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As any nonna will tell you, simplicity is the key to superb pasta. Logan Stephenson, Panzano’s new executive chef, agrees. “My approach is bare bones,” he says. “Simple pastas made with four or five ingredients—nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.” After just two months at the helm of the downtown Denver Northern Italian stalwart located inside the Monaco Hotel, Stephenson has already applied this less-is-more mantra to Panzano’s menu, overhauling two-thirds of it from its former iteration (curated by former executive chef Nic Lebas).
Louisiana-born Stephenson, who most recently cooked at another Kimpton-owned restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, did leave the restaurant’s soups, salads, and antipasti untouched, citing Panzano’s legacy. “It’s been around for 20 years,” Stephenson points out. “There’s a reason for that, and so there are some dishes I’ll never touch.” Those include the crispy calamari and grilled Caesar salad, crowd pleasers that have carried Panzano into its third decade.
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Stephenson did, however, introduce a bevy of delectable new entrées and pasta dishes. The latter includes standouts like ricotta ravioli and lasagna al formaggio. And while these classics can be found at just about any Italian joint in town, Stephenson’s iterations might just inspire monogamy. Take that ravioli: Stephenson sources the silky ricotta that goes inside the pasta purses straight from Italy, elevating the familiar staple to ambrosial heights with a San Marzano tomato broth and burnt basil.
Stephenson has extensive pasta training, having worked at Fiamma in New York City under chef Michael White for three years. One of his (and our) favorites on the new menu? The grano arso orechiette, which derives its almost black hue from the toasted “grano arso” (burnt grain) flour the he imports from Puglia. The charcoal-colored shells are sautéed with spicy Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, garlic, and Calabrian chile before being showered with grated Pecorino. The dish is sharp and balanced, and anything but simple.
Bonus: You can score a front-row seat to watch Stephenson’s masterful cooking at Panzano’s new Bike to Brunch series, which launches on July 26. The chef (and avid cyclist) will bike with attendees over to the Union Station Farmers Market to select fresh produce and other ingredients before pedaling back to the restaurant for a cooking demonstration. Afterwards, savor a cocktail and scrumptious sit-down brunch. Available as part of a Kimpton Hotel Monaco package or as a stand-alone class ($75). Call the restaurant to reserve.
Hotel Monaco, 909 17th St., 303-296-3525