I had a rough time of it when last I found myself under chef Chad Clevenger's care at Mel's Restaurant in Greenwood Village. But my experience was nothing compared to how Clevenger and his crew must've felt once my review of the restaurant came out.
Still, I have to give the guy credit for hanging in there and using the criticism leveled against him to improve the operation he inherited from Mel Master over a year ago. He refocused on the work being done in his kitchen, changed his menu, and kept a more careful eye on the plates leaving his line. I know all this because we talked about it. At length.
During our conversation, he told me about the troubles with his location and about his dreams of doing food that was more his style. "Over the past year [Clevenger has] been trying, slowly and carefully, to warp things into a form that provides more excitement -- if not for customers, then certainly for him." I wrote back in July. "He's just introduced a new menu that tinkers with four or five of the entrees, about as many apps. This isn't the first time he's reworked his board, but each time, he takes it a little further. He's already been trying to sneak little hints of molecular cuisine onto his menus, he told me, sparks of magic like fluid gels and compressed avocados. He's also toyed with modernist approaches to plating and presentation, to food in general."
And now, he has taken that tinkering even further with another menu change that, while keeping to "Mel's style food," he says, also has "my food coming through a little bit more. I can't push too hard down here, but I'm trying to open people up to some new stuff."
New stuff like bacon-dusted pear and gorgonzola fritters with pomegranate and black pepper fluid gel, house-cured and -braised Kurobuta bacon with seared foie gras, butternut squash puree and an almond milk/vanilla air.
And that's just on the appetizer menu.
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By this weekend, he'll have changed seven of the twelve entrees on his list of mains as well, adding things like crispy Colorado striped bass with a piquillo pepper emulsion and olive oil tapioca pearls, and a brined and grilled pork tenderloin with apple/fennel/barley risotto, country ham and brussels sprouts (as the veg!) and then a "caramel of cardamom and pork belly jus" that, even after Clevenger described it to me, I was barely able to understand.
Still, it sounds good. Sounds interesting. Sounds like Clevenger is finally getting his focus back by pushing himself (and his crew) in the kitchen, hoping that the people of Greenwood Village will follow him wherever he goes.
I asked him how the crowds were taking to his experiments and seasonal changes. "It oes over okay," he told me. "Hopefully, someday I'll be able to do a menu that's all what I want to do."
In the meantime, using fluid gels and tapioca pearls and pork belly caramel on just half his plates will have to be enough for him. It's certainly enough to make me think that it might be time to schedule a return visit to Mel's.