Monday, April 05, 2010

Eating Frank Bonanno

April 5

Frank Bonanno was born in Bergen County, N.J. (father's side of the family is Sicilian, from Palermo, mother's side is Tuscan, from Lucca), but he has adjusted well to life in Denver. When he greeted me at his fine-dining Italian restaurant, Luca D'Italia, a little chaw of tobacco was bulging from his lower lip, reminding me of the LaCrosse players at East High when I was there.

Bonanno and I are about the same age, and we graduated from college in the same year — 1990. He got a finance degree from Denver University, which was of about as much use then as my degree in history was.

Compared to the current recession, the one in 1990 was cute, but it was obnoxious enough at the time, and Bonanno, who had worked in restaurants during college, went to the Culinary Institute of America and then came back to Denver to cook some more — mostly at Mel's Bar and Grill (that’s better than it sounds) — with stages on both coasts in all the right places (Gramercy Tavern, The French Laundry ...).

He opened Mizuna, a fine-dining French-influenced restaurant, in Denver in 2001 and hasn’t looked back. Since then he has opened Luca d'Italia; a casual place in Larimer Square called Osteria Marco; and, most recently, a fast-fine noodle restaurant called Bones, which is also Frank’s nickname.

He says his next place will likely be a casual French-style charcuterie, serving pâtés and whatnot.

His casual places, Marco and Bones, are the real moneymakers in his business, he says. They’re certainly on-trend, especially Bones, where I ate last year. There high-end ingredients (Frank has an exclusive deal with his distributor for the Japanese noodles he uses) are served in a casual setting that allow customers to get in and out quickly.

New York has a number of noodle bars like that. Other examples of fast-fine in that city are ’wichcraft and the Upper East Side taqueria Cascabel, where chef-partner Todd Mitgang has super-premium añejo tequilas on offer for $22 a shot.

Mitgang has no background in Mexican food, and Bonanno doesn’t have any experience with Asian cuisines, but you wouldn’t know that from their restaurants.

Bonanno says he has gotten some negative feedback from the richness of the broth he serves his noodles in, but he thinks that’s because most of the Asian noodles in Denver are pho, which is supposed to have a thin broth. That’s not true of all Asian noodles, though.

Since I’d been to Bones, during this trip to Denver I took my mother to Osteria Marco, and my 14-year-old niece, Tahirah Thorn, to Luca D’Italia, where she had her first taste of octopus, scallops and truffle oil.

She also was quite enamored of the virgin cocktail beverage director Adam Hodak made for her, out of house-made tonic water, muddled orange and cherry, limonata, sparkling water and grenadine.

What else we ate and drank:

At Osteria Marco:

Salumi and cheese platter of Prosciutto di San Daniele and house made coppa, bresaola and other goodies, plus assorted cheeses including Bonanno’s version of burrata, filled with ricotta instead of cream and shredded mozzarella
Whole grilled lemon-roasted artichoke with aïoli
House salad with pine nuts and house-made cheese
Odell’s Mountain Standard Reserve deep mahogany ale

Seared scallops with caramelized fennel, potato purée and grapefruit agrodolce
Slow-roasted suckling pig
The house red wine, which that evening was a Barbera d’Alba for $6 per glass

Butterscotch pancetta mousse with chocolate gelato and candied bacon
Double espresso

At Luca d’Italia (where general manager and sommelier Mark Sandusky went a little bit crazy, in a good way, when I asked him to pick some wine):
Grilled octopus with squid ink (called nero di seppia on the menu), crispy beans and arugula
Yellow fin tuna carpaccio with red pepper relish and Calabrian chile aïoli
2007 Bruno Verdi Riesling (Lombardy)
2008 Casal di Serra Verdicchio (Le Marche)

Lasagnette with lobster, shrimp, lump crab and white wine tomato sauce
Fusilli with wild mushrooms, shaved Grana Padano cheese and creamy white truffle sauce
2007 Moroder Rosso Conero (Le Marche)
2007 Paitin Barbera D’Alba (Piedmont)

Seared diver scallops with lump crab risotto, spring onions and peas
Colorado lamb chops with fava beans, porcini fonduta and braised shoulder
2005 Reversanti Barolo (Piedmont)
2008 Inama Soave Classico (Veneto)

Chocolate marble brownie with vanilla gelato, amaretti cookie and caramel sauce.
2001 Piazzano vin santo (Tuscany)
Pousse-Luca cocktail — a three-layered drink with equal parts Dom Benedictine liqueur, Grand Marnier and Luxardo Bitter Cherry in the middle, Sambuca on the bottom and Fernet Branca on top

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