If one dish could sum up the cerebral explorations of The Wolf’s Tailor, says chef/owner Kelly Whitaker, it’d be the “crazy water.” Crazy water is a literal translation of acqua pazza, a poached white fish dish Whitaker says is one of the first things he learned to cook in Campania years ago. The version on the menu at his forthcoming restaurant, which is opening at 4058 Tejon Street on Saturday, September 1, brings in technique and ingredients from his travels across kitchens in Japan: Dashi infuses the broth, and the kitchen prepares the dish in a clay donabe pot, procured from Japan’s Iga province. The result is a subtly flavored tomato consommé bathing supple red snapper, a soup that’s both nourishing and familiar yet wholly unique.
Yes, the Wolf’s Tailor combines influences from Italy, China and Japan, but if your mind is now wandering to fusion cuisine, with its high-voltage mashup of Asian flavors and western European technique, you should know that’s not exactly right. Rather, the Wolf’s Tailor is meant to capture Whitaker’s own journey through international kitchens, in addition to his team’s, which includes Sean Magallanes (who has worked with Whitaker at Basta), Kodi Simkins and Sean May (both Frasca veterans). The kitchen is focused more on what areas naturally have in common: grilled meats served on skewers, raw-fish preparations, noodles. It’s applying a zero-waste ethos to its work, which naturally gives way to a lot of pickling and fermentation. A charcoal binchotan grill forms the basis of much of the cooking — see those skewers — and Whitaker’s brought his obsession with heritage grain to bear through both a bread oven and an extruded-noodle program using house-milled flours, including semolina.
This is New American — a melting pot of influences, folded together in ways to create something subtle, stimulating, novel and unique, not to mention really tasty.
There are a number of ways to experience the Wolf’s Tailor, and what you eat might depend on where you sit. Grab a bar seat, and you’ll be privvy to an unadvertised skewer tasting, reaping the lessons Whitaker learned butchering chickens alongside Yardbird cooks in Hong Kong. Stop in the deeply charming back yard, anchored by a fire pit, and you’ll get a limited, sushi-style menu of snacks and drinks, plus desserts. Book the corner booth and you can lock down a chef’s tasting, presented by the kitchen staff.
At most tables, work your way through cold selections like a seasonal pickle plate (including nukazuke, made with spent bran from the pasta program), chawanmushi (the current version infuses the savory egg custard with sweet corn and funky mushrooms) and a selection of crudo, including a kampachi topped with dashi granita. Don’t skip the piada, a warm house bread bedded in a deeply savory roasted-eggplant spread with the slightest whisper of smoke. Skewer highlights include a tallow-rich beef and prawns with lemongrass, and noodle dishes include twisted casarecce topped with breadcrumbs and littered with tart koji turnips. And you should spring for at least one large-format item — tender brisket with blistered tomatoes, or pork rib served with corn cobs slicked with red miso. Each is served with a daily grain and seasonal vegetable.
Cap your meal off with dessert; Whitaker wooed Jeb Breakell away from Emmerson in Boulder, and he’s putting his pastry skills (honed at Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, Atera and Blanca) across Whitaker's Id Est Hospitality Group, including here. Look for a black sesame semifreddo with soy sauce caramel corn, a buckwheat-bonito chocolate caramel tart and, the crown jewel, a red miso panna cotta with brûléed banana.
Food is seasonal, so expect continuous changes — and Whitaker says more ideas will roll out as the restaurant gets established. “We’re making vinegars right now that won’t be in use for three years,” he says.
As for drinks, start with a whiskey highball from the Suntory highball machine, a glass of the junmai sake poured on nitro draft or a cocktail from bartender Raffi Jergerian, then move into the wine list from Alan Henkin’s bar team, which traverses the alpine whites of Austria, Germany and northern Italy, highlights delicate reds like cabernet franc and pinot noir, and explores innovative regions like the Loire Valley and Basque country. Local brews round out the beer menu.
The Wolf’s Tailor will be open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday initially, although Whitaker says he plans to eventually expand the hours. Keep an eye out, too, for one-night-only collaborations with chefs from around the country — the restaurant has several in the works.
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After this Saturday's opening, the Wolf's Tailor will be open Wednesday through Saturday, with snacks on the patio from 4 to 6 p.m. and indoor seating from 6 to 11 p.m. Call 720-456-6507 for more details, visit the restaurant's website, or use Tock for limited reservations and group events.
Read more about the design and philosophy behind the Wolf's Tailor.