Three months in, it’s easier to explain what the Wolf’s Tailor isn’t than what it is. Above all, this Sunnyside sensation is never the same place twice. And Denver diners are discovering this when they’re presented with a completely different menu than the one they read about online, or the one they sampled from the week prior, or the one they’ll see a week hence.
And that’s just the way owner Kelly Whitaker wants it. “Everybody keeps saying it’s Italian-Japanese cuisine,” he said. “That was where we began, and it’s a phase we’ll go through for a little bit, just to really refine it — but only so we’ll know how to get rid of it.” At that point, he said, “There aren’t going to be any rules. We’re just going to cook what we think is delicious food. You’re about to see a world of flavors come on to this menu.”
That might be the clearest working definition of the Wolf’s Tailor yet. Growing many of their own vegetables, milling many of their own grains, bringing in whole animals, making their own breads and pastas, experimenting with different woods in the hearth oven and charcoals on the robata grill, and making use of every last scrap along the way, the team here — including chefs Kodi Simkins, Sean May, Sean Magallanes, and Jeb Breakell — wants guests to experience firsthand their methods of production as much as enjoy the end product. As Whitaker puts it, “It’s all process-driven here.”
Here are some illuminating examples.
Nuka Cabbage: This accompaniment to large-format dishes, which Whitaker jokingly calls “not-kimchi,” offers insight into how “a byproduct of flour becomes something beautiful.” Nuka is bran, left over from the milling process, that’s mixed with vegetable scraps, dried anchovies, and kombu to form a bed for burying and fermenting other vegetables in — in this case, Napa cabbage rubbed with garlic, Calabrian chiles, scallions, and salt.
Paccheri: The flour that yields the nuka, meanwhile, goes into pastas like this paccheri, made from a mix of hard white wheat berries and durum semolina and served simply with rosemary-scented lamb ragù and ricotta salata. “You can find that throughput in our entire menu,” Whitaker said. “If it’s on our menu, it’s usually connected to something else.”
Chef’s Rice: That’s equally true of off-menu favorites like the chef’s rice, essentially made by “just pulling mise en place from the line,” in Whitaker’s words. Topped with a fried egg, it starts, of course, with rice, but may also contain mushrooms, fried garlic and scallions, mirin, aged soy, yuzu, togarashi, gochujang, arbol chiles, honey, tamari, and a dozen or so other ingredients — the most important being the pan drippings from brisket that’s itself marinated in koji, then cooked with red wine, chicken stock, dashi, and mirepoix. “You have to ask for it,” says Whitaker, “but if we haven’t cooked any brisket yet, you can’t have it. It could come on the menu at 5:15; it could come on at 5:45.”
Piada: Among the most talked-about dishes to date is this bread, which provides yet another example of the menu’s interconnectedness. Made with the same wheatberry flour as the paccheri, it’s placed atop the mushroom purée also used in the Chef’s Rice, which includes button mushrooms, shiitakes, and maitakes cooked in aged soy and a touch of butter. Whole mushrooms complete the picture, caramelized first in the oven, then on the grill with shallots, garlic, and other aromatics. “We’re trying to pull from different profiles of smoke and char for this dish,” Whitaker said.
Chicken Skewers: It looks simple, but a lot of thought goes into this trio of grilled chicken skewers. The breast is marinated for 48 hours in white miso and sake kasu, then garnished with yuzu kosho. The shoulder is “a fun cut most people miss,” says Sean May, “with a lot of fat that caramelizes like skin.” It’s garnished with Maldon salt and scallions. And the thigh is dipped into a teriyaki-like sauce that’s “super-smoky by the end of the night,” he said, due to the char on the meat, “so that creates another layer of flavor.” Grated daikon, scallion, and benne (heirloom sesame) seed finish it off.
Zuppa di Pesce: The Japanese style of cookery done in clay pots, called donabe, “is just a technique we’re in love with,” Whitaker says. “We put four burners on our stove just to do it.” Currently, they’re using it for the Italian seafood stew called acqua pazza (which they infuse with wakame, à la miso soup), but he’s especially excited about its application for grains like farro.
Black Sesame–Soy Semifreddo: When Whitaker asked Breakell to come up with a dessert using soy, he meant soy milk; the pastry chef assumed he meant soy sauce. The result was this popular semifreddo, which also features matcha cream and soy-caramel corn. Whitaker calls it “a fantasy dessert I would never have put on our menu. But he made it work so well. There’s always that communication gap that can turn out to be a surprise.”