Bite Me

From the moment it opened last year, Moda Ristorante & Lounge seemed lovely, friendly, oh-so-well situated...and doomed. Although the restaurant was holding up the corner of the chic Beauvallon complex at Tenth Avenue and Lincoln Street, my meals there always landed smack in the middle of Dullsville. I never reviewed the place because I had nothing to say about it, good or bad, and though the back-room lounge was a beautiful space, it was crippled by a giant picture window that looked out on nothing more thrilling than the Gart Sports Castle parking lot and the roof of the Westword offices across the street.

As a matter of fact, I went into Moda a few times with the idea of having lunch, but changed my mind when I spotted the guy with the hot-dog cart over on Broadway. It's not a good sign for any restaurant when a critic chooses a dirty-water dog over your lunch special.

But now there's new hope for Moda. Jim "The Checkbook" Sullivan, the fellow who already brought us Mao Asian Bistro and reportedly made a big bid for the nearby spot at 250 Josephine Street while it was being transformed from Indigo to Go Fish Grille, will take over the space come March 1 and will bring in chef Troy Guard, who happens to be married to Mao boss Leigh Sullivan, Jim's daughter. Guard's jumping ship from his post as chef de cuisine to Richard Sandoval at Zengo -- a position he held longer than any of Sandoval's other chefs in a seven-restaurant empire.

"I ran this place like it was mine, like it was my baby," Guard says, and he's not joking. For the first few months at Zengo (which celebrated its first anniversary earlier this month), he worked straight through, day and night, without a day off, and he was never far from the line. And yet he never got much credit for all that work, with most of the press and most of the kudos (mine not included) going to Sandoval. A controlling boss who's tight with his menus and his houses is a common complaint among veterans of Sandoval ventures, and high-quality chefs tend to chafe in such situations. "You know, I'm not like Mr. Ego or anything," Guard adds, "but it would have been nice to get a pat on the back."

Anyway, what with dad-in-law coming up with the green and a big-hat position across town, Guard decided (wisely) that it was time to move on. And while the new concept that will be introduced into the old Moda isn't set in stone, Guard already knows what he'll be cooking there. "Retro-pop," he explains. "Kind of a nouveau, hip, eclectic American bistro, but with a twist."

Since that covers just about every possible permutation a restaurant can take, could he be a little more specific?

"Yeah," he says. "I think you know about me and my food pretty well. You know that I've done mostly Asian, and now a little Latino. So I'm looking at doing comfort foods, things like maybe an American meatloaf with a Japanese mushroom gravy, or a really good roasted chicken, but with lemongrass." Guard's also thinking about a raw bar, a sushi menu, and finding someone good to handle the front of the house while he's in the kitchen trying (again) to blow the socks off Denver's gastronauts.

"I'm 33," he says. "And now I've got the opportunity to do my own thing. I can't let that pass me by. I think I can bring a lot to the table."

It's always darkest before the dawn: On January 22, Sean Kelly temporarily closed Somethin' Else, his eight-table wonder at 1313 East Sixth Avenue (the former home of Clair de Lune) for a long-awaited remodel and overhaul that will expand the Mediterranean tapas restaurant laterally into the former Two Boys bakery space next door. When Kelly signed the lease on that spot late last year, he hoped to have the expansion done this month, or even "late January, if we're lucky."

Now Kelly says it will be several weeks before Somethin' Else reopens. When it does, though, it will have double the number of seats for those who crave the fried baby artichoke hearts and addictive, paprika-heavy patatas bravas being cooked up by Kelly's C de C Seth Black. Somethin' Else will also have a proper bar, new bathrooms and some breathing room for the staff.

Manna Bakery has been dark since the holidays, but at least the voice mail for the Littleton shop has been updated with this slightly hopeful message: "Manna Bakery will reopen in late February with the same quality cakes and a new line of pastry products, deli sandwiches, and hot breakfast and lunch specials." Keep your fingers crossed. Meanwhile, California Bakery, the odd little bakery-slash-pizza joint in the Russian Plaza at Leetsdale and Oneida, is still servicing the local expat community, fattening up the babushkas with deadly good zabaglione napoleons, dark Slavic breads and red-sauce pizzas that now come with a guarantee that they won't cause heartburn (an unusual claim, but a true one, as far as I've been able to tell). Where else in town can you get a kid's Shrek birthday cake with "Happy Birthday Timmy" written in Cyrillic?