"Look at the light, look at the outdoors," says Rich Grant, pointing to the setting sun. Surrounded by three stories of large glass windows in the Cable Center, it's easy to appreciate one of Colorado's best assets -- the outdoors -- and to get the point he's making: Why not hold restaurant week during the Summer, when the state is full of light and fresh produce is at its peak?
Denver's Restaurant Week, started ten years ago, featured 84 participating restaurants -- a number that has risen to over 200 this year. "When we had it for two weeks," Grant says, "it was the biggest restaurant week in the country. The feedback we were getting from everyone -- from customers and restaurants -- was to scale it back to one week in the winter and then try one week in the summer."
And it makes sense. Many restaurants have patios or rooftops that, when in use, add 50 to 60 percent more seats. But more importantly, it puts Colorado-grown food on the front burner.
"Colorado is now known for locally sourced food, and for our produce," Grant explains, referring to Olathe corn and peaches that are currently being harvested in Western Colorado. "We're going to have some really great things that you can only do in the summer. It's a great showcase for the state."
As communications director for Visit Denver, the organization that created Restaurant Week, Grant has seen this showcase evolve.
"I was in the room when we started Restaurant Week ten years ago. It was like a Continental Congress of restaurateurs -- Frank Bonanno was there, Yasu (Kizaki) from Sushi Den was there. We said, 'Let's try this.'"
Keep reading for more about Restaurant Week, and more photos...
The new Restaurant week comes at a good time for Colorado. Seven days of Denver dining will be sandwiched between the US Pro Challenge bike race and A Taste of Colorado, which begins on August 29th.
Grant believes that by adding a week in August will be great for everyone, and will help position the event to attract national attention. "Almost everybody here is from somewhere else," he says, "and they have relatives from somewhere else. We get the locals talking about how great the food scene is here, and they talk about it in their communities. The more we get everybody in Denver talking about the food scene here the word goes faster."
That seems to be working.
"Last year was the best tourism year we ever had," Grant adds, "and we're already ahead of that. We have the number-one economy in the country. Things are very good." With hotel occupancy rates and average hotel room rates on the rise, Colorado is swelling with tourists, who will take up seats at restaurants across the city, sampling some of Denver's best dishes and drinks.
"It's an exciting week," he says. "I think it's going to be a smash success."
Nine Denver restaurants plated samples for guests at the kick-off party: Brandon Biederman (Ace Eat Serve), Troy Guard (TAG), Frank Bonanno (Luca d'Italia), Kevin Grossi (Lola), Brandon Foster (Vesta Dipping Grill), Andrea Frizzi (Il Posto), Yasmin Lozada-Hissom (Spuntino), John Broening (Argyll Whiskey Beer), and Jeremy Kittelson (Linger).
Some of the offerings from the evening, which will be available during Restaurant Week, included Spuntino's cucumber and avocado soup, topped with lump crab, beet greens and olive oil; Luca d'Italia's fresh mozzarella and roasted red pepper, wrapped in prosciutto and topped with fresh basil pesto; and TAG's chicken liver pate on crostini, topped with a salsa made from Palisade peach and Olathe corn, pickled shallots and crumbled pistachios.