Rob and I had been talking about Wild Catch since it opened this summer, our anticipation building with every friend we ran into who raved about the place. "The food's damn near perfect," one promised. "Best restaurant in Denver right now," said another.
We were waiting. Or, more specifically, I was. I was giving the place the requisite two-month grace period before dropping in for critical purposes, because I think it takes that long -- sometimes longer -- for a restaurant to really get up and running. But after Wild Catch had been open sixty days, the place moved to the front of my dining-out docket.
I finally made a reservation there for this past Friday, looking forward to rewarding Rob's unrelenting willingness to travel to all corners of the city and eat anything I order by treating him to a work-related meal that would actually be a romantic date, complete with good wine and foie gras.
We pulled into the valet three minutes late for our reservation, but when we approached the host stand, the hostess graciously informed us that our table wasn't quite ready. So we stood at the bar and examined the drinks list on an iPad, admiring the producer representation and price span of the wines and delighting in cocktails like the 50/50, a half-and-half blend of green and yellow chartreuse.
The sparsely decorated dining room was oddly bright, the exposed brick of one wall offset by the white color scheme and light woods that filled the rest of the room. That spartan feel could have easily made the place cold, but the chatter, along with a busy, smiling staff, made the room feel warm and good -- and removed from the rest of the world.
When we finally did sit, we were attended to by a well-choreographed team. The army of servers kept an eye on our sourdough bread and nori-dotted butter, our water and wine glasses, our utensils and our plates. They were conversational and warm, and, for the most part, they exhibited fine-dining professionalism.
Most important, they never interfered with our enjoyment of the food, which was immense. We ate a velvety lobe of seared foie gras over a flaky apple tart, enjoying the classic savory-sweet pairing. "Excellent foie," I noted under the table while Rob snapped photos with his phone so that I could remember everything. "Want the pastry recipe." The scallop entree, served with a cauliflower puree and a warm cauliflower salad, got an "absolutely perfect." The pork osso buco on a bed of braun-studded charcute received a "rich, tender, voluptuous and sexy." And the pumpkin doughnuts, I wrote, were one of my favorite desserts of the whole year. Not everything was perfect at Wild Catch that night -- I logged a couple of complaints, too -- but by the time I'd finished my last bite of doughnut, I'd concluded that with chef Justin Brunson in the kitchen and Blue Hill alum Jonathan Greschler on the floor, the place rivaled any restaurant in the city -- and I'm talking in the Frasca and Fruition category. I couldn't wait to write the review. And selfishly, I couldn't wait to come back for the rest of the menu.
Full and happy, we were finishing our coffee while conversations around us hummed along over the occasional clink of glasses. And then Greschler came and sat down at my table.
I'd been busted. I'd expected it to happen at some point: I'm in Masterpiece Deli, Brunson's Highland spot, frequently, and one of the cooks there is a former co-worker of mine, but I hadn't spotted the chef in the open kitchen that night.
I prepared to answer questions without giving too much away -- that's usually what happens when I'm blatantly called out -- but Greschler didn't want to talk much about the meal.
"How's everything going?" I asked. And then I heard about the pre-service locksmith, about the canceled valet, about the struggles with owner Dan Kuhlman over even putting art on the walls. Brunson wasn't cooking, Greschler told me, because he was trying to figure out what to do. There was a chance Brunson would buy out Kuhlman with the help of investors. There was a chance the restaurant would shut down the next day. And in the midst of that utter chaos, the whole staff was holding it together to deliver service to the unwitting guests in the dining room who had come in for a meal.
I was stunned.
To Greschler's credit, he cracked a joke: "Okay. See you in a couple of weeks on a Thursday?"
As our car pulled up in front of the restaurant -- which, at 10:45, still had a crowd -- it was hard to imagine that there were anything but good times ahead for Wild Catch. They'll figure it out, I thought. The place is too good for them not to.
The next day, Brunson, Greschler and the rest of the staff walked -- and Wild Catch as we knew it, as I'd experienced it during that one stunning meal, closed.
Assuming the place stays open -- and it looks like it will begin serving again as soon as Kuhlman can get a new staff in there -- I'll give it another two months, then return to review it, since it will essentially be a new restaurant without Brunson at the burners or Greschler working the floor. But my meal last Friday will never be part of the review.
It's like a lost meal. And one so good that I'm very sad to lose it.
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