In September, Wash Park French restaurant Cafe Marmotte got a new set of owners: Heather Morrison, Austin Carson and Ty Leon, who used to work together at Mizuna and currently run Bistro Georgette, a French food stall at Avanti F&B in Highland.
In early October, the trio debuted Cafe Marmotte’s new menu, giving Denver one of its best classic French restaurants to date. But the celebration is short-lived: At the end of December, just three months after launching the new menu, Cafe Marmotte will close. In early 2020, it will reopen under the same team as a new Italian restaurant.
That gives Denver diners 12 weeks to taste this French fare before the current incarnation of Cafe Marmotte closes after dinner service on New Year’s Eve.
Here’s the beauty of this unusual scenario: Through the rest of the year, chef Ty Leon will be cooking at Cafe Marmotte like it’s his last meal, a continuing going-away party of sorts. Then, starting in January, he’ll be cooking like he has something to prove again. It’s a challenge he’s genuinely excited about.
“I hate tying myself down to one region,” Leon said. “No matter the type of food we do, whether it would be French, Italian, Japanese or Indian, we would always do it our way.”
Before taking over the restaurant at 290 S. Downing St., Leon and partners Morrison and Carson spent years working together at Mizuna, long considered Denver’s premiere French occasion spot. In August 2018, they opened Bistro Georgette at Avanti F&B.
Over the past year, Leon says he’s felt somewhat limited in his creativity. At the food hall, he keeps a tight menu of just eight dishes, from hand pies to steak frites. Carson and Morrison also aren’t able to utilize their wine, cocktail and fine-dining service expertise, since individual stalls don’t sell alcohol.
Not so at Cafe Marmotte, where all three are officially letting loose — in a way that’s always exciting to watch — from the wild-foraged cocktail list to some of the most indulgent French food around.
Coq au vin, seared foie gras and moules frites are a few of the expertly made dishes on Leon’s short-term menu. He’s picked up where he left off more than a year ago at Mizuna, he said, perfecting his classic French techniques. But he’s also starting to mix in Italian influences such as a lobster spaghetti with black truffle, lemon and mascarpone cheese.
The chef also spent the spring and summer preparing for this role, apprenticing at French and Italian restaurants Le Pigeon in Portland, Flour + Water in San Francisco and Lilia in Brooklyn. Perhaps it all will make for a unique crossover next year.
“A lot of the flavors will be the same,” Leon said of transitioning from French to Italian. “We’ll try to bridge between the two (cuisines).”
Meantime, diners should order all of these rich French dishes while they last, as well as Carson’s seasonal cocktails, like a foraged plum negroni and a wild grape French 75. The restaurant (in its current form) is open six days a week and for Sunday brunch, but the clock is ticking.
290 S. Downing St., 303-999-0395, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Sundays, cafemarmotte.com. Watch for special preview dinners of the new concept on Nov. 12, Dec. 10 and New Year’s Eve.
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