Simmer Time

Just in time for those record-setting temperatures, local pastry man John Hinman has opened the Gelato Spot at 1439 South Pearl Street, the former home of the Paris Flea Market. Hinman's turned the odd little space into an Italian garden complete with patio seating and a shady gazebo. It's the ideal setting for homemade, handcrafted artisan gelato, offered on a rotating board of fifty-some flavors -- everything from hazelnut to passion fruit, dulce de leche to dark chocolate -- in both sorbet and gelato styles, made fresh every day.

With the heat we've had recently, I'm surprised the stuff doesn't go from solid directly to gas the moment it's made, but Hinman has a great sense of timing. What with half the pedestrians on Pearl Street stuck to the sidewalks, their sneakers melted to the cement, he has a captive audience.

If Hinman's name sounds familiar, that's because he's been the sugar-pusher at some of Denver's best-known high-end spots. He did memorable desserts at Mel's and Vesta Dipping Grill, and before that was the pastry chef for Dave Query at Jax. Now his career has come almost full circle, because the Gelato Spot is providing gelatos and sorbets for the dessert menus of some of those same restaurants.

Once the weather cools a little (say, sometime around December), Hinman plans to convert the cottage at the back of the lot into an indoor bakery and espresso place that's like a fantasy Italian bakery: coffee in the morning, fresh bread all day, and a promise of bakery cases stocked with the product of no fewer than four of Denver's best patissières at any given time.

Location, location location: Last week I reported that chef/owner Goose Sorenson had just lost his number-one man -- Mark Teffenhart -- to Radek Cerny at L'Atelier. Teffenhart was going in as chef de cuisine for the night shift at Radek's Boulder workshop (chef Omar Fray, late of Hapa Sushi, has the line during the day), which sounded a little strange to me, since L'Atelier has always been hyped as a one-man show: Radek's cuisine cooked by Radek himself. And under those circumstances -- a chef de cuisine is traditionally the guy on the front lines charged with translating the executive chef's vision into the actual food on the plate -- just what would Teffenhart do?

That got me to thinking about one of those old rumors that's been knocking around the scene so long it's started to grow a beard, about Radek hooking up with some unnamed money and talent from New York (I heard Guy Savoy, I heard Eric Ripert) for a Las Vegas venture at one of the big casinos. So I called Radek last week and, come to find out, there's actually some truth to that rumor. He has been looking around the Sin City scene for the past several months, but so far hasn't gotten much beyond looking. "You know how it is," Radek told me. "You're always looking."

He's also looking at a possible expansion into the Highland neighborhood right here in Denver, and says that if he can find a place close to home, then it's bye-bye casino, hello Highland. "Sooner or later, I'll find something," he said.

Meanwhile, chef Matt Selby and partner Josh Wolkon from Vesta Dipping Grill can be moved from the "always looking" category into the "found a space" column. After eight years of killer business at their consistently excellent LoDo joint, they've finally picked a spot for a second restaurant, Steuben's, which will go into a space on 17th Avenue near Pearl Street, with a tentative opening next May. It sounds a long way off, but planning and forethought helped make Vesta one of the town's most popular restaurants and Selby one of Denver's best-known chefs.

Rather than rely on the dipping-grill concept that's made Vesta such a success (and has been ripped off so many times since), Steuben's will focus on the "eclectic comfort market," Selby says. "Not the kitschy, comfort-food crap that's out there, but something more worldly and comforting, while trying to avoid all that bistro nonsense." Selby will be on the roster as executive chef when Steuben's opens, but he hopes to train a new guy into the position as soon as possible so that he can continue to man the grills at Vesta.

"This is Josh's baby," he explains. "I'm just along for the ride."

Leftovers: Chef Matthew Jansen of Mateo is another Boulderite with a Vegas connection -- his to the award-winning Aqua, which started in San Francisco with Jansen at the grills, then added a location in the Bellagio casino that Jansen helped open.

But for the past four years, Jansen has been the top tog at Mateo, always a bastion of that sort of Frenchy-Italian American nouvelle style and recently remodeled, with the job finished just in time for Jansen and crew to throw a spate of wine dinners and parties in celebration. These events are being used to reintroduce the restaurant at 1837 Pearl Street to past and future fans, and to show off the newly decorated patio, acres of fresh upholstery and a light-over-dark color scheme (eggshell walls, chocolate-colored seats; they've got a whole food motif going) designed to accentuate the huge mahogany long bar that was put in during the house's last remodel.

Finally, Denver has its own Aqua in the works -- but this one has no relation to Jansen's former employer. It's the brainchild of Jay Chadrom and his new chef, Jose Guerrero (late of Mao, but also a former collaborator of Roy Yamaguchi's back when Roy was trying to open one of his eponymous Hawaiian sushi outlets in every city in the world), who will be in place at Chadrom's other spot, Opal, come August 1.

But wait -- wasn't on-again/off-again culinary sweetheart Duy Pham at Opal?

Last time I checked ("Pham Here to Eternity," March 17), Duy was back in place behind the burners at the restaurant at 116 East Ninth Avenue that had launched him into local (and very nearly national) celebrity. But it didn't last. He and Chadrom split after the three -- Pham, Chadrom and Guerrero -- returned from a tasting trip through Vegas. (One of the places they hit: Aqua at the Bellagio.) The menu at this Aqua -- designed by Pham and Guerrero, then redesigned by Guerrero once it became clear that Pham wasn't going to be involved in the new venture -- is upscale fishhouse with a raw bar and some serious piscine street cred courtesy of Guerrero's time with Yamaguchi. There'll be a seasonal oyster bar; a choose-your-own-adventure style of salad menu; soup flights and tastings; marinated scallops, crab and lobster by the pound; monkfish livers for the brave; roasted fish and raw fish, tartares and ceviches. Essentially, if it swims, it's on this menu.

And though Aqua is still in the permitting stage, Chadrom is looking at a late-August/ early-September opening. In the meantime, Opal -- which is kitty-corner from Aqua's location in the southern corner of the Beauvallon -- will be used as a testing ground for some of the recipes that will make up Aqua's all-fish, all-the-time menu. But once the doors are open across the street, Guerrero will move over there, making room for sous chef Ben Bedard to take over Opal's galley.

And Pham? According to Chadrom, he's currently working the back of the house at Sushi Den.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan