More Chinese food, more Vietnamese food - all good news
This week's review of Star Kitchen (2917 West Mississippi Avenue) ignores one very important part of the menu: namely, everything that isn't dim sum. But the omission was deliberate because, given the choice between eating dim sum and eating almost anything else in the world, I'm going to go for dim sum every goddamn time. That said, Star Kitchen has an enormous board that goes far beyond the 27 kinds of dumplings, rice porridge and chicken feet on the brunch list. And while the kitchen will gladly make à la carte dim sum dishes any time of the day, the minute the actual carts retire from the floor, Star Kitchen essentially becomes just a very good and very thorough Chinese restaurant, covering more or less the same ground (which would be slightly fancied-up and very traditional Chinese and Chinese-American party food) that Super Star Asian did when chef/owner Jong Ng was still in the kitchen there: French/Chinese beef cubes in sweet black sauce, lots of crab, some whole fish (pulled from the live tanks in the back), shark fin soup and about a million other dishes that run the gamut from simple noodles and hot pots to plates of cold jellyfish salad.
My only challenge in trying all this: getting past the dim sum menu without first filling up on buns, dumplings and sesame balls.
The more things change: Not far from Star Kitchen is the former Ha Noi Pho (1036 South Federal Boulevard), which turned into Can Tho Pho seemingly overnight last month. I finally got the new boss, Robert Vo, on the phone last week, and he had some good news: Ha Noi Pho will live on, at least in spirit.
Rather than changing the name, then dumping the old crew and hiring all new guys to do his kind of food (which happens to be Southern Vietnamese cuisine, as opposed to the typically Northern Vietnamese grub of Ha Noi), Vo decided to keep the galley crew that had done such good work at Ha Noi and bring in a second cook to handle the new dishes he wanted to add. "Nobody in Colorado is doing the South food," he told me — the rice and noodles and lighter, blonder phos of the hot and sticky delta region below Saigon. "So I kept the same cook, hired more people, kept the old people, and now we do both."
Which is awesome, because that means I can still get the jellied blood and weird-ass crab soups and plates full of freaky, leafy oddities that I loved at Ha Noi and also get weird (culinarily speaking) across a whole other region of the country.
Vo also told me that he'd been running Ha Noi for about two months before he got around to changing the name. "Training, you know? All training," he said. Friends with the owners of Ha Noi, he'd essentially taken the restaurant off their hands when they no longer had time for it. "They had a lot of different business," he explained. Vo, though, thinks he can give Can Tho the attention it deserves. He's already redecorated the dining room to make it more welcoming and knocked out that new menu.
"Nothing changed much," he said. Nothing much, except for everything.
You Snooze, you lose: From the shadow of Coors Field, Snooze (2262 Larimer Street) is looking to hit a double. Jon Schlegel, the heart and brains behind this breakfast joint that I've both loved and hated in the past and currently like quite a lot, is on the lookout for space for a second restaurant, a space outside of Snooze's home base downtown.
"I'd say that we're screening a lot of places right now," Schlegel said when I got him on the phone last week, explaining how he went through something like 23 spaces and 17 outside investors before he found the right fit for the original Snooze. He's still careful: Unlike some guys in the business, he's not going to pull the trigger before he finds a combination that he knows will be a winner.
And then there's the fact that money's dried up. "It's funny," he told me. "I feel like I've never been more bankable, but now, all these banks, they're not giving out restaurant loans to anybody." Still, he can afford to be patient. Snooze is doing well, in a neighborhood that's looking better with every passing season.
And when he does find the money and the spot, what will he open? Another breakfast joint. "I'm a breakfast guy, man," he vowed. "A morning guy. I love this concept."
But then, he could love other concepts, too. "How come there's no one doing a real, good Chicago pizza, man?" he asked me. "What's that about?"
Tell me when you know, Jon.
Leftovers: I love Irish bars, but I'm picky. Two months ago, I listed my favorite Irish bars in town, and several readers suggested I get to the Auld Dubliner, at 2796 South Broadway. Unfortunately, I didn't get there fast enough: Owners Philip and Lorri Donaghy closed the pub in January, and also shut down the Squealin' Pig in Cherry Creek.
But they didn't get out of the business altogether. Last week they opened Marmalade Bar & Cafe in the Auld Dubliner space, going from a very Irish-themed bar to a very "European flair" kind of neighborhood three-a-day, with a full bar, plenty of parking, and a family-friendly environment that works better with their lifestyle, now that they have a two-year-old.
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