Cafe Society

Mouthing Off

Tommy knockers: The Larimer Group is getting ready to expand outside Larimer--about a hundred feet away, actually, into the parking structure that the company built one street over in LoDo. The folks responsible for Cadillac Ranch, Mexicali Cafe, Champion Brewing Co. and Josephina's, among others, will soon open Tommy Tsunami at 1432 Market Street.

Maybe it's just me, but doesn't "Tommy Tsunami" sound a little silly? (That East-meets-West cutesiness didn't cut it at China Cowboy, for example.) Not as silly as it could have, apparently; according to Larimer Group's Randy Rutherford, the original concept was for a Chinese/Italian restaurant that would have been called "Gianni-chow" (which sounds like something from Purina). When the group decided to go Pan-Pacific instead, it hit on the name "Johnny Tsunami," then realized "Tommy" worked better.

That's not the only name change. The working title for Tommy's rolls filled with ono (the Hawaiian word for the wahoo fish), fresh mint and red-chile pesto had been "Unified Vietnam Spring Rolls," but "we decided that name might not go over very well," Rutherford says. "We're trying to be sensitive about stuff like that. We might call them 'Yoko Ono Rolls.'"

The "Unified Vietnam" name, which had been printed on a prototype menu, also made it into a recent Rocky Mountain News story on the Larimer Group's new venture. "Of the twenty or thirty things on the menu, that's the one that gets published," Rutherford laments.

It's also the one that provoked an outraged call from a local Vietnamese restaurateur, who asked that his name not be used. "It's a good thing these guys pander mainly to tourists," the restaurateur says. (Tommy's will also "appeal to the farmer from Ohio" by dishing out such items as oakwood-grilled pork chops, according to the News article.) "The only reaction from Denver's generally dignified Asian community is going to be a cold shoulder."

An Asian friend's reaction was more succinct: "Asians eating spring rolls with pesto is like Jews eating blueberry bagels."

At least the ownership company that created Chipotle Mexican Grill has stuck to foods that Mexicans actually eat. This local chain does some of the best burritos in town--and now it's about to make more of them. (El Taco de Mexico is the only place in Denver that can touch Chipotle, actually surpassing the latter when it comes to tacos and burritos made with more, shall we say, unusual stuffings, such as brains and tongue.) With a track record of three years at his first Chipotle (1644 East Evans Avenue), a year at his second (745 Colorado Boulevard) and four months at a third (7541 South University Boulevard), company founder Steve Ells plans to open five more outlets in Denver by the end of 1996. (El Taco, on the other hand, seems to be sticking with two.) Ells, a University of Colorado grad who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, also intends to go national in the next two years. Let's hope he can avoid the production problems that plague so many chain restaurants when they hit the big time.

One of the projected Chipotle locations is at the Park Meadows mall, where its presence would help offset some of the junk I've heard is expected to go in there, like Chik-Fil-A and Orange Julius. Tommy Tsunami, anyone?

--Kyle Wagner

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner