Jay Fox's Dining Guide

Dining is Divine

“All men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner.” — Red Skelton

Undici
1200 E. Old Hampden Ave., Englewood
303-761-2828

I’M ALWAYS AMAZED BY THE TRANSFORMATION that a restaurant designer can pull off, particularly if the former tenant was also a restaurant. As a prime example, there usta be a pool hall in Alamosa that served a greasy bugger or maybe a ham sangie once in a while, but you probably didn’t want to eat it unless you were stinkin’ drunk. Or maybe dead ... The place sat vacant for years. Today it’s Trujillo’s — A Dining Place (326 Main Street, 719-589-2641). Suffice it to say the place was eventually gutted by the buyer. The transformation into a fine dining establishment was astonishing.

Closer to home, when Fratelli’s Italian Restaurant succumbed to the Tax Man’s wishes circa 2000, the neighbors were heartbroken. After all, this was the place Englewood ate breakfast. The Italian grub was good and cheap. Even I liked the place, altho perhaps the worst review I ever wrote and certainly the most scathing comments about a server were written about Fratelli’s. Anywho, I digress.

Alex and Dina Kallas, with many years of experience in the restaurant business, took over the space at 1200 E. Old Hampden Ave. in early 2004. It took a full year to complete the makeover. They turned what was a neighborhood diner-style eatery into a gorgeous set of rooms seating about 100. They hired a professional wait staff committed to creating a truly fine dining experience.

What a maaavelous, beautiful restaurant. Don’t let the absence of signage fool you. The only indication that there’s a restaurant here are the tables on the patio on the south side of the building. There’s no menu out front. A simple word, Undici, appears in large letters on the front of the building.

Undici is Italian for 11, signifying that this is the 11th restaurant operated by the Kallas family over the years. Today there are three sister restaurants: Steakhouse 10 (3517 S. Elati St., Englewood, 303-789-0911) a few blocks away, serving fine steaks and a great bugger; The Athenian (15350 E. Iliff Ave., Aurora, 720-449-0224), serving Greek cuisine; and brother Pete’s latest entry as of a few weeks ago, Greeks Gone Wild: Souvlaki, Wings & Things (2039 S. University Blvd.), a fast food eatery serving the stuff in the name along with buggers and other fast food fare.

The amazing part of this transformation is that the family members designed this restaurant.

I copied the following passage from Citysearch cuz I thought it was one of the classiest descriptions of any restaurant I’ve ever read:

“The high-ceilinged dining room at this classy Italian house of gastronomy is dimly lit, but splashed with color. Parsley-hued walls, fresh flowers, abstract artwork and a humming waterfall exude style and warmth. Patrons at dark-wood tables feast on gnocchi, risotto, ravioli and myriad veal, chicken and fish dishes. The spacious bar area attracts a hip crowd of locals who commune on leather sofas while sipping from the moderately priced wine list.”

Course y’all know that I wouldn’t write anything as foo foo as that.

My first visit was unintentional. It was just after 3 p.m., way past lunch time. Y’all know that the last time I skipped a meal was back in ’47. I was driving past the restaurant when I realized I hadn’t eaten all day and suddenly was craving food. I knew that it was a restaurant because I had recently dined at Steakhouse 10, and Pete Kallas had told me about the new place his brother had opened just a few blocks away. I walked in to Undici and was literally blown away by the elegance of the dining room and the lounge.

I sat at the bar and was immediately greeted by Dina Kallas, who told me that they had just closed the kitchen for lunch, but I certainly could have an appetizer or some other light dish. I asked if I could get a meataball sangie.

She went back to the kitchen and returned to tell me that the sangie was on the way. And a very yummy sangie it was. We chatted about the new restaurant and when I finished my sangie she asked if I wanted dessert. She suggested the house-made chocolate profiteroles, which you and I know best as éclairs. Oh, my. A few moments later came four round, fresh-from-the-oven pastries of chocolate heaven. I ate only two of them, taking the remainder with me. When G got home, I presented her with this new treat. As she tasted the first bite, she looked up at me with that look of great pleasure, and sed, “We’re going there for dinner.” And we’ve been dining there fairly regularly ever since.

The menu prepared by Chef Pietro DiMarchi, a native of Venice, Italy, is quite large. This brings up my only negative comment about this restaurant. The menu lacks in the meat and seafood that I would expect in a traditional Northern Italian eatery. But I never have a problem finding something deliteful to eat. I usually order the daily special, which is always maaavelous. For a change of pace, I get the Gamberoni e Cappe Santé Termidoor (shrimp and scallops sautéed in butter and brandy with sliced oranges and pear), $21. While there’s a nice selection of munchies, I constantly order the superb house-made sausage and peppers. G tries everything, depending on whom we’ve invited along. We almost always invite someone. She’ll order the fried calamari or the smoked salmon with brie or the bruschetta or the wondrous prosciutto and melon. All are priced between $8 and $10, ‘ceptin for the bruschetta at $5. The house-made bread is so good, sometimes I think I’ll skip the entrée and just have appetizer, bread, butter and dessert. And I would certainly not go home hungry. Never have, never will.

The house Cesar salad, $5, is exceptional, and the white bean soup is very popular. Notice the absence here of a compliment or a derogatory remark regarding the beans. I’DON’DO beans. Not of any kind. Not Boston, baked, fried, refried, Lima or white. But y’all knew that. They also offer minestrone soup daily.

The first course offers a dozen dishes, including house-made potato gnocchi with veal sauce and porcini mushrooms, $15; rigatoni with sausage, pancetta and tomato sauce, $14; and the most unbelievable house-made ravioli with butternut squash, $14, that’ll blow your mind. I don’t even like ravioli and I luv these delights. Another fav is the super delish Spaghetti ai Frutti di Mare (spaghetti with sautéed seafood, tomatoes and verdicchio wine), $20. The second course — by the by, I don’t know why Italians bother with first and second courses. Are we supposed to order the first course first and the second course afterwards? Other than that the second course comes with veggies, what’s the diff? Beats the horse puppie outta me. But I digress again. The second course offers such amazing dishes as the aforementioned Gameroni e Cappe Sante Termidoor, Cioppino, $22, and a variety of chicken, veal and salmon dishes. Sorry, no beef on the menu. I then have to put my undernourished body thru the dessert phase.

I commented earlier on the profiteroles. They have a variety of wondrous desserts, but I stick with my fav of favs, the ultra rich chocolate gelato. Oh my! And then I nap.

Since I’d rather have muh carbs in food, I almost forgot to mention the excellent selection of wines. The service here is so good that you should place your fate in the hands of the him or the her who serves you regarding the selection of wine or food. When G and I find a really good server, we prefer to eat at their station. Here the choice is tuff. Both Marisimo and Tim are exceptional servers, but we tend to sit at Marisimo’s station cuz we don’t understand a word he sez, and so he orders for us. Just kidding. Really.

While we’ve never had a problem with the service or food here, we know that Alex and Dina stop by every table, and when one of them comes by our table, there’s nothing to complain about. So it’s always a “How’s the baby?” or “What’s happening new in your life?” kinda conversation. The Kallases are proud parents of a year-old baby girl. Maybe the heir apparent?

At the time of this writing, Undici is completing the installation of a Web site, but the Internet info is ferblungent (a word I think my uncle invented, meaning confused). While the Web site is just weeks from being up and running, a link to a restaurant with the same name but located in Rumson, NJ, with this restaurant’s address and telephone number, appears on the Google sheet. The other restaurant’s stupid link takes forever to open, so don’t waste your time. The real restaurant in Colorado is open daily except Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tell ’em The Fox sencha.

Cya.

Esteemed Colorado Statesman restaurant reviewer Jay Fox can be reached at Jay@coloradostatesman.com.