New In Town – Safta
It is a rare thing for me to leave a restaurant satisfied.
Usually, the hunger has been chased away for a little bit. Maybe I was looking for a snack to absorb the abundance of booze. Or perhaps I sat down and ate to the point of regret that results in hours of heartburn or finishing the crossword on the can. There is a wide rift between satisfied and no longer hungry. I’m rarely satisfied, and I might frequently say otherwise as not to hurt feelings or to justify whatever price I had just paid for whatever it is I just ate.
Brunch is the worst. Don’t ask me for brunch. Brunch is a fast and ready promise of being unsatisfied. Leaving hungry and overspent, all while somehow managing to wait longer for a dish of mediocrity served lukewarmly and consumed out of something like desperation.
And I say all of this while living in Denver, where a new restaurant opens or closes every single day. Knowing this disappointment lurks around each corner I rarely eat meals anymore. My life is a series of snacks and nibbles. Perhaps this is my fault for adhering to a mostly vegetarian diet, but that would be giving half an apology to the chefs in this town who can’t seem to figure out how to make a vegetable dish interesting.
When in doubt, salt. Try some Chipotle powder. Presenting a portobello mushroom cap as anything more than a side is lazy.
Thinking back to the last time I was truly satisfied by the meal laid out before at an establishment me takes me back a few YEARS. Back to New Orleans in the Autumn. The month-long celebration of Halloween. A week-long bender punctuated by three days at a sweltering music festival, night after night of Halloween block parties, only to wake up on our last day for a reservation for two, at two, at Shaya.
For me to speak anything about the treasure that is Shaya would be me repeating the endless accolades of writers far more talented than I over the past several years. The quality, and the quantity, had been split between wanting to keep running flavors over my tongue while not risking the integrity of my waistline. It was abundant and full of all the right stuff, the je ne sais quoi that is impossible to describe though you know exactly what it is when you eat it.
That was years ago. The MeToo movement had resulted in a change of leadership and ownership at Shaya. Integrities compromised, morals questioned, exits made. Shaya, as New Orleans knows it, still stands with their reservation book running weeks in advance. Shaya himself has moved on. On his way to Denver within the soon-to-be-overbuilt, historic-but-not-pretty RiNo neighborhood. He is calling the new space Safta, opening soon in the nearly-finished kitchen buildout of the Source Hotel.
Alon celebrates with a little party -a tasting menu of what is expected out of Safta. On the menu, the world famous pita – cooked in a wood oven borrowed from a pizza company – and hummus with all the dressings you’d never imagine. Pickled vegetables, eggs, and oils. This is not your book club’s pita and hummus. This evening, a mere tasting, is a meal in and of itself. With each ticket sold came an autographed cookbook. Hell, it’s more than a cookbook, it is an epic memoir recanting his culinary journey that led to Shaya and the delivery of Israeli foods in the most unusual of places.
In a time when so many Denver restaurants aren’t trying (Oh, another burger bar?) or are trying too hard (Why is this salad $16?), I feel that Safta is going to hit it right on the head. Simple concepts, traditionally prepared, elevated in a way that comes with a lifetime of knowledge and travel, all prepared in an elegant setting that is intimate yet social.