Foreign Service

Steakhouses, burger joints, places serving safe, recognizably Betty Crocker, ham-and-pineapple-slices American grub close all the time and for all sorts of reasons, so just imagine how tough it must be for a place like Los Cabos II (see review) to stay open while serving monster-shrimp soup and laurel bouillabaisse and gigantic plates of squid tentacles. Because I'm so wrapped up in my own bizarre culinary cosmos, it strikes me as unbelievable (and often annoyingly prosaic) when someone tells me he's never tried ceviche or eaten squid or seen a shrimp still in its full deep-sea samurai armor. But when I step back from my own world a pace or two and see how many people are lined up outside the local Chevys or Fuddruckers, I realize that Francesca Reese has had a run at Los Cabos (in all its incarnations, from Peruvian-Chinese karaoke bar to salsa club to downhome Andean community center) that's nothing short of miraculous. She may have locked up Denver's Peruvian ex-pats, but the odds of getting your average condo-dwelling yuppie or SUV-driving suburbanite down to Champa Street to dine on saffron-threaded paella, Peruvian stir-fry and sopa a la criolla (milky Andean-Creole soup) are not so good. Los Cabos II may be friendly and welcoming, but it's still serious gastronaut territory. Even without serving guinea pig.

But at least the lights are still on there. A space at 2257 West 32nd Avenue that once held another noble Peruvian effort was most recently home to Rincón Tropical, the Salvadoran restaurant that had a good, long run when it was located on 8615 East Colfax Avenue. But it didn't last a year after it relocated to Highland, and now Real de Oro is celebrating its grand opening at that address.

Even when the supporting ethnic community is large, that doesn't guarantee a restaurant's survival. Witness the demise of Festival, a Russian joint at 9250 East Hampden Avenue that featured plenty of borscht and babushkas, had a solid Eastern European menu and was the kind of nightclub people used to think of before the word "nightclub" came to be synonymous with nudity, Jäger shots and ketamine. Men wore jackets. Women wore dresses. And everyone (or almost everyone) danced. But when I was driving by a few weeks ago, I noticed the place had become something called Teens or Teenz or Tens (the new sign is almost indecipherable), which advertises itself as "the ultimate club experience" and offers live music, big-screen TVs, a ladies' night and drink specials, and has the word "bar" written in big yellow letters across the dusty front window.

Also gone is Back Home, the Cajuny, soul-food, Southern-fried eatery that moved into a big space at 1780 South Buckley Road in Aurora last year.

But there's good news over at Caribbean Cuisine + More. Owner Vivienne Donaldson reports that in a few months, her wonderful little Jamaican-Caribbean-soul-food restaurant at 15445 East Iliff Avenue in Aurora will move to (slightly) bigger and (much) better digs at the corner of Iliff and Buckley. The lease on her current space is up at the end of the year, and the owners were unwilling to renew because they want to lease it to another strip-mall church or something like that.

"That's fine, though," says Donaldson. At this point, she understands that what's holding her place back isn't the food (which is excellent, thanks to a great crew in the kitchen, a menu full of good grub and a cooler stocked with Jamaican ginger beer), or the service (which is almost shockingly fast: three bags of takeout in under ten minutes the last time I was there), or a lack of regular customers (she has plenty of those).

No, the problem is that the current Caribbean Cuisine is all but invisible unless you happen to be wandering into the plaza at Iliff and Idalia to get your hair cut or your teeth cleaned, or to purchase something from Sam's Meats on the corner (which is how I found it). At the new location -- where she'll be near a King Soopers, an Anthony's pizza joint and an Old Chicago, among other things -- she'll have much better visibility, about 200 square feet more space, and a whole bunch of new neighbors to cook for.

All about the drama: Even the French aren't immune in this Olive Garden kind of world. Witness the recent closure of The Savoy up in Berthoud. Jean and Chantal Martini opened this classic French brasserie and bistro back in 1992, and it's long been a fave of both civilians and day-tripping chefs looking to get a little Frog in 'em. My buddy Sean -- former chef, patissière, used-car salesman and one of my most dependable mercenary eaters until the day he packed up his gear and ran off to Costa Rica with his knife kit in hand and a Dutch model on his arm -- counted the Savoy as his favorite restaurant in the state. I, too, am mourning its passing, but take heart in the news that the Martinis may open a new place in Fort Collins.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan