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.
On a quiet, mid-November evening last year, Frank Bonanno is at home in his white clapboard kitchen, dressed in a long-sleeve crewneck and jeans with a white bistro apron encircling his waist. His physique might not be what it was when he played hockey and tennis at the University of Denver, but time on the squash court and at the gym keep him fit.
Tonight, he's cooking Bones' menu, which is as close as he'll come to writing a business plan for his forthcoming restaurant. "This is the food I like to eat—there are French influences, but mostly I'm just having fun," he says, opening the heavy Lacanche oven door and pulling out a bubbling pan of braised pork belly. The scent of fat and meat rouses the Bonanno boys—six-year-old Luca and four-year-old Marco—from the living room, where they'd been watching Power Rangers.
Chris Gregory, who holds a 33 percent stake in Bones, and who will oversee the front of the house, arrives with a dozen bottles of wine and sake. He plunks the box of booze down on the kitchen island and begins lining up bottles. Bonanno's restaurants are known for their strong wine lists, and Bones will be no different. But there will be an emphasis on sake, cocktails, and unusual beer. Gregory opens a bottle of the sparkling Chikurin Hou Hou Shu sake, fills glasses, and hands them around. Tonight, as Bonanno cooks, Gregory will pour and make note of food and drink pairings.
Bonanno slices the rested pork belly. The meat still registers 300 degrees, but he holds it in place with fingertips that long ago became accustomed to the burning and scalding of a working kitchen. After placing hunks of pork inside freshly steamed, taco-shape buns, he slathers them with hoisin and sprinkles scallions on top. The buns are handed around and promptly devoured. This appetizer, Bonanno predicts, will be one of Bones' best sellers. A plate of two leaves the kitchen destined for Luca and Marco, who have returned to the couch.
Next up are flash-fried shisito peppers, which spit hot oil all over Bonanno. Then it's on to crab-stuffed egg rolls with heady Chinese mustard, the lemon-chicken noodle bowl, the udon pork bowl, the cold soba noodles with prawns, the tempura-fried black cod and pork belly. And, finally, the crowning dish of the evening: the lobster-edamame miso ramen.
This last bowl is essential: It's the newest addition in Bonanno's chain of signature dishes. "I love lobster," he says, pulling a tangle of noodles from a steaming pot. "This is Bones' version of Mizuna's lobster macaroni and cheese or Luca D'Italia's lobster ravioli." It's one of the few dishes he intends to never take off the menu. One key to this entrée is the tableside presentation, where the miso-butter broth is poured over the noodles and poached lobster from a small carafe.