"Rocky Mountain Miracle": That's how Steven Shaw (founder of egullet.com, a James Beard Award-winning food writer and one of the most connected food guys I've ever had the pleasure of chatting with) titled his post on egullet discussing his meal at O's Steak and Seafood at the Westin Westminster. He was there the first week of April with a couple of friends to see Ian Kleinman and his crew in action, to taste the molecular gastronomy menu that I've written about many times. Going in, he didn't have the highest expectations — especially after that 45-minute cab ride from downtown. Coming out, he called it a "miracle." Not a "good time," not an "excellent meal," but a motherfucking miracle.
And he's right.
Here's a quick quote from Shaw's egullet piece (I've linked to the entire thing on a Cafe Society blog, where I also link to all my earlier pieces on Kleinman and O's) that even for an effusive, sometimes enraged, often lovestruck and always opinionated dick like me, stands as one of the most amazingly positive pieces of restaurant writing I've read in years. About midway down, Shaw wrote: "I hardly expected Ian Kleinman's molecular tasting menu to be fantastic. I especially didn't expect it to be my best meal of the year so far and one of the handful of most enjoyable dining experiences I've had in the past couple of years. Ian Kleinman has pulled off a Rocky Mountain molecular miracle (maybe they'll quote that in the press kit), combining top-level avant-garde cooking techniques with a relaxed, accessible, and utterly unpretentious sensibility. For anybody looking to cover the top molecular-gastronomy destinations, this is a must add."
And this from a guy who has eaten...well, everywhere. This from a guy who, on the day after he left Denver was touring a farm in Virginia, talking with big-name chefs, spreading the love. Between Shaw and the two people he was sitting with at O's his one table had experienced meals at just about every one of the major molecular restaurants in the country (Alinea and Moto and wd-50 and David Chang's joints in Manhattan and Richard Blaise's restaurants in Atlanta, to name just a handful), and many of them abroad. And he ranked Kleinman's food among the best of 'em. As a matter of fact, he favorably compared one of Kleinman's dishes to something he'd eaten at Ducasse — and for those of you who understand the weight and import of such a comparison, you'll know that I'm not exaggerating too much when I say that for some chefs, thoughts of suicide must necessarily follow. Why? Because that's the peak, baby. That's the apex. Odds are real good that it ain't never gonna get any better than that.
(I talked to Kleinman a couple of days after Shaw posted his egullet piece, and he even mentioned the line. "He compared one of my dishes to Ducasse, man," he said, and I could feel the heat of his smile beaming through my phone, hear the crack in his voice when he said the name. "Ducasse. That's... That's just..." And there simply were no words.)
I caught up with Shaw while he was waiting on a plane at Dulles airport, and we talked for a long time about Kleinman, about the meal at O's, about molecular gastronomy in general. If anything, Shaw was even more magnanimous in his praise when talking one on one, more detailed in his critique, more appreciative of Kleinman's skill, restraint and humor.
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There was a time when Thomas Keller was thought of as a wild-eyed kitchen anarchist and a fool. There was a time when his restaurant, the French Laundry, was on no one's map. The Fat Duck — Heston Blumenthal's restaurant in Bray, Berkshire — was the same way. Ditto El Bulli in Spain. One by one, each of them was discovered by the culinary glitterati, was lauded up one side and down the other as representing the point on which all foodie galaxies now turned and would forever more. All it took was the right person having the right meal at the right time.
Do I think this will happen with Kleinman and O's? Probably not. It kills me to say so, but no matter how good the place is, no matter how brilliant the food, O's is still a Colorado steakhouse operating out of a hotel forty miles to the left of nowhere. I just don't see Mr. and Mrs. International with their un-maxed platinum cards and head-hunting lists of the greatest restaurants in the country rushing off to Westminster.
Still, I know that right now, a couple of serious name chefs are coming here to try Kleinman's grub. I know that a couple of glossy food writers are looking to do the same. So maybe Kleinman really will double down on his miracle and do the impossible twice. Just in case, I told him to keep a close eye on his reservation book over the next few weeks, to keep careful track of any 212 area codes coming up on the reservation phone.
Leftovers: As reported last week on our Cafe Society blog, the Scarafiotti family has finally closed 3 Sons at 2915 West 44th Avenue, in anticipation of reopening in a new space at 14805 West 64th Avenue in Arvada in "late spring." And Primebar has targeted early May for an opening at 1515 Arapahoe Street, with exec chef Max Mackissock (formerly of Vita) wearing the big hat.