Leña [Photo: Adam Larkey]
Leña is the latest restaurant to join the growing trend of eateries focused around wood-fire cooking. Jimmy Callahan, the owner who also operates Prohibition, along with chef Toby Prout, will open this a Latin-inspired eatery and bar early August in the Baker neighborhood. Right now, the target date for the opening is August 4 although it may be a tad earlier or a bit later than that.
In a two-story 3,000 square foot space that formerly housed the Lee Alex furniture store, Callahan built a restaurant that is about social and communal eating, South American culinary traditions, and woodfire cooking. The large space was heavily redesigned elements of its past life — including the paneled ceiling, the classic wood floors, and the rustic brick walls — remained in place.
The entryway leads guests to a large wooden bar that can seat 20+ built by Rocky Mountain Tables and Chairs. The same company was commissioned to build the bar stools and chairs in the restaurant. The cladding that wraps around the bottom of the bar is made of metal tiles handcrafted in Mexico. Two separate kinds of chandeliers that hang over the bar and throughout the space bring a soft warm element to the space. "I scoured the internet for hundreds of hours to find just the right light fixtures for our space," Callahan explains. "The larger fixtures were inspired by a place we visited in San Francisco called Lolinda. Their version of it was larger and different but it brought a similar soft feel to the interior," he continues.
With over 100 seats in the restaurant, this new restaurant feels inviting even when empty. The brown natural tones, the warm woods, and orange hues in the furniture on the mezzanine give it a cozy vibe aligned with the goals of the people behind it. "We wanted fun but still classy, a relaxed space for eating food that is elevated," Callahan explains. "Fun is actually very important to us," general manager Jen Mattioni adds. "We are lucky enough to have created that neighborhood vibe at Prohibition, a place where people are ordering really good bar food in a really casual atmosphere. Now we get to bring that idea to the restaurant," she continues.
Chef Toby Prout, along with sous chef Jerry Mansfield, will lead the kitchen. Prout, a Durango native, has been in kitchens since he was 14 and along the way, he had stints at Kevin Taylor, Fox Restaurant concepts, and the Ritz-Carlton in Hawaii and Florida. He started as a consultant for Prohibition but him and owner Jimmy Callahan hit it off and he joined the team permanently.
Leña, firewood in Spanish, is about traditions of South America from Mexico to Brazil. With a classic approach plus Prout's personal, the range of dishes is broad: classic ceviches done in different styles (Veracruz or Peruvian variations); tamales that will start out in the Ecuadorian humita-style and may change to a more traditional Mexican one; Brazilian-inspired croquettes and Costa Rican gallo pinto.
The star of the menu is the asado selection, but the house-made tortillas come in is a close second. Among the offerings, there is Morcilla sausage, Argentinean-style chorizo, cross-cut short ribs, ribeyes, New York strips, and bison skirt steak. Chef Prout's go-to would be the mixto plate. "I am a meat guy," he says. "There are few things better to me than a well-cooked steak. And since we started making our blood sausage, that is something I have also gotten into," he adds.
The tortillas, made with nixtamalized maize ground in house, can be ordered as a side and they also used in the eatery's tacos — pork belly al pastor, bison short rib carnitas, seared fish, and more.
The bar, led by Jen Mattioni, brings a counterpoint and balance to the food. "My goal was to create a well-rounded program where cocktails, beers, and wines were well-represented and complementary to the food," she explains. With spirits focused around tequila and mezcal, here are about 12 cocktails on the menu, some classics like the Pisco Sour, Palomas, and Margaritas, and some originals like Mattioni's favorite, the Mezcal Hibiscus Old Fashioned. Eight red and eight white wines by the glass come from Spain, Argentina, and Chile, but also South Africa, California, and beyond. A small selection of bottles ranges in price from $30 to $55. "I wanted to offer things that people hadn't seen before but also things that they were familiar with —and we wanted to be very aware of a moderate price range." As for beer, there is a small draft, bottle, and can selection, some from Colorado and some imports.
Leña will be open seven days a week for dinner with brunch serving starting this fall.