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Frank Bonanno found his passion early, working in restaurants most of his life. After he graduated from the School of Finance at the University of Denver, Bonanno revisited that passion by earning a second degree at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, NY. “I had a great childhood,” says Bonanno. “Most of who I am today comes from the food I was fortunate enough to be exposed to at a very young age.” The aroma of pastries and pastas from his Sicilian grandmother permeated Bonanno’s New Jersey home, where he and his mother tried out old Julia Child recipes on the family. Weekends, his parents would take him to New York City, where they’d explore wildly diverse restaurants, and he honed not just an appreciation for amazing food, but service to match it. Bonanno’s award-winning restaurants reflect that upbringing.

Chef Frank Bonanno “The Chef”

Frank Bonanno cooks in and owns eight Denver restaurants. He is the author of the Mizuna Cookbook, most of the words on this page, and most recently, the iBook Luca Cookbook.

Mizuna

Opened in April 2001, Mizuna showcases Frank Bonanno’s dedication to fresh, simple ingredients and seamless service. The menu changes monthly and features dishes that range from local game to peekytoe crab. The fare is imaginative and artistic, but pure, clean flavors render even the most exotic fare familiar. Rated by Zagat’s as one of the top restaurants not just in Colorado, but in the nation, Mizuna is ultimately an American-style restaurant heavy on French technique, influence and philosophy. Seating capacity: 55

(303) 832-4778
http://mizunadenver.com

225 East 7th Avenue
Denver, Colorado 80203

Lou's Food Bar

Opened in December 2010 Lou’s is meant to mirror the kind of comfortable spot that can be found just off roadsides around the world, and it feels that way. Maybe it’s the cherry orchard out the east window, or the long, wide-planked stretch of bar. Perhaps it’s the party-light strewn patio or the oversized cheese labels faded into the cream colored walls. Lou’s is a lively, neighborhood spot, where families and groups of all ages enjoy cocktails over brunch or celebrate buttery, flavorful meals over wines on tap.

(303) 458-0336
http://www.lousfoodbar.com/

1851 West 38th Avenue
Denver, Colorado 80211

Osteria Marco

Opened in October 2007, Osteria Marco is intended to be the livelier, more playful younger brother to Frank Bonanno’s esteemed Italian eatery Luca d’Italia. Guests are greeted at the top of a grand staircase by a cheese maker, deep in the throes of crafting burrata and charcuterie. At the bottom of the stairs, hundreds of bottles of wine line the walls and announce an affordable, yet progressive wine and spirits program. Whole roasted suckling pigs are the hallmark of Sunday evenings, and friendly engaging servers easily navigate diners through a thoughtful menu that runs a gamut from pizzas and panini to oven-fired shrimp, to crispy calamari and braised, lamb meatballs.

(303) 534-5855
http://osteriamarco.com/

1453 Larimer Street
Denver, Colorado 80202

Bones

Opened in December 2008, Bones is Frank Bonanno’s interpretation of Asian fare with a signature French twist. Unique choices range from escargot pot-stickers to steamed suckling pig buns, but the focus here is on the noodles. Lobster ramen shines, loaded with poached lobster and savory miso broth. Soft-serve ice cream adds the sweet at the end of the meal, in whimsical flavors like Lucky Charms or Chocolate Chai.

(303) 860-2929
http://www.bonesdenver.com/

701 Grant Street
Denver, Colorado 80203

Russell's Smokehouse

Opened in October 2011, Russell’s Smokehouse captures the lively history of the Colorado West. A turn-of-the-century bar highlights a treasures and architectural remnants from Denver’s past—oversized church windows, a speakeasy dance floor-turned bar top, and stone arches from the Platte river bed among them. Chef Frank Bonanno’s dedication to fresh, simple fare resonates in this rich, meaty menu rife with homey, buttery sides. From the house-made barbecue sauces and hot sauces, to pork belly pigs-in-a-blanket and award-winning brisket, the Smokehouse is ultimately an America-style restaurant inspired by the flavors of the Colorado West.

(303) 893-9717
http://russellssmokehouse.com/

1422 Larimer Street
Denver, Colorado 80202

Green Russell

Green Russell is a chef-driven cocktail bar. The drink menu is a direct reflection of Frank Bonanno’s cooking philosophy: fresh ingredients simply prepared and beautifully rendered. Bonanno Concepts Beverage Director Adam Hodak ensures the highest quality ingredients, starting with fresh herbs from the grow house and house-made bitters, all the way to infused liquors and sodas. Pair the crafted drinks with succulent pork belly pigs-in-a-blanket, mushroom dynamite or smoked trout. Even better—ask the bartender to match your cocktail to the pie of the day.

(303) 893-9717
http://www.greenrussell.com/

1422 Larimer Street
Denver, Colorado 80202

Wednesday's Pie

Opened shortly after Green Russell, right next door, Wednesday’s Pie is Frank Bonanno’s signature pie shop. Wednesday’s Pie first opened as a shop that only sold pies on Wednesdays until they were gone. After months of trying to keep up with high demand, Bonanno decided to open the shop seven days a week. The shop also functions as the entrance to Green Russell, Bonanno’s underground cocktail joint at the belly of Larimer Square. Aside from serving fresh pies daily to the Denver community, the shop also supplies pies to Green Russell, Russell’s Smokehouse and Lou’s Food Bar.

(303) 893-9717
http://www.wednesdayspie.com/

1422 Larimer Street
Denver, Colorado 80202

Luca

Opened in February 2003, Luca is where food marries art. Chef Frank Bonanno features house-made salumi, a variety of fresh breads, pastas and cheeses. The menu reflects authentic Italian dishes inspired by the Piedmont, Tuscan and Sicilian regions, all prepared with the season’s finest ingredients. Pastas are a separate, smaller course; the menu is designed to allow diners to enjoy multicourse experiences without overreaching.

(303) 832-6600
http://www.lucadenver.com/

711 Grant Street
Denver, Colorado 80203

Vesper Lounge

Vesper is where the innovation of Bonanno Concepts beverage director Adam Hodak shines. Seven cocktails are served from tap, ten beers are sported on draft and a creative happy hour celebrates the art of the spirit. Chef Frank Bonanno pipes in with his spin on bar food—gyros and curried fries, hummus and baba ganoush and burgers. Vesper Lounge is ultimately a neighborhood bar—a place for locals to celebrate one another.

(720) 328-0314
http://www.vesperdenver.com

233 East 7th Avenue
Denver, Colorado 80203

Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria

Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria, located inside The Vistas at Park Meadows, is a lively pizzeria from chef Frank Bonanno that celebrates the art of wood fire cooking. An open kitchen with an Italian wood fire oven showcases skilled pizza makers, cheese mongers and charcutiers. With accents inspired by the historic Florence Train Station, Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria is a communal space, perfect for family gatherings and social outings with friends. The dining room features a sprawling bar, equipped with craft beer, wine and cocktails on tap. Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria has all the amenities of a fine-dining establishment—excellent service, beautiful food, fabulous surroundings—but priced for a more casual dining experience.

(720) 328-0314
http://www.bonannobrotherspizzeria.com

8439 Park Meadows Center Drive Ste 500
Lone Tree, Colorado

Salt & Grinder

Salt & Grinder is coming soon…
http://saltandgrinder.com/

The Most Important Person in the Dining Room

May 18, 2014

I’m reading through the training manual for Salt & Grinder, and I like the following section. It’s reminiscent of the Danny Meyers School of Thought–whose book, by the way, is required reading for all of our employees.

“E X P E C T A T I O N S
‘Who is the most important person in the dining room?’ It’s you. It’s us. Happy staff=happy guests. Your professionalism will enhance the experience of your team members, your clients, yourself. Be a happy professional.

Professionalism means arriving early and staying late when the occasion necessitates. It means pitching in when your team members go down. It means understanding not just the menu descriptions of the food, but the actual ingredients and preparation involved in bringing it to the plate.

Professionalism means a clean work environment, a sharp uniform, and a positive demeanor. It requires completing opening and closing sidework so that fellow professionals aren’t burdened [ Read More ]

In Praise of the Late Diner

April 26, 2014

(I wrote the following piece for Andra Zepplin, editor of Eater Denver, linked at the bottom of the page. Liked the way it turned out, wanted to post it here.)

End-of-summer afternoon, hot as Death. We haven’t had a single guest in Bones for over an hour, and just as we lock the lunch doors to begin dinner prep, four laughing women step into view on the sidewalk. “Oh, you’re not closing, are you?” one asks through the glass.

Here’s the dilemma—it passes in heartbeat, but it’s a dozen thoughts long and starts with this: Is it worth it? Do we keep an entire team on the clock to serve these four women a meal? Can we discreetly work around them for the next service period? Will they linger? Will they drink? Will they be gracious? Will we?

I’d like to think at this point in my career those thoughts don’t [ Read More ]

Eat the Skin, It’s Delicious

January 25, 2014

Last summer Chris McNeal and a small camera crew descended on my home.  We taped over windows and moved furniture around, then invited some of my favorite professionals to cook, barbecue, eat, and drink like crazy.We even managed to capture some of it on film.

Then, McNeal and his crew (Paul Kubala and Mitchell Alexander), and me and mine (partner, Chris Gregory and niece, Allison–both small as far as crews go) headed to the foothills for more of the same. We aimed to put a series together from all of this–something akin to the honesty of the cooking shows I grew up with (The Galloping Gourmet, The French Chef, Joyce Chen Cooks)–but with a focus on Colorado, and on the artisans, growers, and producers the public rarely gets to see.

These are professionals who make me want to be better–a better chef, a better entertainer, a better friend. Just better. Their passion [ Read More ]

Classic Carbonara with a Spring Twist

June 26, 2013

 

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Clear Creek Organics operation. The bounty Stephen Cochenour sent me away with –sugar and snap peas, bi-colored zuchini, spring garlic–inspired a spectacular dinner later that evening.

This spin on carbonara, one of my favorite pasta dishes, was so easy to execute (and so very satisfying to eat), I thought it well worth sharing.

Enjoy!  –Frank

 

[ Read More ]

It Starts Here & Grows Daily

April 30, 2013

 

For years, I didn’t have training manuals for the restaurants. There was only Mizuna, after all, and I knew that staff intimately. Then we grew to Luca, and we were all still friendly peers. I used to say “If you’re here, working with me, then you’re an adult and a professional. You know what’s expected.” That sentence was enough.

Bones was the first training manual, the first time I worked with relative strangers in my own kitchen and on the floor, so the first item of business was to form a list of expectations. Not don’ts–everyone has those–but “do’s.” This Is What I Want Always.

Each opening gives the management team an opportunity to amend the list, nurturing it in a way, and so it grows as we do, defining us in bullet list.

I wanted to share it, because businesses create these tools, and it strikes me that it’s important to pass [ Read More ]

Breaking Down the Animal

March 16, 2013

There was this old German instructor at the CIA—patient and kind with big, meaty hands and quick, calloused sausage fingers. He took great care in his professional appearance, crisp ironed chef whites, neckerchief, tilted toque—and he clearly loved what he was doing. He was a chef who inspired his students, passionate, engaged, teaching us the mother sauces and seasoning just so, verbally clarifying, gently guiding.  Perfect stocks. Impeccable knife skills. Watching him could be painful, though. Even the exertion of rocking his blade across a cutting board caused him to break out in a sweat. He labored to carry his girth across the room. You could practically hear his hips grind when he walked, both knees completely shot, his back bent from decades of lifting pots that, if raised now, racked his breathing and strained his arms. Such a great instructor, a great cook, but his body was just tired. [ Read More ]

Finally, A Cure for Fatty Thighs

February 23, 2013

Andrew Boyer is in the Luca kitchen doing really beautiful work with a pig. He’s celebrating, in his quiet way, a cautious victory, the way all good cooks celebrate—with their hands, their knives, their skills, lovingly recreating their happiness and sharing it with you.

Let me backtrack.

For over a decade, once a week and often twice, a whole eviscerated Berkshire hog arrived at the delivery entrance to Luca d’Italia. For years, when a Luca chef addressed a pig, it was to utilize every part of her. Copa de teste from the head and guanciale from the jowls; hind legs trussed into fine prosciutto, the shoulders turned to copa. After boning out the entire pig, we turned the remaining meat—tenderloin, pork loin, belly—into a farce, rolled it into the skin for a luscious porcetta to be thickly sliced and crisped up for dinner. Using some pork to cook, some to cure, paddling [ Read More ]

Three Days at Three Stars

November 27, 2012

This summer, four chefs from Mizuna and Luca d’Italia spent time in nationally acclaimed kitchens. Each was offered a job (a testament to the talent and work ethic around me).

I’ve written here before about how important it is for chefs to cook in a variety of kitchens–to learn, to be humbled, and sometimes just to renew. The following story, though, is Mizuna executive chef Stephen McCary’s perspective. He assembled notes on his stage at Aureole for a national website and in rereading it today, I wish I’d posted it here earlier. . .

I’m the executive chef of a 53-seat restaurant in Denver, where owner Frank Bonanno sends us on random 3-day stages as a way to keep us inspired and fresh for the job. The night before mine, I worked the Mizuna line until midnight. Of course I couldn’t sleep afterwards—not just because I was busy doing laundry and [ Read More ]

The Month Luca Was a Borg

August 14, 2012

In 2007, Dr. Michael Handler cut out a small piece of my son’s skull and placed it in a deep freezer. He used the opening as a portal through which to attach electrodes directly to Luca’s brain. The wires that came from that portal hung on Luca like a thick patch of robotic dreadlocks, covered at the base with a heavy wad of bandaging, then plugged directly into a machine to monitor his brain activity. In another few days, Dr. Handler would use the map of that electrical activity to indicate which piece of Luca’s brain he would need to excise in order to control the epilepsy.

Let me back up a minute.

Luca was only nine months old when he had his first seizure. We thought he’d been choking until he had a second seizure the next morning. For the next three and a half years, Luca took the prescribed Depakote, [ Read More ]

My Big Fat Restaurant Family Makes a Cookbook

July 28, 2012

When I opened Luca d’Italia nearly a decade ago, I got to staff it with my friends. Even then, I realized those days were numbered–that I would age in an industry that wouldn’t necessarily age with me, that these talented people would move on to other restaurants or other careers, that I would never again have this opportunity to surround myself in my workplace with my friends.

I was right. Brandon, Noel, Paulie, Johnnie—new jobs, or families, or towns. Rob Lawler’s running The Truffle. Reba has her own restaurant in New York. The people I work with today—not just at Luca, but all around Denver—they are not my friends; that era has passed. I find myself instead to be a patriarch of sorts, and my co-workers today–they are my family.

Here’s proof.

In April, Osteria Marco manager Chris McNeal, asked me if he could produce a cookbook for Luca d’Italia. He wanted to [ Read More ]

Yes Danica, I’m Mean

May 22, 2012

I’m such a jackass; ask anyone.

I want to brag about my “Hold Production” citation from the Department of Environmental Health–brag partially because it reads like an advertisement for a cured meat program (19 cheeses, some with mold, all between 54 and 57 degrees; 12 different kinds of meats plus jars of kimchee holding at 64 degrees. Temperature, humidity, mold conditions–all perrrrrfect) and partially because bragging irks our local inspector, Danica Lee. Furthermore, my work on a soon-to-be-released project has this teaser. I love it. Again, not only because it highlights work that I’m extremely proud of, but because it rubs it in-just a little–scary music and all, that I’m still making beautiful cured meats. I and a select group of talented peers have been curing meats and cheeses for over ten years. Four of those years I have been in the continuous process of working with my local Denver officials on [ Read More ]

Is it my fault somebody stunk up the bathroom?

January 25, 2012

Part of me wishes no one complained.

A Mizuna patron vented online because her illegally parked car was towed (she didn’t use the complimentary valet). A steak tartare was too rare; a soft shell crab too difficult to de-shell, a vichyssoise too cold. At Luca, a client raged against the cloth napkins ill-suited for her gum disposal; at Green Russell I was confronted by a woman who could not believe her bare feet weren’t allowed on the table. One diner at Bones complained because too much of another’s bum was exposed at the bar. I need to know that someone made the bathroom smell foul. The bar stools are too close together; the bar stools are too far apart. The patio at the Osteria was too sunny in July.

Now, these aren’t the comments that weigh heavily on me because they aren’t indicative of lagging professionalism or waning commitment. What they really [ Read More ]

To Manny, on the First Day of Christmas

December 2, 2011

Five afternoons a week, Manuel Macias comes through the door at Mizuna, quietly, nearly invisibly, and begins to wash the lobster pots. When the servers and cooks gather around the bar for family meal, sharing food articles and restaurant gossip, Manny takes his meal outside, enjoying a brief moment of peace before the evening’s service.

The sun sets; the dining room fills; Manny attends to the handling of Reidel stemware and laguiole knives (which have to be tended to by hand), an extensive variety of plates in every shape and size, miniature and dessert molds. He will do so with such silent finesse, such precision, such speed–that even working alone in a dish-pit the size of a small utility closet on a weekend night (when Mizuna will serve over a hundred people within her tiny walls), Manny will not break a single crystal stem. He will move stealth-like among the cooks, [ Read More ]

My Favorite Kitchen Tools

December 1, 2011

[In the top picture, from left to right: Taylor, Zach, me, Stephen, Preacher, Johnny Buerre Blanc. The next picture was taken during service: Taylor, Me, and Stephen check the ticket coming in; Preacher's a blur in the background, and Johnny Buerre Blanc is in the exact same work pose--staid.]

It’s not quite summer and the thermometer in the Mizuna kitchen reads 110 °. I am hot and I feel old—old because I am surrounded by youth. Because although we share the common language of classic movies and bad ‘80’s music, cookbooks and food writing—the banter fizzles when I start joking around about Agent P or SpongeBob. Because while they’re getting a second wind and heading out after work, I am going home to kiss my sons good night. Because I am nearly their fathers’ age.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working on the Mizuna line—not as the proprietor or fill-in [ Read More ]

A Little Change for Mizuna’s Tenth

September 3, 2011

I can’t believe it’s been ten years.

When Mizuna opened, we took reservations by telephone and scrawled them in pencil, barely legible in a gothic black leather bound reservation book. The servers—there were three—wrote the orders out by hand. Our wine book listed 62 labels, though we had no bar to speak of or place to store them– so they were shelved in the office, a the sub basement beneath a series of dripping pipework. Wooden benches provided Mizuna’s primary seating; they pressed against buttery yellow and deeply textured walls. Office carpeting floored the restaurant, and the cash register we inherited, already at least a dozen years old, sat propped on the line right next to the plates and serviettes and calculators the servers used to add up the guest checks. We all brought music from home to be piped into the dining room from our bulky cd player, and someone’s [ Read More ]

Why 5280 is Great and I Sometimes Suck

This month, Shari Caudron wrote a review of Lou’s FoodBar for 5280. Essentially, she concluded that she doesn’t get it. I ranted. What’s to get? Why didn’t she call to ask about the concept? How can she posit on a philosophy when she didn’t even take the time to discuss that philosophy with me–or Jacqueline, or anyone else??! Jacqueline raged with me. She wrote a letter to 5280 publisher Dan Brogan, who staunchly defended Ms. Caudron, said she’d talked to both of us.

Bull.
Lies!

I telephoned Mr. Brogan, and in our conversation he got rather specific. Said she’d spoken with both of us on our cell phones when we were on a road trip with our children.

What? . . . Oh. . .

In June, (I emphasize June, three months ago, not because it excuses our complete memory lapse, but because it demonstrates just how thorough Ms. Caudron is in her writing)our family [ Read More ]

Lou’s: My Kinda Roadhouse

September 2, 2011

During my first visit to Germany, we pulled off the autobahn into what I can best describe as “all-white 1960’s mall structure” to eat what, according to Jacqueline’s cousin, was the best schnitzel in the country. That raststätte menu had everything from intricate French pastries to German staples like spätzle—and, in truth, the schnitzel was amazing.

Later, when we were researching roadside places to eat in France, an article in The Guardian claimed that the “most revered” chicken in the country was not found in a lauded bistro or village eatery—but in a rest station, Le Poulet de Bresse. Damn good chicken.

Italian rest stops: pastas rolled by hand and gardens out back. Czech: local beers and goulash. Spanish: bins of fresh oranges and freshly muddled sangria.

All along the roadways these places exist, no table cloths or elaborate decor—but smiling service, great cooking, and menus that cover an oddly wide geographic and [ Read More ]

Perfecting an Ice-to-Spirits Ratio

June 23, 2011

The philosophy in this generation of bartending may seem new, but the verbiage–fresh, crafted, seasonal, local, paired–well, that’s familiar territory. It’s an honorable tribute to generations old techniques and recipes in both cooking and drink-making.

I knew Adam Hodak was serious about his cocktail programs when our tool bags were sitting side by side. Interestingly, a lot of his tools are for shaping ice–add those to thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment that rolls out perfect spheres and giant blocks, and, well–that’s a whole other deal. . .

Looks like a tribute to generations old techniques.

Somewhat.

The chainsaw runs on vegetable oil to keep the equipment food-safe and prevent the ice from being tainted by fumes.

It’s stabbed further into submission to attain roughly the size and shape of a salt brick for service.

Or a prehistoric diamond, which gets smacked with this disc-on-a-stick tool until the sound waves gently crack the ice into the [ Read More ]

Old Executive Chef Returns to Mizuna

June 8, 2011

[In the top picture, from left to right: Taylor, Zach, me, Stephen, Preacher, Johnny Buerre Blanc. The next picture was taken during service: Taylor, Me, and Stephen check the ticket coming in; Preacher's a blur in the background, and Johnny Buerre Blanc is in the exact same work pose--staid.]

It’s not quite summer and the thermometer in the Mizuna kitchen reads 110 °. I am hot and I feel old—old because I am surrounded by youth. Because although we share the common language of classic movies and bad ‘80’s music, cookbooks and food writing—the banter fizzles when I start joking around about Agent P or SpongeBob. Because while they’re getting a second wind and heading out after work, I am going home to kiss my sons good night. Because I am nearly their fathers’ age.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working on the Mizuna line—not as the proprietor or fill-in [ Read More ]

Sardines Don’t Stink.

May 11, 2011

So Tony Mantuano comes to Luca d’Italia, and we cook up a storm, and everyone loves the food and we get compliments all around. The cooks celebrate in the kitchen after, drinking wine and eating sardines, and what struck me—what struck us all really, was the great flavor of these little fish. In truth, sardines alone have very little flavor–they’re all texture and preparation. These were bigger, thumb-sized and moist, and Tony had only slightly pickled and marinated them in really good extra virgin olive oil, so they carried a slightly sweet acidity and a nice, fleshy bite. Truly simple and beautiful. I wanted something like this on my own menu.

I set about finding a sardine source. Turns out local purveyors don’t carry them, because nobody uses them–and nobody uses them because guests won’t eat them. I’d known this about sardines, that they’ve been an unpopular fish with a stinking [ Read More ]

Try the Pink Chicken. Please.

February 17, 2011

(Lou’s chicken photo courtesy Duke Blend & Thrillist Denver)

Sometimes you have to compromise even when you know you’re right.

At Green Russell, we celebrate our industry with Fried Chicken Sundays. Ten dollars for Red Bird Farms organic birds and a big helping of mashed potatoes. The country fried recipe is pretty straightforward: legs and thighs brined in buttermilk, salt, and pepper for 24 hours, dredged in seasoned flour, dipped in fresh buttermilk, dredged a second time, and fried in 325° oil until crispy golden brown—about 18 minutes. So simple—crunchy, tender, flavorful. We’ve served over 100 of those specials without a single complaint. Not one. Nearly every plate returns to the dish pit with only a few bones left behind.

So we bring the same recipe to Lou’s. It’s a natural for that concept—totally family-friendly comfort food. I am so confident of the success of the Country Fried Chicken that those words [ Read More ]

Support Denver, Eat Well

January 22, 2011

I don’t believe in offering coupons, or nightly specials; none of our restaurants advertise. Those somehow seem like cheap tricks to me—a way to lure diners and get them in over their heads, or get rid of food that’s suspect or doesn’t sell; a way to buy recognition.

But there is an honest to God deal I believe in and support wholeheartedly. Denver Restaurant Week. Three courses, two diners, $52.80: Screaming deal. Every major culinary city in the United States has embraced restaurant weeks. Chefs like Danielle Boulud, Rick Bayless and Danny Meyer churn out $20 deals so that diners can come out, sample, partake. It’s just so great: food writing all over the internet; a city buzzing with who’s been where and what was good; people actually out supporting the independent restaurateurs in their cities, eating and spending in what is normally the worst season to do so. Great food, [ Read More ]

Nothing Fancy, Just Lou’s

January 6, 2011

Simple. Comfort.

I walk to the coffee shop in the mornings with my sons. I walk to Mondo Vino Sunday nights to pick up wine for dinner. I walk around the corner for cupcakes, for bicycle repair, for flowers even. Although I’m within walking distance of lots of good restaurants, I really, really wanted another one nearby–one with a good, solid wine list and well-made comfort food. Nothing fancy, but nothing generic—just really flavorful, simple food.

Which brings me to Lou’s Food Bar.

The whole concept of Lou’s is centered on simple comfort food made the old fashioned, time consuming. flavor producing way. I wanted to showcase rich, tasty pates to spread on crunchy baguettes; sausages not just with pork or chicken, but with venison, rabbit, lamb. I wanted a plate of fried chicken on the menu and spaghetti with big fat meatballs. I wanted French onion soup. I wanted enchiladas.

I’ve got to [ Read More ]

A Cook Ventures into the Bar Business

November 30, 2010

(Adam doing battle with ice–photo courtesy of the talented Mike McGill)

A Journal on Opening Green Russell

September 10 Joe Voestrejs walks us through an ‘80’s sex dungeon below Larimer Square. Jacqueline and I love the space from the outset–hand carved brick walls, raw pipes, giant kitchen. It just needs to be stripped back down to it’s earthy elegance. A real cocktail joint. Adam Hodak specializes in crafted drinks, and so he–who is actually in the Osteria walk-in toying with purified water and a vibrator (long story)–runs across the street and he sees what we see. Within three days, Joe has come back with a lease and a proposal for a new entryway. Even the name seems to present itself—Green Russell, who, deserted by the rest of his mining group, found gold on the Confluence—a nod to the both the era and the spirit of taking risk.

Sep 20 David North, our contractor, [ Read More ]

Musing on Friends and Family

October 30, 2010

Friends and Family—Industry term for a restaurant’s opening practice night.

The words “Friends and Family” make the night sound so casual, like a big, happy party full of hugs and clinking glasses and sincere sidebars from long-lost friends in the kitchen. Some of those elements hold: I pack familiar faces and favorite people and lots of food and drink into those first practice nights, because I want to be surrounded by those who will kindly, lovingly, uncritically, enable us to practice food and service.

Friends and Family is no party, though— building a restaurant is extremely demanding—long, long days’ work in the face of a steady stream of questions from contractors, laborers, trainees, and co-workers (multiplied by two because we have Lou’s and Green Russell under construction at the same time). At the end of a full work day on sites, I head over to Mizuna or Luca for service, then get [ Read More ]

Time to Break New Ground

September 24, 2010

What do you see here? I see: a full restaurant, French doors, booths. Casual food & charcuterie. Families.

We met in a conference room on 17th and Lawrence today, eighteen of us in all–ten ticking well over $300 per hour–8 inches of paperwork, 4 pitchers of water, 2 pots of coffee. It should have been excruciating, but in truth, it was exhilarating. The views of Denver and the mountains beyond were amazing—a reminder of the promise of the city and why I love it here so much. “My” half of the group collected at one end of the conference table, talking restaurant reviews, crazy work stories, recent restaurant experiences. Tapping pencils. Draining cups. Just under four hours and 120 “Frank Bonanno” signatures later we had a single set of keys.

Buzzing on caffeine and nervous energy, four cars, a jeep and a van headed to what will become Lou’s. Tyler brought a [ Read More ]

Five Favorite Back to School Breakfasts

August 23, 2010

Breakfast isn’t my favorite meal–not to eat, not to cook. An adult comes to realize, though, that every meal isn’t centered around a single set of needs. Suddenly, I’m in my forties, enjoying brunch on the weekends, often cooking weekdays before I’m really even awake.

I eat pancakes sometimes. Waffles even.

Over summer, everything relaxed in our house–lots of fruit and half meals–but school started last Thursday and Luca and Marco need to go into the world with food that will feed their minds and bodies and allow them to focus all the way up to a 10:30 lunch.
In the spirit of the beginning of the school year, I thought I’d put together my five favorite family breakfasts, to cook and to eat (for others who occasionally struggle with inspiration before the sun rises).

ONE-EYED BANDITS–Basic (see bottom of recipe for decadent version)
4 slices your favorite bread for toast
4 eggs
2 tablespoons butter
Use a [ Read More ]

What I Read on My Summer Vacation

July 22, 2010

(In the spirit of disclosure: Anthony Bourdain & Me at Mizuna)

I had a phenomenal vacation. I cooked for people I love every night in what can only be described as a magical setting; I spent a ton of time in the ocean with my sons (we line caught crabs together every morning, fished for mussels, surfed, swam, built castles)–but you know what took this vacation just a rating beyond “great?” I got to read. I read all the time—trade journals, food magazines, cookbooks—but I do so on a treadmill, or in my office, or in the bathroom–so to really just sit back and read two full novels, well, that was some vacation. Since these two books from my phenomenal vacation have salted my conversations and thoughts recently, and I wanted to write about What I Read on My Summer Vacation.

The first was Devil in the Kitchen, a gift from the Bones’ [ Read More ]

An Open Letter to Diego Cordosa

June 23, 2010

–Hunter and Pig

[Stage: pronounced “stAHj”—intense, brief training period, usually with no pay, to prepare on for work in one’s intended field (in our case, cooking)]

I’m calling Diego Cordosa this weekend to explain myself, and I’m using this blog as a means to organize my thoughts. See, I’m trying to place Hunter, from Luca, at Murano to stage, and chef Cordosa wants to know why. Why send an employed adult–a long-time cook, a graduate of culinary school, an already polished chef–all the way to London to work his ass off for two weeks with no pay? What are we hoping to get from such an experience?

I think about what I got out of those experiences, the ones I had my first decade or so out of culinary school—crossing the country, staying in the seediest motels and finding myself peeling and dicing quince for twelve straight hours, or breaching the tests of [ Read More ]

Just One More Claw from a Perfectly Boiled Lobster

May 11, 2010

Every summer my family, and I mean my whole family—brothers, sisters, parents; my children, their children—get together beach-side to play and laugh and drink and eat. I cook almost every night (it’s how I express myself), usually fish that my father catches in the morning, simple pastas with fresh ingredients, sometimes just really good burgers. But one night—the night that usually ends up being my favorite of the whole vacation– we devote to lobster. Fresh lobster trapped just that morning, purchased from the fishmonger up the road. God, I love lobster. It’s one of my favorite foods—I think because it’s such a perfect vehicle for butter. I love the claws, rich and velvety.
We cook it at home, too, probably twice a month, and always on Monday nights so the whole family takes part—the boys separating the claws and tails from the body, Jacqueline working on the salad, all of us [ Read More ]

Good Food for the Little Dudes

March 3, 2010

There was a family dining at Luca recently and the parents were thoughtful enough to bring in chicken nuggets for their child. Heartbreaking.

My sons try everything, not just because I’m a good cook, but because the meal we offer them is their only option. This week, in fact, we’ve had amazing variety at our house.

Sunday after the hockey game (as heartbreaking as chicken nuggets in a nice Italian restaurant), we all worked together in the kitchen toward blackened mahi-mahi sandwiches. Luca mixed up both tartar and cocktail sauces (his own secret recipes—I can’t even direct him anymore) and Marco ripped the lettuce, sliced the veggies, and helped with the salad dressing. Turns out that if they get to season the protein we’re cooking, they’re much more liable to be adventurous with spice—so they helped blacken the fish. Jacqueline made the margaritas, and it was great fun because we were all [ Read More ]

More pig!

February 24, 2010

My proscuitto looks suspiciously flourescent–Peshek suspects rule-breaking and pink salt, but it’s just the paprika making itself known.
I swear.
We’re all about to take our ham-off products home for the final months of aging. Dirk built a super secret curing room, and not only am I going to put my pig leg in there, but now I get to focus on more exotic cures and see how they turn out.
I’ve got this wild boar’s head hanging in the walk-in. What should I do with it . . [ Read More ]

Ham-off, Week Four

February 2, 2010

As the first month of curing ends, the moisture slowly, slowly, s l o w l y leaves the prosciutto. Here’s Hunter’s leg, looking [ Read More ]

HAM OFF 2010!

January 22, 2010

The Bone-in Ham Laws:
1. Dry cure only—no pink salt.
2. All curing, sewing, prep, etc. must be done in the same kitchen.
3. All drying or aging must be done at home.
4. Must have a written recipe.
5. Must try own ham 48 hours prior to ham-off
6. Tasting starts 1” from bottom.
7. Need one photo per week of ham.
The contestants: David Blumberg, Mike Peshek, (Cheesy) Mike Longhurst, Hunter Pritchett, Frank Bonanno.
So far, the most difficult part was finding pig hind legs with the skin still on them (thank God, once again, for Fresh Guys). Five legs, a simple rinse, a salt pack—and here our paths toward hamhood diverge.
Frank: Me, I like a traditional Parma take on prosciutto. My rub consisted of sea salt, brown sugar, nutmeg, a teeny bit of allspice, and a generous amount of paprika. Minute dusting of dextrose and corn solids.
Pesh: Goes for sea salt, fennel seed, all spice, juniper [ Read More ]

Monday Night Special: Chopsticks and Elbows

November 14, 2009

My favorite shift at the Osteria is Sunday nights, when Alex roasts the pigs. I love the way the rotisserie glows yellow and flares to orange when the fat hits the fire; the way suckling pig draws families and couples and foodies down the stairs and into the dining room; the way the pork smells permeate the empty spaces. . .

I’ve had it in my mind to do something similar at Bones, something to fill the tight room with families and couples and foodies on Monday nights—and I’ve been thinking whole roasted duck for two. A dish that’s fun, made to dig into and enjoy with wonderful, satisfying fixings. I’ve been imagining a duck that’s roasted with that super-crispy, tasty skin—-almost, but not quite Peking style. Where we implement every part of the foul–the liver as a pate to smear across toast points; the bones to make a nice, clear [ Read More ]

For an Amazing Cheese Plate

October 13, 2009

Last night, I had an amazing platter at Sushi Sasa—all of the kitchen elements worked in harmony: the caliber of chefs; the freshness, temperature, and perfectly sliced fish; the quality of rice and simplicity in seasoning. . .

That sushi plate got me to thinking about meat and cheese plates, because the same components can make or break one: the caliber of chefs; the freshness, temperature, and thickness of each slice, the quality of bread and simplicity in seasoning . . .

I was recently victim of a bad cheese plate at a restaurant up the road: yesterday’s bread, ice cold and week-old Burrata, cappicola cut so thickly that I had to chew it like an oily, meaty, wad of gum, prosciutto as fat as Oscar Meyer bologna. Here are these beautiful (or once beautiful) products, made in the manner they were a hundred years ago with real attention and care, and [ Read More ]

God I Love a Reuben

September 17, 2009

For a long, long time now, I’ve wanted to put a Reuben on the panini menu at the Osteria(O-stir-eeeee-ah). Finally, last week I was craving one for myself so badly I took action.

No, it’s not a distinctly Italian sandwich–but I will give Marco this one because of the artistry in every single element executed from from scratch. Cook, cure, and smoke the beef; whip the tomato aioli; dice the cabbage with radicchio and carrots . . .

A full five days after the craving hit (three days to brine, one day to air dry with spices, one day to smoke and roast), I finally have the sandwich that’s been chasing me. My wife wonders if I’m not sick of the whole idea by now, and hasn’t the longing passed . . .but, like pizza, it’s one of those foods I could probably eat every day. To me, there’s nothing quite as [ Read More ]

Comfort Food (BLT , Ramen and Such)

September 5, 2009

My favorite meals, and the most consistently popular ones at the restaurants, are tweaked versions of ultimate comfort foods–the Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese on the Mizuna menu, the BLT I recently wrote about, the Froot Loops soft serve ice cream at Bones. A couple of years ago, a food writer asked me if I could upgrade my middle-of-the-night weakness: ramen noodles. Of course. Add lobster.

It wasn’t until Bones opened that I had the opportunity to execute lobster ramen on a menu. Here it’s butter poached, with lobster stock, edamame, scallions, and lemon. It’s become a client (and wife) [ Read More ]

BLT on Mizuna September Menu

September 3, 2009

I posted my ideas on the perfect BLT a couple of weeks ago. Here’s Tony’s twist.
My favorite part: J Hill Farms raised a breed of tomato with a flavor profile designed to specifically compliment pork. We all taste-tested it. Unbelievable, slightly smokey, intensely moist and firm-skinned. Brioche beneath, cubed belly above, tender new arugula all around. I could eat that in a single [ Read More ]

Harvest Ravioletta with Brown Butter

August 29, 2009

When I’m making dinner for a group, I always include a pasta course–the simpler the better (4 ingredients or so)–and it seems there’s always something fresh to pull it off–tarragon, arugula, chives . . . Right now I have a bounty of perfectly ripe, juicy tomatoes from my home garden (golden cherries) plus a beautiful, knobby, multi-colored array from RR farm. My course at the Six89 Slow Foods dinner calls for about 150 pasta portions: I’m thinking ravioletta. That means I have about 7 hours of pasta making before me, the condensed version of which is this:

Last night I stirred and stretched 8 pounds of mozzarella and set on the counter to rest at room temperature. I roughly chopped the tomatoes, salted (to get rid of all those ripe juices) and loosely covered. Today, I will start the morning by working the pasta dough–15 pounds, more or less, 28 egg [ Read More ]

What do you do with a cow’s head, anyway?

August 27, 2009

The chill air of this August morning made me want to cook a whole animal—pig, lamb, goat—doesn’t really matter. There’s something about fall that calls for sacrifice, celebration and feast.

With that in mind, I’d like to share a recipe and brief thoughts on a movement.

First, the recipe: Pâté de Tête / Brawn
There is something beautiful to be had from the head of a veal. First, remove the tongue and the brain (which don’t require as much cooking time and can be enjoyed separately). Then, remove the cheeks (salt for guanciale).
Place what’s left of the head in a pot of cold water; bring to a boil; drain. Sauté the entire thing with a bit of mirepoix and olive oil, season liberally with salt and pepper, and brown up just a bit. Coat with a bottle of white wine, something good and dry, and top with water until the head is [ Read More ]

The Evolution of a BLT

August 20, 2009

I’m going to sneak into the dining room at Mizuna in a couple of weeks–not as a line cook, and not as the proprietor, but at table tucked into the back and set up as a makeshift cooking station. I won’t sell it as a “Chef’s Table,” because revenue’s not what I’m after, and I don’t want to focus on fancy, over-the-top cuisine, because I don’t intend to show off, either. What I want to do is use this table as a vehicle to connect with diners whom I love and basic foods that I love to cook. To create a setting where we are all inspired.
Lately, my nightly meditations have turned to what those foods should be. How can I change something very simple to make it extraordinary?
Last night I was consumed with the thought of a BLT.
Here’s how it works for me: a simple bacon lettuce and tomato [ Read More ]

Keep that chef away from the food

August 12, 2009

In this month’s Bon Appetit, Andrew Knowlton says high-visibility chefs should stay off the line and work the dining room. There’s such truth in that statement, but I’m back there cooking every week anyway — tossing pizza one night, different station, different restaurant the next (and so on)–disrupting the flow and the camaraderie and subtlety tweaking dishes as they pass before me. Why?
I love to cook. When I meditate, I imagine a slightly flawed apple or onion, slowly turning it until my mind clears (or I fall asleep). My bathroom is lined with cookbooks sandwiching my own notebooks and personal recipes. I love to cook.
I like it better than working the floor (though I do that, too, because some really great people come through those doors). I have three venues with open lines, so clients can see me back there sweating and burning myself, and they seem to think the [ Read More ]

Salumi: A Dangerous Beauty

June 22, 2009

Wild boar arrived at Luca a couple of weeks ago, but it’s not going to be on the menu for at least three more months. That’s because we’re grinding it, seasoning it, packing it, hanging it, slowly, slowly, s l o w l y, turning it into finocetta and capocola. In the seven years we’ve been crafting our own salumi at Luca, the wild boar’s a first–so it’s been great fun, but it got me to thinking about the recent popularity in curing meats . . .
A little while ago, a local cooking school asked if I would teach a class on making charcuterie. I declined. Because, while preserving meats is a great celebration of our ancestors and a return to a more natural, organic, aware form of cooking, it’s also cause for concern.
Making salumi—pork, generally, that is sugar and salt cured and air dried–is a big jump from [ Read More ]

Thoughts on Liver

January 24, 2008

When I write for this blog, I mostly like to focus on Colorado game and
produce—when the flavor peak hits, how to find good, organic examples,
and possibly how to cook it. Not today. Today I’d like to take a moment to
talk about foie gras.
I really like it. I like to sear it; I like to chill it; I like to eat it. I offer it to
friends in my home and guests in my restaurants for the rich flavor and
creamy texture and nutty aroma. I even like the crackling sound it makes
when I crisp up the sear. Yesterday, I received an email expressing
disappointment in my support of the unethical treatment of geese, and I
thought that in addition to responding to that writer directly, I’d write a little
about it here.
I think what troubled that writer the most is “gavage”—tube feeding a goose
so much food that its liver [ Read More ]

Osteria Marco

January 8, 2008

The new restaurant—Osteria Marco—just got reviewed by Jason Sheehan. I found out it
was coming when I was in Jersey for the holidays and Westword sent photographers by
the restaurant. It’s scary—knowing a writer came in completely undetected (three times),
knowing I wasn’t even at Marco the last time he stopped in, not knowing how he felt
about the experience. Picked up a copy as early as I could get my hands on one. I wish
that food critics didn’t affect me, but they do. A) It is a true, objective response to a
dining experience and b) newspapers have the power to direct major traffic our way. A
bad review would torture me for weeks. Months even.
This is a good review (you really should come by yourself sometime). One clarification:
Jason thinks we used “a lot money” to open the place. I only wish.
I’d mentioned before that my dream spot would have whole suckling pig (we’re doing
that [ Read More ]

Rocky Mountain News.com Spotlight

September 26, 2007

“Frank Bonanno takes a lot of pride in personal touches at his restaurants – like making his own pasta. But, honestly, why would anyone make his or her own [ Read More ]

New York Trip

August 30, 2007

New York is the best food city in the world. Ryan Gaudin and I just got inspired there toward a pizzeria we’re opening here in Denver. What a trip. If I could cook a restaurant using ingredients from that one night in The City, here’s what I’d incorporate: The energy from Balthazar—probably my favorite that Friday–absolutely hopping at 5:45, buzzing with the after work crowd and bar-intendeds warming up for the night. I was impressed by the attentive service (completely unpretentious for such a gorgeous dining room) and all four items we ordered were spot-on. Cured meats the way they’re made at Otto—great flavors housed in cool design. Extensive wines and rustic beauty of Enoteca (I liked their price points, too—very approachable). Danielle’s service—good old reliable perfection. I’m continually impressed by the caliber of our staff at Luca and Mizuna—but wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of service, [ Read More ]

Pig

August 15, 2007

The tastiest farm animals eat and move in a natural way–cows that graze on grasses inthe open air; chickens that eat insects, greens, and grains; pigs that forage forpests and decaying matter. Usually the tastiest animals are young, too; beforethey’ve had a chance to develop tough muscles and while their bodies are stillfatty from milk feeding. One of my favorites to prepare is the suckling pig— because its entire body can be used; because it’s beautiful to behold and it smellswonderful; and because it’s always a great social event to cook a pig. I’mplanning such an event, in fact, to raise money for The Children’s Hospital here inDenver, and because it’s on my mind, I thought I’d write about it here.For a good, solid celebration, I like to invite a baker’s dozen—including me, that’s alucky fourteen—and order a 3 month old pig from a local purveyor (the homecook in Denver, [ Read More ]

Peas

June 30, 2007

I’m lucky to be a chef in Colorado. This land produces some unbelievable food, tender, tasty game, vegetables and fruits (especially pitted, but that’s much later in the season) with such crisp, sweet profiles, perfect and abundant. I like the hint April gives to the yield of the months ahead.

For me, the first culinary sign of spring is peas. Nice, big, plump green as can be peas. Peas are vibrant, fun, and versatile as all get out because you can do anything with them; they are brilliant in color, sweet in flavor, lively in texture, and perfectly ripe at this very moment.

The best place to find good local, organic and heirloom peas is at the farmers market, but there aren’t a lot of those around just yet, so Whole Foods works well. I was at Safeway last weekend, and they had an abundance of organic peas. (I get mine from [ Read More ]

Fancy cocktails and a little dessert . . .

June 28, 2007

Fancy cocktails and a little dessert . . .
(Bitters, brandy, turnovers and caramels)
One good thing always leads to another, which is how eight bags of cherries turned into
brandy and tarts.
The cherries at the farmers’ market were just too good to pass up—dark and sweet, home
grown—a juicy invitation on a summer day. So I brought home eight pounds for Father’s
Day. Our family actually managed to eat about three of them, but I noticed a few fuzzing
up and had to take action.
First, small tarts. I have to share this crust recipe because it’s so simple, yet flaky and
rich enough to please any pie fanatic.
Equal parts flour, butter, and cream cheese (that’s right, cream cheese) pulsed in the
blender until ready to roll. Couldn’t be simpler. I rolled about 10 four-inch crusts,
wrapped them around pitted cherries, lemon zest, sugar, and butter. Bake at 350˚ in the
toaster oven until brown and juicy.
But there were still [ Read More ]

Fresh Summer Salad

June 21, 2007

We’ve got shallots, parsley, basil and watercress going crazy in the garden at home. In trying to use up as much as I can before summer’s heat destroys the lot, I scrounged up some blood oranges, and put together a giant salad for a barbecue. Thought it might be nice to post the recipe. Some notes on process, first: For the basil oil, I shocked the basil and parsley to get that wonderful shade of shocking summer green. A vegetable is shocked by submerging it in ice water the moment it’s finished cooking. This completely ends the cooking process (keeping it crisp) and forces green vegetables to release extra chlorophyll (yielding a more brilliant shade of green). Second, I use a chinois whenever I make an oil or puree—a chinois is like an extra-fine collandar; it’s shaped like a funnel with a fine sieve on the end. Passing sauces, soups, [ Read More ]

Chef Frank Bonanno Featured on MSNBC’s “Steal This Recipe”

June 14, 2007

Jean Phillipe, the executive chef at Mizuna, created a Halibut dish that got the attention of MSNBC. They posted it on their “Steal this Recipe” site, so check it out. Better yet, I’ll copy it for you [ Read More ]

Cheese

May 31, 2007

A few months back, my buddy Ramey came back from San Francisco raving about a
burrata cheese she’d discovered in a restaurant there. I’d never tried that particular
cheese before, so I researched online, found the exact source her restaurant was using,
and ordered some for our staff to try. We loved it, and the burrata landed on the Luca
d’Italia menu. Every time we served it, though, I was bothered. It’s a soft, white cheese-
-why in the heck fly it all the way from California when we could be (should be) making
it here?
We make our own burrata, now–and because someone just asked me for the recipe, and
because I’m sitting at the computer typing it out—I thought I’d share my thoughts on
cheese-making (and pass on some recipes).
The first time I made my own mozzarella was just before my wedding. I had this idea
that a great appetizer would be cheese rolled around basil and tomatoes [ Read More ]

Arugula

May 23, 2007

In trying to promote the discussion of locally driven menus, I look first to my home
garden and farmers’ markets. Right now Denver is enjoying a great, wet, productive,
promising season.
The first week in April, I planted some Arugula (rocket) in my home garden, and I’ve
been able to cook with it for weeks now. It’s one of my favorite greens—arugula has a
nutty, peppery flavor that enhances pastas, fish, salads, and sandwiches; its deep green
brings visual depth to dishes; arugula grows easily here in Denver (it’s bi-annual and selfseeding); it’s rampant in farmers markets; it’s both exotic and commonplace.
If growing arugula–snip it while it’s small and low to the ground and keep snipping for
greater yield. I’ll let some plants go to blossom to use the purple and white flowers for
subtle garnish.
If purchasing it– Look for bags or bunches with as few stems as possible and leaves no
bigger than your thumb. Know that smaller [ Read More ]

Chef Frank Bonanno to Compete in Food Network Challange

April 26, 2007

Five professional chefs will battle it out to see who can create the tastiest macaroni and cheese [ Read More ]

Welcome to FrankBonanno.com!

February 22, 2007

Thank you so much for visiting the site, please keep stopping by for updates on events, recipe ideas, and news from the [ Read More ]

Bonanno Concepts

701 East Seventh Ave,
Denver CO

303-832-4778