I work hard to keep an open mind when I visit a hotel restaurant, but I don’t necessarily walk into them with high expectations. The average hotel restaurant just has the deck stacked against it. Frequently under the management of a large corporate entity; many decisions that affect the kitchen and its output are not made by the executive chef. Instead, a corporate manager whose major focus is to contribute to the company bottom line is selecting the menu based on what he thinks will appeal most to the broadest audience possible. This generally leads to a pleasant enough atmosphere at the restaurant, decent enough service, and ok, if slightly lackluster food. Unfortunately, an exceptional meal just isn’t likely to be in the cards.
However, after several meals at Panzano, the Hotel Monaco Denver’s restaurant, I’ve been forced rethink my expectations. Yes, the Hotel Monaco is corporate, too; but Kimpton, parent company of this boutique hotel, has taken a completely different tactic with its restaurants. Control of the kitchen at Panzano really is in the hands of Elise Wiggins, the friendly but outspoken the Executive Chef. It’s hard to picture anyone from corporate telling Wiggins how to run her kitchen.