Cafe Society

Mouthing Off

Things to do in Denver when you're fed: The executive editor of Food & Wine magazine, Denise Martin, ate her way through Denver this past weekend. Here to check out some of our finest chefs for possible inclusion in the publication's annual "Ten Best New Chefs" awards, Martin relied on recommendations from local food writers as to worthy young head chefs (they cannot have been top toques for more than five years). In the end, she tasted fare from Sean Kelly, chef/owner of Aubergine Cafe; Chris Fallon at Mel's Bar & Grill; and Bradford Heap at Boulder's Full Moon Pasta. I'm hoping that I was able to talk her into also stopping by Napa Cafe to sample the fare of Tyler Wiard--someone told her he needed to "settle down a bit" first. Please. If Wiard ever does settle down, Denver will lose one of its creative risk-takers, a description that applies to only a handful of chefs in this city.

I was lucky enough to have lunch with the very down-to-earth Martin at Today's Gourmet Highlands Garden Cafe, which wasn't eligible for the chef's award (chef/owner Pat Perry has been at the helm of restaurants longer than the five-year limit), but was on Martin's list to try because the Rocky Mountain News's Bill St. John and I both raved about the place. Martin's and my meals were typically wonderful; also typically for people in food-related professions, we only finished half of our entrees. Not that the superb smoked salmon and cream cheese omelette ($7.50) and salmon with honey-bourbon glaze and blueberries ($8.50) weren't worthy--we just got busy talking shop and knew there were many more meals in our futures. Martin, still recovering from a snow-delayed flight out of New York, seemed surprised that Denver's entree prices are so low, that its markets are so pathetic, and that so few female head chefs and even fewer black people, period, work in our restaurants.

This was Martin's first trip to Denver, so she spent the time between meals wandering around LoDo and Larimer Square, both of which she found appallingly touristy. Once she discovered the Tattered Cover, however, she relaxed and made herself at home. In a nod to her New York lifestyle, she took a taxi everywhere--which turned out to be a blessing in Cherry Creek, where securing a parking space at dinner time on a Saturday night is like trying to flag a cab along busy Broadway in the Big Apple.

Since Food & Wine has always been geared more toward urban upper-class types with a second home on Martha's Vineyard, I asked Martin what the magazine will do when its baby-boomer readership--median age 42--isn't around anymore. The magazine certainly has thought of that, she said, and slowly is taking steps toward reaching younger, poorer types (my words, not hers). My suggestions: Find a wine writer who doesn't sound like he's got a tasting spoon up his rear end, stop writing so many stories about $300-a-night bed-and-breakfasts, and start seeking out the interesting characters in the food world who are out there growing, processing and discovering new foods so that places like Le Cirque can stay in business.

Meanwhile, Denver has added a former "Ten Best New Chefs" winner to its dining scene. Tim Anderson has signed on with the Rattlesnake Grill, presumably to help fill the large number of empty seats I've seen in that place during all but peak hours Friday and Saturday.

--Kyle Wagner

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner