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First look: Tamayo's million dollar remodel

Holy tequila! What a difference a cool million makes. That's the approximate coinage spent on remodeling Tamayo, Richard Sandoval's modern Mexican restaurant in Larimer Square that was closed just under four weeks to significantly upgrade the two-tiered space, which now looks like a brand new restaurant that fits beautifully into the fabric of one of Denver's most popular restaurant rows. In fact, more money crossed hands for the remodel than on the original opening -- and it shows.

See also: - Tamayo, Richard Sandoval's Larimer Square restaurant, closes for colossal renovations - Star chef Richard Sandoval on corn smut and why he isn't likely to come to your house for dinner - Chef Richard Sandoval: Every day can be humbling

Gone are the carpeted floors; in their place are deep, dark hardwoods. The yellow walls have been brush-stroked with cream hues; burnt orange booths and sleek C-shaped booths the color of ebony have replaced the former upholstered ones; ornate, heavy Mexican chairs, cushioned with blue leather slide up to the espresso-hued tables that line the windowed wall that peers over Fourteenth Street; striking light fixtures -- the new art -- including a 300-pound chandelier, illuminate the quarters, while amber candles give it a soft glow. And upstairs, on the rooftop patio, new furnishings -- sofas, chairs and tables, plus a new bar -- invite lingering well into the night.

But the interior isn't all that's changed: Approximately 75 percent of the menu is new. There are now four versions of guacamole, including a killer smash of avocados pelted with chicharrons; several new tacos -- al pastor and smoked brisket among them -- dot the menu, all of which are served with black beans, rice and salsa; Sandoval added a huitlicoche and wild mushroom enchilada dish, smothering it with a fire-roasted poblano chile sauce; carnitas, arranged in a pyramid, are done two ways and mounded on a blue-corn tortillas pooled in a habanero-orange glaze; and there are now a trio of cazuelas -- traditional Mexican braises -- delivered with warm tortillas.

The beverage program has been upgraded, as well, with nearly 150 tequilas lining the shelves above the bar. House-infused tequilas, featured in flights, utilize teas, fresh herbs and fruits, and there's a small but formidable cocktail roster that will change seasonally, as will the infusions. And while Tamayo has always poured a superb margarita, several more have been added to the syllabus, including fresh fruit margaritas concocted with mangoes, strawberries or blood oranges.

Over the next few days, Tamayo will host friends and family dinners, and on Monday, it'll open to the public for lunch -- and resume its regular hours. But I was lucky enough to get an exclusive first look yesterday, and both the food and the space are picture-perfect.

Guacamole with chicharron, pickled chiles, cotija cheese crumbles, rings of red Serrano chiles and jicama. The new dining room. Mexico City-style corn-on-the-cob, dusted with chile and dipped in butter. The bar, which still trumpets the kaleidoscopic mural -- it's about the only thing that remains after the remodel -- is now stocked with nearly 150 tequilas. Huitlacoche, roasted garlic and wild mushroom enchiladas blanketed with a fire-roasted poblano chile sauce and dots of Mexican ricotta. Smoked pear martini with Dos Gusanos mezcal, pear puree, burnt honey and citrus. Rock shrimp and bacon quesadilla paired with tomatillo-chipotle salsa and a swipe of avocado espuma. Squash blossom and roasted corn masa turnovers drizzled with crema, tomatillo salsa and a three-chile salsa. An example of one of the new light fixtures. A Richard Sandoval-exclusive barrel-aged tequila will be added to Tamayo's beverage lineup. House-infused tequilas. Smoked brisket tacos topped with creamy chile slaw, avocado slices and pickled onion -- and served with an habanero and guava hot sauce, black beans and Mexican rice. Another chandelier that hangs above the downstairs lounge. The lounge that looks over Larimer Square. Al pastor tacos crowned with grilled pineapple, pickled onions and cilantro. The revamped patio, which is also heated, making it a year-round gathering place. Mango margarita. The downstairs private party room, which will also handle overflow. Watermelon margarita. The new C-chaped black booths. House-infused tequila flight. A 300-pound chandelier hangs above the staircase up to the rooftop patio. Carnitas haloed with a red onion, cilantro and mandarin orange salsa. Short rib, tamarind mole and root vegetable cazuela. The dining room. Sauteed spinach, chicharron, garlic and mushroom spinach. Jarred light fixture suspended above the bar.

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