In the restaurant business, the holiday season goes one of two ways. Either it's all quiet on the Western front, complete with men in the trenches and hastily whispered prayers, or it's a last-minute flurry of chaotic action — an eleventh-hour push to get open, get set, get closed or get moved in advance of the onslaught.
This year it's the latter. We've had chef changes and name changes, openings and sudden closures, panic from some owners hit by the double sledgehammer of a weak fall season compounded by the curse of the Rockies (whose World Series run did great things for places like the Wynkoop Brewing Co. and any bar within stumbling distance of the ballpark, but not much for fine-dining establishments beyond that area) and elation from others because the shopping season is shaping up to be a decent one and all those hungry families have to eat somewhere.
This week, chef Alex Gurevich (the man behind Limón and Cafe Bisque) finally opened his third restaurant, the Arvada Grill, at 5601 Olde Wadsworth Boulevard. After some minor delays over Thanksgiving, Gurevich had test dinners for friends and family last weekend, then opened to the public on Monday — an event that brought in "the mayor and, like, half the city of Arvada," he told me. "Nothing like being in the limelight, right? I just kinda want to hide in the kitchen."
Wynkoop Brewing Co.
Unlike the complicated (and supply-intensive) Novoandino cuisine featured at Limón and the French/Italian/New American modernism at Bisque, the fare at Gurevich's new restaurant is straight-up American: hand-cut steaks, simple fish, rotisserie-chicken pot pies and comfort foods of all description. It's a wide-ranging menu and a deliberate attempt at being all things to all people in a neighborhood short on such endeavors. But while Gurevich is proud of the menu and the kitchen he's set up to produce it, he's equally pleased that the dining room is family-friendly, making the Arvada Grill the perfect place for Mom and Dad to kick back with a glass of wine and salmon steak while junior tears into a hot dog.
But getting to this point wasn't easy. Apparently, Gurevich didn't anticipate the amount of work involved in opening the Arvada Grill. "Once they start scaling up, I don't know," he said, and paused. "I'm amazed at what it takes." He's still training the new crew and overseeing the new menu, but since it's the holiday season, he's also doing private catering at people's houses. And he's visiting his other restaurants at least once a day — tasting and testing, cracking the whip and pitching in wherever necessary. "I'm still pretty intimate with my stock and my everything," he said (and I didn't even make any jokes). "And there's a fine line where you get spread too thin and everything goes in the crapper."
It's that fine line that Gurevich is trying very hard not to cross. Earlier, he'd told me that he wanted to open a fourth restaurant, a raw-foods joint that he'll call Naked. But for now, he said, those plans are on hold, because "it feels like I'm getting an ulcer or something."
Doom with a view: No big surprise that Euro (231 Milwaukee Street) has finally bit the dust. It's been a long time coming, and I don't think anyone really thought that this incarnation — the space once held the Bay Wolf, then Manhattan Grill, then Steak Au Poivre, then a singular entity called Euro, then a split affair with Euro, the restaurant, on one side and Bar Luxe, a lounge, on the other — would make it.
The kitchen at Euro was once commanded by chef Olav Peterson (ex of 1515), who then turned it over to his sous, Marc Carmean. I figured the end was near when I reported a couple of weeks back that Carmean was going to work for Eric Laslow at the new Iron Mountain Winery at 235 Fillmore Street (formerly Mel's and just a hop, skip and a jump from Euro). And now it's a done deal: Euro est morte. According to the message on its answering machine, the restaurant space is currently being used for private holiday parties, and the Bar Luxe side is still up and running.
Meanwhile, over at 1515 (1515 Market Street), owner Gene Tang has a new chef: Chris Long (ex of Charlie Trotter's in Chicago) has replaced Ulises Salas (who moved on to a post at the Broadmoor) and already revamped the menu for the second-floor space that's now known as Upstairs at 1515 to differentiate it from the bar and lounge on the first floor. "It's the same place, but we have improved the upstairs quite a bit," Tang explains. "Some people walk in here and see the downstairs; they think it's just a bar. So I call it Upstairs to let them know that they can go upstairs for a more fine-dining meal."
That's where Long is serving "contemporary American cuisine with a bit of a Southern accent," Tang says. Which translates to shrimp and grits, slow-cooked pork belly and sweet-potato gnocchi to go along with 1515's $65 five-course tasting menu and more standard board of chicken, fish and steaks.
Leftovers: Back in May, I talked with Eldon Larson about the wine-shop-slash-restaurant he and his partner had planned for a space at 5240 South Main Street in Aurora's Southlands development, with a targeted late-summer opening. Well, Wine Experience Cafe & World Restaurant finally rolled out the carpet late in November. The menu — overseen by chef Matt Franklin, most recently of Lakewood's 240 Union — is a combination small plates/large plates affair, international in influence and made for wine pairing. We're talking Maytag blue-cheese soufflés with apricot gastrique, lobster corn fritters, fresh figs with peppered honey, hoisin duck breast with candied kumquats (when's the last time you saw kumquats on a menu?) and plain ol' spaghetti — and, of course, the restaurant has just the vintage to go with each dish, since the wine store stocks hundreds of bottles from around the globe.
Meanwhile, a new wine shop in Lakewood's Belmar development, Mile High Wine & Spirits (435 South Vance Street), opened by longtime wine-industry veteran Keith Miller and partner Chris Giellis, just passed the three-month mark. "Belmar is one of those communities that's still building," Miller says, and while he and Giellis didn't want to move in too soon, neither did they want to wait too long. Why? Because right now, they have a clause in their lease that guarantees they'll be the only wine shop in Belmar — which is a nice position to be in.
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Though I'm not overly in love with any of the Thai Basil locations, I am a fan of their newest promotion: Happy Night. Until December 30, every Thai Basil is offering 25-cent domestic beers and 50-cent imports from 5 to 10 p.m. with the purchase of a dinner. Sound too good to be true? Well, sorta: The limit is two beers per customer.
Speaking of places I'm not in love with, this past week also saw the opening of Grand Lux Cafe at Park Meadows, brought to you by the people (namely David Overton) behind the Cheesecake Factory chain. In last week's column, I shared my shock that the Capital Grille steakhouse chain is operated by the same company (Darden Restaurants) that owns such exceptional culinary brands as the Olive Garden and Red Lobster. In a sane and ordered universe, this should automatically mean that the Capital Grille, too, sucks balls — but in fact, the Capital Grille is a benchmark of steakhouse excellence, just as Olive Garden is a benchmark of trash. And so I'm stopping myself from making vicious fun of Grand Lux just because it happens to have been invented by the guy who loosed the horror of the Cheesecake Factory onto the world. Who knows? Maybe the place will kick ass. Maybe this restaurant, born in 1999 as a 24-hour, upscale-casual concept in the Venetian Resort in Vegas and now boasting eleven locations stretching from Los Angeles to Paramus, New Jersey, will be another Capital Grille, another winner come from losers. But then again, some people really do seem to like the Cheesecake Factory...
And speaking of restaurant groups (good ones this time), I talked again with Peter Karpinski of Sage Hospitality Group, which is close to signing a deal to take over the Westin Westminster, where chef Ian Kleinman is working his magic at O's Steak and Seafood. But once that deal goes through, it's unlikely that much will change at O's. Most important, Kleinman should be able to keep his molecular gastronomy menus ("Mr. Wizard," October 25).
Karpinski also told me where Sage Restaurant Group, which brought us the very hot Corner Office ("Dirty Sexy Money," November 22), will be opening Second Home Kitchen and Bar come March: in the space vacated by Mirepoix at the JW Marriott, which Sage now owns. And until Second Home opens, guess what restaurant will keep providing breakfasts for all those hungry travelers? Prime 121, right across the street at 121 Clayton Lane (reviewed last week in "Cowed.") Every morning, Prime has been firing up the burners and feeding guests of the Marriott put out by the fact that the hotel is currently operating without a restaurant of its own.