Roll the Bones
Frank Bonanno has become Denver's most successful restaurateur over the past nine years, so you'd think the brash chef would know better than to open an upscale noodle joint in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression. Then again, maybe he knew something others didn't.
"I don't care if they're ordering a fucking Sprite—you write it down on a piece of paper, and you take it to the bar!"
It's a chilly late-December evening one year ago, and Frank Bonanno, the owner of three of Denver's most beloved restaurants—Mizuna, Luca D'Italia, and Osteria Marco—is drilling his newest waitstaff on the finer points of service, like the importance of remembering orders and clearing all utensils and dishes between each course. In a matter of hours, Bones, the fourth restaurant in Bonanno's growing Denver restaurant empire, will unlock its doors for a soft opening. And although the evening is, technically, a practice dinner for friends and family, it's Bonanno's only chance for a first impression. It might as well be the Big Night.
At 5 p.m., Jacqueline, Bonanno's wife of nine years, waves in Bones' first customers. Bundled diners rush through the door and immediately fill the noodle bar's 25 seats. They shake off their coats and pore over menus, order sake cocktails, nibble steamed buns, and await bowls of broth-bathed udon and ramen.
Bonanno has been waiting for this day for months now, anticipating the moment when mingling conversations and clinking glasses would fill every inch of the space. Tonight they do. And yet, Bones is not a perfect restaurant, not tonight.
Fortunately for Bonanno, the carefully constructed dishes neutralize most grousing. Between bites of rich pork udon, few seem to care that the slippery, black, plastic chopsticks barely work; they just ask for forks. The chilled soba noodles with prawns arrive and help the diners forget about the long drink delays and the stiff service. And crispy lemon chicken with egg noodles distracts diners from the unventilated haze of grill smoke that hangs like a gray ribbon on the restaurant's ceiling.
Most everyone is distracted by the food in front of them—everyone except Bonanno. He's keenly attuned to the hiccups all new restaurants face, and especially the ones most diners are never privy to. "The basement is flooded," he says, running a hand over his shiny scalp, stopping short of the ring of hair that hugs his head. "Our hot water heater broke this morning. The ice cream machine isn't working. The chopsticks we ordered—they only sent us 24 so we had to get these fast and cheap, and they're terrible." He pauses for a moment, planting his feet and folding his arms so that he resembles a human tank. "This is fucking great."