Mouthing Off

Best of the West: First the New York Times comes to town and manages to review half a dozen Denver restaurants without ever biting into a buffalo burger or snarfing down salsa. Then the August Travel & Leisure weighs in with its opinion on where to dine in Denver--but author Anya von Bremzen clearly left her map back in Manhattan.

Under the heading "The Lowdown on Lower Downtown," von Bremzen includes three restaurants, only one of which--the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery--is anywhere close to LoDo. For that matter, the ChopHouse is the only one of the trio that seems to be on any sort of solid footing. The Rattlesnake Grill--located miles from LoDo in the Cherry Creek shopping center--is cited for Jimmy Schmidt's butternut squash risotto, but no mention is made of the fact that business is uneven, despite the menu changes implemented by Tim Anderson, the restaurant's second executive chef since it opened. T&L's other alleged LoDo hotspot is Cliff Young's Napa Cafe, which is actually tucked into a storefront several miles away on East Colfax and is currently in a state of flux owing to the departure of chef Tyler Wiard.

The centerpiece of the article is Mel's Bar & Grill, which is righly praised for Mel Master's extensive wine list and "hearty food that glows with the warm accents of Provence." Note: That's Provence, France, not Potomac, Montana. So why does T&L dub Mel's a "Big Sky bistro"?

Meanwhile, Mel and wife Janie have masterminded a third venture (their Starfish is swimming with business in Cherry Creek), this one almost in LoDo, at 15th and Lawrence, in the old home of Mugsy's. Don Yamauchi--voted one of the two most promising young chefs in America in 1993--is coming from Chicago; the place, set to open just after Labor Day, will be called the TopHat Tavern. "Janie and I always loved Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers," says Mel. Otherwise, he promises that in style and atmosphere, the restaurant will be much like Mel's.

Which means the Big Sky's the limit.



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