Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar opens tonight in the Spire

"I've spent the last month as a babysitter, as a life coach and as a hustler," quips Arik Markus. "Now, I finally get to do what I should be doing -- cooking and feeding people."

Markus, the executive chef and co-partner of Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar, a New American restaurant that opens tonight in the Spire, has spent the last several months building -- and equipping -- his exhibition kitchen, and he's more than ready to unleash what he calls "experimental cuisine" on Denver gastronauts. "My menu," explains Markus, is "broad in scope and represents all different cuisines, but the goal," he continues, "is to represent each cuisine independently and to honor each of their traditions, because these are cuisines that have been around a lot longer than I have."

After spending just under a year as a chef tournant at Boulder's Frasca Food & Wine, and prior to that, cooking in restaurants in New York City -- Le Bernardin and Daniel Boulud's eponymous Manhattan restaurant among them -- Los Angeles, which Markus calls a "layover" and several years in San Francisco, he moved to Denver. And it was here where he became friends with David Schneider, a long-time restaurateur, who's also the visionary behind Row 14. Schneider's 100-seat, cosmopolitan dining room, whose focal piece, a sepia-hued, wall-size mural, circa1940s France depicting a bunch of guys hanging out at a soccer match, chugging wine from a paper bag, is urban and polished. The bar area, separated from the dining room by floor-to-ceiling chain-link drapes, is bedecked with a long community table that's bound to be a hip gathering place for downtown denizens.

"David's a great partner, I love the space that he's created here, and I'm really happy to be cooking in Denver," says Markus. "I love the energy of this city, and I really think that the Denver restaurant scene is on a significant upswing -- that we're joining a special pantheon of restaurants ready to stomp the national food map."

And he's thrilled to be a part of it. "Frasca was a great landing pad when I first moved to Colorado, but here, I have the freedom to have a lot of fun, to change the menu as I see fit, and to meet people in this community who are passionate about food," says Markus, adding, too, that his menu, a multicultural homage to the seasons, will continually evolve.

Frankly, I'm not sure I want it to, because, at least in print, it reads like the holy grail of greatness: brandade fritters; roasted chicken pot pie with Brussels sprouts; duck confit; bouillabaisse; roasted Brussels sprouts and pork belly; a butcher block of charcuterie and cheeses -- and that's just the beginning. "My lineage goes back to Escoffier, and I have to respect those traditions by cooking quality food," insists Markus. "I can't serve crap; it has to have integrity."

That's a creed we can live by.

Row 14 is open for dinner tonight, and beginning tomorrow, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Friday; 5 to 11 p.m. on Saturday; and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. In addition, happy hour runs from 4 to 6 p.m., Sunday through Friday, and Markus is also offering a late-night bar menu. For more info, cal 303-825-0100.

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