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Waiting for Gaspare 

Hindered by economy and troubles, Vincenzo's puts its promise on the shelf

Gaspare Licata continues to seek an investor. - BRIENNE BOORTZ

Typically, when we set out to review a restaurant, not much hinders us. We give newbies two or three months to get their bearings, visit (twice, whenever possible) and then write. Simple as that.

But in the case of Vincenzo's Bistro and Bakery, there was nothing simple about the process.

A reader first informed us about Vincenzo's, raving that the food was the best he'd had locally, rivaling some of Denver's top Italian restaurants. A renowned chef named Gaspare Licata, who'd apparently cooked for celebrities, was taking over what was formerly known as The Place, off Gleneagle Drive. Licata was regarded as a master with pastries, and was importing olive oil from his family's groves in Italy.

Sounded amazing. So I dropped in on Vincenzo's in September, two months after its grand opening At the entrance, a large, ornate wagon also imported from Italy greeted me. Behind that, a flat-screen TV broadcast a classic black-and-white movie past a strange, library-like space with large leather chairs. To the right, a large banquet room opened up, perfect for something like a wedding reception. To the left and down a few steps sat the restaurant, which reportedly featured a buffet lunch of Italian favorites.

Our server greeted us warmly as did an abundance of flies. The buffet was a sad display: roasted potatoes, linguini with an Alfredo sauce, chicken piccata, salad and pizza. Aside from the chicken, which was cooked perfectly, only the pizza rose above average. When I pointed to the large, empty bakery case, the server said Licata was out of the country, so no pastries. The new Place was clearly not ready for prime time.

"This place is overcoming a bad reputation," new general manager Mike Harris said then. Harris had hired new servers who were in his words, "trainable." He looked forward to providing la carte dinner entres soon, and upon Licata's return, he said, the sweets case once again would hold fabulous Italian baked goods.

We later learned the details of a few bumps in the road. Faulty refrigeration had caused a 10-day shutdown, and a staffing shake-up had also occurred. Also, when Licata had been out of the country, it was so he could seek financial support.

So we decided to bump Vincenzo's back in our schedule, allowing another month for the ownership to sort things out.

Yet when it came time to visit for dinner, another month hadn't proved beneficial. Calling prior to the second visit last week, I learned the restaurant was closed for the weekend due, once again, to faulty refrigeration. Monday, I was told it would be closed all week for catering, and the restaurant side was shutting down indefinitely.

There went our chance to test Licata's supposed prowess.

Harris attributes the restaurant's troubles in part to poor decision-making but mostly to circumstances beyond anyone's control, such as a recent fall in the kitchen that injured Licata, and a lack of financial support from Italy. Harris says Vincenzo's will continue catering while in search of an investor, but the business may fold altogether, as the economy has affected Licata's olive oil importing business as well.

Sad to say, the debacle may be a sign of the times. We can only hope someone comes to Licata's aid if his eats are as good as folks say. For now, we wait and watch.

scene@csindy.com

  • Typically, when we set out to review a restaurant, not much hinders us.

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