Last week, Alex Gurevich called to let me know that Limón, his killer Novoandino/Peruvian restaurant at 1618 East 17th Avenue ("Small Miracles," February 8), is turning one on July 12. He and his guys are throwing a party — live music, drink specials all night, complimentary frittatas, that kind of thing — "just to give something back to the people who supported us," he said.
While I had Gurevich on the horn, I asked how things have been going since he recently expanded Limón. "It's been...steady," he said, using the word "steady" the way you tell your buddy that the girl you're fixing him up with has "a nice personality."
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"It hasn't been nuts like we expected," he replied. Which wasn't necessarily a bad thing, just different. Over the months, they'd become accustomed to the crush, Gurevich explained, to the buzz of a hot restaurant operating far beyond its tolerances and right on the threshold of collapse. The expansion into the space next door and the addition of a patio more than doubled Limón's seating, and he and his crew had been amped up for a crowd — for the possibility of seating ten tables at a time, having to coordinate fire orders on dozens of tickets coming at once. But the crushing crowds never arrived. Instead, Limón simply grew into its new digs and found its own pace.
"It's weird," Gurevich said. "In the dining room, you walk around and it feels well-paced, casual. There's no long waits — with the patio and the space, we can just get people in and get them seated. It's just not what we expected." The restaurant is still turning tables, still bringing in the numbers, still doing good business; it just doesn't feel like a wall-to-wall slam every night, with Gurevich and his guys dans le merde from open 'til well after close.
It's funny how calm and quiet can feel like desolation when you're not expecting it, when you're anticipating exactly the opposite.
"Getting deep into that third turn..." Gurevich recalled, chuckling at the memory of some nights last summer, when the pressure was on and felt like it would never be off. "Now we're just not getting there."
But they're doing well enough that Gurevich has taken on a new venture: the Arvada Grill, at 5601 Wadsworth Boulevard in Olde Town Arvada, which should open this fall. "It's going to be modern, casual American," he said. "Not like a diner, but definitely not upscale, either."
The menu, which is still in the planning stages, is going to be eclectic, to say the least. Duck burgers, pastas, hand-carved steaks and "some Kobe," Gurevich said. "American Kobe." There will also be buffalo meatloaf, Southern-fried chicken with biscuits and gravy, ahi tuna carpaccio with soy-ginger glaze — you know, all the good, down-home eats like Mama used to make. "I think there's really a demand for independents in the area," he explained, citing the encroachment of all the chain restaurants, the fast-food franchises. "And obviously, I want to be able to do something for families, for kids, so there'll be a kids' menu."
Gurevich still has Cafe Bisque — his original restaurant — out at 226 Union Boulevard in Lakewood, now Limón, and soon the Arvada Grill. Is that enough?
"Well, actually..." he said.
Actually, Gurevich has yet another joint in the works, this one a true departure from anything he's done before. He's planning on putting Naked, a raw-foods restaurant, right in the middle of Cherry Creek North (though he wouldn't give me an address). The deal was another offer he couldn't refuse, from a guy who said he'd sign the checks, collect his percentage and let Gurevich do his own thing. "You kinda get a little exposure, and all of a sudden some people come in and say, 'Hey, man, I wanna do a restaurant,'" he recounted. "They're so much fun to open, new restaurants. Then it's just the problem of trying to find someone to run them."
At least Gurevich won't have the problem of outfitting a complete kitchen for Naked. Since it will be devoted to raw foods — which require nothing more than a dehydrator, maybe some sous-vide equipment and lots of hippies and macrobiotics freaks to run them — he won't need to put in a hood, a ventilation system or a grease trap. That means he should be able to open the place fast and cheap — by November, if everything works out right. Or, you know, he could just start selling whole heads of cabbage and bean sprouts out of the trunk of his car tomorrow — which is about what I think of when anyone starts talking to me about the raw-food movement.
But Gurevich has surprised me before. He's managed to pull off the impossible (or at least the highly improbable) at least twice with the resurrection of Cafe Bisque and the popularizing of a cuisine (Novoandino) that almost no one in Denver had heard of before he started whipping out the cancha chulpe and cold potato cakes at Limón. So maybe he's got a third miracle still in him.
Blue Moon: The former owner/operators of Osaka Sushi (see review, page 56) know all about growing pains. On June 1, Jessie Son and Young Joe Kwon celebrated the grand opening of Sushi Moon (6585 Greenwood Plaza Boulevard in Greenwood Village), and the place has yet to settle into a routine.
For starters, they've already burned through one chef, who left behind an ostensibly Asian board that's interesting mostly for its eclectic pairings — lamb chops and mango chutney, a turkey wrap with brie — offered alongside chicken katsu, shumai, gyoza and sea bass udon. Although the sushi bar remains well-manned, Son and Kwon had hoped to branch out with Moon, providing a comprehensive fusion menu in a space meant for more upscale dining. So now they're in the market for a new chef, and talking with other cooks about writing menus for them.
Still, the restaurant is young, and Son and Kwon are veteran operators. I'll be watching to see how they pull it together.
Leftovers: More new restaurants are heading our way. First there's the Abbey Restaurant and Lounge, going into the first floor of the infamous Real World: Denver house at 1920 Market Street. The father-and-son development team of Shane and Steve Alexander bought the property last December (for just south of three million), and since then have been wooing potential tenants with the cachet of running their business out of the Real World house. "Cachet" in this case apparently not meaning "smell" — of spilled microbrews, desperation, homosexual tension, world-beating freakouts and a fine frosting of smeared genetic material.
But the main floor was reserved for the Alexanders' nightclub and restaurant (Shane has some experience in the business). And the Abbey is now hiring, advertising and looking at an opening in late July or early August.
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That's about the time that French 250 hopes to open its doors in the former El Toro Palomo space at 250 Steele Street, just to the right of Sketch. French food in a basement? After seeing how well Mexican food did in that same spot, I can't wait to see how this goes. Particularly since the San Francisco-based Extreme Pizza franchise — which was operating on Sketch's left flank in the same 250 Steele address — has already closed. Peeking through the windows last week, I could see supplies laid out on the counters, tables set for service — all the trappings of a fast bug-out by the staff. And the lawsuit filed against the operators was actually taped to the front door, just above the dings and scratches where it looked as though someone had gone after the lock with a crowbar. According to the paperwork, the owners and guarantors owed about five large in back rent and fees when things went south. Hardly a crushing number, but apparently enough to thin the herd of fancy-pants pizzerias in this town by one.
The name was fancy, but the food was anything but at the Theatre Cafe (1335 Curtis Street), which has also closed its doors. Whoever answered the phone there on Monday wouldn't tell me anything other than that the place had shut down for "renovations," and anything else I wanted to know was "none of my business."
Which probably means that having an actual restaurant just a few feet away really killed the Theatre Cafe's business. The Corner Office opened on June 8 in the corner of the Curtis Hotel, at 14th and Curtis streets, and is already attracting the same kind of slick, retro-hipster comfort crowds that Steuben's drew to 17th Avenue last year. It's serving a board of steaks and small plates, martinis and empanadas, chicken and waffles, hip cocktails and late-night deals that mean you can dine in style before or after the theater.
This is the first big restaurant venture from the Sage Restaurant Group, started in 2005 by Sage Hospitality, which owns the Curtis as well as other hotels. Sage's next big project in town? Redeveloping the soon-to-be former Mirepoix in the JW Marriott in Cherry Creek. The onetime Bryan Moscatello-run restaurant never managed to find traction, and sometime next year it will be replaced by Second Home. Not a moment too soon, either.