Change of Plans

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My visits to Venice Ristorante (see review) reminded me that I needed to stop by the sleek-and-shiny Via, just across the way at 1801 Wynkoop Street. The Momo brothers opened Via in the old home of Brasserie Rouge in August 2005, the same month Alessandro Carollo opened his new Venice in the old home of Adega.

But then I heard that Via's big-name chef, Rollie Wesen, was bailing out of the kitchen after less than six months at his post. That's about six months longer than he lasted at his last gig, as executive chef at the then-brand-spanking new Summit at the Broadmoor Hotel. Wesen barely had time to hang his hat in Colorado Springs before he and the management there decided to call it quits. The split with Via was reportedly amicable, but beyond that, no one's talking.

Wesen's looking for a new job, the Momos are looking for a new chef -- and while they're at it, they should get a new menu. The one I saw posted there a couple of weeks ago showed no particular inspiration, nothing to challenge the crowds of sappish, well-heeled foodistas who -- for reasons totally beyond me -- still seem to be falling for the back-lit bar bottles and sculpted decor trickery of Via when Venice is just staggering distance away.


Via/Sean Kelly

Change of plans, redux: The rumor surfaced a couple of weeks ago -- Somethin' Else, chef Sean Kelly's embattled restaurant at 1313 East Sixth Avenue, had been sold. And by last week, the rumor had become reality. After four years at that address -- after name changes, annexations, remodels, changes in focus and concept and a thousand nights in the tiny, cramped, one-man kitchen -- Kelly was finally throwing in the towel.

"Tell me it isn't true, Sean," I demanded when I got him on the phone. "Tell me what's going on."

And he did, offering a very simple story that went something like this: "You got two good guys, ready to go into business, with a pocketful of money. It's a no-brainer."

Those two guys are Alex Seidel and Paul Attardi, both industry veterans most recently of Frank Bonanno's Mediterranean wonder Mizuna. Attardi has actually been working the floor at Somethin' Else for more than a month; Seidel has been on vacation. And now the two of them are going to be taking over the place, with Kelly's blessing.

"You know this business," he said. "Guys are poised and they're ready. Young guys. And Alex is one of them. He's done ten years of hard-core line duty, and now he's gotta take his shot. He's ready. I'm ready. It's good."

Kelly told me that the space was never listed, never put on the market. He'd never told anyone he was looking to sell, wasn't even seriously thinking about it. ("There's no doubt that half the restaurant owners in Colorado must think about putting their places up during the summer," he explained. "But, no, it was never something I pursued.") The deal came together the way most good things do in this business -- on the phone, over drinks, at the end of service and in the back. It might've come together even faster, but "the landlord is on vacation," Kelly said. "Ain't that always the way?"

Kelly had some previous connection with the guys; when he ran Aubergine in the spot that's now Mizuna, Attardi was his un-minted head waiter. And he knew Seidel through Bonanno. He knew enough to feel confident that the space was going into good hands.

So Kelly decided to get out while his name still means something good -- nothing more to it than that. "There's been no ugliness," he said. "No secrets. I just couldn't do that whole lock-the-door-without-telling-anyone thing. Business has been all right. It's just time, you know? It's just time."

Maybe so. "Look," he told me. "I'm going to be 45 on my next birthday. I've been doing this for thirty years. It's been a good run here; I have no complaints. And after I'm gone, I'm sure there's going to come a day when I look back and I can say, man, I really accomplished something, you know? But right now, it's the kids. Family. I want to see a baseball game. A soccer game. I gotta make a couple soccer games in the next couple years or I'm a shmuck, right?"

He laughed -- a man at ease with his decision, even if I, on the other end of the line, was not.

"Man, the kid doesn't care how many covers you did on a Saturday night," he added. "The kid doesn't care how much money you made. All the kid remembers is whether or not you were there."

Kelly figures Somethin' Else will keep serving for a few more weeks before closing for a quick turnkey remodel, then reopening as Fruition. He's not sure what he's going to do next. He's got some things lined up, some people to talk to. "I want to be an employee," he explained. "I want to punch a clock."

Leftovers: To mark the fifth birthday of Solera (5410 East Colfax Avenue), chef/owner Goose Sorensen is celebrating the way proper chefs celebrate everything -- with a king-hell blowout party. Taking a page from the Denver Restaurant Week playbook, he's offering a three-course, $54.10 prix fixe menu highlighting some of his favorites -- applewood smoked duck with agnolotti, East Coast striped bass over fingerling potatoes -- along with paired wines. The week-long celebration starts on November 13 and culminates the following Sunday with an invite-only shindig for friends of the house, neighbors, staff, restaurant guys, conspirators, compatriots and, no doubt, the legions of lawyers involved in extricating the restaurant from the mess left behind after the departure of former partner Brian Klinginsmith. According to Sorensen, Klinginsmith is in hiding somewhere in California and being sought by numerous unsavory characters with grudges.

But in Denver, there's reason to celebrate. "It's going to be a party, man," Sorensen says. "A big party -- five years. We're getting out of survival mode, getting a new start. And on Sunday, it's going to have everything: fire engines, hookers, guns, everything."

He's kidding about that, of course. Maybe.

When the smoke clears, Sorensen plans to freshen up Solera. He already introduced a new menu last week; now he's thinking about decor changes, another expansion of the garden, adding a happy hour for the neighborhood from 5 to 7 p.m. daily.

"It's weird," he says. "I've been doing this so long, but this is the first time I've ever had to try and drive the business. The first time I've ever even had to think about things like that. But I think it's gonna be fun."

Of that, I have no doubt.

Finally, Mel and Janie Master have found a chef for their new restaurant, Montecito, that's poised to take over the Piscos space on Sixth Avenue: Adam Mali, formerly of Ajax Tavern in Aspen.

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