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Charlie Palmer Chats About Opening In Denver

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Charlie Palmer
Charlie Palmer
Photo: Adam Larkey

Chef Charlie Palmer of District Meats and Wazee Wood-Fire Pizza is in town this week, checking-in on his newest restaurant home. While he's been busy preparing for restaurant events since he arrived last night, he a made a little time in his schedule to sit down with Eater and talk about what he's encountered during the first couple months of business, including last week's one-star review from The Denver Post.

Now that you've been open for a couple of months, how does the plan for District Meats and Wazee Wood-Fire Pizza match up with the finished project? I think it looks and feels the way I wanted it to. It's always a challenge because every physical space is different. I get highly evolved in design, sometimes to a detriment. I wanted it to have a casual feel and I didn't want it to feel too stuffy. I love the fact that it's such a mixed cliental here. There's a lot of young people and I'm a little bit surprised that there's an older generation of people living downtown too. I love that. No matter what your age, if you hang out with younger people, you feel younger.

What kind of challenges have you encountered opening in Denver? There are always challenges. We certainly don't know Denver well. We have to be good students to understand the clientele. It's all new to us. When we went to Washington D.C. we knew nothing about the whole political scene, but believe me, we learned. Every city is different. I think we're good students though.

The Denver Post restaurant critic William Porter awarded District Meats one star in his review last week. What's your reaction to the review? I don't know the reviewer and I don't know if we — and I always say "we" because we work as a team— are judged on the same level as everyone else. You know what I'm saying? When we do a restaurant we're judged on a different level a lot of time, and I think that's ok because that's where we want to be. I think there are good points in the review. Believe me, no one knows better than I do about what we need to get better at.

What do you think needs to improve? Service is always an issue. There are no excuses. I don't know what the reviewer's expectation was, but this is not Aureole in New York. If you eat a Aureole in New York, I can guarantee the service is going to be above all. You will never get better service, but you're also paying $169 check average per person, so it's all relative. I want this to be a relaxed atmosphere. I want the mechanics and service to be good. The mechanics have to be good, but it has to be a friendly, more casual service because I think that's what people want. It's also what people expect at this price level. We've tried to keep the prices fair and moderate so they can eat here more often.

You're serving a lot of local Colorado beer at your restaurants. Do you have a favorite? I never knew about Odell, but that's what I drink here. The wheat beer has very good flavor and it's refreshing. I'm a big wine guy, so I don't drink a lot of beer, but I like beer. I also like the Odell porter. When I drink that beer there are all kinds of food memories that come to life, like braised short ribs with caramelized onions. If a beer can make you think about what you want to eat with it, that's good.

What have you noticed about the dining scene here? There are things happening with food here. There's a sensibility to the way things are grown here and the way animals are raised. It's true for Colorado wine too. When we first went to Washington D.C. 10 years ago the restaurant scene was just starting to percolate. Now there's a lot of great stuff in D.C. That's happening here in LoDo. I like being a part of that growth. Is it pioneering? Not really, but it's being a part of something that is more important than just this restaurant.

How often are you able to hop in the kitchen these days? I spend a lot of time in the kitchens. I've created a corporate level of people that can deal with all the stuff I don't really care to deal with. I'd rather be in kitchens or dining rooms because that's where everything happens. The more I can be involved, the better our restaurants become. I've always felt that way. I travel every week to a combination of our restaurants.

So, there's some space below your restaurants here on Wazee. Are you planning on doing anything with that space? There is a basement, but it's not ours. Yet. One step at a time.

· Charlie Palmer Coverage on Eater Denver