Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

DNSpree: The Corner Office, Harry’s

Is there such a thing as accidental stalking? Logged onto Westword’s F&D blog, Cafe Society, this blurry & screechingly bright morning to discover Jason Sheehan must’ve been blogging away mere feet from where the Director & I were getting sloppy over at the bar of The Corner Office. (I don’t think he was either of the 2 gorgeous Asian chicks I remember sitting in the private area temporarily & without a hint of irony designated the

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but you never know. Maybe he was both of them at once.) If this were the first instance of blogging about the same place either just before or just after him, I wouldn’t mention it, but it’s not—not by far. It kinda freaks me out & makes me feel as though I need for one part of my apparently split & scheming personality to slap a restraining order on the other part’s ass before Westword’s lawyers do.

Anyway. We went to the woods because we wished to live deliberately, by which I mean we went downtown because we wished to get blotto while gawking at the sideshow freaks both on the streets & on the tube. & we started at the Second Chance Saloon, by which I mean the Office, because the more snark-patties I hurl at a place 1 day, the more I regret my bitch-chimpiness the next & resolve to give it yet another shot.

It could be argued that my timing was totally unreasonable—that no place should be judged by its performance in a globally televised shitshow. I get it but doubt it. If anything, every downtown venue, representing by extension every Denver venue & Denver itself, had better be freshly scrubbed & polished this week—every recipe, every greeting, every everything down pat. So the fact that the Corner Office is offering a special DNC-themed menu is neither here nor there. Whatever you’re serving, whenever, perfect it or forget it.

The menu is, to be sure, cheeky in ways that are both characteristic and, in small amounts, charming (Economic Prosperitini excluded. I guess I don’t believe in hell but I do believe in an everlasting bar crawl wherein every conspicuous snifter comes with a bottomless chaser of devil puke).

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COmenu

I opted for a cocktail only on the regular drink menu—which I was inadvertently initially handed & therefore perversely more interested in—& our bartender, remarkably calm & kind at the eye of the chaos, obliged: the Paper Shredder, a tingly-all-over combo of bourbon, ginger ale & fresh ginger.

But the slew of small plates we ordered mostly made me wish the kitchen would put a wad of cash where its cheek is. Having just given Steuben’s props for its savvy appropriation of meth-lab chic, I’ve got to knock the Corner Office’s clunkier efforts. If the words “Cheez Whiz” were set in quotation marks to indicate they actually referred to some sort of artisanal cheddar fondue, I’d probably have been secretly salivating even as I made an elaborate show of rolling my eyes—but they’re not. That goo really accompanies this undersalted, underwarmed pretzel, such that the whole thing tastes like spitballs formed from the very paper it must’ve sounded cute on to somebody.

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As the pretzel went, so went the barely thawed tater tots haphazardly scattered alongside a mini-burger with chili that, far from honoring this piquant historic moment of ours, captured Reaganomics in a bite—just a trickle-down of tomato product.

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& as the chili went, so went the bland salsa on the sope—singular rather than plural as advertised: in its absence, you realize just how important a good hot salsa is for delineating the blurred silhouette of all those other dollops, at least at their own least carefully seasoned.

COsope

It wasn’t all bad, though. In fact, my expectation was proportionally inverse to the execution: the south-of-the-heartland concession-stand snacks that should’ve been the kitchen’s bread-&-butter paled & slumped over next to, 1, crisp spring rolls with wazoo-hot mustard over cabbage dressed in a vivid sesame-ginger vinaigrette

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& 2, this mini–chicken pot pie, whose gravy smacked of chicken stock so you could almost hear it:

COpotpie

Still, a few bright spots in a dull expanse—sounds more & more like a typical day at the Office.

In need of a change of scenery, namely one with closed captioning (a convention on mute ≠ must-see TV), we hit Harry’s Bar in the Magnolia Hotel—neither resembling its Venetian namesake nor really finishing the atomic-era aura it starts,

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but then, a bar that doesn’t try very hard to do much of anything but be there is really my kind of bar.

Which is why Harry’s perfectly serviceable quesadilla & wings trump the Corner Office’s forays into freezer-aisle-style gourmet fare. To repeat myself ad nauseum, better to surpass low expectations than fall short of higher ones.

Harrysquesadilla

Harryswings

Granted, the company we were keeping contributed something to our contentment. Back in Boston, I’d have had to make the trek to Jamaica Plain, home of much-beloved crumbling pub Doyle’s Cafe, to knock one back with Ted. Here at Harry’s, he never seemed closer.

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On that note,

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The Salad Series: Jordan’s, uh, Bistro & Pub

“Parenthood is a vortex of bad art,” said my friend Ellen the other day when I asked what was it like to have “Elmo’s Potty Time” on endless video loop. You don’t have to be a parent, just an American with a modicum of taste, to know that it’s also got to be a constant barrage of bad food. Drinking middling wine & playing Scrabble at the bar as family after family with teens & tweens & toddlers streamed into Jordan’s Bistro & Pub last night, I imagined in pretty vivid detail that suggesting the place was a mistake. I’d already suspected as much based on the name. Did Jordan—versus, say, Jean-Georges or Kieran or Jean-Georges-Kieran—think “pub & bistro” would serve as an upmarket synonym for “bar & grill” rather than a promise of Guinness & colcannon on the one hand, vin de table & frogs’ legs on the other?

Still, it was close to home, it was quiet & casual enough that a pseudofriendly game of Scrabble wouldn’t be out of place, & it listed on its menu a slew of just the sort of overstuffed salads I was craving. In fact, it listed on its menu a slew of just the sort of overstuffed everything everyone craves at any given time: “Irish nachos” with corned beef, Swiss & horseradish-Dijon; mac-&-cheddar with brie & sundried tomatoes; pizza from a wood-burning oven; & sure enough, the likes of fisherman’s pie & boxty, steak-filled & whiskey-sauced.

Ultimately, the proof that Jordan really means well was in the pudding, in this case hummus (though for all I yet know it may be in the pudding too, black & white, both of which are offered at weekend brunch).

Jhummus

Alongside pita wedges that were not only warm but, I’d swear, cornmeal-dusted (ours is not to wonder why, at least not when it’s our turn, we’re staring down an A, A, E, I, O, T & a blank, & the dinner tab’s riding on the game) was a bowl brimming over with a chunky, peanut-butter-colored substance that I indeed recognized as chickpeas freshly ground with salt. Whether or not you’d accord it the status of hummus depends on whether or not you believe in a world drenched in olive oil & lemon juice &, occasionally, topped with fried ground lamb. I do, so I wouldn’t.

Still, the mere fact that the kitchen crew is even attempting to cook from scratch in a joint that’s not only at the edge of a college campus but part of a statewide franchise—that it’s demonstrating a DIY ethic against all odds—is downright stirring.

& the grilled beef tenderloin salad clinched my, if not undying admiration, certainly hearty non-objection.

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A, observe the so-red-it’s-nearly-blue hue of that steak. I asked for it rare, & I got it, which is itself pretty rare in the lower-brow circumstances. B, note the fat, lumpy cloves of roasted garlic, not at all like the old brown fingernails that come from a jar. C, mentally compare that honey-mustard dressing to its bilious & cloying bottled counterpart. Granted, it erred so far on the side of Dijon that they probably should have called it mustard-mustard dressing. Granted, the chopped red onion was not grilled as advertised but raw as a skinned knee. Granted, the gorgonzola was supermarket-grade. But all in all—the which also included cherry tomatoes & roasted bits of red & yellow pepper—my low expectations were certainly surpassed.

Incidentally, this is hardly among the more intriguing offerings; both the goat cheese salad with, apparently, deep-fried eggplant “croutons” in a pomegranate vinaigrette & the almond-studded Cobb have my number—an inspiring feat in itself, since my number’s infinity, which is extremely hard to get on a salad.

The Director, for his part, was delighted with his prettily piped, richly gravied shepherd’s pie,

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which is fortunate, since he had to pay for it after drawing both the Q & the Z in the last round of the game, poor dear shlimazl.

Wine Poem 3, with notes on a carafe (Billy’s Inn) & a bottle (Divino)

Last night I dreamt (that somebody loved me…ah, Morrissey! how you’ve colored our weltanschauung) that the Director & I were seated at the bar of a white-hot izakaya in Manhattan that only served rare, very expensive worms—I remember seeing fried worm & green bean tempura go by—& tsukemono. We stuck with the pickles, sheepishly; I felt like a rube, an unenlightened mass of 1.

But then I woke up & remembered the Cycles Gladiator pinot noir I had at Billy’s Inn the other night.

As I mentioned w/r/t Wine Poem 1, despite tasting class after tasting class—never mind my obviously ingenious way with words—I’ve yet to grasp the finer points of wine description. References to other fruits in particular have always struck me as odd—by fresh-cut pineapple or full-on durian or wild cherry just plucked from the navel of an island virgin, did you maybe just mean grape?

Something’s happening, though. Maybe it’s a result of this very project, approaching wine through the back door of poetry. Maybe it’s just a result of heavy drinking. Either way, all of a sudden, I’m detecting things I never detected before. I’m an awakening mass of 1.

Take the aforementioned California pinot, which I only ordered because another glass (which, at Billy’s, actually amounts to a quartino served in its own carafe—always a nice touch) of aglianico was beyond my present means.

At the first sip, the word lychee jumped to mind & kept jumping, like a child with ADD after a long car trip. It was definite, the hint of that velvety-sweet yet superjuicy, almost pearlike fruit.

I’ve since Googled the wine & found notes all “ripe black cola” this & “cigar box” that. Please! It’s lychee through & through.

Since then, while pouring glasses from a bottle of 2005 Alfredo Roca malbec the Director picked up at Divino the other eve, I suddenly smelled cinnamon. The scent lingered as we drank, & I knew it was time to post Wine Poem 3—the inspiration for which, however, was actually a sweet, sparkling Italian white virtually impossible to find stateside: schiacchetrà, which you roll around on your tongue along with the word—SHOCK-eh-TRAH—while lounging on a cafe terrace in Cinque Terre, sun slanting along the pink & yellow buildings to sparkle on the Mediterranean below.

Vernazza_ Italy

Wine Poem 3 (Florence/Vernazza
1999)

The day to be the sun was the one Michelangelo made a snowman on

as the icicle’s hourglass ran out

from each branch of each
tree on the grounds of the castle de Medici,

all day long the day
falling

somewhere along a spectrum running

from cycle to continuum—

circle slipping into loop,
loop

losing grip on curve,
loosening the grasp, curve lapsing

into line, line going off on tangent

marked at points now and never by sparkling,

coordinates glacial and
palatial,

shape and phase, monument
and monument to the demise

thereof, from moment to moment losing momentum—

sun-motes sticking to vision like burrs.

Memo to self: become
someone soon. A downpour

has left this view drying
in its wake, view like a film on the surface of surrounding,

a beaded layer over it that is it

—the midst of a vineyard via a trail

as one by one the grapes
drip from their leafy faucets,

the taps leak splashing
green and black,

and one by one the grapes light up like rafter-strung bulbs,

or room after room as the sun sets,

and one
by one the grapes come out and shine like pulp from a star.

Was it
sweet of you to come?

If you were dead, the sky would hang

like a jade burial shroud sewn with gold threads,

but it’s
hung like a shade rolled up to let in breezes of light.

So let’s
vow, marry, wed. This view is a window

of time in which to act for act’s
sake,

we who are drawn here together like
drapery,

folds in woven duration,

folds in dusk’s bolt, drawn
here

following the sun like two exclamation points in a row.

How the emphasis would taper off were you to go.

The day to be time passing

would be the one some
unsung Impressionist whiled

away tracing the shape of a cloud on,

but in lieu of your death or dying
time less ceases to exist
than it exists to cease,

and when the young Ludwig
Miës van der Rohe was out building sandcastles,

those were the days to be the surf—

getting your rivulets all tangled up in seaweed

to wriggle out of the sea’s
bruising squeezes, mottling your gilded strands and tassels

to be the moat’s fulfillment and ruin,

and they’d have been the days to sneak onto wine turf and throttle
yourself

with a vine, knot the noose with the grapes twinkling

like dots of pure green
exclamation point all around you,

dangling a modifier with
this ring
before them—

These are the grapes that make sciacchetrà

slant-rhyme with rocketry. It tastes like juice wrung from a star.

It sparkles like the
coercion of space into spaces,

like the visible on the
wane that the clear may wax.

Somewhere between the pivotal act of your life or living

and its riveting consequences, along the way 

ad astra per aspera,

there must have been a
night to be the rain,

a means of siphoning the
energy of Sisyphus

off from the myth of inertia

as it snowballed from rock fact

to refuel belief in
impetus. A way to confirm.

But the day to be a
scorcher has to coincide

with the wedding on the palace lawn

in a pavilion lined with ice sculptures of the pantheon

and must subside in
thunderstorm

with the gods of wine
making pools

of themselves, fools for self-reflection as they melt
down

into figures entering the centrifuge—

as what, rotating, separates—

Let’s pledge our devotion
to perpetual motion,

let’s be the betrothed becoming
otherwise,

lightning-struck,

composing toasts and going into shock—

The Salad Series: Billy’s Inn’s steak Caesar (& other goodies)

If this were the open mouth it sorta looks like, I’d totally be making out with it.

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But it’s a close-up of the excellent, thick-cut, very obviously applewood-smoked bacon on the Swiss & guacamole burger the Director had last night at Billy’s Inn—my 2nd impression of which only confirmed the 1st, namely that it’s the right, low-key yet funky joint at the right, low-income yet determinedly fun time I’m having these days (it’s a quest, a quest for fun, per Clark Griswold). 1st of all, there’s something about the stucco & the wood beams & tiles that, if I squint, transports me here,

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where my view is of not the gray intersection of Lowell & 44th but this,

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just outside of, say, Abiquiu or Damned Souls’ Gulch or some such ghostly sounding stretch of wilderness.

2nd, the menu, though simple, is really smart. The focus is narrow & sharp on stuff you eat with your hands: downhome snacks & sandwiches that emanate a soupçon of nostalgia—deviled eggs & onion rings, peel & eat shrimp &, oh joy of teenaged-in-the-80s joys! loaded potato skins, so all that’s missing are Swedish meatballs, by now long overdue for a comeback—as well as their Tex-Mex equivalents.

More important, it’s executed with care; much is clearly made from scratch. Given that Billy’s is a bar-&-grill through & through—with its photo-documented history of swinging seniors, including probably your grandparents in their crewcuts & beehives & Shuron frames, A-line shifts & square-toed pumps & cardigans & loafers, all smoking up a storm, now being repeated via awesome tablesful of Golden Girls downing pints, even alongside two-tops of cool kids flaunting their undoubtedly hard-earned agave expertise over craft tequila flights—it’s admirable that the owners are polishing the 2nd part of the phrase (“&-grill,” that is) as brightly as the 1st.

Hence the bacon on that tall burger, itself all loose & juicy pink heft, plus real cheese, perky bun & crisp trimmings—including that side of crunchy fresh coleslaw, which I actually preferred to the slightly undercooked & undersalted fries for its uncharacteristically light & sparkly rather than heavily creamy-sweet dressing.

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& hence my steak-&-avocado Caesar.

Billyssalad

At long last, I’ve begun behaving—& for me, the road to weight loss has always been paved with salad.

Salad gets it from all sides—both the carnivorous dinosaurs who still, against all evidence to the contrary, deem it rabbit food & the nutralarmists who drone on & on about the calories lurking in fried toppings & cream dressings. While the latter have a point, it’s precisely salad’s substance & versatility that makes it such a satisfying choice for those with even an ounce of dietary sense. In fact, the more I collect salad cookbooks (as I’ve been doing for years), the more appreciative I am of the broad applicability, the inclusiveness of the term—such that, in my bowl anyway, anything goes, so long as the following criteria are met:

* A salad should consist of at least a few ingredients—say, a minimum of 3—of which at least 1 should be a vegetable or legume. (A bowl of penne is not a salad; a bowl of penne with tuna & beans certainly can be.)
* These ingredients should be dressed in some fashion. (Lettuce is lettuce. Lettuce sprinkled with olive oil & vinegar is a salad.)
* Though they may be composed instead of tossed, these ingredients should arguably be chopped in some fashion. (Despite recipes to the contrary, whole grilled quail atop lentils is whole grilled quail atop lentils. Cut it up & add some roast peppers or something, however, & you may well have a salad.)

As for this one, it was just what I craved. Although the dressing was not, I suspect, a true Caesar—lacking, as far as I could detect, that telltale anchovy funk—it was certainly housemade, with a great Dijon kick & parmesan tang, & what’s more, there was enough of it to moisten everything just so: the whole leaves from the hearts of the romaine as well as the good garlicky croutons, the cubes of avocado & charred steak.

I think I’ll take my post-diet victory lap around Billy’s, margarita in hand.

Wine Poem 2, with notes on Crú A Wine Bar

If there’s one genre that just doesn’t lend itself to franchising, it’s the wine bar; inherent to its appeal is an intimate sense of place, be it a rickety enoteca in some back alley of echoing Perugian stone or a…nother rickety enoteca in a sleepy, sun-slanted Orvietan piazza. (Kinda partial to the Umbrian version, I am. Here’s why:

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they have views like this)

I wasn’t aware Crú was the local link in a mini-chain until I got there. Though the servers themselves were nothing but kind, there was an impersonal feel to the experience as a whole—a vague sense that they were toeing the corporate line when it came to recommendations; a vague sense that bored journeymen, not aspiring champs, populated the kitchen—that made me wish, even among the blooms (but also, then again, the Mile High Sports posters) in the courtyard, I was down in the gloom of Osteria Marco instead, where the bartenders seem generally inclined to rock hard & say what’s what.

Anyway, the crab cakes were too bready, their rémoulade too mustardy.

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The potstickers—which, believe it or not, really were lying like earthquake victims beneath the rubble of all those fried wonton shards—

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were okay, though the soy vinaigrette was poured on a bit thick. $19 for a plate of 3 cheeses seemed crappily high (the price is $16 for a suggested flight of 3; I either missed the fact that it was a la carte to mix & match or the menu didn’t make it entirely clear), especially since 1 of them, a robiola, was sadly lacking—a pale (though actually slightly darker, straw-colored rather than off-white) imitation of the runny, pungent paragons of the Italian mixed-milk cheese. Nice chunk of Cabrales, though. & my glass of Côtes du Rhône was decent, as peppery as ever, reminding me of another old Wine Poem.

**

When the last corpse was drained and jarred he took me to wife,

whisking me over the pain threshold and into the honeymoon dungeon.
The hook used to extract the brain doubled as a corkscrew.
The test tubes bubbled over with champagne.
We dabbed our eyes with scar tissue as we played our song

and drank like plunging knife and fork, clashing blade and prong,
and drank like dart and arrow through each lung,
and drank like pharoahs with our hearts removed
to make room for more wine.    And then the sound

fell headlong down the stairs.
We felt the shadow spill across the floor above our heads
the way a flashlight washes over treasure,
smearing gleam throughout the tomb.
The still lifes froze and the statues wanted down.

Before the mirror of creation stood reaction with a hood.
It was there reflection lay, stunned, may still lie.
As the darkness stopped before our portraits,
we popped the corks below and drank our brains out.

Some wine you let breathe, some you’ve got to smother.
We kissed deepest when we kept our distance, then we deeper slept.

Cru - a Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Hama Hama ding dong: oysters at the Cruise Room

Or, as I’m gonna dub it, the Snooze Tomb. Or maybe Booze Gloom. Granting that the Oxford Hotel’s off-lobby haunt is a dandy old time capsule—with its deep red glow & all those Art Deco trimmings,

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the scalloped banquettes, the bartenders decked out in red jackets & bowties, the rootin’-tootin’ big-band soundtrack, etc. etc., it’s irresistibly Shiningesque,

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so you’ll want to hang all night with Jack & Lloyd & the whole bloody gang in the cloche & stole you were wearing when you died—its affiliation with the adjacent McCormick & Schmick’s is a real buzzkill insofar as it casts a colorless corporate pall over all that crimson cool. The apparent duplication of the seafood chain’s shabby, uninspired list of wines by the glass—while undoubtedly just right for working girls’ night out when 6 pinot grigios & 13 blends of cab-merlot are in order—is a particular letdown in the kind of place where the corks on dusty old bottles of claret or some such vintage thing should constantly be popping. Same goes for the cocktail list—where are the sazeracs, the corpse revivers, the bucks & fizzes & flips? If anybody should be flaunting some mixpertise beyond a knack for making pink drinks pinker, it’s bartenders in bowties, no?

Still, I can’t deny the obvious upside—namely access to McCormick’s oyster roster.

CruiseRoomoysters

My dear Tatamagouches, on the left, were the roughest of the bunch with their salty mini-wallop. The others were squeaky clean; the Hurricane Harbors, on the right, proved mild but meaty, like if someone replaced them with mushroom caps it might be all right, while the Hama Hamas at the bottom were as delicately edged with seafoam-flavored lace as they look, despite their enormanormity. I swiped the biggest shell as a keepsake. Look how long & thin! It’s not just a shell, it’s a Shelley Duvall. (Far be it from me to Overlook one last Shining pun, heh.)

Photo 17

Hush little baby don’t say a thing, Rodney’s gonna sling you some diamond rings

& if those diamond rings don’t shine, I owe you a half-bottle of wine / But don’t press your luck cause the other half’s mine

That’s my lullaby-slash-guarantee & I’m sticking to it. The onion ring is the banana of bar snacks: its ideal is deceptively simple hence oft-elusive. Just as the 1 is almost always stiff & underripe or mushy & overripe, so the other is slimy or doughy or stringy or stale or any combo thereof 9 times out of 10.

But that 10th time is magic. That’s when the golden breading is crunchy through-&-through & seasoned so you notice; that’s when the onion is thickly sliced yet slick & translucently juicy-sweet. That’s when a multitude spills from a sparkling heap like treasure.

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cf.
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& at Rodney’s—which is like the Double R Diner of Cherry Creek, complete with its own Log Lady (except she carries a book, but paper comes from trees, so close enough) & the type of waitress who’ll plop down on the stool next to you & tell you a few of her secrets (not backwards like in Cooper’s dream, but still, not far off)—every time’s the 10th time.

Hmm, that’s a metaphysical glitch bordering on Twin Peaks territory in itself. If Rodney’s coffee should ever taste to you black as midnight on a moonless night, I suggest you keep your eye peeled like an ideal banana for this guy

Bob2

&, never mind mine, heed the lullaby of the 1-armed man who’s probably in the booth right behind you:

He is Bob
Eager for fun
He wears a smile
Everybody run!

Hornet—Hornot

According to the National Geographic, hornets “chew wood into a papery construction pulp” to construct their hives. No wonder they’re the namesake of this Baker district hang, whose repertoire is likewise built on the culinary equivalent of spitwads.

If that sounds a tad harsh considering I totally admit some items are edible & even, paired with sufficient hooch, enjoyable, hear me out. Compare, for instance, the Hornet to the Cricket.

Hornet-8vs.Field-cricket

Of the latter, one can say it is what it is: a belovedly shabby, grubby, greasy institution. Of the former, one can’t; the menu makes grand gourmet gestures that are as empty as they are random. Drop the pretense, solve the problem. It’s really that simple.

Take the shells & cheese with lobster. Even putting aside the fact that the concept is about as fresh as a croissanwich, you can’t get around the realization that nothing else on the menu contains lobster—as well it shouldn’t, this being a bar full of dead ringers for the Bush twins doing shots & chasers named, probably, for the Bush twins, courtesy of guys in cargo shorts with a condom for every pocket.

So, yeah, the notion that someone’s back there in the kitchen lovingly picking tail & claw meat from the shells of freshly boiled lobsters just to toss it with boxed pasta & serve it up for all of $12 to some schmo whose greatest triumph of the evening is maintaining a 45-degree angle on his stool is not one I’m prepared to swallow.

Or take those homemade potato chips in the background.

Hornet

They’re thick-cut, golden-brown, well-seasoned—nice. Too bad they come with a side of bottled ranch that defeats thejr whole purpose. A chip’s a vehicle for dip; if it’s a hot rod, the dollop atop it had better handle it like a pro. Why pimp the ride if its passenger’s just gonna trash it pronto?

(As for that sundae, never even mind. Its concoction by the toque-topped team of crackerjacks known as Breyer, Hershey & Spunkemeyer—perfectly recognizable from their stints in my own damn kitchen—was just as I expected, & just fine. So long as there’s no bunk about hand-harvested vanilla beans & fifth-generation snickerdoodle recipes, I’m down with paying for someone else to do the scooping & squeezing.)

Hornet on Urbanspoon

delite, demoted to decent

As a big fat fan of Deluxe, I had me some high hopes for delite—above all that it might rectify the one beef I have with the former (the same one I level ad nauseum at Black Pearl): that the menu doesn’t vary enough for regulars. Thought maybe now they’d shake things up a bit—shift some of the old signature nibbles to the lounge menu, make room for some new sensations on the dining-room menu, that sort of thing. Not that—if Deluxe’s kitchen is (as it does appear to be) just too cramped to warrant all manner of simultaneous craziness—there couldn’t be menu overlap, just so long as a few of the shared items changed now & again.
And in all fairness, maybe they will; it’s early yet. But for the nonce, unlike that other Deee-Lite, I actually could ask for another supper dish, another succotash wish.
Everything was fine & dandy, mind you, but nothing was precious—save for these hand-cut potato chips with blue cheese & a drizzle of truffle oil,
Delitechips
but I’d had their likes before, next door. I’m not so jaded as to throw them out of the bed that in this case I guess is my mouth, but I’m not so green as to get all dewy-eyed & grateful to find them there.
I’d also had these potato skins filled with smoked salmon, tarragon cream & a touch of roe before. They were as vibrant as ever too, but again, I don’t go to a new place to have an old experience.
Deliteskins
Fuzzy on film, fuzzy in my affections.
If you don’t count the parmesan-sprinkled flatbread with which a meal at Deluxe begins, this chicken & fennel sausage flatbread was novel, not to mention nice & crunchy, slightly charred, just the way I like it. The toppings were on top. They just didn’t pop out at me in any way shape or form.
Deliteflatbread_2
As for that Levini I was so looking forward to, I guess I thought the vodka would actually be infused with rosemary and black pepper, not just get stuck with it as garnish. Which left the blue-cheese-stuffed olives to do all the heavy lifting flavorwise. Obviously that rosemary stalk’s not going to take much of the load off. (I actually started a thread on Chowhound’s General Topics Board regarding its wilted state: was that a function of alcohol’s toxicity or the weight of the olives, or was the herb just past its prime? Check out the responses here.)
Delitelevini
Said my friend who henceforth shall be known as Fortune Rookie, though at first she wanted to go by her real name in all caps plus social-security number: “I used to have to stuff blue-cheese olives when I was a bartender. It sucked.” Said my friend Petey, making a stuffing motion with left index finger and right fist, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
The decor didn’t much diminish my funk.
Delite
While I still dig the groovy, Shagesque surf-mod artwork I noticed when I first peeped in,* the gray walls I didn’t notice until I was actually settled into a booth gave me the creeps. Which led me to wonder if I was on death row in a past life or something, which only enforced said creeps. At that point the word “bar” starts to echo maddeningly & pretty soon you’re stabbing everybody with forks to make a run for it.
At least Petey’s hoodie helped to brighten the gloom.
Hoodie
To play my own devil’s advocate, I’ll raise the following points:
1. My disappointment in delite is a product of my devotion to Deluxe, which generated expectations of the realization of a concept much higher than either the owners had or my fellow patrons would care for. Bar snacks conceived as anything more than guilty pleasures to soak up alcohol are wasted on the wasted.
2. With economic booms come experimentation. With downturns come comfort.
I won’t argue with the latter; reports of just how awfully tough the biz is these days are rampant. As for the former, however—the world is full of cookie cutters; I was & am still hoping, from folks whose vision & talents I admire, for something hand-shaped, with all the odd bits showing.
A description that, as I’ve said, at present fits Beatrice & Woodsley, not delite, to a calligraphic T.
*Which I guess the Shag Lounge also boasts in spades, but I’m even more agitated by the thought of that place than I am of prison.

Second Home, no mortgage!

Wow, I wish somebody’d told me my second home was so much swankier than my first one before I moved in. I didn’t know I had the funds to install a wall-to-wall wine rack, or employ a stonemason, or arrange low-slung couches & leather armchairs in my lounge in such offhand fashion. I didn’t know I had such fine taste.

Better yet, my good taste turns out not to be automatically synonymous with expensive taste. After 4 dishes & 4 drinks, the Director & I owed 40 bucks apiece. If I’d have known it would be so reasonable, I’d have eaten way more & wished I had two working mouths like that wacky Indian baby.

The menu falls into a category I love to pretend to hate but also to secretly love: upscale comfort food. Take this trout dip:

Shtroutdip_2

Served with herbed flatbread wedges & rye toasties, it was solid, chunky, more like a spread than a dip proper: think brick-type cream cheese suffused with the smoke of the flaked trout & tinged with the iron of torn spinach. Huh, brick, iron, smoke—sounds like we were eating a detail from an industrial landscape. In that case it tasted better than it sounds.

Or take our side of green-bean casserole. All too often, chefs’ ostensibly playful takes on white-trash cooking are just plain condescending, being no better but 10 times as expensive as the originals—you know, the whole “let’s serve tiny boudin noir with green-tomato chutney & call them ‘cocktail weiners with ketchup!'” or “let’s make our own English-rose-&-African-violet-infused jellybeans & then put them in little boxes which we’ll smear with sugar ‘thumbprints’ so it seems like they’ve been fished back out of the movie-theater garbage can by alley bums!” thing is so played out. But this, richly fresh with green beans & that funkiest of spoonable perfumes, cream of mushroom soup, is downright soulful.

Shgreenbeancasserole_2

Sprinkled with fried shallot rings, it does its part to right a wrong that contemporary kitchens have been perpetuating for all too long. My hat’s off, & it’s not even a Prada trucker cap.