When Elena Zasytiene moved to Denver from Colorado Springs, she knocked on restaurant doors looking for a job, but no one would hire her, so she shrugged it off and followed her gut: She, along with her partner, Baiba Sisco, signed a lease on their own restaurant, La Merise, a French food temple that opens Wednesday at 2700 East Third Avenue, in the former Argyll space in Cherry Creek.
"I've been working in French restaurants for the past ten years, and while I applied for jobs in Denver, I've always wanted to open my own restaurant, and I like the fact that I'm now working for myself, and not someone else," explains Zasytiene, who's originally from Lithuania, where her parents own a restaurant.
"We love French food, and we're obsessed with French culture," says Zasytiene of her and partner, who hails from Latvia. "And whenever we'd come to Denver, we'd always hang out in Cherry Creek, and we said if we ever opened a restaurant, that we'd do it here, mainly because it feels like a little town in a big down -- it's cozy."
Zasytiene and Sisco hired a New Yorker, Michael Garnish, who spent the last few years working as chef de cuisine at the Passion Cafe, a French bistro in San Francisco, to run the kitchen. The menu, says Garnish, is "very straightforward, classic, recognizable and unpretentious French fare -- things like steak au poivre, foie gras, escargot, sweet and savory crepes and moules marinières -- that's really affordable," and 95 percent of what he's cooking, he notes, is scratch-made.
"We're not fancy or intimidating; we're homey and approachable," echos Zasytiene, adding that she hopes La Merise, which means "wild cherry" in French, will be the kind of restaurant where diners become regulars.
After a series of soft openings, La Merise will open Wednesday night, turning out dinner seven days a week, lunch Monday through Friday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. For more info, call 720-596-4360.