Space soon won't be an issue at Limón, because chef/owner Alex Gurevich recently closed a deal on the empty spot next door, clearing the way for a much-needed expansion. Slated for completion sometime in April, the new digs will buy Gurevich a hundred-odd more seats -- almost tripling the current floor count -- including a private dining room for twenty that will allow him to get rid of the community table now clogging up his flow. And he'll also bring back one of his old crew, Chris Flannagan, who cooked with him for years. This will give Gurevich two sous chefs in the kitchen (Chris Lambert is standing the post right now) and, on Limón's busiest days, a crew of eight banging around in the galley.
Which is a vast improvement, since Gurevich opened the doors at Limón with only four white jackets on the line. Four guys for 200 covers? That's insane. Especially considering that while Limón might've been serving only about six hours a day, it was all-hands-on-deck starting before nine most mornings just to get the prep done, the line styled and the coolers packed in advance of each night's rush. "It was amazing," Gurevich said when we talked last week. "We'd prep things for a week -- that we thought would be enough for a week -- and then run out before dinner was over. We'd look at each other and say, ŒWhat the fuck are we going to do?'"
Those prep and stock problems were compounded by the fact that so much of what Limón's cooks were working with -- so much of their basic daily loadout -- was coming from Peru. Complications at the border, at Customs, would cause them to run short on vital supplies, necessitating that Gurevich find some third-party supplier in California who'd charge him triple for rush orders. He told me about one Saturday night when the line ran out of Cape gooseberry -- not the kind of thing you can just send a busboy to get at King Soopers. "It's like, okay, we're fucked," Gurevich remembered. "What now?"
Over the past several months, Gurevich and his guys have worked out some of the supply-chain and stocking snafus. Bringing the extra staff on helped, too, as did the sudden slow-down in business after that first murderous month. But the one problem they couldn't fix was space: On good nights, there was no way they could fit in everyone who wanted to eat at Limón. "What am I supposed to do?" Gurevich asked. "Someone tells me they've been waiting two hours, and there's still no tables on the horizon? I can't just go up to a table and tell them to get out, like okay, we've got your money and now you've got to go."
Last month, Limón added lunch, which eased the crunch a little. What's really going to make the difference long-term, though, is not just the expansion, but the serious blooding that Gurevich and his crew have been through. "The good thing is, now when we get one of those big nights -- 100, 130 -- it's nothing," he said. "We all know we can handle it. We're comfortable with it. I'm feeling us being more comfortable in our own shoes."
Positively Sixth Avenue: Another small restaurant hoping for a big start is Fruition, which opened this week at 1313 East Sixth Avenue, in the former home of Sean Kelly's Somethin' Else. When I got co-owner Paul Attardi (the GM and floorman) on the phone last week, he said things were going well. "A little panicked," he added. "A little crazy." But also right on schedule.
Of course, he also told me that he and partner Alex Seidel (the French-trained executive chef) hadn't done any major renovations -- and then went on to describe a host of changes: new ceilings, a new wall that further separates the bathrooms from the floor, two new banquettes, new chairs, new tables, a new floor and a top-to-bottom paint job (pale cream with wine-dark accents). The art on those newly painted walls is by local artist Geoff Ridge, who'll be standing post as Fruition's head waiter and is an ex of Kelly's Aubergine and Frank Bonanno's Mizuna, just like Attardi and Seidel.
When I asked Attardi what he and Seidel would be serving, he said he just happened to have a final draft of the opening menu. "We want to be a neighborhood restaurant," he told me, rattling pages on the other end of the phone. "Sophisticated comfort food, that's what Alex is calling this. So we have his take on chicken noodle soup, a roasted-beet carpaccio salad." He went on to describe a "killer" plate of potato-wrapped oysters Rockefeller and a carbonara as good as the one his grandmother makes -- "and that's high praise coming from me." The menu also includes a confit of cider-brined pork shoulder, duck breast with carnarolli risotto and smoked duck prosciutto, butter-poached and roasted salmon and, for the herbivores in the neighborhood, a two-course vegetarian lineup that will probably change nightly.
Although Fruition is operating with the same tiny kitchen that Kelly used, Seidel has brought over his former Mizuna sous, Drew Inman, to get his back. So if Fruition gets crushed early, as Limón did, the kitchen should be cool.
Mizuna, itself a fairly small house, has done consistently killer numbers for years, rolling the kinds of turns that a lot of the bigger operators only dream of. And while it's been stripped of both chef and sous, chef/owner Bonanno -- a talent magnet these days, owing to his connections on both coasts and frequent stages in friendly, big-name kitchens -- has named Jean Phillipe Failyau chef de cuisine and Tony Clement his sous. Both come with veteran stripes, having each done four years in Mizuna's kitchen, and both have excellent credentials: Failyau is ex of Danielle (on Hilton Head) and New York's Gramercy Tavern, and Clement's worked at Beppe and Veritas, both in New York. They should be ready to take whatever Denver diners dish out.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.