Category Archives: Restaurant & multiple restaurants

Bits of Restaurant News

I’m just as deadline-crazed as I was a few days ago, but I am trying to catch up by posting three messages this morning — diverse topics that I ordinarily would have posted over several days. Here’s some restaurant news of note (in addition to the opening of Amuse by Michel, which I wrote about earlier today):

  • Mista Trattoria is a bit like a hermit crab, inhabiting spaces vacated by a previous tenant. The first Mista took over the old Laudisio’s space in North Boulder, and the second is situated the old Rudi’s World Cuisine space in South Boulder (4720 Table Mesa Drive; 303-554-5828). Rudi’s, a long-time Boulder tradition, is gone for good — or so it seems.
  • But sometimes “gone” is only temporary. Lulu’s Kitchen, serving up down-home, Southern-style food, is back. It had a short run in East Boulder recently but is up and running again, now on the Hill, at 1124 Thirteenth Street; 303-449-6637.
  • City, O’ City, a coffee house and vegetarian/vegan pizzeria, is now at 206 East 13th Street; 303-831-6443. It has taken over the previous location of WaterCourse Foods, a vegetarian restaurant, which relocated to 837 East 13th Avenue; 303-832-7313. They, as well as the WaterCourse Bakery (214 East 13th Avenue; 303-318-9843), are under the same ownership.
  • The Corner Office is open in the Hotel Curtis (1405 Curtis Street; 825-6500), offering up breakfast, lunch and dinner — and it has a martini bar too.
  • After shuttering Mel’s Restaurant and Bar, the Masters clan and executive chef Adam Mali have turned their attention to a second location for their quick-hit Montecito Restaurant & Bar (the new one is at 5970 South Holly Street, Greenwood Village; 303-777-8223) and nearby Annabel’s at 5960 South Holly; 303-488-2662. Both are in the the Denver Tech Center area. The first Montecito’s is at 1120 East Sixth Avenue; 303-777-8222.
  • Ping’s Favorite Chinese Restaurant in the strip mall behind Video Station has closed. A sushi restaurant has taken its place.
  • The small store at 2359 Arapahoe that housed Tastefully Toasted, the best donut store around, is empty.

Denver Chefs to Food & Wine

I’ve been deadline-crazed lately and haven’t had/found/made time to blog for several days. But I just found out which Denver chefs will be at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, June 15-17 and can resist sharing their names with you.

I don’t have a schedule so don’t know exactly what each one will be doing or when. Speaking generally, some chefs go to Food & Wine to cook for admiring crowds in the Consumer portion of the event, which is truly an honor, but others quietly attend seminars and panels in the Restaurant Trade portion of the event and network with their colleagues. The combo makes it a chef fest of the highest order. The Front Range chefs heading for this toniest of food events, which is billing itself as “the height of good taste,” are:

Matt Anderson, Bistro Vendôme
Jennifer Jasinski, Rioja
Carl Klein, Corridor 44
Ian Kleinman, O’s Steak & Seafood at the Westin Westminster
Curtis Lincoln, Ellyngton’s at the Brown Palace
Christian “Goose” Sorensen, Solera
Tyler Wiard, Elways

Outdoor Dining in Boulder County

In an article called “Happy Hours” in the Friday Section of today’s Daily Camera lists “some of our favorite places to dine, soak in the rays and enjoy the great views of the foothills” (a sidebar lists the writer’s rooftop faves, but I’m just sharing the patios here):

Perhaps this is a picky quibble, but not all of these places have “great views of the foothills” — and some have no views of the foothills whatsoever. That doesn’t make them unappealing, but it seems odd for a writer to promise diners something that they won’t find. More puzzling: I wonder why not a single establishment on the Pearl Street Mall made the list. With no vehicular traffic, every patio along the mall is uncommonly pleasant. The selection includes no places at all in Nederland or other eateries scattered through the mountains in western Boulder County, but even sticking with the flat part east of the foothills, there are a few reall y obvious (to me) omissions.

For instance, why not include Sherpa’s, at 824 Pearl Street (303-440-7151), a couple of doors west of D’Napoli and with its own shaded patio? Centro at 950 Pearl Street in Boulder (303-442-7771) has a great, lively patio — no foothills views, but everything else that makes for great patio dining. In North Boulder, the patio of Proto’s Pizza (4670 Broadway; 720-565-1050) is on the side of the building fronting on a quiet side street. Treppeda’s at 300 Second Avenue in Niwot (303-652-1606) boasts a wide patio with umbrella-shaded tables. And other than the fact that its al fresco dining is on a porch rather than a patio, the Chautauqua Dining Hall (set in Chautauqua Park off Baseline Road, just south of Ninth Street, 303-440-3776) is an unsurpassed outdoor venue for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

New in New Orleans

Whatever the general state of post-Katrina New Orleans, the restaurant scene seems to be popping. Many of the big names re-opened months and months ago, and now some of the smaller players are in business too, including some new restaurants. Zagat just released the following list of new eateries in renascent New Orelans:

  • Lüke, an Alsatian resturant run by John Besh, who operates several restaurants in the Crescent City.
  • Café Minh, relocated to a small corner spot in the Mid-City section of Canal Street, and serving “serving affordable yet sophisticated French-influenced Vietnamese dishes.”
  • Camellia Grill, a reopened 1940s-style Uptown diner (“an adored and much-missed landmark awash in original 1940s decor” says Zagat); also returned are with some veteran waiters and back and “the same iconic menu” (chile omelets, bacon cheeseburgers and chocolate freezes).
  • Crescent City Steak House, a venerable family-run institution in Mid-City.
  • Gautreau’s, “a charming converted antique drugstore in Uptown serving high-end New French–New American fare; its top-to-bottom renovation adds a new sense of airiness to the dinner-only space, but it still fills up in a flash with longtime fans, so reservations are a must,” says Zagat.

Article for the Street Food Lover in You

Local reporter highlights favorite street food from a recent trip

If you love Asian street food as much as Kelly Yamanouchi and I do, be sure to pick up today’s Denver Post and read her long feature in the food section called “From the Street to the Table.” You can link to it from this blog, but do get today’s paper so you can see the photos too. Fresh from a trip to Asia where she crammed one last “steaming bowl of noodles topped with fresh vegetables, slow-cooked beef and ladles of broth” in her final half-hour in Taipei before leaving for the airport, she sought similar tastes in Denver.

I remember my own last-minute food frenzies — scooting around the corner from a fancy hotel in Shanghai, where my bags were packed and ready to go, for one last portion of dumplings from a stand, or making time for one more order of chicken skewers with a divine peanut/chile dipping sauce before leaving Bangkok. Unlike me, however, when Kelly, a Post staff writer, returned to Denver, she researched places to get similar food here.

She wrote, “Taipei is known for its night markets, which bustle with tourists and locals jostling for food sold from dozens of different stalls. Street food throughout Asia appears in an array of places – at storefronts along the sidewalk, at festivals and in outdoor markets. While the American notion of street food tends to focus on hand-helds like hot dogs and pretzels, in Asia the selection runs the gamut — almost anything that can be prepared quickly and simply, from noodle soup to deep-fried stinky tofu to oyster omelets. In metropolitan Denver, street stalls aren’t prevalent and there’s no Taipei-style night market or Singapore-style hawker stand, but I found some selections at Asian restaurants and groceries that reminded me of the originals.”

She recommended:
Lao Wang Noodle House, 945-D South Federal Boulevard, Denver; 303-975-2497
H Mart, 2751 South Parker Road, Aurora; 303-745-4592
Spice China, 269 McCaslin Boulevard., Louisville; 720-890-0999
J’s Noodles & New Thai, 945-E South Federal Boulevard, Denver; 303-922-5495
US Thai, 5228 West 25th Avenue, Edgewater; 303-233-3345

A further resource if you love ethnic foods is The Gyro’s Journey (left)by Clay Fong. This guide to ethnic eateries on the Front Range is new from Fulcrum Publishing. I haven’t seen it yet, but it is described as “guide to authentic and affordable ethnic dining experiences in the Front Range. Written for the adventurous diner, this book describes family-owned businesses found off the beaten track that hold true to the traditions of their native lands.” Fong is now a restaurant and food writer for the Boulder Weekly.

Sandoval at La Sandia — In Person

Just last week, Westword restaurant critic Jason Sheehen took Richard Sandoval to task for having become too distant from his numerous restaurants. He was named Bon Apetit’s Restaurateur of the Year in 2006, but now his restaurant group operates Tamayo, Zengo and La Sandia in Denver; Maya in New York, San Francisco and Dubai; Zengo in Washington, DC; Pompano in New York; Isla in Las Vegas, and another La Sandia in Tysons Corner, VA. Five more restaurants will open soon in Mexico City, Acapulco Chicago, Scottsdale and San Diego. That’s an overloaded plate, and Sheehan noticed.

Setting the backdrop for his review of La Sandia, Sheehan wrote, “Because Sandoval has so many restaurants to keep track of…he has no day-to-day control over his properties…He sets a concept, writes a menu, staffs up with trusted lieutenants (sometimes), trains a crew and then unlocks the doors. His business is not so much about creating great restaurants as it is about creating great food-service machines that can run flawlessly in his absence. And there’s nothing wrong with that — as long as customers understand that going in….As a chef, I can’t help but be impressed by his menu from an organizational and force-disposition standpoint…[but] I’m not a chef anymore. And what might have once made me respect a guy for his smarts now makes me disdain him for his detachment and those parts of the dining experience that are just too cold-blooded and calculating to be ignored.”

Yesterday evening, I went to La Sandia for the second time. Previously was for lunch with friends, and it was fine — a little programmed, but fine. The space is attractive, every item dishes was very nicely presented (a Sandoval signature), the guacamole was good, and the tortilla soup and house salad made for a nice, moderately priced lunch. There was a sterility to the place, partly because it’s in the NorthfieldStapleton “village” which alone equates to sterility, plus La Sandia occupies a fairly large space, and very few of us were in it. Still, because I enjoy Tamayo so much, and I was ready to return to La Sandia at dinner, to see what other dishes were like.

Last night, I did. New York-based Richard Sandoval Restaurants hosted a small media dinner, complete with tortilla-making demonstration, and Richard Sandoval himself (top photo) was there to do a little demonstrating and a little Q&A with writers. Outstanding watermelon mojitos, and regular and hibiscus margaritas were passed around before the demonstration. Then, we sat down at a very long table set with baskets of tortilla chips, three-legged lava bowls with guacamole and little bowls of roasted tomato salsa. The waiter took our orders for a choice of “Mexico City-style” tacos, which means on soft, freshly made corn tortillas. The offerings are from the regular dinner menu.

I picked the grilled chicken, which was cut into a rough dice and well cooked — perhaps a tad too well, because it was no longer moist. Grilled slivered vegetables and a small bowl with two sauces (a light and a dark presented in sort of a yin/yang fashion but not easily identifiable) were came on a hot platter. On the side were a small plate of rice and black beans and a basket of napkin-wrapped tortillas to make the “fajita-style” tacos.

Maybe it was because I’d drunk two mojitos, or eaten entirely too many tortilla chips with guac and salsa, but my taste buds wouldn’t hook onto anything. The textures were pleasing, but something was missing in the taste department. Dessert was churros with hot chocolate for dipping. The chocolate was thin (maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be), but didn’t have much taste either. What I really like about Tamayo is the interplay of strong, distinctive flavors. I didn’t find them last night. Like the Northfield/Stapleton venue, it was all watered down and bland. The Cafe de Olla (made with decaf coffee on request, orange zest, cinnamon and piloncillo, a Mexican dark brown sugar) was so delicious that it made me almost forget the empty flavors that marked the rest of the meal.

We were told that Sandoval visits Denver about every six weeks and hosts events in various cities. I asked whether the events were all for the media or whether some were open to the public too. I didn’t get a real yes or no answer. Sandoval is an engaging man, one who has created awesome food elsewhere. I just haven’t found it at La Sandia. Neither, FWIW, did Jason Sheehan.

What Makes a Great Food City?

Tucker Shaw, the Denver Post restaurant critic, posed that question today in an essay called “Do Clientele or Chefs Make a Good City? Weigh In.” He wrote about five foodies from five different cities (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Denver) chowing their way through San Francisco and discussing, among other wide-ranging topics, whether talented chefs or an appreciative, knowledgeable dining public that makes a city great for food.

He wrote, “It made me think about Denver, and I wondered: Are we, as an eating public, truly dedicated to food and restaurants? Are we demanding enough? Are we willing to spend the time and money that’s required to encourage our chefs to ever-higher heights? Do we have enough desire and commitment to spur our food scene to a nationally relevant level E-mail me and let me know what you think about the state of Denver dining, and what we, as customers, can do to improve it.”

I think I’ll answer here.

It takes good, creative chefs and talented restaurateurs, of course, but in my opinion, the people who go out to eat are the ones who make or break an individual restaurant and even a city’s collective restaurant scene. Denver has some wonderful chefs, and some really fine restaurants. But it’s a challenging city for talented chefs and fine dining. I think often of Sean Kelly’s poignant comment when he was ready to morph the exquisite Clair de Lune into the more casual Somethin‘ Else. On many weeknights, he remarked, there are more people in line for the restrooms at the Olive Garden than at the tables of his dream restaurant. He has now gone corporate and is no longer in any restaurant kitchen.

Kelly isn’t the only first-rate chef to have ridden the roller coaster of Denver’s highs and lows. Kevin Taylor has had some noteworthy successes (Restaurant Kevin Taylor and two Prima Ristorante locations) and some disappointments (Nicois and Dandelion). Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef Bryan Moscatello pulled up stakes when Adega closed and moved to Alexandria, VA, where I understand his Indigo Landing is packing ’em in — just as Adega did not long ago. Fellow Best New Chef James Mazzio left the Front Range for Illinois, but luckily for Denver diners, is now the top toque at Via Ristorante, where I hope he stays for a long time. Jon Broening cooked his way north from Colorado Springs to Denver, where he turned culinary heads at Brasserie Rouge, but it also abruptly shut. He now is entrenched in Duo, which I also hope lasts a long time with Broening at the helm.

As long as Kelly’s observation remains true, Denver will not be a first-rate dining city. There are too many national chain restaurants, especially outside of the downtown/LoDo core, Uptown, Cherry Creek North, northwest Denver and a very few other pockets of fine and interesting food. Some of those good-food enclaves have “parking issues,” and some people just won’t dine anywhere that doesn’t have a convenient parking lot (or perhaps valet parking). With sprawl comes an automatic dilution of good dining, because chains also value convenient parking.

Shaw and his foodie friends picked New York and San Francisco as America’s top two dining cities and bandied about what the others might be. New Orleans, Portland (OR), Miami, Seattle, and Washington, DC, seem naturals. Los Angeles and Houston were also suggested. LA, which benefits from cultural diversity and a lot of show-biz, show-off money, and Houston whose sprawl makes Denver seem compact, excepted, the contenders are all geographically tight. They feel sophisticated and lively, which Denver is also becoming, now that so many people live in urban neighborhoods.

If I could help speed the process, I would. If I could wave a magic wand and make every local outpost of a national chain evaporate, I would. Of course, if I could hypnotize the entire city to make Denverites and their visitors avoid these “concepts” where corporated-planned meals are served, I would do that too. And then, only then, would Denver have a shot at being a top food city.

That’s my opinion. Share yours, either here or at www.denverpost.com/foodcourt.