Second Helpings

Nine75

Kevin Taylor has a big restaurant empire that has occasionally shrunk to a smaller restaurant empire, with closures both temporary (Palettes, the restaurant that reopened last year in the Denver Art Museum; see review) and permanent, but he's now back in an expansionist mode.

Jim Sullivan knows all about boom-and-bust cycles. With his Sullivan Restaurant Group, the developer-turned-restaurateur has followed a more rock-and-roll path than Taylor, opening flashy joints that appeal almost equally to Denver's big-spending power elite as well as its more fiscally restrained yuppies. Sullivan has a steakhouse attached to a strip club, a fish restaurant built over the bones of his failed paean to international socialism, memories of a couple of now-closed Emogene's outlets, and Nine75 — the bedrock of his group and his best shot at expansion.

Nine75 was not the first restaurant that Sullivan opened, but it was the one, I think, that best expressed the nascent vision he had for his group. It was a cool room jammed into an almost impossibly bad space in one corner of the Beauvallon development, a barbell-shaped layout with the dining room in front, a lounge in the back and the kitchen squeezed into the middle. Still, it was sleek, kitted out primarily in black, with excellent service and a soundtrack that just couldn't be beat. And though it took time, Nine75 eventually brought in a good crowd — folks who came both for the atmosphere (Mötley Crüe on the radio, cool liner plates decorated with logos like classic tattoos) and the menu, designed by Sullivan's son-in-law and executive chef, Troy Guard.

But Guard left the Sullivan Group at the beginning of August, taking a few key staffers with him, so last week I decided to revisit Nine75. And I have to say, I didn't notice much that was different. It was still disconcerting to eat while being stared at by the giant caricature-portrait of Keith Richards hung on the wall, but I was also eating some very worthwhile things. Signature dishes like the miso-marinated black cod, ceviche shooters and meatloaf were still holding down their traditional slots on the short, tight menu, even if some of the sides had changed; my chipotle lobster tacos, long a favorite, were as good as ever. A new addition, crabcake sliders, were a bit mushy but otherwise decent. All in all, Nine75 seemed pretty much unchanged — proof that the crew was so well trained by their one-time exec that his disappearance didn't affect their performance at all. Or perhaps that they'd been operating on their own so long, they simply didn't miss him.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan