After ten months of permitting, construction and inspections, the Wazee Supper Club space at 1600 15th Street has been transformed into Morin, a French restaurant under chef Max MacKissock that will officially open to the public on Thursday, October 11.
Morin, named for MacKissock's mother's side of his family, comes from the Culinary Creative Group, headed by Juan Padro and Katie O'Shea (founders of Highland Tap & Burger and its siblings) and MacKissock. The chef says the original concept for Morin was modeled after the "bistronomy" restaurants of Paris (casual eateries with food from high-end chefs fleeing the Michelin-starred scene), but its identity has shifted since conception. "We were using the phrase 'bistronomy' at the beginning, but I'm not as comfortable with that now," he explains.
While Morin captures the spirit of a casual neighborhood spot, it's a little too elegant — and the culinary program too ambitious — to uphold the bistronomy tag. The bones of the old Wazee Supper Club are still evident, primarily in the exposed brick walls, mezzanine seating (watch your head if you're tall), vintage dumbwaiter and stained-glass windows. But the old checkered floors are gone, the bar has been moved to the center of the dining room, and those stained-glass windows are partially covered with a lacy, laser-cut sculpture intended to resemble a map of the Normandy coast. A second sculpture, an inverse topographical map of Mont Blanc in white steel, hangs over the new bar.
Tan leather and maple-toned woods give the space a soft, tranquil ambience, and big windows facing 15th Street let in plenty of daylight. A new front entryway with a glass-walled foyer adds a little weatherproofing — good news for those seated near the front of the room. The few splashes of color within come from cobalt blue upholstery upstairs and potted succulents with like-colored throw pillows downstairs.
But who needs distractions when the main attraction is the food? MacKissock and his team, which includes longtime collaborator and Señor Bear opening chef Blake Edmunds, have put together a menu of original creations built around French ingredients and techniques, but without slavish devotion to tradition. So you won't find such Gallic standards as French onion soup, crepes or cassoulet, but you will notice a combination of luxury ingredients (lobster, foie gras, caviar) and humble farmhouse fare transformed as only the French can do.
In addition to expected menu categories along the lines of "small bites," "meat" or "seafood," there's also a whole section labeled "pommes de terre — potatoes." The Verrine Vichyssoise, for example, is an ode to the simple tuber prepared three ways and served in a short tumbler like a cocktail. But a caviar supplement turns the dish from a pretty appetizer into a decadent treat (bring some extra cash if you want the experience).
"Potatoes are such a humble ingredient," MacKissock says. "But you'd be shocked at how many chefs don't know how to cook them."
Edmunds chimes in with another example. "Eggplant is a pretty cheap ingredient, but there's eight hours of preparation," he says of the Aubergine et Tomate, made with crispy eggplant, confit tomato, buttermilk, eggplant "caviar" and basil.
There's similar attention to detail at the bar, with a wine and cocktail program designed by Perfect Pour and RiNo Yacht Club founders Mary Allison Wright and McClain Hedges. Natural wines, a brow-raising cider slate and cocktails that highlight French ingredients are part of their program. And there's even an Orangina stand-in: a lightly fermented but alcohol-free "Moringina" made with orange, fennel and vanilla.
Overall, MacKissock is aiming for a full dining experience that makes guests feel like they've really gotten their dollars' worth. Morin won't be cheap, but the chef says it's all about "value and perception of value. We want people to leave feeling satisfied. The environment we're going to have will be something special."
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So rather than small plates that groups descend on like wolves, the menu is built to provide a range of flavors for each diner, who the chef expects could create a meal from three dishes. "A lot of the dishes are personal dishes; they're not shareable," MacKissock notes. He's also in the planning stages of a tasting menu that will run four to seven courses, paced quickly so that the diner "is engaged the whole time" to keep the meal from bogging down.
Morin is far from the kind of drop-in pizza joint that drew downtowners to the corner of 15th and Wazee streets for more than forty years, but adds more destination dining to the hot zone between Union Station and Larimer Square. MacKissock once wowed guests at the Squeaky Bean just down the street; that space was also recently converted and reopened as Chow Morso Osteria in September.
The restaurant will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Reservations are now available beginning Thursday, October 11, on Open Table.