Since chef Elise Wiggins left Panzano after more than a decade to open her own restaurant, Cattivella, the search has been on for a new executive chef at the Italian eatery on the ground floor of the Hotel Monaco downtown. Despite being part of the Kimpton hotel group, Panzano has always taken pride in being a chef-driven destination eatery catering as much to Denver diners as to hotel guests. In fact, in the restaurant's eighteen-year run, there have only been three executive chefs (one of those was Jennifer Jasinski, who went on to open Rioja and several other LoDo establishments). And now a fourth has been named: chef Patrick Kelly, who comes to Panzano with an impressive list of Bay Area eateries on his résumé.
Kelly is no stranger to this part of the country, though. He was born in Fremont, Nebraska, and also lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he first fell in love with restaurant kitchens while working as a busboy at a little place called L'Osteria Mondello. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he eventually made his way to Yountville and Napa in California's wine country, then worked in several prominent Bay Area establishments, including La Folie, Angèle and the Au Bon Repas group, where he was executive chef of culinary operations over five restaurants. Most recently, Kelly was the opening executive chef at Lure + Till.
Kelly describes his cooking style as anchored in local and seasonal ingredients, as evidenced by a new menu rich in fall flavors and produce — cauliflower, turnips, radicchio, Tuscan kale and celery root, to name a few. And, of course, this season also brings Italian and French truffles to Panzano's table; Kelly uses them on several pasta dishes and entrees.
While Kelly brings his own style to Panzano, he's also maintaining certain themes that have made the restaurant distinct: handmade pastas (including a few rarities like tajarin, lumache and cresta del gallo), a good variety of meatless options and a gluten-free menu that has become known as one of the best in town.
Kelly has been adding his own dishes to the menu over the past several weeks to allow his crew to master each plate, but the full menu is now available, including a five-course tasting tour for $65 per person. Here's a look at a few of the new dishes, from antipasti to dessert.