Best Second Act 2004 | Frank Bonanno | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Nineteen steps. That's what it takes Frank Bonanno to get from his first restaurant, Mizuna, to his second, Luca d'Italia. He can do it in the blink of an eye -- and does, several times a night, moving from the classy, comfortable fare of Mizuna to the complicated, unbelievably delicious Italian menu at Luca. From lobster-spiked mac-and-cheese to gnocchi in a crabmeat-and-lobster gravy and back again, over and over, all night. Fitzgerald once said that American lives have no second acts, but Bonanno has proven this old saw false with the continued popularity of Mizuna and the success he's seen bloom at Luca. That he's done so despite the loss of his partner, Doug Fleischmann, in a tragic car accident last summer makes the success of both restaurants even more remarkable, if bittersweet. So here's to you, Frank. We don't know how you do it, and we don't envy you the miles you run every day overseeing these two fabulous houses. But we're glad you're up to the task -- because we'd never want to see either place without you.
Every city has Greek food. Every city has Italian. And there aren't many cities where you can't find at least one French restaurant, one sushi place (however frightening it might be to be eating sushi in Fargo, Billings or Texarkana), and a handful of Mexican restaurants fighting it out on the edge of town. But you know you're becoming a real food city when some of the odder ethnic cuisines start sneaking in. Ethiopian, Moroccan, Brazilian -- Denver has all these, and now we even have an Afghan restaurant to call our own: Kabul Kabob. For a basic understanding of Afghan cuisine, you have only to look at a map. It exists on the culinary spectrum precisely where Afghanistan lives geographically. But to understand why this particular restaurant is so deserving of a prize, you must sit down in the beautiful, richly appointed dining room, close your eyes and taste. Everything on this menu is delicious. Nothing is overdone, overthought or overworked. There is lightness and weight, sweet and savory, Indian naan bread, dough like a yogurt lassi, mantou dumplings, Turkish coffee and heat and cold and flavors by the dozen all vying for attention, but never struggling against one another. At Kabul Kabob, everything, absolutely everything, is beautiful.
When an American christens a place Brasserie Anything, the temptation is always to crank up the Continental ostentation, but Brasserie Rouge -- opened last August in a long-vacant space in the Ice House by not one, but two Americans, Robert and Leigh Thompson, with a kitchen overseen by a third, John Broening -- avoided this pitfall. Wisely, these three skipped over the glitz, the luxe, the fifty-dollar dinner plates, and instead created a place that has the vibe of a comfortable neighborhood spot, of a bistro along the Seine where everyone happens to speak English and you can pay for your coq au vin with American money. It's crowded with bustling servers in short-sleeved white dishwasher's jackets and filled with steam from the line, smoke from the bar, and the good smells of everyone else's dinner. The food, while simple and straightforward, has been as carefully researched and re-created as the copycat grand chandeliers that hang over the dining room. Brasserie Rouge seems to get everything right without even trying -- as if it just happens, every night, like magic. And that's why this restaurant is the best thing to hit the Denver dining scene this year. It's not just the food, not just the space, not just service or the looks or the hype, but everything combined. What matters most about a great meal is what we take with us after the bill is paid, all the little details we'll never forget. And Brasserie Rouge is simply unforgettable.

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