MOUTHING OFF

Up the creek: It was the first time I'd been served a piece of cake decorated with green rings of mold--and I'm hoping it will be the last. What surprised me wasn't that it finally happened, but where it happened--La Piazza, at 2710 East Third Avenue in Cherry Creek North. That's the restaurant co-owned by Adde Bjorklund, whose other place, the fun Bistro Adde Brewster, serves wonderful food without any signs of mold.

But there it was, on a piece of mocha-cino cake ($4), the ending to a lackluster lunch of lifeless Caesar salad, boring pasta with marinara sauce (both part of a stingy-portioned, $6.50 luncheon special) and pizza with a decent crust and fresh basil but questionable cheese ($10). When I called Bjorklund to warn him about the pastry, I'd barely uttered the words "La Piazza" before he asked me, "Should I just bomb the place?"

Then he had a better idea, which was to bring in Bistro partner Brewster Hanson and Hanson's wife, front-of-the-house whiz Carol Wheeler (who closed the couple's terrific breakfast spot, Mocha Cafe, last August), to turn the joint around--which they managed to do in a matter of weeks. "There was no one to really run the place," Wheeler says. "The management was inexperienced, the labor and food costs were way out of line. It just needed some straightening out."

And a reworked menu. A repeat visit found the same lunch special of Caesar and pasta, but this time the salad had been tossed with the dressing, instead of having the word "dressing" breathed over it. The marinara sauce was heartier, had more garlic and didn't taste of tomato paste. The real test, though, was dessert: The large square of tiramisu ($4) was light, rich and easy on the cinnamon. Most important, it was fresh.

Now if Sushi Tazu, at 300 Fillmore Street, would just get with the program. Fortunately, freshness isn't a problem at this new, tiny, Cherry Creek-cute sushi bar. No, the trouble with Tazu is that the sushi is a snooze. We tried the California rolls ($4 for eight slices), truly bland disks of rice, itsy bits of avocado and a pinkish shrimp substance with no flavor at all. Although the tuna ($3.25 for two) was tip-top, the sea urchin ($5.50 for two) was too cold to taste and the smelt eggs ($3.80 for two) were sloppy. Even the complimentary dishes of slaw were no bargain--cucumber overwhelmed all other ingredients.

Next door to Tazu sits Cafe Iguana, the first Mexican offering from Kevin Taylor (of Zenith American Grill fame). It appears, however, that this won't be the last. The February Restaurant News of the Rockies reports that Taylor and Anthony Cardone, his partner at both restaurants, intend to open three to five more Iguanas--all serving Yucatan and Oaxacan food--in the Denver-Boulder area and possibly in California.

Down in town: The need to breed more restaurants must be catching. Mike and Dan Shipp and Matt Fleming, owners of the mediocre Wazoo's on Wazee, will open Bella Ristorante at 1920 Market Street sometime in April. Anyone care for a milkshake with that spaghetti?

Meanwhile, a place that served real food to real people, Sadie's Caribbean Cafe, at 2334 Welton (behind the light-rail tracks), has boards across the windows and the phone has been disconnected. Go figure.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner