Rebecca Weitzman, chef at the fantastic Cafe Star (3201 East Colfax Avenue) and supreme overseer of the fine-dining portion of Colfax's restaurant revolution, has just announced that she's quitting our little corner of paradise at the end of the month.
She's heading for New York City — still the hot and brightly lit center of America's culinary universe, the place where Weitzman first made her bones (at CIA's Hyde Park campus, then at Bobby Flay's Bolo and Mesa Grill) before coming west to work at Bloom (briefly), under Duy Pham at Opal, with Frank Bonanno during the opening of Mizuna, and then as his chef de cuisine at Luca d'Italia before finally landing the exec's gig at Cafe Star.
"This is my first executive chef's job," Weitzman said when I got her on the phone last week. "And it's been a great three years. But I sort of have this feeling that I'm ready to step back and learn some new things."
Yes, that's what she said: Step back from the big-hat position, take her awesome resumé and go work a lineman's gig somewhere with a Le or a La in the name or an address on the swank side of town where she can brush up her skills in hopes of someday opening her own restaurant.
"I'm not sure yet," Weitzman replied when I asked if she had any solid plans about where she might wash up in the Big Apple. "I have a few different directions I'm interested in going in. Obviously, I have a very rustic cooking style. I want to get into some of those kitchens that are so detail-oriented, where there's so much precision. I want to see how they run with those big crews." And then she laughed. "Ideally, I'm hoping I can find a job that will pay enough for me to live there. And then on my days off, I can just work in any kitchen, stage in some of these places."
Weitzman is 34 and has long since grown out of that freaky, spastic, everything-with-lemongrass, I-heart-sous-vide phase of sophomore culinary experimentalism. She's proven herself in some of the best kitchens in Denver and a couple of the more notable kitchens in New York, and has come upon that second breaking point in any chef's career: that time when white-jackets must decide if they're going to settle for what they can do now, or are going to continue pushing themselves to become better.
"I know I want to cook," Weitzman told me. "I know I want to do this. Cafe Star has been an unbelievable learning experience, but I think I need to learn some more."
So, admirably, she made the hard choice. Come October, she'll box up her solid-black exec pants and head for New York with her knives and her junior checks, hoping for that dream gig, leaving an as-yet-unfilled slot at Cafe Star.
And we here at Bite Me World HQ wish her nothing but success — provided that she gathers up all that priceless Manhattan street cred and someday brings it all back home again to little ol' Denver.
The Italian underground: Speaking of Bonanno, the long-rumored addition to his restaurant empire is now a go. Osteria Marco — which he'll be doing in partnership with Ryan Gaudin and Jean Philipe, both employees of Bonanno's Mizuna and Luca d'Italia — is slated to debut next month in the Larimer Square space at 1453 Larimer that, until now, was completely wasted on the dreadful Del Mar Crab House.
I caught Bonanno during a Mizuna staff meal Friday and pumped him for details. After his original idea of moving in on the 609 Corona Street address occupied by Table 6 fell through, he started looking high and low for a spot that would mesh with his image of an Otto/Enotecca/Luca d'Italia mash-up, a place for salumi, for pizza, panini and snacks off the rotisserie, house-cured meats and handmade sausages, a casual, unhurried, anti-fine-dining joint with enough seats and enough space to do everything he wanted. "This is a concept I've wanted to do for a long time," he told me. "No pastas, just simple foods. Nothing on the menu over eighteen dollars."
He's going to have a salumi and mozzarella bar, pizza ovens and rotisseries set right out in the open, Sunday-night whole-pig roasts. "All the homemade, artisanal shit at Luca that people love," he said. And I think that's great, because it's exactly that homemade, artisanal shit at Luca that I love and makes the restaurant consistently one of the best in the city. "I'm not even gonna lie to myself about it anymore, though," Bonanno continued. "Luca is expensive. This? Marco? It's going to be more approachable, you know? People order the prosciutto, that's what they're gonna get: five or six slices of the best prosciutto, maybe a little bread."
What's more, it looks like Bonanno and staff will be throwing off the constraints of the balletic service that has always been one of the draws of Mizuna — that perfectly orchestrated descent of servers, plates, silver. At Marco, "the food will come when it's ready," he said.
The cavernous, subterranean Del Mar space seats about 120 and, right now, smells a lot like an old crab pot — which Bonanno promised would be taken care of during a top-to-bottom overhaul of the space. He hopes to have it ready by October 17, since that's the birthday of his second son, Marco. "We got Luca open on Luca's birthday," he said, speaking of his first son. "I just think it would be cool if we could get Marco open for Marco's birthday."
That kid's birthday can't come quick enough for me.
Boys of summer: Yes, it does seem that a September opening for Sorbeteria, the new sorbet spot at 2046 Larimer Street, might be a bit counterintuitive. But trust me, that's only how it looks from the outside. From the inside, though...
Well, even from the inside, it doesn't seem like the best idea in the world, but when I talked to Joel Huerta (who's handling PR for the launch), he gave me insight into the machinations that led to this worst of all possible opening dates.
Sure, June would've been the smart time to open a sorbet joint — beginning of summer, just in advance of the record-breaking highs in the Mile High — but back then, the idea of a dedicated, artisan, gourmet sorbet cafe barely existed. Sorbeteria was envisioned as the public face of a holding company, Spirited Sorbet, that until just a very few months ago dealt primarily in the wholesale end of the confectioner's game, providing sorbets to restaurants and retailers. That's when Spirited Sorbet chairman Mort Aaronson and master sorbeteer Michael Ruben (formerly of Ice Man Cometh, which did some of Denver's best sorbet a couple years back) had this sorbet brainstorm. "They threw everything together in just a couple months," Huerta said. "They came up with the idea in late March, did the brand, the signs. They have all these great ideas."
And by June they had a space in the Market Central complex. They moved in with the notion of making Sorbeteria the "public brand" for Spirited Sorbet, hired a crew, started assembling a menu (for now, most of the production work is being done in Boulder), secured a liquor license (so that the house could legally serve things like alcoholic smoothies and rum-shot sorbets) and got the last details wrapped up just in the past weeks. The opening was a rush, but they got it done. And the Sorbeteria is just the start. "This is a test run," Huerta explained.
The company already has "mobile sorbet carts" working the streets, as well as product for sale in farmers' markets, and is starting to look into large-venue events. According to Huerta, the hope is that this first brick-and-mortar store (bad opening date aside) will provide people with an introduction to the brand, and that by the time next summer rolls around, everything will be running smoothly.
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Provided, that is, a gourmet sorbet operation in a still-developing neighborhood without the foot traffic of Larimer Square or LoDo can survive its first Denver winter.
Leftovers: It isn't surprising that Bene Gourmet Pizza didn't survive its subterranean location at 2623 East Second Avenue. What is surprising is that the second Colorado outpost of the Oregon-based Bene chain, located at 8547 East Arapahoe in Greenwood Village, also closed, leaving this state entirely Bene-less. Also gone is Harry's Chop House, which had shared space with Milagro in a building at 17th and Vine. Harry's is "no longer open to the public," according to the message on its answering machine, but is still available for private parties and functions.
All things considered, it looks like Frank Bonanno — a partner in the Milagro/ Harry's venture until he bailed over serious differences with his partner about this time last year — got out at just the right time.