Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dish of the Week: Euclidean Cheesesteak, Euclid Hall

Disclaimer: I’ve never set phoot in Philly, & I’m no phan of its phamous cheesesteaks. Processed cheese, boring sandwich rolls, not much else besides the meat, & meat is meat, so what’s the phuss?

Connoisseurs, however, insist that the ado is about a great deal. If they would therefore find Euclid Hall’s interpretation entirely too fancy, even schmancy—well, so be it; more for me.

EHphillycheesesteak

Basically, it’s a mega-gougère filled & drizzled with chef de cuisine Jorel Pierce’s “homemade Cheez Whiz,” thankfully far lighter & more delicately flavorful than its namesake; topped with rich hanger steak a shade pinker than medium rare, smacking vaguely of corned beef brisket (the cuts border each other, after all); & served over pickled onions & jalapeños to cut the fat & add a kick. Great stuff—& reasonably sized to boot, so you can round it out with, say, any of this…or any of the other fine funky fare I sampled along with the cheesesteak, to be fleshed out here pronto.   

 

The Scoop Series: Bull & Bush Pub & Brewery Beer Geek Erik Peterson Gushes Forth

This is Erik Peterson.

Erik

This is Erik Peterson’s amazing ride,

Erikcar

admittedly irrelevant except for the license plate, which reads MAN BEER.

MAN BEER is just one of many multi-award-winners Erik & his brewing colleagues Gabe Moline & Brett Williams make at the venerable Bull & Bush,

B&B2

opened by Erik’s dad & uncle—twin stockbrokers, if you can fathom that without seizing—in 1971 as a -pub to which the brew- part was added by Erik & his own brother in 1997. A recent interview with Erik for an article left me with so much juicy leftover material that I thought, what the hey, I’ll share it here.

What I won’t share is a sip of my own fave pours, the Hail Brau Hefeweizen (2nd from left) & the Smoke on the Lager (rightmost)—

B&Bsampler

praise for which led Erik to launch into a discussion of smoked hefeweizens: “You get these notes of banana & clove from the yeast, but also this backbone of smoke that’s just super-interesting,” he explains. The guy knows his beer.

***
At any given time, Bull & Bush has about 14 beers on tap, 6 standards and 8 seasonals. What are some of your favorites?

Probably the most balanced & drinkable beer on a daily basis is the Tower ESB (Extra Special Bitter). I love that style because it has the perfect malt to hop to alcohol balance; it’s not just this crusher of a beer. It’s more like a super-flavorful session beer.

We do an English-style barley wine called Royal Oil, which we age for 2, 2 1/2 years in whiskey barrels. It’s a really sweet, intense barley wine that dries a out a little bit as it ages. It tastes like chocolate-covered cherries, really incredible. We usually put that on right around Christmastime.

We just won a gold medal with The Legend of the Liquid Brain Imperial Stout, which we age in Pappy Van Winkle barrels, at the World Beer Cup back in April. We won it it in the wooden barrel–aged strong beer category—the single largest category in the competition this year, which was kind of surprising; there were 113 beers [competing], so we’ve been pretty excited about that. The name comes from a Beta Band song lyric.

Your aged beer projects are clearly among your passions. Tell me more about them.

We have plenty of kegs that we store for long-term aging, but we also have bourbon barrels & wine barrels that we’re currently aging beer in. Like Charles Smith—I have one of his Cougar Hills Syrah barrels, a nice French oak, so we’re doing a dark Belgian trippel.  And we have a Folk Machine barrel.

B&Bbarrels

We tend to go at least a year on all of our barrels & after that, we kinda barrel-thief along the way to see if they’re tasting good, because the life of a beer—I think it ebbs & flows in terms of the way it’s tasting. You know, sometimes we’ll try it & it’s tasting mediocre, & we’re like, “Oh, did we mess up?” We’ll bung it back up, try it again in like 6 months and it’ll be tasting awesome.

For our 38th anniversary beer last year, we did a Belgian-style stout, but we added some Novo coffee to it—their Amaro Gayo has these crazy blueberry flavors. Then we put it into a whiskey barrel, added 50 pounds of Italian plums, & aged it for a year.

I’d like to get some more tanks for doing more beers & more space to age different barrels. I’d love to get my hands on some port barrels, sherry barrels, scotch barrels…One thing I’ve always wanted to get was a smoky Islay barrel. If I could get a real peaty barrel & make a Scotch ale & have the barrels impart a little of the smoky earthiness, that would be fun…White wine barrels are one thing I’m working on now; getting several different varieties, cause we’re gonna do a wheat wine.

Your vintage beer list gets a whole lotta love from connoisseurs as well. How did you develop it?

Just, yeah, collecting large quantities of age-worthy beer. I definitely have a problem with it. [Laughs.] When you’re a collector, you’re always on the hunt; you’re always looking for good stuff, & when you find something, I think the key for me was not just buying a bottle but buying cases. It’s like wine: some beers are meant to be consumed next week, some are super-tannic & sturdy enough to age. They’re built to last—throw ‘em in your cellar & don’t even think about ‘em for 10 years.

The secret with a really good vintage beer is bottle-conditioning. Also the alcohol level. Natural preservative. Anything over about 6 1/2% is really good for long-term aging.

I was finally just like, I have so much of this beer that I can never drink myself, I might as well just share it with people.

What’s next on your agenda, besides the upcoming Great American Beer Festival?

Maybe do some limited bottling.
We always make kind of a scene at the GABF; we’re always the loudest. I want to have a big presence since it’s in our backyard every year. But we’re so tiny; we’re draft only, & the only time we’ll do bottles is for competition. We’ll do 1000 barrels this year, but to put that into perspective…[Here he shows me the annual stats for the Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams—which is in the news as we speak for the legal hoops it’s jumping through to maintain its craft beer status while brewing upwards of 2 million barrels.] It would just be a fun one-off, but another thing too is you make the best margins selling it out of your own taps. We have a pretty consistent following here; the formula kinda works here, & we’re at the crossroads where we’re asking, how big do we wanna get? It just depends on how much you want to go into debt. And how much of a life you want to have. [Laughs.]

That’s So Cute of You, Pearl Street Grill!

The news on Cafe Society that Pearl Street Grill had gone & had its hair done couldn’t have come at a better time for the Director & me; we’d grown a little sick of the old style (the restaurant equivalent of the Rachel), so we were all over the makeover, coinciding as it did with Celtics’ night out.

Sure enough, the new menu’s all dolled up with adorable little illustrations of veggies & heart-healthy nuts & your daily RDA of wholesome dairy products & all those things you didn’t know constituted food groups at Pearl Street, whose nutritional pyramid heretofore resembled a platter of nachos: chips on bottom, guac & sour cream on top.
PSGmenu

And though the substantive changes aren’t sweeping, they’re certainly noticeable. Take the new array of sides like carrots spiced with ginger, cinnamon & dill (huh) & steamed artichoke with orange-tarragon dip.

PSGartichoke
The jumbo thistle was perfectly tender from the outermost leaves inward; it almost didn’t need saucing, a good thing, since the dip was pretty bad, with the thin, artificial sweetness of those oil-free Pritikin salad dressings of old, when guys with mustaches & gals with Farrah dos (speaking of time-capsule hairstyles) switched to decaf & went jogging in short shorts.

But for a glorified sports bar, the antipasta [sic] platter could’ve been much worse.
PSGantipasti

No, it wasn’t premium fresh mozzarella or prosciutto, but it was decent & generous, with olives & garlicky marinated tomatoes, & a refreshing change from the usual greasy fried suspects.

Granted, enough oil was accumulated somewhere to smear my lens. But isn’t it fitting to view a quesadilla through a haze of fat?

PSGquesadilla

Yet even this old standby has been updated for the new millennium (or at least late in the old one) with a vegetarian filling (black beans, peppers, tomatoes & blended cheese), plus “salsa fresca,” “lime crema” (not, note, “sour cream”) & “avocado relish” (not, note, “guac”). Terminology, as we learned here, can make all the difference between junk food & health food. Really, the changes are neither here nor there as far as either nutrition or flavor goes; the quesadilla’s good, it’s fine, it’s nothing you couldn’t make at home just as well. But then, that’s true of most items at a place like Pearl Street; as I noted in the abovelinked post about Hanson’s, you don’t come here to be wowed by the cooking, you come to be lulled by the boozy neighborhood vibe. The eats just help you soak it up.

Same goes for the Southwest steak salad.

PSGsteaksalad

With avocado, tomato, corn–black bean salad, queso fresco & mixed greens, it’s only a slight variation on the pre-revamp version, with 1 exception: the really good, smoky, tangy, creamy roasted red pepper vinaigrette on the side. If it wasn’t housemade, I sure couldn’t tell.

Ultimately, it’s the same old Pearl Street, just buffed a bit. Why should it be otherwise?

Pearl Street Grill on Urbanspoon

Mighty Decent Grub at Rackhouse Pub

Talk about signs a place is gonna be good:

RP2
If the portrait at the entrance to Rackhouse Pub on site at the Stranahan’s distillery doesn’t indicate the fun to be had amid the whiskey barrels & sheet metal
RP

lining the dining room in a nod to so-called steampunk style, I don’t know what does. Unless it’s the flatscreens tuned into the Celtics game, thank you very much. Or the rotation on the iPod: Beastie Boys & Girl Talk, thank you even more.

Or the menu, a compendium of pub grub done right—with quality ingredients & just enough creative flair to keep it interesting yet real. If there’s 1 thing the gastropub movement has done for the better—besides bring back deviled eggs—it’s up the ante on the neighborhood grill; had Rackhouse opened 10 years ago, it might have been your average corners-cutting, Sysco-sourcing sports bar (minus, of course, the artisanal spirits), but on the much savvier current scene, even a modestly ambitious kitchen had better know its pesto from its panko—& Rackhouse’s seems to be working it, for all the Duderinian (if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) vibe the front of the house emits.

The steamed mussels listed as “Blacks,” for instance, are a promising start.

RPmussels
Though the bowl—piled with plump shellfish & thick, juicy coins of chorizo—didn’t contain enough broth, let’s look at it as a sixth full rather than 5 sixths empty; what there was was heady. Made with Great Divide’s Hades Ale, a Belgian-style strong pale ale, it boasted a refreshingly bitter midpalate laced with a downright bracing amount of red pepper; I had to ask for a spoon (which, word to service, should have been offered to begin with) to slurp it up to my satisfaction. After all, the accompanying flatbread, thin as it was, wasn’t going to suffice as a sopping tool—which, really, was to its credit; hot, crisp & bubbly, not dry & crackery, & sprinkled evenly with parmesan & herbs, it boded well for the pizza—which, in turn, actually surpassed my moderately positive expectations.
RPpizza

The white Rustica’s topped with chunks of locally made sausage, mushrooms (mostly portobello & button, I think), & whole cloves of roast garlic, along with decent mozz; it’s a hearty mess atop that crunchy thin crust, perhaps a little too charred at the edges for some, but I’m all for the burnt bits.

No burnt bits on the slab of ribs—not surprisingly, since they’re oven-roasted rather than slow-smoked,

RPribs
but hey, Rackhouse doesn’t pretend to be a hardcore BBQ pit, & as roasted ribs go they were fine, especially where the hoisin sauce was glazed rather than glopped on. The whole shebang I’d call sloppy but generous: the molasses baked beans were too sweet (nothing a little salt pork couldn’t cure), while the coleslaw was disappointingly bland (nothing more cider vinegar, S&P & some caraway couldn’t cure); the corn muffin, however, was a treat above all for being a freebie, unlisted in the dish description.

Anyway, if the worst Rackhouse can do is halfway decent, then it’s doing all right indeed. Three-quarters decent is the Cajun dip,
RPCajundip

which would’ve been all-the-way decent if the garlic bread hadn’t been dry. My rule of thumb is, if it’s going to be crunchy throughout, it shouldn’t be too thick; if it’s going to be thick-cut, it should be soft in the middle. In short, there’s a distinction to be maintained here between toasted bread & flat-out toast. But the dip itself was something else; the portion struck me as a bit small until I tasted it, all tangy cream & gruyère with chunks of shrimp, crawfish, tomato & mushroom. A little went far, quick.

In hopes of mitigating at least some of the caloric damage the Director & I were doing over the course of some killer Celtics action, a couple of salads called to me.

One of them was lying.

RP3cupsalad
The literally named 3-Cup Salad is about 1/3-part lettuce, sprouts & roasted tomato to 1 part egg, feta & black olive to 2 parts good, strong Genoa salami & herb toast in punchy tomato vinaigrette. (That may not add up, but neither does the salad.) It’s a bit petty to complain about error on the side of generosity, & I’m not; it’s a nice take on a chef’s salad, but a few more leaves &/or a slice less salami would solve the math problem & take the guilt out of what was basically a guilty pleasure.

As for the Caesar, Caesars are Caesars, except when they’re extraordinary;
RPcaesar

this one’s just fine, with a couple of anchovies, nice croutons, & a slightly too mild (but still housemade & basically Caesary) dressing. The crab cake, however, is terrific: almost no filler, barely any seasoning, even, it’s all sweet pan-browned crab—for a measly $2 extra, no less.

I’m sorely tempted to postpone publishing this until I can get back to try a burger or other sandwich, comprising as they do half the menu; certainly the upgraded trimmings read winningly, from challah to “whiskey onions,” cracked eggs & cambozola. But better to do an update then & get word out now, because the place is relatively new, with an affable & committed 1st-time owner who’s still finding his way through this bitch of a business. I don’t have too many useful suggestions for him beyond 1) opening a patio (he’s working on it) & 2) improving the wine selection: right now there are only 4 or 5 house wines, & while a) the heavy emphasis on craft beer & spirits is obviously concept-appropriate & b) the price is right for the not-bad grape juice they do have—good-sized pours are $5—I can’t think of a reason not to invest in a couple of easy-drinking but non-generic bottles, say a viñho verde & a carménère or even a dry rosé, whether as additions or replacements. Rackhouse may not be a wine bar, but it’s not a dive either, & throwing us winos a bone only ensures the beer & whiskey contingent will have an easier time dragging us there on a regular basis.

Not that I need dragging yet: until I get sick of the cabernet, I see myself stopping in quite a bit, not least for the free Wifi. Heck, maybe it’s time for that grilled cheese on parmesan-crusted white right now.

***Nota bene: They’re pretty good about Tweeting daily specials @RackhousePub; we were told the chef’s getting softshell crabs in this week, a rarity around here, so keep your eyes peeled.

The Rackhouse Pub on Urbanspoon

Breaking Bread, Bread & Then Some More Bread at The Wine Loft

Like Oceanaire, The Wine Loft is one of those rare chains that keeps its corporate identity happily under wraps. Actually, it kinda keeps everything under wraps—in buns, in puff pastry, in ravioli. But I’ll come back to the food. The point is that, walking into the darkly burnished space with its long mirrored bar, its discrete, low-slung, leather-swathed lounging pods & cylindrical pendant lamps, you feel like it genuinely belongs in Lodo—circa 1999, perhaps, but right there nonetheless; certainly its personality doesn’t feel any more manufactured than that of, say, the Oak Tavern.

There is one way in which it stands out from the downtown pack, however: it’s usually (& unusually) quiet—partly due to its size, which allows everyone to scatter to their own private corners, & partly due to the simple & much-appreciated fact that they keep the music to a level that encourages civilized conversation. Or raunchy conversation, for that matter, or a series of grunts. It’s not what you say, it’s how loud you have to say it that I get all worked up about.

So I’ve found myself here quite a bit lately for this or that tête-à-tête over a glass of carménère—a.k.a. malbec 2.0—& a might-as-well-since-I’m-here-type nibble. Which is pretty much what the menu consists of: a handful of small plates whose common characteristic, as is the case at many Denver wine bars—the Village Cork & Tastes come to mind—is their ready-made quality. One imagines a small kitchen with a small staff whose main jobs are to thaw dough & cut cheese. Which is fine; it means the food’s never likely to be much more than fine too, but I guess it’s all about the wine, eh? Why it can’t be about both is unclear to me, but then, so is much in life that probably shouldn’t be.

And some of it really is just fine. Like the wild mushroom bruschetta with manchego. Meaty, earthy, cheesy, crusty, what’s not to enjoy?

WLbruschetta

And the rich, drippy combo of sliced filet, blue cheese & onion jam that filled the pistolettes, to use the menu’s term loosely (a Cajun tradition, pistolette rolls are really supposed to be hollowed out & stuffed, like Hot Pockets).

WLpistolettes
The brie en croute—which came with bread, lest we needed yet more starch with our starch—was pretty clunky; from inside the fairly thick pastry, the cheese didn’t positively ooze out so much as kinda slump. The fact is that it just wasn’t a great brie—your basic factory-processed single crème, not your farmstead labor of love. Still, it was edible, with its drizzles of honey & reduced balsamic & sprinkle of spiced pecans.

WLbrieencroute

The only total blunder was this dish of shrimp & blue cheese pastry with sweet chili sauce—&, supposedly, toasted walnuts, though I don’t recall any.

WLshrimppastry

But then it didn’t give me much of anything to recall beyond a sort of salty mush inside puff pastry with all the finesse of plastic.

The same could be said of our server, by the way, who had an unsettling habit of taking a seat on one of the ottoman at our table while we ordered—legs spread, elbows on knees, hands clasped & brow furrowed, like a coach about to talk us through a critical play. The schtick was like his version of flair or something, & equally unconvincing.

He certainly didn’t convince us to order further—we’d had about as many things enscased in dough as we could stuff down for one evening.  I’ll be back—hopefully, though not likely, to a somewhat more varied repertoire.

The Wine Loft on Urbanspoon

Rack & Rye: No Wrack & Awry, But Not Yet Rock & Roll

The folks at Rack & Rye Gastropub probably know perfectly well what they’re doing, but I can’t say I do. This place has me bamboozled.

First, there’s the name. Obviously it’s a pun on the rock & rye—a reemerging blast from our Progressive Era past consisting of candy-sweetened rye whiskey. But why? What’s the point of the pun? When I first heard the name, I thought maybe it was going to be a cool pool hall, but no. Wine rack? But it’s not a wine bar per se either (unless they’re going to use that perforated back wall for storage at some point—an interesting but unlikely thought). No clue.

Which brings me to the second puzzlement, the space itself. As I’ve said before, I’ve got no beef with the term “gastropub” so long as the word is accurately applied. But “pub” implies a modicum of rustic comfort, which the rather elegant Rack & Rye in no way exudes (see aforelinked photos). In fact, the design elements most meant to encourage conviviality strike me as the least comfortable. Take the long communal table: narrow & lined with elegant chairs, it’s more conducive to a formal dinner party than to strangers spontaneously kicking back & mingling. There’s nothing casual about the straight-backed banquette either—especially in the context of the color scheme: sleek black & cream. The fact that, on the night I was there with pal L, it was completely empty but for one other table the entire time only added to the underlying feeling of unease.

RRSpamfries

Third, of course, is the menu. On paper, it’s a whole lot of fun—so fun it’s almost silly. I agree with 5280’s assessment that at this point the chef is just throwing trends against the wall & seeing what sticks. Which is okay, so long as enough does in fact stick to form a coherent whole. And that’s what remains to be seen. Though I liked most of what I tried, I didn’t trust it—the little things that didn’t work added up to suggest it could go either way, jelling into a repertoire with real flair or skewing completely off-kilter. Here’s hoping for the former.

Consider the Spam fries. The fact that they were clearly conceived as a shameless ploy to establish instant notoriety/hipster cred doesn’t make them any less worth a try. After all, they’re just deep-fried strips of chopped, pressed, salt-&-sugar-cured pork, i.e., triggers to fire every neuron in the brain’s reward center one by one. It hardly mattered that the chili oil was apparently omitted from the chili oil aioli, leaving glorified mayo. (As there was no hint of garlic either, we’re using the word “aioli” loosely here, presumably.) Well, it mattered a little. Capsaicin would have provided a tingling bit of balance.

The only thing wrong with the maple-bacon peanuts, meanwhile, was my glary snap thereof. But, like my camera, they did flash bright that night.

RRpeanuts
Heavily coated in maple syrup, tossed with chopped smoked bacon & roasted, they were basically hot Cracker Jacks gone wild.

So far, so enjoyably trashy. Ditto the cheddar cornbread sticks with jalapeno jelly dipping sauce.

RRcornbread

If the order looks skimpy, it’s to their credit that even before our server set it down he assured us 2 more sticks were on their way. And if it’s kinda ugly, well, that’s better than being too pretty to eat. Lighter in flavor as well as texture than I expected, they were just corny & cheesy enough to play well with the dipping sauce—which tasted like nothing so much as sweetened green chile, odd but not unpleasant.

I’m still conflicted about the sliders we tried—pork belly with mustard soy glaze

RRporkslider
RRducksliders
& 5-spice roast duck with sliced pear & swiss (on the far L & R).

In both cases, the filling was much better than it had a right to be. I guess the word “glaze” didn’t register when I read the description of the former, because I was expecting something spicier & saltier; instead, the sweetness of the condiment, likely brown sugar, put the meat in a mellow mood. Spoiled as I am by dishes like Rioja’s in which fresh pork belly is given the deluxe treatment, I’m still ambivalent about the use of it here as opposed to some other fatty cut—did it get its due or was it compromised for the sake of its current status? I wish now I’d pulled a chunk out to taste it all by its lonesome to know for sure.

As for the latter, before tasting it I was confident the pairing of duck & swiss was a bad idea, that they had nothing in common & they’d both just sit there awkwardly & sullenly. And they might have, but for the pear that, complementing them both, brought them tenderly together; fruitiness proved the missing link. Too bad about the no-account French rolls.

Too bad, too, that a similar risk in the form of a special—char siu tacos—didn’t pay off.

RRtaco

For all its blessings, cheese does not in fact make everything taste better. Even the haphazard, never-the-twain-shall-meet presentation went to show that provolone—never mind deli-grade provolone—can’t do anything for Asian-style barbecued pork other than throw it into disarray. I couldn’t even tell you if the meat was truly char-siu-esque (a little hoisin, a little soy & rice wine, etc. etc.); it pretty much just disappeared between the cheese & the room-temperature flour tortilla.

So how does all that bode for the Korean reuben sliders with grilled rib eye, swiss & kimchi slaw, the short rib rendang, the PB&J sliders & all their future ilk? I’m willing to find out. After all, one of my favorite chefs ever, David Nevins now of Osetra Sono in Connecticut, long ago convinced me that with the right touch, anything was possible—even caramel-fried lobster with warm cheddar, chiles & green onions. Rack & Rye could convince me someday too.

But it’ll never get me to call it a pub.

Rack & Rye on Urbanspoon

Sneak Peek at Colt & Gray’s Spanking New Cocktail List

Colt & Gray bar manager Kevin Burke being the real effing deal & all (see, for example, here, here & here), I was thrilled & honored to get a glimpse of his up-&-coming concoctions. Though it may yet be tweaked here & there, it already looks like a winner. Count me in for copious St. Celeriums—how cool is housemade celery soda?!—followed by any & everything containing Amer Picon.

ORIGINAL COCKTAILS

FIRING PIN

BULLEIT BOURBON, LEOPOLD’S THREEPINS LIQUEUR

DUBLIN COFFEE

GUINNESS LIQUEUR, JAMESON 12Y.O., EGG

WINTER SOLSTICE

SINGLE MALT WHISKY, CRÈME DE VIOLETTE, LAVENDER, LEMON

RYEPA

AVERY-MALT INFUSED WHISKEY, IPA CORDIAL, CARPANO

COLONIAL FIZZ # 2

MONTECRISTO 12YR RUM, YELLOW CHARTREUSE, APPLE BRANDY, HOUSE GRAPEFRUIT SODA

ST. CELERIUM

HAYMAN’S OLD TOM GIN, DOLIN BLANC,

ST. GERMAIN, HOUSE CELERY SODA

COCKTAIL VIEJO

DEL CIELO REPOSADO TEQUILA, AGAVE, PEYCHAUD’S

VINTAGE COCKTAILS

CORPSE REVIVER # 2

GIN, LEMON, COINTREAU, LILLET, ABSINTHE

HARRY CRADDOCK SAVOY COCKTAIL BOOK 1930

BOBBY BURNS

SCOTCH WHISKY, CARPANO, BENEDICTINE

ALBERT CROCKET OLD WALDORF BAR DAYS 1931

BIJOU # 2

GIN, CARPANO, GREEN CHARTREUSE, AMERPICON

HARRY JOHNSON BARTENDERS’ MANUAL 1900

BARMAN’S CHOICE

ALLOW US TO CREATE A COCKTAIL FOR YOU BASED ON YOUR PERSONAL TASTES

The Kooky View from The Corner Office

As I’ve already suggested, The Corner Office has finally begun to endear itself to me, if for no other reason than that it was there when we needed it during this year’s Starz Denver Film Festival (with which you may know I am heavily involved; see also here). Though its conflation of sass with sophistication is flawed—especially in comparison with the savvy shown, at least in theory, by similarly oriented newer comers (your TAGs, your Colt  & Grays)—such that the menu’s geoeclectic reach often exceeds the kitchen’s grasp & the cocktail list skews more coed than grown-up, I couldn’t help but get a kick out of its cheerfully quasi-louche glitz over the course of several visits in a single weekend.

After all, they’ve concocted a quaff (St. Germain–based, but we’ll let that slide) called the Director, modeled here by

Cothedirector
Denver’s premier alcoholic (as Karla winningly & not unduly dubbed herself recently here).

Besides, if the crew in whites can’t pull everything off, they nail a morsel here & there. The hummus, of all things, for instance.

COhummus

In my experience, it isn’t often that a non-Mediterranean/Middle Eastern place gets hummus right—for whatever reason, since it really isn’t that hard to add sufficient olive oil, lemon juice, tahini & garlic to what’s otherwise just chickpea puree. Somehow The Corner Office not only does so but pairs it with wedges of warm, fluffy, slightly crispy & chewy pita itself just tinged with the flavor of olive oil.

For another instance, admits this doubting Denveater a year & a 1/2 after the fact, the chicken & waffles. Look at that all-over golden-brown crunch.

COchickenandwaffles
If what was underneath it had been tepid or dry or congealed or underseasoned or otherwise poorly prepared, the golden-brown crunch would have been a red herring—but it wasn’t. It was the mark of a classic batter—or rather 2, one applied lightly enough to give the bird its due, the other making for a fluffy “pancake with syrup traps,” as the late great Mitch Hedberg called it. I still like my chicken & waffles to be served with both syrup & gravy (this came with only the former)—&, okay, in a context where the dish is an understood tradition about which I can always learn more rather than a cheeky appropriated novelty. But better appropriated than misappropriated.

Ditto w/r/t the lemony edamame.

COedamame

I don’t know if the peel is zested or the juice is simply sprinkled—the former’s my iffy recollection—but either way, it’s an intuitive little twist.

And damned if the fried calamari & rock shrimp doesn’t suck either;

COcalamarishrimp

here too, the batter was just right, clumsy neither in seasoning nor touch. Not to belabor the point, but the difference between batter, breading & downright dough gets lost on far too many fry guys.

Though I didn’t try a friend’s bacon cheddar cheeseburger with sauteed onions, it sure looks like one humdinger of a mouthful,

COburger
even if the bun itself appears little more than the kind of weak foam that would just dissipate under rather than form a nifty sop for

COburgerjuice
all those gorgeous juices.

As faux-Caesars go,

COCaesar
the Corner Office’s is fine—meaning little more than that the dressing’s got some garlicky punch—although the chicken seemed a little too close to precooked Tyson breast strips for comfort.

The only real turkeys were 1), fittingly enough, the Tom Turkey sandwich—utterly bland, with cheap-tasting deli slices—

COturkeysandwich

& 2) the crab pad thai; incoherent as a whole, the egg was dry, the clump of noodles too sweet.

COpadthai
All in all, though, as a convenient choice for downtown carousing over easy grub & giggle juice, The Corner Office sure can put the fun in functional like nobody’s business.

Corner Office Restaurant and Martini Bar on Urbanspoon

Tubers & Boob Tubes Galore at Oak Tavern

I don’t care how glaring the flatscreens, how blaring the dance tracks, how backwards the baseball caps, how bleached the blonde, how Two-Buck the Chuck—if a place serves stuffed spuds & treats my mom nice, I’m in. Which brings me to, of all unlikely places, Oak Tavern—where the GM turned down the loudspeakers for a 67-year-old lady without blinking & our PYT of a server was as exceedingly polite and full of thoughtful suggestions as her hot pants were extremely hot.

I’m not saying I’m recommending the place, I’m just saying.

I’m saying, damn, I love me some stuffed taters, & by extension whoever’s willing to serve me one like it’s 1989, just before the fad faded pretty much everywhere but Wendy’s. Sure, I can pop a potato into mine own oven, but what are the chances I’m going to grill a little steak with onions, peppers & mushrooms, then whip up a Madeira-fortified gravy swirled into sour cream to top it off with, as per the Cattleman (as I believe the current menu calls it, though this older version calls it the Ranch Hand & doesn’t mention cheddar, which I’m sure it also had)? I’ll tell ya: somewhere between nil & zip.

OTcattlemanspotato
The Rockefeller’s a build-your-own dealio, offering roughly 30 toppings; who’s gonna stock up on everything from olives, artichoke hearts & arugula to fresh herbs, the makings for pesto & 5 types of cheese just lest the yen for a home-baked tuber strike, like Mom’s happy hour special with swiss, broccoli, avocado, mushrooms & sour cream?

OTbuildyourownpotato
And the Director’s breakfast potato with 2 eggs over easy, bacon, roasted peppers, cheddar & Tabasco was the stuff of redeye, redneck inspiration. (Actually, speaking of redeye, some gravy over thick-sliced country ham would be the (gut)bomb too.)

OTbreakfastpotato
There are spuds topped with gumbo & layered with salmon, drizzled with truffle oil & spilling with chili—& that’s not all; the kitchen also makes its own chips, both plain & barbecue-flavored.

OTchips
OTbbqchips

Uneven seasoning meant some were way too salty, but it’s hard to find full-throated fault with hot, fresh, greasy, crunchy potato chips, especially when they’re loaded as with the happy hour half-portion below

OTnachos2

& accompanied by sides of

sour cream & decent chili. OTchili

It’s just such unexpected little touches that I most appreciate at any level of dining, from pub grub to haute cuisine. Who’d have imagined the hash-slingers at a sports bar would stuff crimini with the meat of 3 other types of mushrooms, 3 cheeses & 3 herbs, broil them just so, & ring them round with apparently homemade pesto? (It just goes to show the importance of balanced presentation, since the seemingly subtle distinctions between these & the ones I had at The Lobby a while back indeed made all the difference: smaller plate, browner caps, less sauce).

OTmushrooms2

The same pesto, twinned with a rich, tangy sundried tomato pesto, gave the otherwise plain beef & veggie skewers a reason to live as well.

OTkabobs
Not to belabor the point. Oak Tavern is ultimately just a meat market for alpha jocks & the bimbos who bang them. Still, the element of surprise is always worth noting, & the fact that someone back there on the line obviously puts an ounce of pride & effort into his work is definitely a nice surprise in the midst of the cheesehall.

Oak Tavern on Urbanspoon

Have You Seen This Man? Colonel Hector Bravado’s shoutout to Seth Murty, ex-Z Cuisine / À Côté

***UPDATE! Shortly after posting this, I got word that Á Côté will be hosting a Tasting Tour de France on 10/28 from 5pm to 6:30pm to benefit the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure: there’ll be hors d’oeuvres, sweets, & “at least 10″ wines from Bordeaux & the Loire Valley. Call 303.477.1111***

No, not this man. This man:

Murty

It’s him & his mixmastery that apparently haunt the dreams of Denver Six Shooter’s Colonel Hector Bravado, who composed this lovely little ode to drinking at the equally lovely little À Côté, Z Cuisine’s adjacent wine & absinthe bar, expressly for Denveater.

***

We went in late spring, giving ourselves over to the care of then-GM and bartender-on-the-spot Seth Murty. Just as important, we gave ourselves over to the time. When you have a garbage diet and a perfunctory way of eating, and you finally get yourself to slow down for some quality food and drink, you realize something: that as much as the food, what you’re really tasting is the time you allow yourself to taste it.

I was apparently in no rush to get this guest post written, either. Since that heady night, Seth Murty has moved on. I hear he’s opening an Udi’s in Arvada. And I’ve gone back to eating dinner, usually a General Mills product, over the sink.

Admittedly, even on a night like this, I viewed food only as necessary punctuation to the long, run-on sentences of the cocktails, but Genevieve [the Colonelette] and I both delighted in the Hudson’s Valley duck foie gras terrine and the Colorouge ‘Mouco’ cheese fondue with apples cut in eighths bearing the black brand of the grill. We visited them in small bites, at length. They came with a brown paper bag filled with good, crusty bread.

Zcharcuterie Close enough: Z Cuisine’s signature charcuterie plate

For what it’s worth, you should also try the poitrine de porc braisée en salade: Long Farm crispy pork belly on lentils and mirepoix ragout. I’d tried it on a previous visit, one in which I could not slow down enough to properly enjoy it. The Moms tried it on a subsequent visit and assured me that what I’d eaten was excellent.

Zpork Not even close to close, but still handsome: Z Cuisine’s pork tenderloin in blue cheese sauce

As for the drinks—yes. Above you see Seth with his Mile-High Manhattan: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, Leopold Bros. New York Apple Whiskey, Lillet Rouge, & Peychaud’s Bitters. It had a long, sweet kick, and the two whiskeys played well together.
“It hardly even tastes like whiskey,” I told Genevieve, who hates whiskey. This was sort of a lie and I was seeing if this fantastic concoction would convert her on the sly, but no such luck.

So then Seth rolled out The Green Fairy:
Grey Goose Orange, La Fée Absinthe, agave nectar, basil, & sparkling wine. This was diabolically good. I can only pray that he has these fixings at his new digs, but I won’t count on it.

Following that, Seth administered the coup de grace—the double-spouted absinthe urn dripping ice water into our two glasses. He did the whole thing with the sugar cubes, the secret handshake, the fire-setting. We then issued out into night air so fine it was like you could dissolve into it grain for grain, into the brick expanse of the Highlands swathed with boughs that were groaning with green from spring rain.

Nights like that go all the faster the slower you take them, don’t they?