The Riviera (4301 East Kentucky Avenue) had an equally long and noble history, but Glendale's original roadhouse lost any historic value (and, for that matter, any entertainment value for dedicated drinkers) after the Torres family that owns the homegrown Las Delicias chain bought the place a few years ago, scraped off the Quonset hut that held the bar, and replaced it with a bright, dull building that looks like a slightly upscale Taco Bell. Only the Riviera's classic neon-martini sign remains.
And there's no sign of life at the Harvest Restaurant and Bakery, a 22-year-old landmark that lost its lease and last month disappeared from its longtime post in the Target parking lot on South Colorado Boulevard. Back in March, owner Vasil "Bill" Allabashi, who also owns Vasil's Euro Grille (7340 South Clinton Street, Englewood), had hopes of moving the Harvest across the street, next to the Staybridge Suites (4220 East Virginia Avenue) -- but those plans would require approval by the City of Glendale (The Bite, March 7). And as our interview with just-deposed city manager Veggo Larsen (see Lunch Meet, page 75) shows, nothing is easy in Glendale these days.
French twist: "Ooh la la," proclaimed a headline on the cover of the April 22 Nation's Restaurant News, "French eateries put the savoir back in fare." Exhibit A in this national-trend story was Denver's own Nicois (815 17th Street) -- or "Nicoise," according to the story. And originally, that was how multi-restaurateur Kevin Taylor spelled the name of the latest incarnation to occupy his difficult 17th Street space. But when people started calling the eatery "nee-swahz," rather than the preferred "nee-swah," Taylor decided to ditch the "e" -- printed sign, menu and French language rules be damned. Apparently Restaurant News didn't get the message, either. Ooh la la.
The publication certainly didn't call for a current Nicois staff list before it ran its front-page picture: Out of the five people shown, only Taylor and managing partner Denise Mease are still there. Chris Reap, formerly with the ritzy Aspen Mountain Club, has replaced Michael Wood as executive chef; Tom Voskuil, who'd been a partner in Boulder's late, lamented 15 Degrees, is the general manager. Nicois has changed more than personnel, too. The addition of six booths in the center of the elegant, cavernous dining room (it was once a bank lobby) "makes it feel like a smaller, more intimate dining room," Voskuil says. The hated red tablecloths are long gone, as are the fake-grape arrangements that stood on top of those tablecloths; now the tables are wood, and they're topped with mesh-fish votive candles that are more in keeping with Nicois's coastal Mediterranean cuisine.
Yep, in describing Nicois as a French eatery, the article also missed two of the other countries that influence its fare -- with Spain the most important, since tapas are the top items at the restaurant.
And the tapas roster, too, has been updated, with daily specials eliminated, along with some dishes that weren't selling. The fois gras terrine is gone, for example, but the seared fois gras remains. "Where else can you get fois gras for $3.50?" asks Voskuil. Of the fifteen tapas on the permanent list, five -- rice balls with mozzarella and prosciutto, fried eggplant with roasted-tomato vinaigrette, roast-shrimp-stuffed squid with sherry vinegar, pork meatballs with aioli (albondigas) and crispy fried salt cod fritters -- are included in a new happy-hour deal. From 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, any one of those tapas is just a buck. Drinks are a bargain at that time, too, with specialty cocktails for $3.50, and drafts, selected wines and wells $2.
Now that Nicois has tuned up its tapas, only one problem remains: The blackboard in the bar, that describes all the offerings, is sadly out of date. "We're still looking for the artist," says Voskuil. And the cash to pay him once they do: Although the artist's medium is chalk, he still charged a hefty $400 to create his original artwork last summer.
While Nation's Restaurant News also cites Aix (719 East 17th Avenue), the excellent Provençal restaurant, and Sean Kelly's brand-new Clair De Lune (1313 East Sixth Avenue) as examples of the booming French trade, the trend wasn't enough to save Micole (1469 South Pearl Street). After putting up a good fight, that prix fixe spot will be closing for good after May 18. (David Query of Jax may be interested in the space, whose previous occupants include Hugh's and Greens.) Au revoir,Micole.
Life of the pâté: When John Kessler, former Westword restaurant critic, visited Denver back in March, he hit a few of the town's new culinary hot spots, including Nicois. "The foie gras was fine, but I didn't need that," Kessler says in retrospect. "I needed El Taco de Mexico and a chile-relleno burrito. Oh, my God, that place is so good, although I almost didn't forgive them for remodeling. And I totally miss New Saigon; Vietnamese restaurants here suck."
"Here" is Atlanta, where Kessler is a restaurant reviewer for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Make that a nationally known, award-winning restaurant reviewer: Last month, Kessler won top prize for criticism -- and that's all fields of criticism, movies, art and music included -- from the Cox newspaper chain, which owns his paper. And earlier this month, Kessler took first-place honors in the prestigious James Beard Awards contest, winning the Newspaper Feature Writing With Recipes category for his "Upper Crust Cooking" piece. "It was all about how my gratin dish speaks to me," says Kessler, with a maniacal giggle that all the folks he left behind in Denver would immediately recognize.
Kessler, who left Westword almost nine years ago to become food editor at the Denver Post before heading to Atlanta, was replaced at the Post by Bill St. John, who's off this week for Chicago. To replace St. John, the Post again reached into Westword's ranks: Kyle Wagner's first restaurant review for the Post will be appear on May 17. Westword's in the middle of a national search for Wagner's replacement; for details, see the ad on page 80.
Finally, reader Leslie Fry wonders about the May 9 Bite's reference to being "a Campo de Fiori-free zone." Hey, can you think of another restaurant in town that gets more free press than that Cherry Creek hot-to-trot spot? Well, maybe The Palm.
Speaking of which: On Wednesday, May 8, the lunch crowd at that downtown powerhouse was a real celebrity sweep-steaks. For once, Brownstein, Hyatt & Farber glad-hander Steve Farber was not in evidence at the Palm, although other Firm lawyers were, including K.C. Viejo. Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau head Eugene Dilbeck was lunching with his board president, Walter Isenberg; Denver Post columnist (and Campo counselor) Bill Husted was chatting with Channel 4's Greg Moody about his new book; Barry Fey had cajoled Channel 7's Bill Clarke into sharing a meal; Post publisher, National Newspaper Association president and Russian correspondent Dean Singleton was having a last lunch with Alan Walters, who's leaving the Denver Newspaper Agency that Singleton also happens to head (Colleen Brewer will take Walters's spot as DNA veep of display advertising); and Rocky Mountain News publisher/editor/CEO John Temple was consulting with writers Penny Parker and Dahlia Weinstein.
Fey, in particular, took note of the rare two-publisher sighting. "The president and vice president aren't allowed on the same plane," he pointed out. "My God, if a bomb goes off in here, we won't have anything to read tomorrow morning." And then he added: "But we could still buy concert tickets."
Lots of concert tickets: Fey filed for personal bankruptcy two days later, blaming the soft real estate market.