Culinary Culture: Chef Matt Selby Joins Central Bistro, Debuts New Spring Menu
What: Central Bistro
Where: 1691 Central Street, Denver
Pros: Seasonal, local dishes range from upscale (Lobster Tail Cioppino) to casual (Boxcar Burger), making this a neighborhood spot a step above most. A comprehensive domestic whiskey list, expertly-made signature cocktails, and a killer happy hour round things out.
Cons: Prices may be a tad higher than most places claiming the title of “neighborhood restaurant,” but that reflects the high quality ingredients in the technique-driven dishes here.
There are some exciting things happening at Central Bistro in LoHi, and that’s not just the whiskey talking. Chef Matt Selby, formerly of Vesta Dipping Grill and Corner House, has taken over the kitchen as executive chef, a position formerly held by the likes of Jason Clark, Lance Barto, and Gerard Strong. Selby is hoping to bring a fresh energy to the upscale neighborhood spot, which is known for its collection of American whiskeys, stunning views of Denver, and an infamous bright red HOT sign that casts most of the dining room in its glare.
And Central Bistro will likely become more prominently known for great food under Chef Selby’s leadership. He is over-the-top passionate about what he does—from the tattoos of fish and pigs covering his hands to the way he talks about the local produce and more obscure ingredients he uses to build his dishes. “The new menu is 80% different with 20% older signature dishes that regulars would be sad to see go,” he explains. For example, the Central Mac & Cheese, which has been on the menu since the restaurant opened, won’t be going anywhere. Selby started at Central right after the new year, and has been slowly getting to know the kitchen staff and vibe of the restaurant in preparation for the changes he wanted to bring. As far as the new dishes go, Chef Selby insists that “everyone owns the menu,” meaning that he really worked with the kitchen staff as a team creating dishes together, insuring that everyone was able to give feedback so they would enjoy cooking it and feel proud of it.
That being said, Chef Selby has been formulating the menu for a while now from the ground up—literally. They waited to debut it until the 25th of March so that the spring produce he plans to feature would be ready. As he describes it, “I’m a native of Colorado, and Spring here is really a different season every week, like mini-seasons all the time. We have a crazy late winter season, and I wanted to reflect that warm and cool weather in one dish.” At a recent tasting, it was clear that he executes this well in the ultra-light and Fresh Endive, Orange, and Fennel Salad, which he tops with deeply toasted Hazelnuts, typically an ingredient seen in fall dishes. “The winter oranges are still superb at this time of year, while the endive and fennel are just entering their season,” Selby says.
Endive, Orange, and Fennel Salad. Photography by Camille Breslin.
The Carrot Chamomile Soup brings an unexpected floral touch with the addition of the chamomile; an ingredient Selby first began cooking with at NYC’s Gramercy Tavern. Selby has crafted this soup to feel equally at home on one of our snowy “spring” days as it does on a sandal-worthy afternoon. The silky carrot puree is complemented with the zip of pickled spring onions and a sweet sprinkling of currants.
Selby describes himself as a chef who is “ingredient-obsessed,” and no where is this more evident than in the Seared Lamb Loin. The lamb itself was perfectly cooked, juicy and flavorful, but the fresh chickpeas it rested upon threatened to steal the show. These plump, green chickpeas were tender, lightly minted, and both familiar and novel at the same time, as we typically don’t see this ingredient in its fresh-out-of-the-pod form. This dish is pure spring on a plate, with the fresh, green vegetable flavors, grilled ramps, and lamb tied together with the rich, silky robiola fondue. Selby admitted that this was his favorite dish on the new menu.
Seared Lamb Loin. Photography by Camille Breslin.
I, for one, had a hard time deciding between the lamb and the Lobster Tail Cioppino as my favorite. Selby’s take on Cioppino transforms a dish with humble, fisherman’s-scraps origins and adds a few upscale touches. To start, the spicy tomato broth is poured table side, keeping the seafood from becoming overcooked. They’re definitely not skimping on the lobster here, with big chunks of tail and claw crowning the bowl. Again, this dish seeks to marry the comforting winter warmth of a soup with the light ingredients of spring.
Chef Selby loves the neighborhood vibe, but he knew that he would when he accepted owner Isaiah Salazar’s job offer. “People actually make eye contact when they pass on the street here. People are super friendly,” he says. He really appreciates the chance to work somewhere with a tight-knit feel of community, where he can also “honor the ingredients.”
I would be amiss if I didn’t talk about the bar here at Central Bistro, which features one hundred and sixty bottles of Domestic whiskeys and knowledgeable Bar Manager/Mixologist James Menkal here to guide you through the overwhelming choices.
While the whiskey list is ever expanding, featuring many rare bottles and vintages, the signature cocktails on the brand new spring menu here are truly outstanding. Take the Spring Views, which Menkal describes a bouquet of flowers, with gorgeous floral notes from rose water and lavender lifted by sparkling wine and lemon. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the Diesel Fix, a heady blend of Templeton Rye, Mathilde Orange XO, Angostura Bitters, and a touch of Absinthe. While this boozy cocktail packs quite a punch, it goes down smooth with masculine orange and smoke flavors.
Don’t skip over the Central G+T just because it seems commonplace. Menkal makes his own tonic water, using cinchona bark as a natural source of quinine and giving this drink a super complex, herbal (tobacco, smoke, leather) depth of flavor that makes for the best Gin and Tonic I’ve ever had. One of the standbys off the old menu that hasn’t changed is the Casanova , a vibrantly green tequila cocktail that’s not too sweet, featuring a nice dose of cilantro.
This may be one of the happiest hours in town with Tuesday and Sunday being happy hour all day long. And don’t forget about the bottle program here—buy a whole bottle of whiskey, the bar will keep it with your hand-made name tag on it for you, and every time you come in you’ll receive 10% off your meal. Whether you stop in for a happy hour cocktail on the soon-to-be-revamped patio or a decadent dinner, Central Bistro proves that a neighborhood restaurant can exceed expectations without losing that welcoming community feel.Click for article
Matt Selby is back on his game with renewed energy — and a new menu — at Central Bistro & Bar
|All photos by Lori Midson.|
|A happy Matt Selby, along with the crew of Central Bistro & Bar.|
Late last November, when Matt Selby exited his executive chef post at the Corner House, an irresistibly charming restaurant in Jefferson Park co-owned by James Iacino, president of Seattle Fish, he stepped away from the spotlight, quietly doing time in the kitchens of Beast + Bottle and Jonesy’s EatBarand pausing to reflect on his priorities. “I needed to take some time to find myself and figure out what was most important to me,” admits Selby. “And what means the most to me,” he says, is “cooking, getting my ass kicked on a Friday and Saturday night and working with people that I can collaborate with.”
All of which he has found at Central Bistro & Bar, where he’s now the executive chef, collaborating, he says, with a galley full of pros and a solid management team, led by owner Isiah Salazar and general manager Seth Murty.
“We knew we had to get someone in the kitchen with a sense of leadership and someone who pushed conversations and let everyone have a voice, and I’ve always looked up to Matt, and when we sat down to chat, we just hit it off; it was a really great fit from the get-go, and I knew that he’d inspire and lead what’s already a talented kitchen,” says Salazar.
“I’m not a one-man jam,” confesses Selby. “I need to be able to bounce ideas off of people,” he stresses, “and I need to be on the line, cooking, touching every ingredient and sitting down with my really talented crew, including my two awesome sous chefs, and having brainstorming sessions — asking questions, like ‘Which restaurants have you recently been to?’; ‘Where have you traveled?’; ‘What are you reading and what are you exited about?’” The confabs, he adds, are “more like coffee conversations,” and from those, new menus emerge.
And Selby has just released his first menu at Central, a spring board that he describes as “simple and clean with an emphasis on technique and putting great flavors together that celebrate the top of the season,” a time of year, he notes, that’s “all about tying together early spring produce and late winter’s bounty.”
It’s not the easiest transition, admits Selby, but it’s one that he wholly embraces. “I love the challenge of playing with the Colorado weather patterns,” he says. “One day it’s sunny, while the next day, we have sideways snow, but I love that, and it gives me the opportunity to showcase spring and winter ingredients in innovative ways.
During a recent tasting of several of Selby’s new dishes, it was clear that he’s practicing what he preaches. An exquisite lamb dish, transcending both seasons, is simply stunning, revealing a rich patch of robiola fondue and a spring lift of fresh chickpeas weaved with green and white asparagus, green onions and the subtle sharpness of radishes. His cioppino, fragrant with the sea-scent of mussels, clams and Maine lobster, benefits from a light — but bracing — broth poured in a stream from a pitcher. Grilled slices of bread that float on top are smeared with an assertive rouille pungent the anchovies and ancho chiles. His smoked pork ribs are propped atop a subtly sweet barbecue sauce that is, of course, messy, and in the mind of a thoughtful chef, a plain napkin won’t do, so the plate is delivered to the table with a wet towel and a lemon tucked into a Staub dish. The little details matter.
A few of the most popular dishes — the burger, for example — remain on the menu, but the majority of the plates are new and jolted with an energetic bounce, similar to the spring in Selby’s step. “I’m scraped, I’m bruised, burned and scared, but I’m so fucking happy,” says Selby. “I’ll admit that I fell in love with Central gradually, but I’m so thrilled to be here, and I’m thriving in a collaborative environment of people who share the same philosophies on cooking and hospitality as I do.”
Here’s a preview of some of Selby’s new dishes (his spring menu launches today), along with a terrific dessert from pastry chef Heather Krussow, who Selby says is “killing it” and a few of the lovely spring cocktails from bar manager James Menkal.
Pappy Van Winkle Private Tasting; Old Major Beer Dinner
LOHI— Join Central Bistro on Monday, March 31 for a private tasting event featuring Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. The cost is $40 and includes a blind tasting of seven select whiskeys and one Pappy Van Winkle, as well as whiskey-influenced snacks. Call 303.477.4582 for reservations. [Eaterwire]Click for article
Spirited Jigger: The Central Smash
This schizophrenic March weather is making us crave patio dining and spring cocktails. We found the perfect patio pounder on Central Bar and Bistro’s new spring menu. Well, it tastes like a patio pounder, but if you plan to do any pounding might we suggest a designated driver or a cab. This baby is deceptively light and oh-so-drinkable.
Barman extraordinaire, James Menkal, has worked in New York, Houston, and San Francisco to hone his craft, but Denver is his home and we are lucky to have him. He uses Old Forester bourbon to create this refreshing highball with a hint of anise, dry grapefruit, and bitters.
Muddle a sprig of tarragon and a slice of orange. Add 2oz Old Forester bourbon, 1/2 oz Aperol, and a splash of Fee Brothers cherry bitters. Double strain the mixture and serve over ice with a splash of soda. Garnish with a wedge of orange and another small sprig of tarragon.Click for article
Spend an Evening with ‘Pappy’ at Central Bistro
Spend an Evening with ‘Pappy’ at Central Bistro Join Central Bistro for a special evening of super select whiskey tasting on Monday, March 31, starting at 6:30 PM. This private event will showcase Old Rip Van Winkle whiskeys of Frankfort, Kentuckly. Julian Van Winkle, also known as “Pappy,” began in the whiskey business in the late 1870s as a sales rep for W.L. Weller & Sons liquor wholesalers. He soon began distilling himself, opening the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in 1935. Now four generations later, his grand-son Julian III and his great-grandson Preston, run Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, which was opened by Julian Jr. in 1972. Guests will experience a blind taste testing of seven select whiskeys and one Pappy along with specially paired Central Bistro bites. Guests will also get to meet reps from the distillery and learn more about one of the country’s finest whiskey families.
Photo: Courtesy of Stateside
Event Date: 03/31
Event Time: 6:30 PM Location: Central Bistro
Price: $40 per person