Table Talk

June 6 2008, 8:38 AM

In the Works: Root Down

Exciting news for the Highland neighborhood: Come fall, seasoned restaurateur Justin Cucci will open Root Down (the name is a riff on a jazz term) on the corner of 33rd and Osage. A former 1950s gas station, the space will find new life as a sophisticated small-plates restaurant. With reclaimed materials (look for old basketball-court floors), an east-facing patio with fab city views, a garden with herbs, veggies, and heirloom tomatoes, and a cocktail menu with 50 kinds of mojitos, Root Down's vibe was inspired by Cucci's favorite New York restaurants. Executive chef Ryan Leinonen (formerly of The Kitchen) will man the burners and turn out seasonal food that's "clean, healthy, and fresh--things I like to eat," says Cucci, whose family once owned the famous Waverly Inn in New York City. Reluctant to be pigeonholed into one type of cuisine, Cucci describes the menu as farm-to-table and more focused on fish and veggies than on meat. 1600 W. 33rd Ave. --Amanda M. Faison

News: Vita's Chef Moves On

In other Highland news, Saturday marked executive chef Max MacKissock's last day at Vita, the swanky Italian spot on Boulder Street. "I've reached a point in my life where I want to be the student rather than the teacher," says MacKissock. In search of new challenges, he's hoping to garner stints at some of the country's most important restaurants, including Alinea (Chicago), Gary Danko (San Francisco), Clio (Boston), and The French Laundry (Napa Valley). Once he has more fine-dining experience under his belt, MacKissock says he hopes to open or take over a Denver restaurant. We'll be anxious to see where he lands, and how Vita (which we named one of Denver's Best New Restaurants), fares without him. 1575 Boulder St., 303-477-4600 --AMF

The Scene: What Denver Needs

A recent weekend spent eating my way through Chicago got me thinking about our dining scene. In comparing Second City's flavors and tastes to our own, I noticed some wonderful similarities in quality and options. But after dinner at Table Fifty-Two, a new restaurant run by Oprah's former personal chef Art Smith, I believe Denver needs something similar. Table Fifty-Two is all about dressed-up Southern food: fried chicken, shrimp 'n' grits, deviled eggs, cheesy biscuits, and the like all served in a fine-dining atmosphere. Sure, we've got excellent casual Southern eats (namely Tom's Home Cookin' and Coleman's Soul Food) and upscale comfort food (Fruition and Bang!), but nothing solely Southern in a white-tablecloth environment. Just a thought, Denver. Bonus: I also had the great fortune of dining at Blackbird, a polished and award-winning West Loop favorite, where the braised pork belly was out of this world and the kalamata olive cake was a table favorite. Before my meal I had no idea that Travis Lorton, sous chef of Denver's brand-new Bistro One, used to work in Blackbird's kitchen. Now I'm all the more excited to try the new Broadway spot. --AMF

Trend: Toothsome Ricotta

Hailing ricotta's jump to center stage in last week's article "Suddenly, Ricotta's a Big Cheese," The New York Times quoted dell'Anima chef Gabe Thompson. Of ricotta, Thompson says, "Bland can be wonderful." We couldn't agree more. Bland, but smooth with subtle layers of creaminess, is exactly what good ricotta is, and while Denver kitchens aren't experiencing the same rush to ricotta that New York is, we do have a handful of spots where the cheese plays a staring role. For ricotta solo, head to Osteria Marco, where chef Frank Bonanno dishes up his housemade cheese drizzled with olive oil, alongside crispy grilled bread. At Café Star, chef Mike Carlin serves light lemon ricotta pancakes topped with blueberry compote and cinnamon whipped cream. And at Fruition, chef Alex Seidel has formed the gentle cheese into dumplings for the accompanying marinated pork tenderloin. Osteria Marco, 1453 Larimer St., 303-534-5855; Café Star, 3201 E. Colfax Ave., 303-320-8635; Fruition, 1313 E. Sixth Ave., 303-831-1962  --Kazia Jankowski

Event: Feast on the Fax

In honor of independent restaurants and the revitalization of Colfax Avenue, the third annual Feast on the Fax restaurant tour opens the doors of 13 restaurants along the central city drag. Try wine at The Cork House, Mediterranean at Solera, and Mexican at Señor Rita's Cantina. Buses will shuttle diners from restaurant to restaurant. Tuesday, June 10, 5–9 p.m., $25 --KJ