Mouthing Off

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Some restaurant maneuvers are executed so quietly you hardly know they happened, like last year's "business divorce" of longtime partners Noel Cunningham and Pasquale Minicuci that resulted in Cunningham's getting custody of Strings, at 1700 Humboldt Street, and Minicuci retaining Ciao! Baby, at 7400 East Hampden Avenue. Minicuci hired Suzi Brooks, who'd worked as a waitress at Ciao! Baby for five years, to run his baby; she's updated the wine list and brought back former Strings chef Manuel Maldonado. Now Ciao! Baby's menu is chock-full of Maldonado's sprightly Italian offerings, such as quail with portobellos and chargrilled tuna with Italian sausage and spicy horseradish cream. Nothing much has changed at Strings, although it has a new, Mondrian-patterned menu to match its brightened decor.

The much-rumored maneuvers at Top Hat Tavern are finally complete. After several deals reportedly fell through, Janie and Mel Master have removed themselves from the restaurant at 1512 Larimer (that's the address for Writer Square; Top Hat's entrance is actually on Lawrence). Former partner Gary Silvestri brought in Joe Falcone, and the two owners decided to keep the great piano bar and the same food lineup.

Cross off one rumor about Cafe Communique's fate. Printed reports that Bluebird Theater owners Evan Dechtman and Chris Swank had bought the space at Ninth Avenue and Acoma were wrong. "We were going to do something there," says Dechtman, "but we decided against it." They are doing something across from the Bluebird, though. Appropriately called Across the Street Cafe, this brightly colored coffeehouse at 3242 East Colfax Avenue serves panini, soups, salads and fresh juices and has hired a baker to create pastries and desserts. "It's a hangout kind of place," Dechtman says. "There's chess and Scrabble, and it's comfortable." It's also a good spot to hit after a Bluebird show, especially since a ticket stub garners a free coffee or soda.

(Meanwhile, I'm still getting cranky calls from supposed former employees of Communique. "We got such a raw deal," says one. "The owners kept telling us, 'Oh, just wait a few more weeks. We're just remodeling.' Now we're all out of jobs, and they couldn't care less.")

Sadly, Denver just lost the talents of Bobby Dazzler, at 4628 East 23rd Avenue. Word is that the bakery couldn't compete with all the chains moving into town; I'll miss Bobby's absolutely killer breadsticks. Fortunately, there's still time to buy "cosmos" at Tommy's Terrific Subs, in the plaza off C-470 at the Quincy Avenue exit in Morrison. Owners Tommy and Susan Hill are trying to sell the place, and the asking price includes the recipe for their fantastic pepper oil. That oil is what completes the bargain-at-any-cost cosmo, an East Coast sub featuring meats and cheeses toasted on the roll.

What's happenin': The ACF Culinarians of Colorado are on a roll with fundraising right now; their next event is the fourth annual Culinary Pro-Am on May 22 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard. The Pro-Am brings together local chefs and media personalities to compete as teams, all in the name of charity. The theme this year is "Cooking With the Comics," which means everyone will be dressed like Garfield or Dilbert, and the $50 admission fee buys plenty of food and drinks. There's also still room in ACF's final cooking class May 29 at Homeplace, 9555 East County Line Road. This installment is titled "Salmon-chanted Evening," costs $39 and will be taught by chef Peter Rauen from Alliant Foodservice.

More seafood is prominently featured in the new menu at Augusta in the Westin Hotel, Tabor Center (1672 Lawrence Street). More straightforward than what the restaurant had been serving, the revamped roster offers lighter, less busy dishes that sound more creative than crazy. The hotel had asked guests for their feedback on dining preferences; their responses may have been just the kick Augusta needed.



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