When Tamayo, chef Richard Sandoval's modern Mexican restaurant, opened in Larimer Square in 2001, it was easily one of the most innovative design schemes -- and food concepts -- on what has now become one of the city's liveliest blocks for a dose of culinary artistry. But while the majority of the restaurants on Larimer Square have kept up with a fickle public that demands ingenuity and creativity in both design and cuisine, Tamayo, just one restaurant in Sandoval's kingdom of many throughout the state, has endured more than a decade without much change.
But the restaurant, which closed last night after dinner service, will undergo a colossal remodel and menu overhaul between now and Friday, February 1, when it will reopen to the public.
"It's been twelve years since we opened, and we recognize that we're not where we want to be -- that the restaurants on Larimer Square are so beautiful and we're not at that standard. Larimer isn't aging with us," admits Bob Bonner, the director of operations for all of Sandoval's Colorado restaurants.
The plan to remodel Tamayo has been in the works for months -- Sandoval, whom I interviewed last August for my weekly Chef and Tell, alluded to it -- and today, says Bonner, the renovations will begin to come to fruition.
The multi-tiered space, which flaunts one of the city's most amazing rooftop patios, complete with epic views of the Rocky Mountains, will be "high-design," says Bonner and "completely modernized." Semple Brown Design, the local firm that's also responsible for the aesthetics at the Squeaky Bean, Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza, The Kitchen, Euclid Hall, Root Down and Coohills, is spearheading the redesign, and, says Bonner, one of the most alluring elements of the scheme is lighting.
"One of the coolest aspects of the space will definitely be the very creative pieces we're using for lighting," he notes, adding that the pieces they chose "completely blew the budget." Still, he says, it was worth the bank account punch. "These are pieces that make you look up in awe when you look at them," especially, he says, the custom-made octopus arm chandelier, its amber glow casting illumination over the new lounge, which will be bedecked with plump chairs, multi-hued Mexican tiles and all dark woods, the latter of which will be paramount throughout the restaurant.
In addition, reveals Bonner, oak floors will replace the existing carpet throughout the space; many of the tables in the main dining room will be replaced by Chicago-style -- C-shaped -- booths upholstered in fabric; the starchy white tablecloths will disappear (thankfully); the bathrooms will get a new look; leather-work will also be prevalent in various accents; and the rooftop terrace, which is also getting new furnishings and an upgraded bar, will now become a four-season gathering place, thanks to the installation of a temperature-controlled heating system.
"We're leaving the bones of the restaurant in place, but it will look completely new and different," promises Bonner, noting that the brilliant mural, however, that's showcased behind the downstairs bar, will remain. But the other mosaics, he says, will be replaced by new art. "Essentially, this will be what we hope is like a fine-dining Mexican restaurant in Mexico City," he says. "We're spending more more money to renovate it than we did to open it."
And along with a new design, 75 percent of Tamayo's menu will also change. "We're keeping it high-end and high-quality, but we're incorporating less expensive options," says Bonner. "We have everyone from college students to older professionals in this neighborhood, and it makes sense to us to capture all of our demographics." The rejuvenated menu, he notes, will pimp more tacos plates and cazuelas, and dishes, he says, "that, in our mind, are more affordable and approachable." The plates that will remain on the board, he stresses, are Sandoval's signature dishes. "We have a lot of guests who like those, so we're keeping the fan favorites."
Another notable change, he says, will be apparent in the cocktail menu. Noah Heaney, the bar manager of Harold's and the Bayonet Room, a restaurant and lounge in Longmont, is consulting on the bar program, divulges Bonner, who worked with Heaney several years ago in Minnesota. "We want to have a cocktail list with a Colorado focus -- there's absolutely no reason for us to not use local spirits, especially given how many great local products we have at our fingertips."
Bonner tells me, too, that he's increasing the size of the tequila roster -- significantly. We have about forty tequilas now, and we're adding around eighty more," he says," adding that one of those tequilas will be dispensed from a barrel that's a Sandoval exclusive. "I'm super-super pumped for that."
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And, he says, he's equally excited about the remodel as a whole. "We're completely modernizing this concept, and we're going to have an absolutely beautiful restaurant, not to mention a great bar and lounge scene that capitalizes on the best patio in Denver."