The Bite

Change has also been good for the five-year-old Dazzle (930 Lincoln Street). Since manager Donald Rossa and chef Jason Palmer -- both late of the Fourth Story (2955 East First Avenue) -- came on board last fall, the restaurant has gone to the next level, as has the bar. The marvelous martini alone is reason enough to drop by Dazzle: The drink arrives well-chilled, and it's so big that one is all you need.

The best place to sip your martini is in the back lounge, where you can also play board games, snack on the complimentary cheese puffs (they come in a martini glass, too) and listen to the live jazz that Dazzle can offer now that the place has a cabaret license. And if the martini isn't your drink of choice, the beverage roster -- cleverly concealed within the jackets of old record albums -- includes the weird but strangely soothing Oatmeal Cookie, with Frangelico, Irish cream and cinnamon schnapps.

While Dazzle has always been a cool place to drink, last year at this time the dining room was starting to lag. Not anymore: Palmer, who spent three years working with Fourth Story chef David Steinmann (who has since gotten out of the business) and Chris Cina (who's now cooking for Bravo! Ristorante at 1550 Court Place in the Adam's Mark Hotel), is good at comfort food with a twist. So the risotto ($14), made with a hefty helping of concentrated chicken broth, is studded with lots of chicken that's as soft as the rice; a super-rich, béchamel-stuffed tortelloni ($16) comes awash in just enough white truffle oil and sprinkled with shavings of the black version of the coveted mushroom; the sweet-potato gratin beneath an impeccably grilled fillet of salmon carries the scent and flavor of cinnamon. And, of course, there's the macaroni and cheese ($10), rich with parmesan, Fontina, mozzarella and gouda, and very deserving of this year's Best of Denver award.

Although many of Dazzle's servers look as though they just graduated from high school, they're as smart and solicitous as staffers with twice their age and experience. Get in there and be dazzled yourself.

Buffaloed: Sometimes it takes more than a few changes to get things right, as Curt Sims has learned the hard way at the Denver Buffalo Company (1109 Lincoln Street). Sims and company bought the already waning restaurant from Will and Sue McFarlane in the fall of 2000, when the concept was ten years old; the new owners renovated the space, considered expanding the retail area (they even talked to Cry Baby Ranch about opening a store there), reworked the menu (dropping some of the higher-end buffalo items) and lowered prices to attract more business -- all to no avail. For the McFarlanes, who owned a ranch and still market buffalo meat wholesale as New West Foods, the Western theme made some sense; Sims, however, realized that it was long past time to say bye-bye to bison.

And so diners have only until Saturday to belly up for a last slice of that heavenly buff prime rib. But they won't be eating it under the watchful eye of Spot, the DBC's stuffed mascot; he's already been sold to the Blue Sky Grill in the Pepsi Center, the newest entry in Denver's big-game game. (Other eating options where the buffalo still roam: the Buckhorn Exchange, at 1000 Osage Street, and The Fort in Morrison.)

On Sunday, Sims will shut the restaurant's doors and start renovations to turn it into Cielo, which will serve upscale Mexican cuisine. If that sounds like the sort of fare you might find at Tamayo (1400 Larimer Street), it's no coincidence: Sims and his wife, singer Pam Savage, had envisioned a more high-end eatery when they planned Lime (1424 Larimer), but after Tamayo opened just a few hundred feet away and half a year earlier, the couple decided to focus on family-style dishes. In the process, they also created a space that recently earned Lime our salute as Best New Bar -- and helped propel Larimer Square to its current status as the hottest block in town, a reputation that was sealed with the debut of the Samba Room (1460 Larimer) back in March. (For one of the reasons the Samba Room is so hot, see page 74).

But there will still be plenty of action in the building that housed the DBC. During the restaurant's transformation, the Lincoln Lounge will be available for private parties, and the cool Star Line Lounge will continue to offer entertainment, including a Friday happy hour featuring the multi-talented Savage. And Lannie Garrett, whose Patsy DeCline and Gloria Half-Gaynor were big hits at the DBC, promises to return in the fall with her Big Band Swing Show.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: What used to be Pizza Colóre (1512 Larimer Street) is now Cafe Colóre. Venanzio Momo, whose brothers Carlo and Raoul own Teresa's Pizza Colóre (1124 13th Street) on the Hill in Boulder, has licensed the Writer Square location to Keith Arnold, a longtime corporate-level employee of Pizzeria Uno and Houlihan's. Arnold found out that the pizza shop was available from his friend, Dan Shaffer, who not long ago bought Pizza Colóre Express (1547 Court Place) off the 16th Street Mall.

Just a year ago, Venanzio Momo had revamped Pizza Colóre to be more upscale, adding the pastas and fancier fare served at the sibling Cucina Colóre (3041 East Third Avenue). "He wanted to get away from a pizza-slice type of joint and make it a little nicer, still casual, so that you can come in and get a nice meal, but you can be wearing shorts and a T-shirt to do it," explains Arnold.

While Venanzio concentrates on Momo-owned restaurants in the family's native New Jersey, he hasn't ruled out the possibility of franchising the Cafe Colóre concept. "I just hope there won't be another one too close to mine," Arnold says.

Not far from Cafe Colóre, Two-Fisted Mario's (1626 Market Street), our recent pick for Best Dinner After 1 A.M., has expanded its hours even further: It opens every day at 11 a.m. and goes until 3 a.m. Friday through Sunday mornings. But Brendan's Pub (1624 Market), just downstairs from Two-Fisted Mario's, closed abruptly last week, surprising fans of the weekly blues and bluegrass nights; there's no news on when (and if) it will reopen. And starting May 9, Cuba Cuba (1173 Delaware Street) will offer live music every other Thursday; already it's serving half-price mojitos, sangria and Hatueys (a Cuban beer) from 5 to 6:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. And Quixote's True Blue (7 South Broadway) will put food back in its lineup on May 15. Meanwhile, the Gold Hill Inn, a popular, if rustic, mountain destination in Boulder County, reopens for the season on May 3, serving six-course meals as well as occasional concerts (for a schedule, check out www. goldhill inn. com).

Ready, set, go: Space permitting, the public is invited to watch as more than a hundred junior and senior high school students from across the country converge on Denver this Saturday to compete in culinary and hospitality contests at the National ProStart Student Invitational at the Hyatt Regency (1750 Welton Street) from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The nineteen teams, which include two from Colorado (William J. Palmer High School, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins High School) got here by beating out all of the other schools in their states; now they will go head to head to win scholarships.