The Hard Truth
I've often been accused of having a bias toward certain foods. Barbecue, American diner classics, specific types of very cheap Mexican grub. I've been told that I have a weakness for any restaurant that attempts Irish cuisine or the native specialties of upstate New York. Even my own darling wife tells me that I've never been to a French restaurant I didn't instantly fall in love with.
And this is all true -- to a point. Of course I have biases. Anyone who claims to be telling you the unvarnished, unbiased truth about anything is either a liar or trying to sell you something. I do dearly love me some barbecue. When I'm not eating for work, I live on short-order Americana. I believe that any fool who tries to translate the boiled-bacon, potato and cabbage cuisine of my forebears for a modern audience is a noble fool who deserves every inch of my patience for his madness. And my fondness for places that make sweet pizzas, chicken wings, white hots, dirty-water dogs with hot sauce and fish fry on Friday nights comes from my notion of comfort -- the tastes of a home I miss right up until I return there, then want to flee immediately. My biases are plain. I've been talking about them from day one.
"Yes, I'm totally biased," I wrote in my debut Bite Me on July 18, 2002. "Anyone writing about an experience as subjective as a meal who tries to claim otherwise is lying. But at least I'm honest about my biases. Across the country, there seems to be some sort of an unwritten rule that critics should never say things like 'I loved this' or 'I hated that,' a laughable practice that deprives me of some very useful words. If that's the way the rest of the team is gonna play, then I'm taking my kickball and going home. The truth is, I love and hate things every day, and if I come across a fish taco, a Chateaubriand or a beef pho that makes my heart race and my palms sweat, I'm damn sure gonna tell you folks about it. By the same token, serve me a dish that is an insult to its ingredients, and not only will I hate it, but I will also hate the chef who made it, the server who put it in front of me and the restaurant under whose roof it was made."
Just as I hated my meals at Brasserie Ten Ten, which were mediocre and French -- a double play that puts the restaurant in its own special circle of hell. Not being a fan of celery or always giving the benefit of the doubt to the Irish is one thing. But French food is something else. It's special. Like sushi, like meatloaf, like really good country-fair pie, Le Cuisine exists in its own universe and is defined by its own arcane rules, deserving of the utmost respect. These rules can be bent, occasionally even broken, but never ignored.
"There are many culinary sins," I wrote back in 2002, "the least of which is putting diced celery into a good chicken salad, the worst being ennui. Any kitchen that's just coasting, treading water or getting by on the power of a good name alone is going to get it in the neck from me every time." And let me add to that any restaurant -- but especially a French restaurant -- that no longer seems to care. Burn my frites, wreck my eggs, shortcut my sauces, disdain my trade -- that's all fine. Selah, my brothers. Go with God. Because I no longer want anything to do with you.
Location, location, location: Last week, Michael Brenneman and Jeff Selby -- the guys who turned the old Tramway Tower building at 1100 14th Street into the Hotel Teatro back in 1999 -- announced that they'd sold the hotel, which recently won a host of awards from Travel + Leisure magazine, Condé Nast Traveler and Zagat, to DiNapoli Capital Partners out of Los Angeles. Generally, I don't care about hotels. What I do care about is restaurants inside of hotels. Among other things, DiNapoli owns the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, which contains a very well-respected restaurant, so I was curious whether anything will be changing with the two restaurants that now call Teatro home: Prima and Restaurant Kevin Taylor, the latter being one of the few places in the city that actually does haute French right.
"They're very experienced hoteliers. They bought it because it is doing so well," Maureen Poschman, who's handling PR for the deal, told me, referring to DiNapoli and Teatro, respectively. "And I haven't heard of any change to the agreement the restaurant group has with the hotel."
When I got Kevin Taylor on the line, he elaborated. "I think they're very happy that the food and beverage is leased," he said. "And I think they're happy that they got one of the city's four-star restaurants in the deal. Nothing is changing. We couldn't ever hope to be in a better group."
So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll still be able to go to Restaurant Kevin Taylor and get my pavé, my confit, my little lobster thingies with blood-orange gelée; that I'll still be able to go to Prima for egg ravioli and to make fun of the squid-ink pasta. And so help me, if three months from now they're serving breakfast burritos and deli sandwiches out of these spaces, I'm gonna be pissed.
Also sold last week was the former B-52 space at 1920 Market Street, most recently home to MTV's The Real World: Denver. The buyers -- at $3.3 million -- were Steve and Shane Alexander, a father-and-son real-estate team. And after watching the first episode of the show, I'd highly suggest the Alexanders go through that place with a black light: There were more fluids spilled on that set than on hot-soup night at the Parkinson's Disease Research Center. Until the place is hosed down, I wouldn't walk through the door without a haz-mat suit and penicillin on an IV drip.
The Alexanders plan to put an urban lounge, upscale bistro and offices in the space. Josh Haakinson, an investor who's pulling flack duty for the group, offered more details. Opening sometime around June, the lounge will be called The Abbey and will be wholly owned by the Alexander Group. "We're hoping for a mix of Swimclub and Forest Room 5," he explained. "Definitely not another sports bar. Denver already has enough of those." He described it as a place where people could come in and either "drink Coors Light or Cristal." The Abbey will also make use of a lot of the original furniture and decor from the Real World shoot -- all of which came with the purchase price -- which Haakinson said is perfect for the group's concept. But he also assured me that everything had been professionally steam-cleaned. As a matter of fact, he made that very clear.
The Alexander Group is still looking at build-out plans and hunting for a local restaurant operator to move into the "bistro" portion of the building. The second floor will be used as offices and has already been picked up by someone big and well-known, but Haakinson wouldn't say more. And sometime in the future, they plan to add another floor, which will become lofts.
Leftovers: Sadly, Vietnam House -- the combination Vietnamese restaurant and nightclub where I was both entertained and (briefly) violated a few months ago ("Elvis Lives," September 28) -- has closed. I have no solid intel on what finally put it down, but if I had to guess? I'd say it had something to do with the fact that Vietnam House had space for more than 200 on the floor and I rarely saw more than twenty people seated there. I miss the place already.
The new incarnation of WaterCourse Foods has opened at 837 East 17th Avenue -- in the former home of New York on 17th. That clears the way for owner Dan Landes's new joint, City O' City, to take over WaterCourse's old home on 13th Avenue in the new year.
Chef Alex Gurevich sends word that his five-month-old Limon (1618 East 17th Avenue) is now open for lunch. Novoandino food at midday? Just a couple doors down from Parallel Seventeen, one of my favorite nouvelle French/Vietnamese restaurants? Another reason to love this town.
Diana's Greek Market and Deli, at 1035 Lincoln Street, has been sold. Because of family obligations (among other things, the daughter of owners Vic and Diana Katopodis broke her leg falling down some stairs), the Katopodises decided it was time to let the place go, and found a willing buyer in Tony Wahdan. He took over on December 1, and the place is now operating as Leeneh's Deli and More.
"I was looking for a business," Wahdan told me. "It was a good opportunity, a good area." His place will sell much the same food as Diana's, working from the same menu and stocking the same Greek groceries, but Wahdan will replace all the pork products with turkey -- turkey bacon, turkey sausage, turkey everything. I don't think I have to tell anyone how I feel about that.
Finally, over at 1575 Boulder Street, Lola has a new neighbor: Vita, whose opening this week coincides with the completion of the Highland Pedestrian Bridge. The owners are Mark Schuwerk and Jay Beckerman (who already have the Blue River Bistro in Breckenridge under their belts), and the cuisine will be contemporary Italian-American under the direction of chef Max MacKissock.
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