The Next Danny Meyer?

I'd like to offer both a stern warning for those who might be headed out to Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace (see review) and a helpful bit of advice for those who refuse to heed it:

At Centro, the bar mixes a caipirihna that could strip paint. The bartenders also serve ice-cold Modelos in the can with a smile. And while a lot has been made (particularly by me, in the March 16 "First, Do No Harm" blog entry) of how owner Dave Query got his bar staff to start thinking like chefs (considering their ingredients carefully, making a well-made cocktail as vital to a meal as any other course coming from the kitchen, and even going so far as to bring in Jim Meehan, the cocktail master from Gramercy Tavern in New York City, for inspiration), what matters here is that caipirihna and what effect it can have on one bantam-weight restaurant critic unwise enough to knock back two of them on an empty stomach in the sun.

They come short, served in rocks glasses, cloudy with hand-squeezed lime juice, simple syrup and five lime wedges. What they should come with are warning labels and business cards for the nearest cab service, addiction counselor and AA meeting. In keeping with the new Query formula for more gastronomic booze, they are unquestionably delicious, deceptively sweet and — after the first sip has effectively stunned you and filled your sinuses with the cold, stinging astringency of icy alcohol vapors — surprisingly easy to drink. But rather than being juiced with just a simple pour of cheapjack well booze as a caipirihna would be at most other bars, Centro's caipirihnas are made with the far more ethnically appropriate cachaca — a sugar cane liquor that most sources will describe (inaccurately) as rum, but which I will tell you is basically just moonshine: South American white lightning that, like the best small-batch mezcals or artisan bourbons, will sneak up on you, wait 'til you're distracted by something like the forty-minute flute-and-upright-bass duet being performed by the hippie jazz combo in the dining room, then hit you like a sledgehammer in the back of the head.

So that's the warning: Be careful when drinking the caipirihna, because it is made with a powerful party liquor created specifically to make poor South American cane farmers forget what shitty jobs they've got. But if, like me, you believe that your body is less a temple than a playground and that moderation is a cop-out best left to pussies, Mormons and macrobiotics enthusiasts, here's the advice. Just down the street from Centro is a large store selling Mexican furniture and peasant handicrafts, a place with few employees and many rooms — one of which is filled with woven blankets and carpets. If you're careful, you can weave your way back there, pick yourself a nice low pile and take a nap without any of the employees being the wiser.

On a slow day, you could probably manage a half hour or so. I was down for about five minutes before Laura found me and asked what I was doing. I told her I was resting. She said that when one is resting sprawled out on a stack of carpets in a public place with his mouth open and his eyes closed, that's actually called something else entirely. That's called passing out.


Meanwhile, back in Denver: I was standing outside the new Oceanaire Seafood Room (1400 Arapahoe Street) talking with Mayor John Hickenlooper...

What? I can hear you scoffing. You think a guy like me — with my lamentable habits and wholly undeserved reputation for highly public bad behavior (except for that nap thing) isn't the sort who gets to kick it with the 'Looper? Well, that's where you're right. Under normal circumstances, he and I don't exactly keep the same hours or roll in the same neighborhoods. And though I'm always willing to stand the man to a couple of beers or a taco platter at any hour of the day or night — his call — he has yet to take me up on my offer. Which is okay. I mean, he does have a city to run. And I've know...stuff of my own to do.

So while Hickenlooper and I may not be BFF, last week I did find myself standing outside Oceanaire with His Majesty, telling all about the caipirihnas at Centro. (What, like I was going to discuss zoning ordinances or tax policy with him? Let's not forget that before he was Mister Mayor, Hickenlooper was an industry guy — a serious and successful bar-and-restaurant owner.) He laughed at all the right places, asked if Centro really was as good as all that (to which I responded with only a wide-eyed and fervent bobbing of my head), and then said, "Dave Query is Denver's Danny Meyer," speaking of the ungodly successful Manhattan restaurateur who, among other things, owns and operates more than a half-dozen houses in one of the toughest markets on earth.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan