It took me a minute to shake off the triple-vision I was experiencing, but once I did, I saw the wisdom in not screwing around too much with the bones. This space has been refined and re-refined a lot over the years. Doomed owners have dumped barrels full of money into it. And, for the most part, the problems were never physical - they were almost always spiritual, conceptual or culinary. Especially culinary.
And so Lala's has wisely focused on the food. It has a small menu, elegantly spare. There are salads and snacks, nibbles and bites and pizzas. And that's pretty much it. Every day and every night, the kitchen runs up a few specials: pastas, risottos, a nice duck ravioli, whatever the cooks can get their hands on, whatever they have knocking around, whatever moves them right then and right there. Every day and every night they list the available meats and cheeses for the salumi plates (Spanish lomo, Provencal salame, three-milk blended soft cheese and handmade buratta) and offer a range of flat bread and dips and spreads that's such an old idea (I was doing that in one of my own kitchens more than a dozen years ago) that it has almost become new again -- a recovered treasure of culinary thrift and smart menu design. There is no expectation of greatness here (as there was at Vega), no pretension (which powered Sacre Bleu) or laziness (the ultimate cause of Sparrow's death). The roasted garlic is basic, the cippolini onion and chick pea a rather clever adaptation, the white anchovy tapenade with tomato and onion a serious hit of what someone halfway across the world in an actual Italian pizzeria might really be eating at the same moment it first touches your tongue, and the warm olive spreads a bright and sour example of how the simplest things can often be the best.
I found it fascinating how this one space that now holds Lala's Wine Bar + Pizzeria, this single address, has been so much at the center of Denver's constantly swelling and crashing restaurant scene.
I've seen it as several different restaurants, in several different physical manifestations. And within, it has always carried a kind of barometer -- rising and falling with the times, in tune with the health of the dining scene as a whole.
Inside, chefs have created trends and followed them, have been proactive or reactive, made their careers or ruined them. And through it all, the address itself has rarely remained dark for long.
It's been quite a run -- one which I discuss at length in this week's Bite Me -- and the current occupant, Lala's, may very well be a glimpse into the onrushing future of what it takes to run a successful restaurant in tough times.
Another example? Govnr's Park, right around the corner and owned by the same folks who opened Lala's. I hit that place for Second Helping this week and (unsurprisingly) loved it all up. Enough that it actually got me to eat sliders again -- no small feat, that.
So get your history lesson right here tomorrow afternoon. And in the meantime, keep watching this space for all the news we can cram in. It's a wild time in the restaurant world, and we've got fresh news breaking daily.
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