The Bite

The combination gourmet-takeout/eat-in Tasteez (9595 East Arapahoe Road, Englewood), a great concept that has yet to find the right approach, is for sale; while Tasteez is still open, executive baker/executive chef/assistant general manager Michael Bortz is going to loaf somewhere else. "I was doing a lot there at the end," Bortz says. "It was time to head out."

Bortz now hopes to make some dough making dough at his new Denver Daily Bread, located at 105 East Seventh Avenue just behind Turin Bicycles. The über-pastry chef (for whom I once worked at the late Palmetto Grille) hopes to snare the office crowd by delivering bread to their buildings and offering specialty loaves, such as his amazing two-pound stollen that's dipped in butter and coated with vanilla sugar, for holiday gifts. Bortz may even do his magnificent marjolaine, a shrine to hazelnuts and buttercream.

Denver Daily Bread debuted this past Monday and will be open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Before I became Westword's restaurant critic, I also worked at Tango with chef/owner Peter St. John, a crotchety German who was last rumored to have a job somewhere with the Ritz-Carlton chain. That space, at 560 South Holly Street, has been several things since I was slinging salads there nearly a decade ago; the current incarnation is Matisse, which bills its fare as Mediterranean fusion.

The eatery's new owners -- general manager Farook Singh, chef Edward Fertig and Joe Padilla, who designed the interior -- have done a considerable amount of work on the place. Gone is the weird wall between the kitchen, which was excruciatingly tiny, and the dining area; an open kitchen now faces the Matisse-covered white stucco walls and blood-red floors. The restaurant seats fifty, and although a liquor license is still in the works, Matisse has been going gangbusters. In this neighborhood, the notion of eating something that isn't a burrito or a cheesesteak sandwich is a big draw; Fertig, who also owns the catering company At Home Bistro, has assembled a small and mostly Italian roster of such dishes as wild-mushroom ravioli in a roasted-tomato garlic sauce, and fettuccine and herb-grilled chicken with artichoke cream, tomato and fresh sage.

Unlike St. John's lobster enchiladas -- presented with the head and tail and drizzled with jalapeño crème fraiche -- Matisse's menu just may have a chance in this part of town.

Sunny-side up: Just because it had some well-publicized problems with the city doesn't mean Ilios (1201 Broadway) has given up. Lately I've gotten calls from people who saw a sign on the door, assumed the restaurant was closed, and wanted to find out where else they could go for Mediterranean cooking. But anyone who took the time to actually read the sign would know that Ilios just gave its employees a Thanksgiving break and will be open again for business on November 23.

Owner D Diamond, who finally is able to talk about her lawsuit against the City of Denver without bursting into tears, says she plans to keep going until "they push me out the door and lock me out."

Diamond is suing the city over the condemnation of the building in which she leases her restaurant; the property is slated to one day house condos that will be part of the Denver Art Museum's proposed expansion. The city has offered Diamond all sorts of plums, including free rent for two years and first choice of spaces in the new project. (It didn't have to, either, since she's not the property owner.) But those offers are off the table now. "Since I'm suing, they aren't going to be giving me anything," Diamond says. "But that's okay, because I don't think they're allowed to do what they're trying to do."

A hearing is scheduled for December 18, when a judge will determine if, in fact, the city can condemn the building. If it can, then Diamond's suit is supposed to go to trial in June 2002. "Nothing they have offered me has really made any sense," Diamond says. "I pay $5,000 a month in rent now, and in the new building, it will be $15,000. I already have been paying on the $700,000 I put into this restaurant, and I'm only on the second year of actually paying principal instead of just interest. Where am I supposed to get a loan to pull out all of this equipment and redecorate a whole new space? And based on my style of food and my prices, I'd have to do a hell of a lot of volume to make that new rent, that's for sure."

She plans to keep her current doors open as long as she can -- and she'll hang a new banner telling more short-sighted customers just that. In the meantime, Ilios remains the best place in town to suck up some succulent lamb ribs.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Considering that it serves some of the most gringo Mexican food in town, the surprise isn't that the thirteen-store Armadillo company recently filed for bankruptcy, but that it's done so well for so long. The homegrown chain originated in LaSalle 31 years ago and has closed only one store since then: The 2401 15th Street location, which was competing against some very authentic Mexican joints in the neighborhood, threw in the kitchen towel this past summer.

The parent company, run by Louis Lucio, son of founders Joe and Lucy Lucio, says the remaining Armadillos -- including seven in metro Denver -- will stay open during bankruptcy proceedings. Still, you have to wonder about a company that blames some of its $6.8 million in debt on a $300,000 drop in sales since September 11. -- Wagner

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner