First Look: the highly anticipated Central opens on Wednesday in Highland
Denver's new restaurants just keep getting better, bolder and more big city. For proof, look at Central Bistro and Bar, the Highland restaurant that will open to the public on Wednesday. "We spent a ton of time researching award-winning restaurant designs, and used those as inspiration for our own design. It's a really cool mash-up of rustic, nostalgic and modern," Lance Barto told me in February, when he first announced that he was tapped as the executive chef of the project, which is overseen by Central Street Capital, Inc., a local private investment management company.
And true to Barto's words, Central is smashing to look at, from the patio overlooking the skyscraping scope of the city skyline, to its interior: a barrage of conversation piece accents (the muraled cow on one wall, the stamped ceiling in the bar); custom-made retro banquettes hued aqua and vanilla; cement floors polished the color of chocolate; cut-out silhouettes; weathered tables created from boxcar flooring; an open kitchen illuminated by an overhead cherry-red neon sign that spells "HOT"; intricate metal work; and a suspended ornate tin ceiling dangling pendent lights with Edison bulbs. In a word: bewitching.
And Barto, whose menu follows suit, had his hands in just about every cookie jar, weighing in on the decor, assisting with the wine list and beverage program, the cocktails of which Barto calls "chef-driven", hiring his kitchen staff, including Gerard Strong, the former chef de cuisine at Z Cuisine and designing the kitchen, a gleaming exhibition stage that flaunts a line of formidable cooks and topnotch equipment. "It was so cool to have my hands in everything," says Barto, adding that Central is "restaurant that embraces hospitality and great seasonal food."
And the front-of-the-house-staff, he notes, have been well-versed in service. "We've had a lot of hospitality conversations with the staff, and we even asked them to read a chapter on service in the Eleven Madison Park cookbook, along with Charlie Trotter's Lessons in Service and Setting the Table, by Danny Meyers -- and we made the staff respond to service questions in essay form," he says, adding that he wants Central to offer the same kind of graciousness in hospitality that you'll find in restaurants like Fruition and Frasca, restaurants that are renowned for their vaulted service.