Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dish of the Week: BBQ Beef Tongue Potstickers & more at Adrift Tiki Bar

Well, isn’t this place more fun than a barrel of shrieking monkeys aged in rum.

Located at the edge of the Baker District on S. Broadway, it’s quite the jazzy throwback to the Polynesian-crazed mid-century era of Trader Vic’s—all bamboo & sunset hues, fishnet-strung & blowfish-shaped lanterns, ukelele-playing hula girls & booths upholstered in embossed alligator print.

Since Adrift doesn’t seem to have a website or even a Facebook presence yet (hey, like it really is the 1950s!), I snapped the cocktail & small-plate menus (click to enlarge)—you’re welcome indeed.

 Given that 6 of us covered a good chunk of both over the course of our stay, I’ve gotta give props to our server, clad in some sort of flowery caftan, who managed to keep the entire order straight without writing it down—smooth! We started with drinks, natch; my favorite among the 3 (unpictured) I tasted —which are mostly fresh & fruity tiki classics—was the Suffering Bastard, a blend of gin, brandy, ginger beer & lime cordial, garnished with mint, that kept sweetness in check with spice & citrus notes.

As for eats, I admit I kind of pined for just 1 or 2 old-school snacks like rumaki or spareribs, but the contemporary, non-cheesy versions thereof were overall pretty swell—better than I’d expected, certainly.

I’m anointing the barbecued beef-tongue potstickers Dish of the Week not because they were the best thing I’ve had in the past 7 days—they weren’t even the best thing I tried at this meal—but they were the most intriguing. The minor problem was the blandness & chewy texture of the dumplings, more like unwieldy ravioli than silken guotie; but the filling, with big chunks of tangy, tenderly marinated tongue, proved a nifty innovation on pork—& shiso leaves plus a zesty sweet-soy dressing ensured the slaw beneath was more than just a token attempt to round out the plate. Soft, savory-sweet fried green-plantain patties in coconut-rum drizzle went down way too easy as well.

Although the below brioche toasts were too hard—the stuff really does go stale so fast; might as well not use it if you’re not equipped to keep it fresh—the little coins of airy foie-gras mousse, awfully tough to top in themselves, came smartly, subtly enhanced with drops of tea-thyme syrup.

And though the black-bean sauce on the fried calamari was a touch too sweet for me, & the squid itself not particularly flavorful, the light, ultra-crunchy breading had a lot going for it—I almost thought there were crushed nuts in there. Macadamia, maybe? If not, kudos for the illusion.

I passed my threshold for voluntary ahi-tartare consumption years ago, even topped with avocado mashed with crabmeat. But some friends who ordered it offered up a yucca chip whose delicacy I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the likes of before—so thin & crisp it evoked phyllo. Impressive.

Top marks, however, ultimately went to—color me surprised—the most seemingly stolid of selections: lemongrass-roasted, pan-sauced chicken thigh alongside coconut black beans & pineapple-tossed rice, all perfectly cooked & harmoniously aromatic & flavorful.

Just goes to show that cheeky retro flourishes on the one hand & novelties on the other, delightful as they can be, don’t always trump square fare, even for a jaded so-&-so like me.

Adrift Tiki Bar on Urbanspoon

Boone’s Tavern: 80% of Success…

Nonplussed: that’s my take on this DU hangout in a nutshell. I’d never intended to set foot in there, since never setting foot in its predecessor, the shabby-looking Smugs, had worked out pretty well for all involved. But trusted pals Mantonat & Amy had sworn, albeit with some bafflement on their own part, that the wings were worth a shot; hope against the odds—& the need for some Celtics on a big screen—got me through the door.

Boone’s claims to “smoke our BBQ right in the backyard,” by which they seem to mean a covered annex in the parking lot—at least that’s whence the admittedly enticing aromas waft. Because I wanted to taste that smell right in the meat, I suggested we forego a rub & stick with 1 of 10 sauces (which range from “wimpy” to “waiver required”; we opted for the medium-hot, sweetish Jalapeño Gold.

Now, I can’t tell you Boone’s suddenly tops my list of local wing slingers—or rather, I can tell you it doesn’t; that honor currently goes to The Red Claw &, believe it or not, Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar. But they were a hell of a lot better, plump & juicy, than I’d have bet dollars or doughnuts on.

That was true of the ‘cue in general. Again, I wouldn’t begin to pit Boone’s platters against those of a true pitmaster or even some talented enthusiasts I know. But they did all right in a pinch (see: Celtics). For instance, the shaved pot roast was a little overdone for my tastes, but still flavorful &, surprisingly not at all dry; the pulled pork, too, though lacking textural integrity—practically minced—possessed some punch. I didn’t try the coleslaw, but crinkle-cut sweet-potato fries were just fine, & the cornbread fritters rocked—hot & salty-crunchy on the outside, dense & sweet within. (I’d say the napkin havoc is evidence of reasonable quality, but my napkins always end up looking like that. So it’s more like a cry for help.)

The Director’s ribs & fries were just average, though the tangy baked beans at least were a half-notch above.

Recently I was across the street at Morgan’s Liquors & overheard a clerk praising Boone’s hummus, of all things; I won’t hold my breath until the next Celtics showdown, but I might amble back to test her opinion one of these days.

Boone's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Tokyo Dagger at Williams & Graham (UPDATED)

***A day late as usual, but I had no time to post on Sunday, as I was blowing through the galleys for my upcoming Food Lovers’ Guide to Denver & Boulder, which is finally nearing its to-press date. So yay.***

I’ve only got 2 cents to add to the huge pot staked on Williams & Graham, Sean Kenyon’s much-discussed LoHi bar. But add it I will—starting with damn, it’s dark in there! Almost ghostly, really: if you were to enter when the place was vacant, surveying the heavy woods & flickeringly low light & bookshelves, you could easily imagine you’d stumbled upon some long-abandoned, turn-of-the-century club where gentlemen with ivory canes & muttonchops once gathered over toddies to debate the electoral platform of Teddy Roosevelt.

Dispelling the near-gloom, however, is a bright-&-shiny staff that aims to know your name & your poison from the get-go (even when class-act Kenyon’s not in the house). On last week’s visit, our server was a dead ringer for the young Brigitte Bardot; how about that? The 1st round was a doozy, including a cocktail that deserves the title of Dish of the Week, liquid though it is, for being everything a beautifully made drink should be: the Tokyo Dagger (pictured left).

A blend of 12-year Japanese single malt with the herbal aperitif known as Bonal Gentiane-Quina & rich, raisinated Lustau San Emilio Pedro Ximenez Sherry, it demonstrates Kenyon’s trademark sense of balance. Every element falls seamlessly into place: the sweet & the savory, the bitter & the smooth, aromatics & mouthfeel. Nothing’s ever stark on the 1 hand or florid on the other. Equally exemplary in that regard is The Smoking Frenchman (pictured at bottom), whose list of ingredients alone reveals as much: cognac (warmth & old spice), ginger liqueur (sweetness & fresh spice), lemon bitters (acid & bittersweetness), & a Scotch rinse (smoke & earth). (Of course, the bar can whip up special requests with ease; I also knocked back a refreshing, vodka-spiked, sangria-like concoction after asking for a red-wine cocktail.)

My only minor beef is with the tiny menu; serving only a handful of dishes is in itself totally understandable as a means to keeping the focus on the booze, but by the same token, I’d get rid of larger plates entirely in favor of a greater variety of complementary bar snacks. In addition to the spiced caramel popcorn with peanuts (above right), we nibbled on the kitchen’s elegant version of steak & eggs,

which I mainly remember (see: 3 cocktails) for the perfectly medium-rare sear on the meat. Nice job so far. I plan to return very shortly, so I’ll be updating this post anon.

***UPDATE 5/23/12: See? That was fast. And now, I remember what those baguette-slice-looking things in the foreground of the above picture are: not bread at all but delicious pickled egg!

Speaking of eggs, the deviled halves I tried on my sophomore trip were a bit overcooked, stiff to the bite, but the filling was swell, sharp-edged with mustard & cayenne.

Even better, however—in fact, fantastic—was the slab of boar bacon with potato purée & wild mushroom fricassee.

The meat, almost pungently tangy with smoke—like barbecue—also shredded as cleanly as barbecue—but you know how everyone says bacon makes everything better (ad nauseam, so if you don’t, where’ve you been hiding)? In this case, it was the good old tubers & fungi that took that title, adding earthy undertones & creamy texture. So seemingly simple, yet so smartly realized.

It goes without saying that the drinks were as smashing as before—but what’s therefore worth noting is that Kenyon was in the house on neither visit; clearly, he’s got an eye for staff talent &/or a head for training. Besides the aforementioned Frenchman & my own glass of Sherry, I took a sip of our pal’s signature Blackberry-Sage Smash, containing a Knob Creek single-barrel exclusive(!) & a lip-smackingly juicy bushel of blackberries kept from frou-frou fruitiness by the assertively savory presence of fresh sage.

Nothing left to do but go back for dessert.

Williams & Graham on Urbanspoon

Bang-Up Brunch Launches at The Village Cork

I tell you what, Chef Samir Mohammad was on a roll Saturday in his little crow’s nest of a post at the center of The Village Cork, which was doing a mock service in advance of the debut, next weekend, of brunch.

Having said before that I think breakfast & brunch represent nothing so much as missed opportunities by the majority of American chefs—on menu after menu, the same narrow, interchangeable array of dishes comprised of the same limited number of ingredients; where’s the Turkish-style spread or the Malaysian morning fare?—it’s amazing how far just a little ingenuity, a few simple upgrades to & twists on the standard, can go. Mohammad—who knows better than most how to maximize—has come up with a selection of dishes that actually, truly appeals to me top to bottom. French toast laced with cream cheese & custard & brown sugar & pecans & whipped cream? That’s a lot of awesome. Stuffed, baked camembert-cheddar sandwiches with tomato soup? I can’t quite even picture that yet, except in my belly.

But it took all of 30 seconds after receiving menus for the Director & I to immediately zero in on the same 2 items: biscuit-cut brioche in duck-sausage gravy

& a take on Benedict that layered more brioche rounds with slices of truffled duck-liver mousse, beautifully fried eggs & Hollandaise.

As we were polishing off the last few bites, Mohammad came over to our table & expressed dissatisfaction with the brioche; he thought this particular batch was too dry. What could I say? The crust was crusty, the way I like it by definition; if the interior wasn’t in fact tender on its own, we sure couldn’t tell, since our share was draped in the velvet folds of classically executed sauces—butter & yolk or cream & duckfat in all the right places, yeah. That both dishes came with the platonic ideal of home fries—carefully cut, crisp but not dripping with grease & tossed with slippery bits of onion & pepper—was just the frosting on the cake.

And the icing roses were a duo of madeleines atop a pool of lemon glaze for dipping.

In our interview for Eat Drink Denver, Mohammad had shared with me his hopes that opening for brunch would help stanch the bleeding on Old South Pearl following the new year’s string of closures. Between that & the arrival of Salumeria Cinque Soldi, the ‘hood is already looking more like its old self for sure.

Village Cork on Urbanspoon

Binge Bingo: Ghost Plate & Tap, Table 6

Damn, I wish I had time to start a whole new blog, just so I could name it Binge Bingo.

Anyway, neither of these mini-reports really capture full-fledged binges (& you better believe I should know). More like Tidbit Bingo, but that doesn’t possess the same ring.

Last Saturday, the Director & I hit Ghost Plate & Tap for an early sup. The place was ghostly indeed upon entrance—shrouded in the dull glow of its still-dinerly décor & near-empty—but I’m relieved to say business was brisker by the time we left. Meanwhile, chef Christopher Cina has the chops to liven things up considerably. For instance, while the killer-flatbread competition is weirdly fierce in this town—Coohills, Amira Bakery, twelve & Encore on Colfax all come to mind as contenders—Cina’s giving it a real go with this sunny, robust thin-cruster. Roast chicken, fingerlings & tomatoes, caramelized onions, gorgonzola, & fresh rosemary all pull their weight in due proportion.

Billed as a salad, the seared Scottish salmon could as easily pass as an entree; either way, it’s done to a T: the fish buttery enough to eat with a spoon & offset by the tang of caper aioli on the one hand, herb vinaigrette on the other, which respectively grace a fluffy potato cake & a tangle of watercress.

Debates over what constitutes the perfect French dip have surely been swirling since the sandwich was invented at the turn of the 20th century, but my own criteria are as follows: 1) the roast beef should maintain a tinge of pink, however slight; it should be shaved paper-thin & piled high. 2) Horseradish, grated or creamed. Slathered. Period. Beyond that I don’t care what is or isn’t involved—Swiss cheese, onions, pickles—nor whether it’s served wet or dry. (Okay, I also care about the quality of the bread/roll, but that goes for any sandwich; it’s not the mark of a French dip per se.) YMMV, as they say, but Cina’s version met my standards.

That we had to skedaddle afterwards seemed a shame of anyeuristic proportions once I caught a glimpse of the triple-chocolate-chip cookie plate on the table opposite us (& then of the dessert menu as a whole, including jalapeño crème brulée). Better scheduling next time.

Ghost Plate & Tap on Urbanspoon

***

Speaking of chagrin, I hadn’t set foot in Table 6 in forever, & upon meeting French Press Memos’ Andra there for happy hour on Monday I’ll be damned if I know why I’m not there, like, right now. Life’s too short to not be eating báhn mì sliders & scallop-shrimp sausage coins over blini & remoulade-esque aioli.

A Dish a (Super Bowl Sun)Day: Euclid Hall’s Chips & Dip

Yes, as we speak Euclid Hall’s Jorel Pierce is whipping up game-day specials like housemade all-beef dogs encased in lardo-enriched puff pastry—but the regular menu is itself rife with championship-worthy noshes. If you haven’t had his impossibly thin-cut chips & tangy lemon-goat cheese dip, topped with tea-smoked duck breast & duck confit, why, they’d be a fine place to start come kickoff.

Photo by @rubee100

Meet William, The Man of the Moment at Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar

But first meet H, a gal pal newly arrived from Boston, who, like me, lost her heart to a Denver boy & wound up here. As my date to Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar for the opening last night, she & I found ourselves on familiar terrain: from its cavernous, high-ceilinged dining room, woody amid twinkling lights & red leather upholstery, to a menu awash in shellfish & charcuterie, we might as well have been back home at Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks. For us, the similarities were striking, & while the comparison may not mean much to you Denverites, it’s pertinent as far as the main point: Le Grand is sticking to the straightforward formula of the American brasserie, which in the past decade has become a neoclassic genre in its own right—all big, bustling, glittery spaces, a vintage Belle Époque-era aura, a bar that’s solid on all fronts, & deceptively simple, hearty French plats.

It also happens to employ William, with whom we were both smitten pronto. For whatever reason, he managed to hone in on us as gung-ho eaters, & not only kept the hors d’oeuvres coming but totally hammed it up for snaps. He’s a character, that one, so I’ll be seeking his seating section out.

I should note that we didn’t need the special attention. Grand openings & preview parties are usually shitshows, with a shell-shocked staff getting swarmed at every turn by a crowd for which the kitchen isn’t quite prepared—but not this one: there was plenty of food for everybody, so the pace was relaxed yet efficient, not hectic. Owner Robert Thompson, head chef Sergio Romero & crew have definitely hit the ground running.

Of course, the evidence that Le Grand’s likely gonna be a smash came first & foremost from the sampling of appetizers. While platters of roast bone marrow were comme-il-faut, sweet Kumamotos & creamy Barcats dared to diverge: oyster purists would have been appalled at the dollop of Fumé Blanc Béarnaise, but ’twas a happy surprise when the sauce actually worked with the shellfish, not against it. (Oysters with more complex, delicate flavor profiles might be another matter.)

Other faves included the richly garnished duck confit, the house-smoked salmon—above all for the smooth potato pancake it came on—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the funky, chunky head cheese made with beef as well as pork,

the heady combo of smoked sardines on toast slathered with duck-confit compound butter,

& the judiciously truffled crème fraîche atop frico (basically a parmesan crisp), its mousselike texture melting in the mouth to make new & fresh what on paper seemed passé.

Come to think of it, the only bite that didn’t make H & me do the fried-butter dance was the chicken liver-&-pork butt pâté, which didn’t quite have its seasoning down pat, coming across as a bit muddled & overwhelmed by the shallot compote.

But all in all, Thompson & Romero killed it. I’m already jazzed to return for the ultimate litmus tests: beef tartare & moules frites. If Le Grand passes those, we’re in business. Nice blackberries.


Dish of the Week: Downward Dogs at The Corner Office (plus a word on Kachina Bar)

The Corner Office & I have a funny, on-again, off-again relationship (chronicled here). We flirt, we have a good time, then we hit a sour note, then I avoid it for awhile, then I ease back in one day on a whim & the cycle continues.

Or so it did before the arrival of exec chef Will Cisa. With a solid talent like him on board I feel so safe & warm inside…But never so excited as when I bit into the Downward Dog.

Here’s what it is: 2 snappy, juicy New York dogs; a spunky combo of spicy mustard, sweet soy & Kewpie mayo; plus nori, pork fu & housemade tsukemono on a buttered, toasted, split top bun. I’m not a frank fiend, I suppose because the range of variations is generally so limited, beginning & ending with some sort of tangy sauce &/or some form of chili or chile. But this here’s a whole different ballgame with its Japanese flavors & array of textures, from the feathery, flaky fu to the poppy pickles.

By the way, here’s what else usually bores me: fish tacos.

And here’s why Cisa’s didn’t, aside from the smooth, fritter-like crunchy batter on the healthy chunk of mahi mahi: lots & lots of condiments that blended together into a vibrant, squirting, dribbling mess: excellent, smoky red salsa, guacamole & what some (not me for sure) might deem too much crema, plus citrusy slaw.

The Corner Office, like Second Home, is part of the multi-state Sage Restaurant Group, which has a flair for realizing visions that feel organic, not corporate. So I was psyched to discover that they’re working on a new concept, slated to open this fall: Kachina Bar, a neo-Southwestern eatery in the Westin Westminster. Bring on the sopaipillas.

 

Dish of the Week: Tap House Skins (et al.) at Highland Tap & Burger

The Rapture it wasn’t, but I was certainly in for a surprise yesterday at 6pm when I found myself with a beer can dangling from a string of beads around my neck, pedaling the 10-seat Denver Patio Ride alongside a bunch of young’uns rocking out to Jay-Z, Prince, Sublime, & the like from the iPod of our DJ-driver

as he steered us in his purple jumpsuit down Welton right through the middle of the Five Points Jazz Festival, to the general approval of a grinning, hooting, picture-taking crowd. The takeaway from this little adventure: I’m old. Too old for public shenanigans that include stops at raucous watering holes like The Ginn Mill, where the bartender laughs when you ask if there’s any chance in hell they serve wine, pours you a full mini-bottle of Barefoot Cab into a New Belgium globe glass, & leaves it at that. Fair enough. At least, being personal-sized, it was fresh. Which is more than I can say for the glass of Bonacquisti Vinny No Neck they poured me at Highland Tap & Burger, a Sangiovese-Merlot blend that, I’m sorry to say because I aim to promote the local wine industry, would not have been much better had it been in peak condition, evoking nothing so much as liquified menthol cigarettes. I wasn’t a much bigger fan of either the Garnacha or the Malbec on the HTB wine list, both simplistically jammy.

That said, this Highland newcomer deserves to be cut some slack for its lack of good grape juice; after all, as the name indicates, it specializes in beer & the grub that goes with it—most of which was decent, some of which was swell. Especially the titular skins.

Covered in crumbled bacon, white cheddar & scallions with a side of housemade ranch, they practically glowed, all bubbly & crackly & gooey, bite after hot salty bite. If you swore off skins after your last miserable experience with the soggy, broccoli-&-cheez-whizzed, dirt-pocked spuds of some heartland sports bar circa 1988, here’s your chance to try again.

The horseradish celery-root slaw was milkier & less sharp-edged than the description suggested, but then, coleslaw is almost always given short shrift in restaurant kitchens—an eternal head-scratcher, given how easy it is to make well at home. Memory serves up only one version that recently made me swoon as an accompaniment to the kick-ass roast chicken at Street Kitchen Asian Bistro.

Mama’s Little Yella Pilsner–battered onion rings had everything going for them but extra-crunchiness.

Thick-cut & served with an addictive dipping sauce tinged with vinegar & smoke, they weren’t too doughy, exactly, it’s just that they weren’t traditionally flaky & crisp—more like savory onion doughnuts than true rings.

I tried, god only knows how I tried, to convince the Director that a burger topped with foie gras would, in fact, be awesome & not “silly,” but even my allusion to classic beef Wellington didn’t convince him. Having no better luck with dreamy-sounding topping options like root-beer-braised pulled pork & 3-pepper candied bacon, I let him be, which is why he got stuck with a lamb burger that was perfectly well-made but devoid of all zip with Swiss cheese, lettuce, onion & tomato rather than the chef’s pick of better-suited condiments: goat cheese, tomato-mint relish & baby arugula.

It came with fries we didn’t expect, since we’d also asked for an à la carte order of parmesan-&-parsley-flecked duck-fat fries with truffled aioli. I thought I took a picture, but I guess I didn’t, so this is the only eye-nibble you get.

All the more reason for you to go check them out for yourself, say, nowish. How stark is the difference between hand-cut potato sticks fried in vegetable oil & those browned in duck fat? Let’s just say once you go quack you never go back. (Unless, that is, you go cluck or moo, winning twists all.)

The whole menu’s rife with chefly touches that nudge HTB toward gastropub rather than sports-bar territory despite the flatscreens lining the walls, from lentil vinaigrette for the salads to sauce gribiche spiking the fish & chips to the best thing about the aforementioned burger: excellent, garden-sweet, fresh pickle chips. The kitchen’s no match for, say, Argyll‘s yet, but it beats Freshcraft‘s.

Highland Tap & Burger on Urbanspoon

Vail Valley News: Chef Pascal Coudouy Takes Over Gore Range Brewery

When a chef with a pedigree like Pascal Coudouy leaves a swank resort destination like 8100 Mountainside Bar & Grill to run a brewpub that trades in wings & burgers, ya gotta rub your eyes with that squeaky cartoon noise, because what? But even though he’s not talking about the extent of the overhaul yet—“Our first priority is to get the deck ready for summer, plant our herb garden & remain true to what patrons love: fresh, local, organic whenever possible, great ingredients. Time will let us discern the changes in the months to come”—when you see a mug with a mug like this, ya gotta feel fine about the possibilities.