When Rebecca Weitzman left Cafe Star for the greener pastures of Manhattan last September, I thought for sure that was going to be the end of the place. I mean, if ever a restaurant was defined by a chef, it was Cafe Star, where Weitzman's easy command of the eclectic New American/comfort-food niche, influenced by her years with the likes of Bobby Flay and Frank Bonanno, turned what should've been nothing more than another gentrified-Colfax restaurant into something truly special, a nightly destination for some of Denver's most discriminating foodistas and winner of my Best Neighborhood Restaurant and Best Chef awards in the Best of Denver 2005.
But after Weitzman bowed out and was replaced by chef Mike Carlin (ex of Bang!, Denver's defining comfort-food restaurant), Cafe Star did not fade away. Instead, it became the neighborhood spot that owners Tom and Marna Sumners (who also own Trattoria Stella in Highland) had always wanted — no longer such a destination restaurant, but rather a solidly good, simple and manageable local place for a fine lunch on the patio, a few drinks or a dinner. The essential structure of the place — the slinky curves, the hanging walls that look like they were made of candied glass, the comfortable spacing between the finely set tables — hasn't changed a bit. The service is still friendly and personable while maintaining just enough professionalism that the linen napkins and wine glasses don't seem out of place. And the menu has been simplified, stripped of some of its Continental pretense, re-jiggered and aimed squarely at the neighborhood diner.
Which isn't to say that the quality has suffered. On the contrary, I stopped in for what I meant to be a quick lunch late last week and ended up lingering over a simple margherita pizza with fresh mozz and quartered cherry tomatoes on an excellent, savory cornmeal crust that was assembled (and cooked) with infinitely more precision than the comparable pie at Second Home. And while the massive sliced-steak salad (blue cheese and Bibb lettuce encircled by a ring of deliciously bloody-rare cow pieces) was nothing to write home about, the salami sandwich absolutely was — an excellent plate of Italian salumi meats overturned onto two halves of a gently toasted Italian roll, topped with cheese, with sandwich oil and with lettuce, then served alongside a scant handful of terrible housemade potato chips. (No real criticism there, though: Restaurants have been trying to pull off the whole housemade-potato-chip thing for years and, to my knowledge, no one yet has managed to come up with a chip anything better than awful.)
3201 East Colfax Avenue
The dinner menu at Star is slightly deeper, with apps, pastas and a half-dozen entrees. And while it doesn't rank up there with the magical menus Weitzman created, Carlin has done an admirable job of repositioning Star as a true neighborhood restaurant.
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