Bite Me

After chef Ian Kleinman left Go Fish Grille (see review), he returned to Golden, where he's thrown in with Michael Chen, owner of the Hilltop Bistro, a new restaurant that opened mid-November in an old house at 1518 Washington Avenue that was once home to the Hilltop Cafe -- where Kleinman worked for years before joining Larry Herz at Indigo and then Go Fish.

The old crew and owners of the Hilltop Cafe -- J. Allen Adams in the front of the house and chef John Calloway in back -- departed the Washington address in July for the Golden Hotel, where they took over the space that had been Coburn's and renamed it the Bridgewater Grill. That's not to be confused with the Table Mountain Grill at 1310 Washington, where they found Bobby Martines, their combination general manager/food and beverage manager/catering director. For a time, it looked like Bridgewater was shaping up to be a bigger, better version of the original Hilltop (Adams had told me the reason he left the first location was because he needed a bigger room for Calloway to work his magic), but this fantasy soon dissolved. Adams wound up leaving Bridgewater and moving on to a job as assistant manager of the Lakewood Mimi's Cafe. And Calloway never actually took over the Bridgewater kitchen, choosing instead to give it to his former Hilltop sous, Jared Peterson, who then installed Graham Bartlett (another Hilltop vet) as his underboss.

As for Calloway, rumor had him shipped off to Iraq as an activated reservist. Not quite, according to Martines. Although there were some scary days when it looked like Calloway might be packing his bags, he ultimately stayed in town.

Which would be a happy ending if not for the fact that Calloway -- a right guy and great cook who did the impossible last year, beating Frank Bonanno at Westword's Steel Chef competition -- is still out of work. Yes, he has a teaching gig at the Art Institute of Colorado, training the next generation of chefs and showing what it's like to really be in the business, but that isn't enough. Calloway is a chef -- built for it, trained for it, dedicated to it -- and right now, he's a chef without a kitchen to call home. In an e-mail he sent a few days ago, he revealed that, like a lot of our best and brightest, he's starting to look outside of Colorado for his next break, and headhunters are now shopping his name. There's just not a lot of opportunity here for an exec looking to start somewhere fresh that isn't a chain, that isn't a bar and grill, that won't have him dunking popcorn shrimp for a bunch of rubes.

Double trouble: Yes, it's hard for chefs to find good restaurants, and it's hard for would-be restaurant owners to find fresh names. When it moved into its space in Golden, Hilltop Bistro recycled half of the former occupant's moniker -- in the process inviting confusion with Royal Hilltop, the pub at 18581 East Hampden Avenue in Aurora, and Hillcrest Grill, the neighborhood joint at 4475 East Third Avenue in the former home of the second Cherry Tomato. (Don't even get me started on A La TomateŠ)

Just down the street from the Bistro, at 1112 Washington, is the Old Capitol Grill. That steak-and-a-beer joint occupies what was once the capital of Colorado territory, and it has cornered the Golden market with the meatloaf/ burgers-and-fries/fried-steak crowd. But it doesn't have a lock on its name, because last year at this time, the Capital Grille in Larimer Square became the place where Denver's moneyed elite meet to eat their meat.

Across Larimer from the new, improved Capital Grille is a new restaurant that was going to be called Cava -- until Cava Greens, at 303 16th Street, saw red. So instead, Jennifer Jasinski's place debuted as Rioja. Owners of the Wazee Supper Club once sued the late Wazoo's because its name was too similar; so far, though, it's left Yazoo BBQ Company, at 2150 Broadway, to roast in peace.

The confusion doesn't stop there. A few months ago, La Fontana opened in the old Holly Inn space at 2223 South Monaco, where it makes Mex for the masses. Across town at 534 East Alameda Avenue, Fontana Sushi serves its entrees raw and ends meals with fried bananas topped with red-bean ice cream. Unperturbed by the existence of Brooks Steak House in Greenwood Village, in August Louella and Ronald Brooks opened Brooks Smokehouse Bar-B-Que at 2856 Fairfax Street, where they serve "good barbecue and a little bit of Cajun," according to Louella. When she and her husband moved here from Louisiana ten years ago, they had no plans to open a restaurant. "But Ronald was always cooking for the guys he works for," says Louella. "He's a carpet installer, and he would bring them smoked turkeys, gumbo, everything. He was always cooking."

Now he's cooking for real at the 25-seat barbecue joint, offering all sorts of smoked meats, plus gumbo, authentic crawfish étouffée, fried frog legs, 'gator, neckbones, the whole nine. Sounds like a little slice of heaven, don't it?

As soon as I heard that the occupants of the basement space at 250 Steele Street had named their latest creation Jack's on Steele, I knew it was doomed. Bad enough that it was taking over the address of the legendary Bistro Adde Brewster, which ruled Cherry Creek for a decade; Adde's was followed by Bistro 250, which lasted less than a month; 250 was followed by Agave Underground, which made it a few months. But then they had to saddle this spot with a name that could be easily confused with that of Jax Fish House, which has locations in both LoDo and Boulder, and Jack-n-Grill at 2524 Federal Boulevard, which has the best BBQ tacos in town. So it's no wonder that Jack's on Steele closed so abruptly last week.

Even I lost the name game two weeks ago, when I announced the opening of the new Trapper's Chophouse (not to be confused with Chopper's Sports Grill) and put it on top of the wrong hotel, rather than the brand-new Holiday Inn Select right there at E-470 and Parker Road in Parker. My sincere apologies to investors Mel Biondi, Mike May, Terrell Davis and any other really big fellas who might be tempted to break a restaurant critic in two after such a slip.

Leftovers: I wept when I discovered that my favorite pho place, Pho 2000 in Aurora, had closed. Okay, maybe not wept, exactly, but I was certainly upset that this spot, which I thought was finally going to break the Regatta Plaza curse that had claimed so many good restaurants, was no more. This was the only Colorado outpost of the Pho 2000 chain (there are others in California and Washington), and it doesn't look like the company will try again here soon.

Pho freaks in that neighborhood might want to try Pho Fusion, at 8800 East Hampden Avenue, which offers Vietnamese cuisine with a little Chinese, a little Thai, a little this and a little that thrown in. Owner Tom Bird opened his place in what had been one of those buck-a-scoop Chinese restaurants and -- wonder of wonders -- he seems to be doing pretty well for himself, bringing in a good base of regulars.

Finally, an early Christmas present: Devil's Food Bakery at 1024 South Gaylord Street ("A Hell of a Place," November 18) has managed to secure a liquor license. By the time this issue hits the streets, the booze should be flowing.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan

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