old gig at Rioja. Meanwhile, Jasinski -- satisfied now that she's got a good guy at the piano at Vendome -- has also been doing some consulting for Rioja's next-door neighbor, Corridor 44.

Well, not consulting, exactly -- more like helping out. A little. In a totally informal and friendly way. Why? Because she helped pick the guy who's taken over the kitchen there.

A couple of months ago, I had the misfortune of visiting Corridor right after opening chef Eric Laslow had vanished ("Oyster Barred," June 15). The headless kitchen was still trying to cook Laslow's overly adventurous (and poorly tested) menu, and it was readily apparent that a chef was needed -- posthaste.

"I said to myself, 'I gotta find somebody who would really dig this gig,'" recalls Larimer Square's Joe Vostrejs. "Somebody young and hungry."

More to the point, he needed someone who could fit into a position that was essentially a line cook at a bar, and never mind the champagne and chandeliers. At Corridor 44, the booze comes first and the food is mostly a gimmick to keep people from leaving when they grow peckish. But on the plus side, there's no reason not to offer really nice food. After his initial survey of local talent came up wanting, Vostrejs realized he had an excellent resource right next door at 1431 Market Street. "Jen knows everyone," he says of Rioja's founder/owner/chef.

And Carl Klein, the guy Jasinski came up with, was someone that only another chef would have fingered for the position. Why? Because Klein wasn't really on anyone's radar. After a stint at Samplings in Frisco, he became the number-three guy under Matt Selby at Vesta Dipping Grill and had just recently moved into a position at Vesta's new sibling, Steuben's. He was young, untested in an exec's position, an unknown quantity.

But Klein got the gig largely because he was the opposite of Laslow -- a 45-year-old veteran chef with a long background in fine dining -- and because everyone involved in the decision-making process just really liked him. The first thing he did after coming on board at Corridor 44 was rewrite the menu, bouncing ideas off Jasinski, who was more than happy to help. "She's not really consulting," Vostrejs says. "She's more like his big sister."

That new menu debuts this week.

No word yet on where Laslow has landed, but Roeder has a gig lined up a couple of blocks away. Word on the street (and from the produce purveyors working that street) is that a new restaurant is slated to open in the old City Spirit/Bender's Sausage House space at 1448 Blake Street in mid-September. It will be called The Lure, and Roeder -- who says he used to hang out at City Spirit back when he was in high school -- is officially on the books as executive chef. As the Lure, he tells me, it's "definitely going to be upscale food -- 'contemporary American,' for lack of a better word. And it's going to be focusing on organic, heirloom, even biodynamic ingredients."

Hearing that from anyone else, I might get nervous. But coming from Roeder, it sounds intriguing. He's always had a reputation for good sourcing and spending high on product, so I can't wait to see what he does at the Lure. Right now he's promising two menus: a very simple 5/5/3 dinner board (five apps, five entrees, three desserts) and a happy-hour/late-night menu that will be served until one in the morning. What's more, Roeder's old sous from Bistro Vendome, Zach Dickinson, has quit his gig at Restaurant Kevin Taylor to work for Roeder at the new joint. And that's good news, because I recently had a fantastic meal at RKT ("Second Helping," August 3).

Leftovers: Years ago, Eric Roeder displayed his culinary talents at Micole, a space at 1469 South Pearl that later became the original home of Lola (now killing it in its new digs in the old Olinger mortuary building on Boulder Street) and just got its lights back on, this time courtesy of Paul Blakley, owner of BB's Bistro out in Parker.

Originally scheduled for a May opening, Blakley's second effort -- called, appropriately, BB's on Pearl -- was delayed while he tore the place up after getting the keys from the Lola crew (who'd torn the place up after getting the keys from Roeder and his guys) and expanded the space by moving into the previously unused second floor. That's where BB's on Pearl has put a martini bar and piano bar and will offer live music five nights a week. The dining room and kitchen are downstairs, where the menu is (once again) "upscale American," featuring "casual fine dining."

Just down the street, work has finally begun on Sushi Den's long-awaited sibling restaurant in the 1500 block of South Pearl. The new location, which will be called simply The Den, won't open until sometime next year, but considering some of the wait times for a table at Sushi Den, you might want to think about camping out there now.

Chef Chris Cina (ex of Tuscany, the Fourth Story, Beckett's Table and the kitchens of Kevin Taylor, Radek Cerny and Sean Kelly) is the only chef I know of who has his own Citysearch restaurant page (for himself, not for a restaurant where he works). And although he's not the first guy to offer consulting services (Creative Consulting & Co. ) while elsewhere employed, or to have his own website (www.christophercina.com), now he's gone and formed Roundstone Restaurants LLC with partner Kevin Geraghty (founder of Brendan's Pub) before the two of them actually have a restaurant to call their own.

But there is a restaurant on the way: T. Kelly's, an American bistro that's going into 1361 Court Place, the former home of Scorpio's. They signed for the space on August 4 -- just seventeen days after founding their company, and about eighteen days after Cina left Beckett's -- and are currently renovating with plans to open in September. And, oh, yeah, the partners are already looking toward a second restaurant for Cina next year -- something high-end and Cherry Creekish -- to be followed by four to eight more (everything from sports bars to fine dining) in the next five.

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I find it strange that chefs are building their corporate websites (complete with executive summaries) before their first restaurants these days. Even so, I'm looking forward to trying T. Kelly's.

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Related Locations

miles
Bistro Vendôme

1420 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80202

303-825-3232

www.bistrovendome.com

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Larimer Square

1430 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80202

303-534-2367

www.larimersquare.com


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