The Universal: Another Best New Restaurant finalist loses its opening chef

Last week, we revealed Cafe Society's choices for Denver's Ten Best New Restaurants to open in 2012: Amerigo, Squeaky Bean, The Populist, Central Bistro & Bar, True Food Kitchen, Taita Peruvian Cuisine & Bar, The Universal, Pho Lee, Uncle and The Kitchen Denver. At the time, one of the restaurants, Central Bistro, had already swapped out opening chef Lance Barto, but was still going strong.

And now comes word that another chef who opened a restaurant on that list is gone: This time it's Seth Gray, who left the Universal last week. See also: - Denver's ten best new restaurants of 2012 - Executive chef Lance Barto gets "pushed out" from Central Bistro & Bar - Best of Denver 2013: The Food & Drink Finalists

And judging from the Denver Post story on the departure, Gray's exit wasn't pretty. "I've never felt so used in my life," he told Bill Porter, who'd given the restaurant three stars in his November review. Adding insult to injury, when Gray went to the kitchen to pick up his book of recipes that had been the foundation of the Universal's menu, one of the owners said he'd already copied it.

But while the Universal might be serving the same dishes these days, they won't be made by the same hands that won over so many fans so early. Says one Cafe Society commenter: "Such a shame. As a Southerner, this was the only place I could find authentic Southern food. I don't know what they were thinking by letting him go. Highly doubt it will live up to the quality of food they had coming out of the kitchen with that guy."

And the Universal didn't make the cut when we posted the top-five vote-getters in all of our Food & Drink categories on the Best of Denver Readers' Poll Monday. Here are the current leaders among readers for Best New Restaurant:

The Populist Grillin' Wings & Things Ace Corner House True Food Kitchen

The second round of Best of Denver polling has started -- you can either vote for one of the finalists, or write in another candidate. Find all the details here.

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