Michael Long had news, but he wasn't going to share it with me over the phone. "Let's meet for lunch," he insisted, "and I'll tell you all about it."
Over xiao long bao, seaweed salad and beef noodle soup at Lao Wang Noodle House, Long detailed the plans for a new restaurant that he'll soon open at 250 Josephine Street, a familiar Cherry Creek address that's been home to the Creekside Grill, Papillion Cafe, Indigo, Go Fish Grill, Tula Latin Bistro and, most recently, Jucy Lucy's Steakhouse.
By early September, it'll be Aria, a "creative French, Italian, Spanish and Mediterranean restaurant," says Long that will be similar to Opus, his Littleton restaurant at 2575 Main Street, but less expensive and more casual. "We're going to follow the blueprint of success that we've had at Opus -- great service, a superior wine program and creative food -- but Aria is going to be a place for every day dining, not just fine dining, which is what Opus is."
And Opus will no longer have Long in the kitchen. Sean McGaughey, Long's sous chef, will take on the executive chef roll, while Long will stay on as a managing partner and oversee menu creation. "My role there is still being defined," admits Long, who bought Opus in 2005, "but suffice it to say I felt like I was pulling a team of oxen while walking on eggshells, so I'm taking a step back from Opus to concentrate on what I love best, which is cooking."
Long, who sold the majority of his ownership in Opus to silent partners, says that they'll oversee the administrative responsibilities, giving him the freedom to step back into the kitchen full-time. "I was doing a ton of admin stuff, and ended up moving away from food and cooking -- my passions -- so we've worked it out so that I'll return to the kitchen, while my partners will handle the day-to-day things, both at Opus and Aria."
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As for taking over a space that some contend is "jinxed," considering all the restaurants that have arrived and exited, some more rapidly than others, Long dismisses the notion. "I don't believe in cursed spaces -- just cursed operators," he says. "I feel good in this space, it's in great shape, especially the kitchen equipment and the landlord is extremely reasonable and fair, which makes things a lot easier to accomplish."
Long likes the neighborhood, too. "I want to be where the action is, and where people really love good food, and Cherry Creek and the neighborhoods that surround it are full of people that really appreciate great food. I like that."
The menu at Aria (the name is an operatic term for an extended voice solo), will be innovative, says Long, comprised of dishes that range from crab gazpacho with tomato paprika sorbet and grilled paillard of veal with parsley salad, confit tomatoes and shaved Locatelli Romano cheese to shitake mushroom and escargot melts and carpaccio of Colorado Heirloom tomatoes with hot mozzarella croutons. "The kitchen has an ice cream maker, a slow cooker and a freaking band saw. Do you have any idea how much fun I'm going to have?" It's not so much a question, as a declaration. "Walking into that kitchen and seeing all the cool equipment was like Christmas morning," Long tells me.
Next on his list? A cotton candy machine. "It's time to have some fun and do some new and exciting things," says Long.