I called Limón chef/owner Alex Gurevich last week, and as a measure of just how frazzled the man was, for the first few minutes of our conversation, he thought I was a contractor calling to tell him that things weren't going to be ready for his restaurant expansion's launch this week.
"Wait a minute," he said, after we'd dithered back and forth a while. "Who is this?"
"Jason. Jason from Westword, man. You all right over there?"
"Jesus...I guess this tells you where my head's been at, right? I thought you were another one of the contractors or subcontractors telling me something else was wrong."
After we got our identity problems worked out, Gurevich explained that the house had started taking reservations for its new capacity about a week out from the opening and was already filling up. The expansion (which involved breaking through a wall and annexing the storefront next door) added roughly fifty seats to the floor, as well as a private dining room that can seat 24 more. Then there's the patio, now open for the season, with 25 or 30 additional covers. This, along with the forty seats that Limón opened with last summer ("Small Miracles," February 8), put the place up in the 150 range -- which Gurevich figures will be handy, since two Saturdays ago, his crew did around 180 covers out of the original dining room. That's four and a half turns, for those of you keeping score at home -- a killer night.
"Third turn -- that's the magic phrase, right?" Gurevich asked. And I agreed that, yeah, third turn is where it's at. Three turns means a successful restaurant, means a profitable restaurant. But Gurevich knows as well as anyone that with a change in geography comes a change in the equation that determines success. One hundred eighty covers out of a forty-seat restaurant is huge, but 180 covers out of a 150-seat restaurant? That isn't even two full turns.
And even though the original Limón space at 1618 East 17th Avenue will serve as a sort of bar and lounge area (especially for Limón's new Tuesday-night "Groove Lounge" parties, complete with DJs) and overflow seating for the new dining room, Gurevich is aware of the altered math. But dropping from four turns to two isn't even his biggest concern. He's worried about what will happen to his kitchen first seating Friday night, when there could conceivably be 150 diners ordering all at once. His people have never had to deal with anything remotely like that.
"My guys have really stepped up, though," he told me. "We've staffed up huge for it. It's going to be good."
The tone in Gurevich's voice was less than 100 percent convincing, which was okay. It's his job to be worried -- to be worried, frazzled, panicked and completely out of his head and then to get in there on that first Friday night and get the job done anyway.
"Hey, I've got some other news, too," he added, just when I thought we were finished. "We're opening another restaurant."
"Yeah, I'm doing another one..."
The details were sketchy at best. Gurevich has been in the business long enough to know that talking too soon or too much about a new project is the surest way to jinx it into non-existence. But he was willing to say that this new restaurant will be somewhere in Olde Town Arvada, that it will be big and will do "modern, comfort-American" cuisine -- because that's what Gurevich thinks is missing out there in the 'burbs.
Even so, "I know I can't scare 'em," Gurevich said of suburban diners. That's why he'll be doing rotisserie chicken, hand-cut steaks. He'll be grilling burgers and "trying to get back to that simple, American food," he added. "I don't want to be like all those other guys -- you know, never in their own kitchens? But the time was right. I've just got to worry about getting Limon in hand first."
Gurevich doesn't have a timeline for the place yet. Or even a name that he's willing to share. But he does have a lease and a concept. And for now, that's enough. "We'll just have to see what happens," he concluded.
Chain gang: While I was getting the scoop on Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q (see review), general manager Lisa Quinn informed me that owner Nick Pihakis already has plans to open a second Colorado outlet of the Alabama-based family barbecue empire in Northfield Stapleton. And this is delicious: It will be located in sight of the massive Bass Pro Shops outlet and Islamorada fish restaurant that I turned such a loving eye toward back in August ("Floating Belly Up," August 17, 2006).
Two chains: one great, one terrible. Two outposts of theme-park Americana: one Deep South barbecue shack, one Key West dockside fishhouse. It's going to be awesome. Thunderdome time: Two men enter, one man leaves. And I think you can all guess who I'm rooting for.
Meanwhile, chef Matt Franklin (ex of 240 Union) is moving in on Southlands, home of the first Jim 'N Nick's in Colorado. He'll be the executive chef at the Wine Experience Cafe & World Cellar that's going in at 5240 South Main Street in Aurora. The combination wine bar/wine shop/cafe and fine-dining restaurant is the brainchild of Eldon and Rita Larson. Last week, I got Eldon (a longtime veteran of the wine business) on the phone to discuss the new venture.
"It's going to be wine-friendly cuisine," he said of the menu that Franklin is putting together from small plates and large plates, an international menu working in tandem with the international wine list. For those looking for just a snack and a glass of something, there'll be cafe seating and a casual environment. For those of somewhat larger appetite, the fine-dining room will serve full meals (attended by paired wines, of course) in a more formal atmosphere. And if you find something on the wine list you really like, it'll be available at the World Cellar wine store next door.
I asked Eldon if an area as new as Southlands has enough people and/or enough interest to support a place like Wine Experience, but he seemed unconcerned. "I'm not worried at all," he told me. "There are people that are eating this cuisine and buying these wines, but right now they're going to Cherry Creek or downtown -- leaving the area to get them."
Come summer, with the Wine Experience scheduled for a July/August opening, they should be able to satisfy all their gastronomic and oenophilic needs at Eldon and Matt's place.
Provided that Eldon telling me about it didn't jinx things.
Leftovers: Bad news for fans of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza: Beniamino's Chicago Pizzeria, at 1 Broadway, has gone dark, and no one's answering the phone there.
Those with slightly more East Coast tastes can head up the street to 1116 Broadway, where the seventh Taste of Philly cheesesteak outlet has opened in the former home of Java Moon. And according to the owners, there are more stores coming.
Chef Michel Wahaltere (ex of Moda, Campo di Fiore, Euro, 9th Door and Seven Eurobar) has a new place to hang his toque: 5 Degrees, at 1475 Lawrence Street, where owner Francois Safieddine will open Amuse by Michel in a remodeled private back room and patio at the nightclub. No surprise here: The menu will be small plates, internationally inspired, meant to be paired with offerings from the house's wine and cocktail lists.
Over the past few years, a lot of guys have tried to make the nightclub/lounge/ restaurant thing work. Remember Flow? How about Aqua? Luxe? Milagro Taco Bar (which, I notice, is now advertising a ladies' night...)? None have been smashing successes, and with good reason: No one wants to eat a ham sandwich in a nightclub. Or a plate of tuna tartare, for that matter. People want to eat here, then shake their groove things over there. Because really, there's nothing sexy about a man with half a cheeseburger in his mouth trying to do the cabbage patch. Don't believe me? Ask my wife.
But maybe Wahaltere and Safieddine have some secret formula for making it work at 5 Degrees. I certainly hope so -- and we'll all find out in June, when Amuse by Michel unveils itself to the public.
Finally, while most big celebrity chefs give Denver a pass when it comes to opening restaurants here (see "Last Man Standing," April 26), they do come to visit now and then -- especially when they've got family in town. To wit, Jacques Pépin -- whose daughter, Claudine, lives here -- will be touring Denver in support of his new book, Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of a Cook, early next week. Pépin is a very cool guy, and rather than just doing the standard autograph-and-a-handshake signing events, he's actually going to be hitting a few of our local joints for special meals and talks. For details of his May 14-15 appearances, see page 34.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.