Sean Yontz will be cooking again in Denver -- starting at Monday's Del Maguey dinner
Sean Yontz's job effectively ended at the end of service on May 3, when El Diablo and Sketch closed for good and he parted ways with Jesse Morreale, owner of the red-tagged First Avenue Hotel, after eight years in business together. After that, Yontz traveled some, and he's now on his way to Aspen for the Aspen Food & Wine festival, where he'll appear with the other members of the Denver Five. But Yontz -- who rose to prominence as the opening chef at Tamayo, then went on to open his own upscale Mexican restaurant, Vega -- hasn't given up on the Denver dining scene altogether: He hopes to open another place of his own here. But first, he'll be cooking at the Del Maguey dinner at Adelitas Cocina y Cantina on Monday, June 17.
Sean Yontz at Mezcal for his Chef and Tell interview.
"Every year for the last nine years, Ron Cooper -- owner and founder of Del Maguey, the best mezcal in the world -- and I have been doing a dinner," Yontz explains. The 2013 incarnation was set up for just after Aspen Food & Wine -- at El Diablo. "Obviously, that wasn't going to work, and I was going to cancel it," Yontz says, "but everyone said, 'Don't -- let's figure out how to do it.'"
That's when Brian Rossi stepped in: He'd worked with Yontz when he was the general manager of Mezcal, then moved on to become the GM of El Camino. Last month he finally opened his own place, Adelitas, in the former home of Three Monkeys Cantina (and Bistro One before that), at 1294 South Broadway. (Unlike Yontz, Rossi had a relatively easy time finding a spot: The building is owned by Tony Pasquini, his cousin, who opened his first restaurant just down the street more than two decades ago. In fact, that's where Rossi got his start in restaurants.)
Yontz was having dinner at Adelitas when he mentioned the Del Maguey dinner, and Rossi offered to host it -- and even close the restaurant altogether Monday night if they can sell at least sixty $75 tickets to the five-course meal, which includes "ancho-cured pig's head torchon with fried head cheese, radish and olio verde" and "smoked beef brisket, roasted tomato and zucchini fideo, with radish salad." Guest chefs/bartenders include Cy Yontz (Sean's brother) from the Rio Grill in Carmel, California; Brandon Biederman from Steuben's and Ace; Chris Douglas from Squeaky Bean, and Sean Kenyon from Williams & Graham. Ron Cooper and Thomas Estes of Tequila Ocho will be hosting, and pairing the dishes with appropriate Del Maguey or Tequila Ocho-based beverages.
The fare for Monday night's dinner is a little fancier than the Michocan cooking that's the regular focus of the Adelitas kitchen. The lengthy menu is packed with enchiladas, burritos, salads and vegetarian items, with tacos a particular favorite -- especially during $1 taco Tuesday and the 10 p.m.-midnight happy hour, when tacos are just $2. There's a happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. daily, too, which has become a favorite with nearby residents. "Business has been extremely steady," Rossi says. "Neighborhood people are very receptive." The late-night hours are designed to attract restaurant-industry folks; Rossi remembers when there were no late-night options in this part of town.
But first, those restaurant-industry folks can get a taste of Adelitas's atmosphere at the Del Maguey dinner. "It's going to be a really good lineup," Rossi says. "It's going to be great for everybody."
Including Yontz, who recently thought he had a line on a spot on Seventh Avenue, not far from Vega's original home, but lost it to a future wine bar. "I'm really trying to find a space," he says. "I really want to find something neat...a good neighborhood, a good building. I'm taking my time. I'm not going to push it."
Have an idea for where Yontz should open a place? You can pour your suggestion in his ear while he's pouring mezcal at Monday night's dinner. To find out if seats are still available, call 303-779-1294.
A version of this story originally appeared in Cafe Bites, our weekly newsletter about Denver's drinking and dining scene that appears in e-mail inboxes every Wednesday. Find out how to subscribe to Cafe Bites here.