Mex and Match
arly next year, Lola will leave its current home at 1469 South Pearl Street and move to 1575 Boulder Street in the Highland neighborhood -- but that doesn't mean its name is up for grabs. Still, a Lola European Cafe just opened at 820 15th Street, in the space right under Tarantula Billiards.
"Certainly with us moving, it creates some confusion," says Dave Query, whose Big Red F Restaurant Group includes the original Lola, a coastal Mexican joint helmed by chef/part owner Jamey Fader. But that's all Query's saying right now.
Ron Ven-Ari, a veteran restaurant owner from New York City who opened Lola European Cafe, says he named his new venture after his kid. "Also, Lola is Hebrew for 'him and her,' so it has a sort of double meaning as well," he explains.
Naming your restaurant after your kid -- I'll buy that. When I ask if he knew there was already a restaurant named Lola in town, Ven-Ari says he's heard of it but hasn't been there. "They do Mexican food, I think," he says.
Meanwhile, Ven-Ari's Lola is a European cafe and coffeehouse serving food -- including sandwiches, salads and bagels with lox -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. He doesn't even have locks on his doors, he jokes. But he might want to think about calling a trademark lawyer.
Home fires: He's a chef, a consultant, an occasional DJ -- and as of this past Monday, Sean Yontz can add "owner of a big-ass restaurant" to his curriculum vitae. That's when Yontz's Chama Cocina Mexicana y Tequileria opened for business at 425 South Teller Street, in Lakewood's Belmar development. Everything about this place -- the first restaurant Yontz has opened without any entangling partnerships -- is big. The dining room is big, the patio is big, the fireplace on the patio is big. The menu is made for big appetites, the tequila list (with 200 hundred kinds of cactus juice available at last count) is made for big drinkers. And Chama has already attracted some big-time attention.
From the start, Yontz said that Chama would be different from what people are used to seeing from him -- a restaurant more like P.F. Chang's than Vega (his fine-dining, Nuevo Latino restaurant that once operated at 410 East Seventh Avenue, where Sparrow is now), more homey than hip. The place is open daily, from 10 a.m. until midnight, offering foods that Yontz grew up with and flavors that are in his blood. Huevos, burritos and enchiladas, carne asada and coastal seafoods -- this is what he knows best, the simple dishes and simple pleasures that got away from him earlier in his chef career.
But then, calling Yontz a "chef" is no longer entirely accurate; he's moved beyond his burrito-rolling days into a new role. Yes, he wrote the menu at Chama. He sourced ingredients, chose suppliers, tested recipes and -- as with his gig with Jesse Morreale at both Mezcal and the upcoming wine bar Sketch -- he will be consulting in the kitchen to make sure everything is done to his standards. But actually cooking? Not so much. He's got people who do that for him now -- people he trains, that he knows can do the job -- and that frees him up to do other things like event dinners, catering (he and Chama will provide food service for Belmar events, and he also has a nice side gig working the private-party circuit) and planning the next move in his low-rent/good-eats takeover of the west-side dining scene.
Market watch: Before Thanksgiving, I took a swing by the original Tony's Meats, at 4991 East Dry Creek Road in Centennial, and was reminded all over again why I ought to be out in the streets rioting over the loss of neighborhood butchers and markets. Why? Imagine a small building wherein reside a dozen or more experts on all things culinary -- a one-stop shop for kitchen expertise on topics as varied as butchery, charcuterie, oenophology (I don't even know if that's a word) and cheese; guys who know (and can explain to the layman) the difference between prosciutto di San Danielle, prosciutto di Parma, Serrano and just plain ham.
I went to Tony's wanting nothing more than a half-pound of the good San Danielle and maybe some ham salad (it's fantastic, meaty and mustardy, spiked with just a little pickle brine and not gunked up with bits of celery, like it is everywhere else) but ended up spending more than an hour just wandering in circles through the place. I picked up a few sugar cookies (Tony's does its own baking), a couple of USDA prime sirloins (Tony's does its own hanging, 17-to-28 day extended dry aging and butchering), some Belgian cheese washed in Chimay beer that I've never seen anywhere before, a bag full of beautiful potatoes, and a couple salami sandwiches for the road.
When I finally made it to the deli counter, it took the kid working the slicer a full twenty minutes to cut my half-pound of San Danielle, but that was only because he actually cut it right -- thin enough to see through, thin enough that when I laid a slice across my palm, the heat from my hand was enough to start melting the beautiful veins of white fat -- and wrapped each individual slice in its own piece of plastic. I have never seen such ideal product handled with such overwhelming respect, and yet everywhere I turned, the same reverence was being shown.
While Tony's might not have the massively overwhelming selection of a place like Whole Foods or space for a variety of specialty products like Marczyk's, what it lacks in shelf space it makes up for in forethought. The Rosacci family has been operating their markets since 1978 (starting with this location, which opened in a former 7-Eleven with a single butcher's counter and sawdust floors), and in that time, they've learned that more is not always better. You want tomato paste? Tony's sells Pomi, which is the kind that chefs use in their own kitchens -- so why would you need to stock anything else? You want sandwiches? Soup? A to-go of frozen veal stock or alfredo sauce? Done and done. Tony's will slap the family label on just about anything -- from bagged candy to breakfast burritos -- and sell it to throngs of loyal customers. Better is better, and better is what Tony's has.
Leftovers: Chef Patrick Dupays is changing the hours of his little French bistro, Z Cuisine, again. Soon after my rave review of the place came out ("Z Whiz," November 10), he started rejiggering schedules so that he could deal with the crowds beating down the doors at night. Which means cutting lunch.
"Right now," he explains, "I don't have the time to do the things I love. If I had 36 hours in a day, maybe. But not with only 24. I want to be able to create. Prep work, for me, is like meditation. It's like passion. And now I'm just trying to keep up."
By getting rid of lunch, he figures he'll be able to add dinner on Tuesdays, plus an extra hour of kitchen time all five nights the place is open. "People, they come here for dinner and they have a great time," he says. "They stay long, they eat. And I just want to be there for them, yes? So they are happy."
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