Michel Wahaltere has cooked all over Colorado, most recently at Gisella, in Aspen, which closed last year. He was the opening chef of Campo de Fiori in Cherry Creek -- now Pikkas; the original exec chef of the 9th Door in LoDo; the opening chef of MiniBAR, a concept that also shuttered years ago in Cherry Creek; the exec chef of the long-gone Moda, now 100% de Agave -- and several more local restaurant and culinary concepts, including a food truck that he named Chicago Louie's paddy wagon. And now he's back in Denver, where he's the executive chef of Ambli Gourmet Eatery & Wine, a strip mall stunner that opened earlier this month at 600 South Holly Street.
"I went through a divorce while I was in Aspen, and it took me a while before I became emotionally ready to leave that town and return to Denver, but I love this city -- it's become such an amazing mecca for foodies -- and I was ready to start a new adventure," says Wahaltere, who partnered with owners Pariza Mehta and Kelly Morrison on Ambli, a "global" food concept emphasizing international dishes geared toward the takeout crowd. "We're doing dishes from France, Italy, the Middle East, Africa, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Mexico, all of which have my own twists, and a lot of what we have on the menu are prepared foods that you're certainly welcome to eat here, but can also be taken home and easily reheated," explains Wahaltere.
The 3,500-square-foot communal cafe and bar mimics the global cuisine concept: prepared foods are served from a spherical island in the middle of the space; a sandwich, soup and salad station is curve-shaped; the ceiling design is rounded; and an elevated bar area, which serves a separate tapas menu, is also swerved in curves. The color palette -- bright blue, stark white, sherbert orange and muted chocolate -- is modern, and there's a small retail component, too, shelved with unique wine-focused products and accessories.
And wine, says bar manager Ethan Davis, formerly of the Kitchen, Denver, is the primary focus, too, of the beverage program. "We have a few cocktails, but we really want to make this about pairing wines with food, so that's what we're stressing," says Davis, adding, too, that the small but formidable beer list, which features bottles from Italy, China, India, Mexico, Germany, the UK and Colorado, represents the worldly culinary culture that defines Wahaltere's menu -- a menu that boasts pastas and flatbreads, made-to-order sandwiches and customized salads, Indian and African curries, hummus and side dishes, including roasted vegetables, pan-roasted Brussels sprouts, curried potatoes and quinoa salad.
All of the side dishes and entrees are available to go, while the tapas, a scroll that features samosas, chicken ticca skewers with naan, African beef kabobs and tempura spinach leaves (they're amazing) are only served in-house, either at the bar, or in the cafe. In addition, Wahaltere is offering daily specials, including desserts, which can also be packaged to go.
"It's a novel idea insomuch that we're giving guests the option to run in and grab something to go on the run, or stay and have a glass of wine and a great meal in a really beautiful space," says Wahaltere. "It's a little unusual, but I like to do things a little differently, and we're definitely elevating the takeout part of this to a much higher level," he adds.
Ambli is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday; Sunday brunch will begin on Sunday, February 23.
Flip the page for a photo gallery of the space and the food.
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