Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

DuRozz Restaurant & Lounge: I Want to Believe!

My friend Adrian told me he’d meet me at DuRozz Restaurant & Lounge—according to its Twitter profile the “New Number ONE hot spot for Denver’s Sexy & Classy”—on one condition: “Just make sure you have your soul sistah vibe going.”

Pointing out that I’m a 40-year-old Jew from Oklahoma, I nonetheless vowed to give it a shot.

After all, I was determined to do what it took to see Suya Grill, aka DuRozz’s kitchen, for myself: if the lunch & dinner menus were any indication, it was a doozy. My eye had initially been caught by the array of Southern & soul-food favorites like pork neck bones, turkey necks & cornbread, fried catfish & banana pudding; it practically popped out at the rest of the repertoire, which veered from Mexican snacks to Indian classics like tandoori chicken “cooked in the traditional clay oven”—did they really have an onsite tandoor?!—to the namesake Nigerian dish of shish kebabs known as suya. I couldn’t wait to figure this all out.

So I won’t make you wait either. Long story short: whatever the free-wheeling ambitions with which the kitchen began, it’s since set its sights rather more narrowly—the menu we were handed was mainly a selection of all-American grub, though a few remnants of soul & Southern tradition remained. One glance around the place suggested why: with a team of poker players occupying the main dining room & the barroom dance floor spilling with rug-cutters, DuRozz indeed appeared to be quite the hot spot for many a fun-loving lady & gent—but not quite for hungry ones.

Actually, everything from the genial bartender’s uncertainty about the availability of menu items to the fact that our food was served in styrofoam containers indicated that the kitchen is in the midst of a major transition. Whether it’s between chefs or breaking in new ones or doing away with them entirely to morph more fully into a nightclub, reviewing what I ate in much detail wouldn’t be fair. So what am I doing? Hoping hard they’ll ultimately be frying up chicken gizzards

& okra

& pork tenderloin smothered in gravy alongside sweet potatoes & collards

& more where those came from with equal amounts love & pizzazz.

Because I’ll need sustenance to see me through the endless rounds of poker I hope to prove classy enough to be allowed to play here. Whatever my own vibe may or may not be, DuRozz has got lively, soulful atmosphere to spare.

DuRozz Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Satchel’s on 6th: A Family Affair

***This sneak preview originally appeared on the Denver Magazine blog; I’ve reworked it slightly below.***

“He’s super-excited,” said Andrew Casalini of his six-year-old son, the namesake of Satchel’s on 6th, the week before it opened. “He feels like this is his restaurant.”

It’s a sentiment Casalini’s customers are bound to share. After all, from the 50-seat space (70 if you count the patio) to the 10-dish dinner menu (13 including desserts), it’s clear that he & chef Jared Brant intend to cater to a highly selective, hyperlocal audience. As he puts it, “We’re not trying to serve a million people. We’re trying to serve a few and do a good job.”

The manifestations of this intimately neighborly vision are everywhere. Take the tight squeeze of a kitchen — “a one-man, one-woman show,” according to Brant, whose costar, sous chef Lindsay Woodcock, has worked at New York’s Momofuku as well as Ototo & The Kitchen (Brant himself honed his chops under Frank Bonanno at Mizuna & Bones). Or consider the coffee bar Brant’s own sister Caitlin,

newly arrived from their hometown of Indianapolis, will be setting up on weekday mornings as an “offering to the community,” per Casalini, where she’ll serve a limited daily selection of her own baked goods — think muffins accompanied by crème fraîche rather than butter or savory “puttanesca scones” with olives & red pepper jelly.

And then there’s the wine program. “The secret here is going to be the bottle list,” says Casalini, who plans to “open high-end wines on busy nights & pour them by the ounce” for what he calls that “mwah!” taste sensation without the “ouch!” price point.

But above all, watch for the implementation of “shift meal.” Following dinner service Thursday through Saturday, Brant and Woodcock will be serving late-night specials — off-menu “test items,” in Casalini’s words, “because back there in the kitchen, chefs are always thinking, ‘What’s next?’” And so are their colleagues, both back & front of the house, across town: “When industry people are getting off work, we’ll say, ‘Go ahead and close, come on in.’” Adds Brant, “I hope all these guys down the road, from Fruition & Mizuna & Bones,” stop by after hours for a bite & a glass of wine from “whatever nice bottles we’ve opened that night.” Of course, their welcome extends to the general public. But I suggest you hold out for shift meal only if you count yourselves among a specific public — namely those who are open to dining according to the chef’s whim.

Otherwise, the regular dinner menu, small as it is, has plenty to offer — as I discovered during a tasting that came together so quickly the chef himself had had yet to sample all he served me. Of course I offered to share — which is, after all, what his plates are designed for. “To encourage people to sit at the bar,” Brant’s preparing nibbles like roasted garlic and marinated olives for $4 a pop. Rounding out the appetizers pictured below are such entrées as meatloaf that’s “almost like a short-rib terrine”; a signature play on steak frites featuring julienned, fried calamari and spinach-mascarpone cream; herbed sole gratinée based, says Brant, on “a Swedish dish I learned from my girlfriend”; & fresh orecchiette with wild mushrooms (“we’re always going to have a vegetarian option,” he assures me). For dessert, there’s a seasonal cobbler (strawberry-rhubarb for starters) & a handmade truffle sampler. And the weekend “punch brunch,” featuring the likes of fried chicken in beer-cheddar gravy & pancakes with hickory syrup, is sure to revive the “cult following” garnered by the original Satchel’s Market on Park Hill, of whose success the new, larger venue is a necessary outgrowth.

It’s a cult I’ll be joining if the dishes I tasted are any indication of things to come. Starting with al dente asparagus—bright with a bite—this spring salad featured a liquid-centered poached egg, shavings of fresh ricotta (whose source was a secret) & ham shaved so fine I thought it was a sprinkling of bread crumbs until I tasted it, all highlighted by a touch of fruity olive oil.

The name “wedge salad” does a disservice to Brant’s improvement on the steakhouse standard: a cylindrical disk of iceberg topped with chunks of excellent thick-cut bacon & blue cheese I could smell without leaning over; slivers of pickled onion; & dollops of thick, peppery yogurt dressing.

Accompanied by soft scrambled eggs & Texas toast, roasted veal marrow got a cute diner-style makeover.

Conversely, a refreshing scoop of cool, tangy celery root rémoulade added a touch of elegance to Brant’s otherwise downhome brunch signature, the pork belly croissant (PBC).

Still, the hashbrown topped with crème fraîche stole its thunder—so simple, the crunch of the buttery crust yielding to an almost creamy interior that tasted of nothing but fresh, warm potato.

The restaurant may be named for Satchel, but that side dish has my moniker all over it from here on out.

Satchel's on 6th on Urbanspoon

A Dish a Day: Argyll Pub’s Stuffed Dates

Obviously, this overexposed image does not do justice to such luscious morsels.

In & of themselves, Medjools are the fattest, moistest, & most richly sweet of all the date species; the 1st time I ever came across them, some 20 years ago at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, I thought they were spoiled because they were oozing white stuff. “That’s just natural sugar,” said the vendor. I was sold forever after.

Wrapped with bacon, as is common, they are a soft/slick/crispy wonder of the flesh of pork & dried fruit. Stuffed with goat cheese, as is also common, they are an even softer, silkier take on nature’s candy.

Wrapped with bacon & stuffed with Stilton as well as apple chutney & orange zest, Argyll Pub’s dates are wholly uncommon, pungent & velvety in equal measure. In the right mood, I’d order them for starters & again for dessert. And maybe as a palate cleanser in between.

Freshcraft: If You Say So

To paraphrase Linda Richman, Freshcraft is, at least thus far, neither fresh nor craft. Discuss.

If that’s a little harsh, it’s only because I want to love: the owners are from Iowa, which is where I met the Director, a Des Moines native himself. So I had sentimental hopes they’d be sprinkling a little of that Hawkeye magic all around in the form of hearty home cooking. But based on my first visit, I agree with Westword’s Laura Shunk that at this early date it’s still half-hearted home cooking, not nearly up to par with the excellent craft beer list (which is several pages long). Considering the repertoire is mainly comprised of simple snacks & sandwiches, it shouldn’t be that hard to execute.

Take the appetizer sampler—your choice of 2, accompanied by “spudpuppies.”

We opted for the pretzel bites & the cheese dippers said, somewhat confusingly, to be both “dredged in a strong ale batter & crusted in herbed crumbs.” If virtually herbless & ale-flavorless, the latter were just fine—containing a mixture of cream cheese, provolone, parmesan & monterey jack. The former, however, were stale, & the fried spheres of mashed potato nice & fluffy but bland—nothing salt & pepper couldn’t fix, but that much should’ve been obvious to whomever sent it out. As for the dips: the 4-cheese blend for the pretzels contained the same mixture as the dippers, so it could hardly fail. The smoked-onion ketchup just tasted like ketchup, but the cashew pesto was interesting; it made me realize how carefully balanced classic pesto is between the pinenuts, basil, parmesan, garlic & olive oil. Strong, sweet cashews tilted that balance in their favor, so it was a bit heavy—but pleasing nonetheless.

I wish I could say the same of the cheese-crusted Iowa pork tenderloin.

Looks ridiculously good, right? Afraid not. It was the toughest, grayest piece of meat I’ve been served in some time; each bite took several plate-scraping seconds to saw off. The fries were good, but good fries are easy to come by. (By the way, the menu has 2 sandwich sections: one titled Small-Plate Session Sandwiches & another titled Medium Plates, defined as “lunch-inspired sandwich-style plates”—a phrase so meaningless it’s bound to catch on.)

Ditto the B.A.R.—a Reuben with sauerkraut cooked in bacon fat & “caramelized apple Russian dressing.” Looks great, but the corned beef required more chewing than the pal o’ mine who ordered it had the energy to muster. That’s a problem.

The beef on the French dip wasn’t tough—just lackluster. I didn’t try the French onion soup—(“a trio of slowly caramelized onions & garlic”—??)—which looks as tasty as everything else, but looks are clearly not everything here.

Still, because they’re Iowans, because they’re new on the scene, because the superb beer list suggests they have a genuine vision of “freshcraft,” I’d like to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. Besides, a few dishes partaken during a single visit is not even close to sufficient for a final verdict. So I’ll give this place another try, starting with the soup. But my initial experience hasn’t got me lost in lascivious daydreams about a return; for now, I’ll reserve those for the greasy taste of home at Iowa City’s Hamburg Inn.

Freshcraft on Urbanspoon

Denveater’s Top 5 Sips of 2010

Just in time for the boozy bash & crash that is New Year’s: the most ass-kicking cocktails of 2010. Click on the linked captions to read all about ’em in the posts in which they originally appeared; click too on the following links to see my Top 10 dishes &Top 5 desserts.

The Closing Act at Oak at Fourteenth

Hoppin’ Mad at Beatrice & Woodsley

Melon Loco at El Diablo

Misty Rose at Colt & Gray (photoless, but phantastic)

Clementine Kicker at Kelly Liken, Vail

Dish of the Week: French Bread Pizza at Green Russell

An evening that starts with 4 women & 6 bottles of Chardonnay in a hotel room is bound to end in tragedy.

My only clues to the mayhem that apparently ensued are a receipt from Green Russell & the photo below; the unanswered questions swirl: what’s a Boulevardier? wherefore these blisters on the roof of my mouth & 2 new pounds on my bathroom scale? who gave me a lobotomy?

I suppose the answer to the 1st question lies in the glass on the left (& maybe Twitter), the answer to the 2nd in the dish on the right, which appears to consist of 4 baguette halves smothered in blue cheese & chicken.

Were they good? The answer to that mystery, I imagine, lies in the 2nd question itself: my scalded palate & extra roll of fat suggest I couldn’t scarf it down fast enough.

For helping to make a blubbering mess of me, then, Green Russell’s French bread pizza has got to be the Dish of the Week. My frontal cortex will never be the same.

Argyll Pub: My Sentiments Exactly

Well, not exactly. I’m all for pounding the booze & talking dirty, too. Still, the phrase on the chalkboard at Argyll aptly expresses the laidback conviviality that is this highly acclaimed pub’s forte.

It’s on display not least at the bar during weekend brunch, when my adorable server—who I want to say looked a lot like Idris Elba, but he didn’t; still, you get the tall/dark/handsome idea—didn’t blink an eye when I bellied up alone with my laptop & ordered a bottomless mango mimosa to go with not 1, not 2 but 3 plates, nor when he refilled my glass the 1st time, nor when he refilled it the 2nd, nor when I topped it all off with coffee. Whatta gentleman in the face of gaucherie.

In all that mess, the Scotch egg, the lamb-&-beef house burger with duck-fat onions, & the mac-&-cheese were nowhere to be found; they’ve been covered, I figured, in sufficient glory. But the dish I did start with deserves its own vigorous nod: the “bacon & eggs.”

Cute, right? Atop three slices of crusty grilled bread came perfectly fried quail eggs crisped to the lacy edge & three small chunks of pork belly that appeared to be lacquered with the same garlic vinaigrette—made with roasted cloves, I’m guessing, given its intriguing sweetness; think maple-glazed bacon—that also dressed the frisée. A little bit breakfast bruschetta, a little bit composed salade Lyonnaise, wholly satisfying.

The blueberry coffee cake wasn’t quite what I expected—I was picturing something like this,

but Argyll’s simpler version works too—moist, dense & buttery à la pound cake, with a balancing touch of lemon, I think, along with the single C-swirl of warm blueberry.

Likewise a surprise was the salmon hash.

A far cry from your finely chopped, super-fried leftover standard with corned beef, this was fresh & fancy, from the slightly al dente potatoes, carrots & parsnips to the lightly smoked salmon to the sprinkle of gruyère on top. Though I think I’d have liked it even better had it been more, well, hashlike, I admired its class. And its utter butteriness—damn, it slicked the bottom of the bowl. Note that I skipped the poached eggs the dish usually comes with, my one concession to reason; I can only imagine how runny yolks would have fit into the picture.

But at the time I could only imagine how I’d have fit into the dress I’m wearing to walk the red carpet with the Director this evening at the Closing Night presentation of Black Swan—not a pretty thought.

On that note, I’m off to drink heavily, eat carelessly & speak slurringly at the Starz Denver Film Festival—& I owe it all to Argyll for getting my party started right.

Argyll on Urbanspoon

The Scoop Series: A Word with Rockin’ TAG Barkeep Tyler French

I’m so fond of the windowside lounge seating at TAG that I’d never ventured past it until the other night, when the Director & I bellied up to the bar. Getting an eyeful of bottles I’d never seen before—Italian liqueur Dimmi & ROOT, a root-beeresque bitter, to name a couple—I was intrigued; chatting a bit with Tyler French as he worked said bottles,

I was charmed & impressed. He was straightforward, sincere & knew his stuff. And when I asked him to make me an off-menu drink & he delivered, I was sold. Meet the man.

What’s your favorite cocktail to make? To drink?

My favorite cocktail to make is called Signature Drink. Signature Drink is our number 3–selling cocktail & we make it up completely off the top of our heads. Whether it’s through having dined with us before or just word of mouth, people have been putting their drink orders in our hands more & more over the past few months. We usually ask if there are any specific ingredients they would like to include or stay away from, and then just have fun mixing up a newly created cocktail.

My favorite to drink: Sazerac. Rye whiskey & absinthe, yes please.

What liquor or cocktail do you wish more people would try? Name 3 or 4 of the most obscure, interesting spirits on TAG’s shelves.

Gin. For whatever reason, gin is the number 1 answer I get when asking people if there is anything that they prefer not to have in a cocktail. There are so many different types of gins, with completely different taste profiles; it’s not just your grandpa’s drink. They mix really well with a lot of ingredients, & some can definitely be enjoyed on the rocks or even neat. It’s fun to serve a gin cocktail to an unsuspecting friend that claims to hate the spirit. It’s pretty easy to change peoples’ minds.

The most interesting spirits on TAG’s shelves: ROOT, Ocho Tequilas [a single-estate artisan label], Cold River Potato Vodka & Gin [from Maine].

Tell me about the drink you made me, & about the one you make with ROOT.

Although the base of that drink that I made you was Pisco, I was really building around the Aperol, as you had mentioned something about wanting an after-appetizer cocktail. [Frankly, I think I said I was in bad need of digestive aid. But thanks for remembering something more graceful—D.] I have been starting to utilize the unique flavors of PIsco a little more often though, especially with a bitter element. From there I muddled some fresh blackberry & tangerine to give the cocktail balance, with a touch of acidty & sweetness. To solidify that, I added a 1/2 oz. of a fresh lime-sugar compound & squeezed half of a lemon. I shook all that up over our cubed ice [nice, large, irregular cubes—D.] & dumped it right in the glass without a strain, then just a little splash of soda to lighten it up.

We’re still kind of in the beginning stages of playing around with the ROOT. It’s new to the market, a super-interesting liqueur based on a recipe for “root tea” that was developed in the 1700s. There’s an amazing combination of herbs & spices that comprise ROOT; a great way to start would be adding some of these (cinnamon, anise, clove, etc.) to the mixing process. I think whiskey is a pretty natural pairing with a lot of the flavors in ROOT, but it will be fun to experiment with all sorts of spirits and just see what happens.

Tell me about a formative experience that made you the bartender/mixology enthusiast you are today.

My intro to the mixology world came from a regular of mine at a bar in Mesa, AZ. He was a connoisseur of the cocktail, but had never been in the service industry whatsoever. He proposed that I look into making a career out of bartending; he predicted it would be the popular movement that it has become. I took it to heart, putting some research, time, & thought into my drinks. However, I was never surrounded with such an amazing cast of bartenders who are enthusiastic about the art of cocktails until I arrived at TAG. It has been awesome working alongside these people in an environment where experimentation is encouraged.

On that note, what’s your favorite thing about working at TAG?

Probably how cutting-edge and fresh everything stays. With ever-changing lists of ingredients & methods of preparation, Troy’s food teaches me something new about food just about every shift that I work & we’re constantly trying to keep up with him behind the bar. [As much as the menu changes, I still say the now-signature French onion soup dumplings are as playfully innovative as anything around—definitely 1 of Denver’s best dishes.—D.]

Where do you go on off-nights or after your shift?

A couple of my favorite places to go on my nights off are VestaThe Horseshoe Lounge, Don’s Mixed Drinks [aka Don’s Club Tavern] & Twelve. Those places just have a really great atmosphere. After work, I typically stay around Larimer Square & Market St.—Corridor 44Euclid Hall most often. They have awesome staffs, & they’re perfect places to go a little later in the evening. [I asked this for my own selfish reasons. It’s the little-known ABC rule—Always Be Chasing the chefs & bartenders after hours. They know where the action is. Boston’s Chinatown, for instance, is a hotbed of industry iniquity in the wee hours.—D.]

Parts Is Parts: Quail Legs at Lala’s Wine Bar vs. Sticky Wings at Rackhouse Pub

***If you read this blog with any regularity you’re aware of my heavy involvement with the Denver Film Society. With the 33rd Starz Denver Film Festival just 3 weeks away (much more on that anon), The Director’s & my lives are not our own—hence my infrequent posting of late—so takeout’s the name of the dining game around here, of which less-than-gorgeous presentations are a given. For that my apologies; the restaurants owe none.***

From breasts & backs to giblets & feet, there’s almost no part of poultry that isn’t eminently edible. (Halfway through typing that I had to Google “Do birds have ears?” & “Can you eat chicken beaks?” Not among my finer moments.) But it’s the wings & legs that stick out, literally, for most of us when it comes to noshing, at least stateside.

Actually, quail legs don’t stick out much: they’re tiny. But no less delectable for that.

Lalaquail
Drumettes di Italia are new on the menu at Lala’s Wine Bar & Pizzeria (more on which here), & they’re impressive—succulent little roasted chunks of dark meat, strongly coated with herbs, S & P. They come with a supposedly spicy butternut squash dipping sauce, which isn’t spicy at all, tasting of little other than the squash itself—a fresh, sweet, thin puree to balance the seasoning.

In short they’re the elegant, well-integrated counterpart to Rackhouse Pub’s down & dirty hot sticky wings.

RPwings

Baked yet crispy with sweet whiskey glaze (presumably Stranahan’s), the wings per se play 2nd fiddle (heh) to their coating, charcoal-bitter in spots—a plus in my book to undercut the indeed sticky-tangy sweetness of the whole. The meat’s just there to absorb it all, which is generally true of such snacks, & fine in the context of game day. Still, the best wings IMO speak for themselves as chicken; Rackhouse can & does do much better (see here).

They come with 2 dips. First is your choice of blue cheese or ranch dressing; the latter’s homemade, so why choose the former? Buttermilky & on the thin side compared to the bottled stuff gunked up with coagulants & preservatives, it’s quite nice. Much odder, & I mean odd, is the wasabi cream. With a mousselike texture, it’s sweet. Quite sweet. If I were trying to recreate it I’d use mascarpone. It’s like wasabi-mascarpone cupcake frosting. It’s intriguing in its way, but I can’t help but wonder if it was just a fluke, like someone in the kitchen accidentally reached for the sugar instead of the salt that day. I dunno. Spread some on a slice of leftover spice cake & see what you think.

Kids in the (Euclid) Hall: Zany Young Gun Jorel Pierce

Ever seen the French fur trappers sketch, where Dave Foley & Kevin McDonald paddle their canoe down office hallways to catch businessmen in their snares, clubbing them to death for their Armani & Fendi pelts? 

That's nice. It's not really relevant, except to the extent that Jen Jasinski's chef de cuisine at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, Jorel Pierce, is another Kid in the Hall who likes to butcher & skin stuff. Like this pig.

Jorel1

Among the stellar results are these Buffalo-style pig ears; 

EHpigears
beautifully breaded & fried—crisp & greaseless on the outside—these strips of porcine appendage are themselves just pure, melting fat, unrecognizable to the squeamish as sense organs (unless you hold them up to your own ear—then you can just make out the oinks & mud-sucking sounds of the sty!).  The accompanying hot sauce, paired with ranch dressing, is just terrific, as fruity as it is spicy thanks to the inclusion of…no fruit at all, but rather carrots. (The 2 sauces are mixed together for the cheese curds; technically, according to a Wisconsinite I spoke with, they're supposed to be eaten as close to the source as possible as soon after their manufacture as possible, but Pierce goes the next-best route by obtaining them directly from a Dairy State producer. Never having had the freaky pleasure of squeezing fresh curds between my teeth to hear their famous squeak myself, I can't say with any authority how Euclid Hall's nuggets stack up. I can only point out that it's fried cheese—ergo awesome.)

EHcheesecurds

On the gentler side, Pierce is also a keen pickler (not to say a Cabbage Head, though there is kimchi on the duck foie gras poutine), 

Jorel2

obtaining all manner of curious cucumber varieties (plus other veggies) from Thistle Whistle Farm in Hotchkiss for the seasonal selection he offers—

EHpickles
each pickled differently in wine & hops & herbs: some sweet & sour, some spicy, some mild & fruity. I especially hearted the basil-brined cuke on the right, which I could've sworn Pierce called a "punotera," but I can't find any such thing on Google. If you've got the veggie vocabulary to solve this mystery, I'm all ears.

Then there's the mushroom soup, which Pierce just added to the menu as a segue into autumn. Not cream-based but rather starting with a shiitake bouillon, it's light & aromatic enough to appeal even in the still-warm weather, with gorgeous chunks of fungi, lots of fresh dill & a translucent sliver of lardo on top. (Word to the wiser than me: let it melt in; I tried to cut it with a spoon, which doesn't work.) 

EHmushroomsoup

In case it isn't obvious given the walk-in tour, I was a guest for this feast (which also included the Euclidian Cheesesteak, last week's Dish of the Week). Thus I suggest, as I am wont to do in these cases, including my sneak preview of the place, that you take my praise with a grain of salt—or, better yet, with a dollop of any of the 4 housemade mustards on offer, of which my favorite was the Bordeaux (which uses whole grain & verjus, i.e. grape must).

EHmustards
Whatever it takes to get you in the door. As far as I'm concerned, both it & El Diablo are really living up to the hype as fall's grandest openings.

Euclid Hall on Urbanspoon