A longstanding policy practiced here at the Indy and at most publications says reviewers should give a new restaurant a couple months before secret-shopping it.
Sometimes exceptions are made, and sometimes mistakes happen. Case in point: the days I visited The Warehouse, which was taken over nearly three months ago by notable Briarhurst Manor chef Lawrence "Chip" Johnson (csindy.com/csindy/2007-09-06/sidedish.html).
Assuming the grace period over, I unknowingly dropped in on the second and third days of Johnson's new menu premiere. So I feel it necessary to extend extra slack for the minor criticisms I offer. In truth, they amount to nothing that should keep you from making reservations and trying The Warehouse's outstanding menu.
My experience began on an inexplicably dead Wednesday night. Our server assured us that the restaurant had been hopping on the evenings previous, then delivered what was to be my favorite single dish of my visits, the Cubist Macadamia Crab appetizer ($15). Towering above a palette of wasabi honey, pineapple horseradish, a balsamic teriyaki reduction and raspberry coulis were two perfectly crisp, macadamia-crusted crab cakes skewered artistically with a fried udon noodle and pinching a half-hovering rice cracker. The dessert-like presentation and complex, playful flavor diversity represented well Johnson's assertiveness.
Also to be commended: Johnson's inclusion of as many Colorado products as seasonally/financially feasible. Nearly half the entre page featured a local product in its description. We opted for the hazelnut Colorado bass ($26), sauted nutty and dressed with lemon zest and caper butter, and the classic steak frite ($24), perhaps the most straightforward menu item, with pommes frites (crispy French fries) and a Callicrate top sirloin covered in euphoria-inducing black truffle butter.
Dessert brought a satisfactory crme brule and toe-curling bittersweet chocolate pt (each $8), consisting of white chocolate Gnoise cake compacted with rich chocolate truffle (the other truffle, also great) served with nougat, crme Anglaise and raspberry sauce. In our next visit, the apple crisp and peach crpe, each featuring local fruit and spiced under vanilla ice cream, rivaled the pt.
From the Warehouse's lunch items a mix of fancy salads, sandwiches and small plates ($6 to $15) we chose the raspberry duck salad, the artichoke and spinach cassoulet (a non-traditional take on a classic French casserole) and drunken shrimp and mussel linguini. Each offered superb flavor, but the hot food arrived tepid; the cassoulet needed a reheat. The tequila, lime, basil and cilantro-steamed seafood with toasted almond pesto made passing the time pleasant, and the sauce also complemented fresh bread.
Lunch did leave us one lingering concern: Any of those dishes alone would've required a soup or side salad to truly satisfy. (The burger or other dishes, however, may prove otherwise.)
The Warehouse remains the dynamic, interesting restaurant and gallery space it was under owner Raphael Sassower and chef James Africano. We wish Johnson and Co. well as they soon weather the Cimarron Bridge reconstruction. Side note: Look for Johnson to get Palmer Lake Brewing Co., also housed in the building, back up and running again under a new brewer soon.
25 W. Cimarron St., 475-8880, coloradoeats.com/thewarehouserestaurant
Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekdays. Dinner, 4-10 p.m., weekdays and Saturday, 6-10 p.m. Closed Sundays.