Seafood fans who have been missing their oysters, salmon and lobster since Chowder Room closed at 560 South Broadway in January will be happy to learn that the address will soon be home to a new fish house. Restaurant veteran Mario Vega is shooting for an early May opening for Mario's Ocean Club.
Vega recently moved to Denver to begin scouting a location for his restaurant concept and to be closer to his two sisters, who have lived here for more than 25 years. "It all just came together," he says of the timing of Chowder Room's closing and his plan to come to Colorado.
Because of the coincidence, Vega will be able to move quickly on getting his namesake restaurant open. He takes possession of the building this week (in a deal brokered by Mark Valente of Sanborn & Company) and will complete "not a remodel, but just a redecoration" of the space before opening.
"The menu will be what I call 'American catch,'" he explains, "with seafood from the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf [of Mexico]."
The daily lineup will be primarily small plates, and Vega will look to Colorado for additional menu items, including Colorado hybrid striped bass from Alamosa and Rocky Mountain trout. "Sustainability is a big deal in the seafood business," he notes. "It's something we have to look at if we're going to continue to feed everybody. The most important part is how it's sourced and where it comes from."
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That philosophy spills over to the bar menu, too, which will offer only Colorado-made beers and a spirits.
While Vega plans to source his seafood from American waters, the influences on the menu range a little farther from home. Vega's family originally came from El Salvador, so there will be Central American standards such as ceviche, and he'll also incorporate Asian dishes along with lobster rolls, a Maryland-style crabcake and a take on sole meunière using Colorado trout.
Vega's previous seafood experience includes many years working for Eddie V's in the Southwest and California. After meeting Matt Stein, who opened Chowder Room in early 2015 with his wife, Carrie, he realized the two shared similar approaches to sourcing seafood and had even worked with some of the same suppliers. (The Steins closed Chowder Room earlier this year to return to the wholesale seafood business in Los Angeles.)
Mario's Ocean Club initially will be open for dinner, with a goal of eventually adding lunch. If all goes according to plan, the restaurant will hold a soft opening the first week of May and will open officially the second week.