Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

A Glass of Wine in Aurora

If you’re gonna break a 2-week diet for a single glass of wine, you’d better make it memorable. Try, for instance, stopping by an Irish pub in Aurora. When the bartender, looking for all the world like a biker straight out of Peewee’s Big Adventure, pulls out a giant bottle of Corbett Canyon Merlot NV, oh, how the grizzled regulars lining the bar will break out into peals of laughter. “What year is that, 2011?” one will say.

And you will go out on the deck overlooking the strip mall parking lot & enjoy yourself all the more for being a dork who’ll drink glue if it’s in a wine bottle.

Dish of the Week: Cantine Vinci Inzolia 2008, Fuel Café (+ notes on brunch)

Don’t tell me wine isn’t a food. It’s got 8000 stereoisomers in it. Just like the dictionary contains every book in the world, 1 sip of wine offers enough sensory stimulation to feed your soul for at least a week.

Granted, not all of them are memorable for their complexity. Many linger after a single thrilling trumpet-blast. Like the Cantine Vinci Inzolia 2008 (the liquid gold on the right).

Coincidentally, the most interesting description I found online for this Sicilian white was on City ‘o’ City’s website: “An offbeat Sicilian grape, Inzolia is complex, with a subtle
nutlike flavor & hints of almond, citrus, fresh herbs & bitter orange. Amazing on it’s [sic] own but robust enough for any

Not that I entirely agree with that: the overwhelmingly distinctive note I picked up was one of banana. A little vanilla, but mostly banana, both on the nose & on the palate, though the aroma was much sweeter than the flavor, initally intense but ending quietly. Quite the quirky wine.

Pal K & I had hit Fuel to check out its Sunday brunch, for which it opens only on occasion (like Father’s Day). So long as you haven’t, say—don’t laugh—made a commitment with your beau or belle to stick to the South Beach diet for a few weeks, you’ll have a ball. If you have done something stupid like that, you’ll still have a ball, albeit a guilty one, since the 9- or 10-item menu is entirely based either on wheat, corn or potatoes. Like the chilaquiles,

obviously much lighter than the traditional version, & decent, although honestly the freshly sweet roasted tomato sauce & pickled onions were so evocative I couldn’t help but wish they were together in something that didn’t depend on fresh-made chips that got soggy quick—some sort of meatball sandwich or something.

Much harder to get enough of were the cheddar-scallion biscuits with sausage gravy & 2 eggs over-easy.

Speaking of complexity, as cream gravies go this was surprisingly subtle—rich, of course, but not plainly so. Either the sausage itself was herbed or there were otherwise green notes…

Anyway. Allow me to reiterate how lucky Denver is to have this place; as soon as carbs are again within reach, I’ll be back for the pupu platter with feta-beef cigars & shrimp toasts, yes oh yes.

Dish of the Week: Mongolian milk wine, Rackhouse Pub

Okay, it’s not a dish. Okay, okay, it’s not even any good. It pretty much tastes like sour water. Lukewarm, sour water—at least as served at Rackhouse Pub, in a snifter inside a pint glass.


But come on—it’s Mongolian milk wine, which so far as I’m aware no other place in town (or, um, anywhere) offers, & which, according to this blog,

“is made with any type of milk, the most valuable & famous made using horse milk. To make milk wine the Mongolians use raw milk & put it into a wooden barrel or porcelain jar. There, it is allowed to ferment & separate itself from the fat. The fermented milk without its top layer of fat is transferred to a pot equipped with a distillation device. This is usually a bucket of cold water placed above 2 brick jars covered & insulated with towels. The heat under the pot is kept at a high temperature, the evaporated alcohol condensing underneath the cold water bucket where it drips into the prepared brick jars. The most expensive horse wine is fermented & distilled 6 times. Horse milk wine tastes sour, sweet, & slightly bitter all at the same time.”

Horses, barrels, towels & brick jars. Awesome. Then again, being colorless, it doesn’t look anything like the picture of Mongolian milk wine shown here, so who knows what I was actually drinking. For all I know they made it in a gym sock in the Stranahan’s distillery toilet with raisins & moldy bread (see: Steve, Don’t Eat It!, Vol. 8). Either way, more power to ’em for the novelty—paired with some mighty fine grub, of which more anon.

The Reserve List Becomes The Empty Bottle

The name doesn’t inspire a whopping lot of confidence, but since the former manager of The Reserve List on Old South Pearl is now the owner of its successor, I assume all will be in order.


According to the newsletter, the Grand Opening of The Empty Bottle will be held on March 27 from 2 PM to 7 PM, featuring:

*French wines from Robert Kacher
*Italian wines from Guiliana Imports
*Hand-selected wines from Spain, Argentina & Oregon
*Local wines from Infinite Monkey Theorem
*Eats from Park Burger & Strings

But it’s the day-to-day value rack I’ll be opening the door for, from which you can “Mix & Match any 3 bottles for $25. Huge Savings!” No doubt. For $25, I’d be thrilled with a bottle each of Mad Dog, Night Train & Manischewitz.

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.





























UPDATE: Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection exclusive to New England—& DENVER!

I post about 1 in every 12 press releases I’m sent, namely because “press release” & “news” are rarely the same thing. I don’t know that this one (edited with an eye toward drivel by me, b/c  I’m bitchy like that) constitutes breaking news either, even to beer buffs (which, admittedly, I’m not); I just get a kick out of the fact that the brewer of my old hometown understands the all-fired importance of my new hometown w/r/t all matters brew-based.


As an early holiday gift, Samuel Adams is excited to let Denver in on a long-awaited secret [if it’s a secret, how can anyone be awaiting it? ed.]: The Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection, exclusive to Denver and New England.

Passionate about pushing the boundaries of brewing, the Samuel Adams brewers are constantly experimenting with new techniques and pioneering innovative recipes to change the American beer drinker’s experience. The Barrel Room Collection, a result of years of experimentation by the brewers at the Samuel Adams Boston Brewery, is no exception. The Collection marries the time-honored art of barrel aging with modern craft brewing ingenuity, further demonstrating Boston Beer Co.’s commitment to uniting tradition with innovation.
The trio of brews havehas been aged in Eastern European oak barrels, originally used to age brandy in Italy, imparting a subtle sweet, toasty note to each beer. The barrels also allow a small amount of oxygen to slowly seep in to the brew, smoothing out the flavors in the beer.

Each style in the Collection is bottled in a 750ml bottle and finished with a champagne cork. For an optimum drinking experience, the brewers at Samuel Adams recommend serving each brew in a traditional Tulip-style beer glass to best capture the beer[insert apostrophe: ed]s aromas.
This special collection makes a thoughtful gift and a great addition to the holiday table.
About the brews:

Samuel Adams New World Tripel: Pale gold in color, this ale is big, flavorful and complex. A special Belgian yeast strain adds tropical fruit and spice notes to the crisp dry ale, while Saaz hops add a subtle herbal note. Goes great with classic white sauces for baked fish or chicken, grilled fish with a tropical salsa, or roasted root vegetables.

Samuel Adams American Kriek: The intense black cherry character in this beer comes from Balaton cherries, which were discovered in Hungary and are now grown in Michigan. These special cherries are prized for their depth of flavor. The tartness from the cherries is balanced by a rich, malty character with toasted oak notes added from the barrel aging. It’s a natural complement to chocolate desserts, fruity semi-soft cheeses, grilled pork tenderloin with spicy/fruity reduction sauce, or sweet and spicy Asian stir-fries and curries.

Samuel Adams Stony Brook Red: This unique brew defies traditional beer style definition. The rich, malty brew combines notes of tart fruit from the yeast with a toasty oak character from the barrel aging. The long dry finish is almost wine-like. This is a beer that is satisfying on its own and also pairs well with braised or roasted meats, beef stews and strong salty cheeses.

The Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection beers are available at select retail locations in Denver, Colorado, for a suggested retail price of $9.99 per 750ml bottle. [Will add actual names of locations ASAP—ed.]

Mondo Vino – 3601 W 32nd Ave, Denver
Argonaut Liquor – 700 E Colfax Ave, Denver
Morgans Liquor – 1200 E Evans Ave, Denver
Colorado Liquor – 865 S Colorado Blvd, Denver
Bubbles Liquor – 675 Genoa Way, Castle Rock
Tipsys Liquor World – 5869 S Alkire St, Littleton
Davidson’s Liquor – 5555 Boatworks Ave, Highlands Ranch
Chambers Wines – 15260 E Iliff Ave, Aurora
Lukas Liquors Superstore – 8457 S Yosemite, Littleton
Highlands Wine Seller – 6668 Timberline Rd, Highlands Ranch
Superior Liquor Market – 100 Superior Plaza Way, Superior
Westminster Total Beverage – 9359 Sheridan Blvd, Westminster
Daveco Liquor – 16434 N Washington St, Thornton

Friends get friends drunk with a little Latin flair! Mezcal con sal de gusano & Cerveza Jerome

Comrade L has a pal in Oaxaca (sounds like a Billy Bragg lyric, eh?) who hooks her up with

his own brand of mezcal. Mezcal

If that were all, it’d be plenty, ’cause it’s delicious—mellow with “notes of sweet & smoky caramel,” to quote another blogger, one obviously better versed in agave hooch than me (in reference to another mezcal, but same difference).

But that’s not all—she also scores from time to time something I’ve been obsessed with trying for months now: 

sal de gusano.

The phrase means “worm salt,” but it’s really caterpillar salt—with, yes, actual critters roasted & ground up along with chiles. Before pounding each shot, we wet our fingers, dipped them into the bag, & licked—to get an excellently bracing sensation of earthy, spicy seasoning, no more, no less. You could sprinkle this stuff on scrambled eggs, incorporate it in a steak rub, do anything else you’re inclined to do with seasoned salt & no worm-fearer would be the wiser.


Meanwhile, after her excellent introduction to yerba mate & its place in Argentine culture last week at the Museo de las America‘s monthly-occurring Spanish Happy Hour,


pal Rebecca Caro of From Argentina with Love

sent me home with


a bottle of Andean Red Ale from Argentine microbrewery Jerome.

I’m not a beer drinker, but this was excellent, with an initial bitter note that resolves itself in rich creaminess. Like me. Heh. Snag some at Argonaut.

Anise in Chains: a drinkdown between Osteria Marco & Paris on the Platte

In a bar in Prague at the turn of the millennium, I had my very 1st taste of the historically notorious distillate of wormwood & anise that is absinthe. Served neat, 1 glass went down like 3. Two felt like 6. On the 3rd glass you went to see your mother & that just felt like 1, but then you came back & it seemed like 3 spilling over into 4 (Wait, really? She’s quoting The Jerk *again*?) So, in short, intoxication exponential. And as for that 1st step I took afterward—a doozy.

Naturally, a couple years back when absinthe finally became legal in the States, we were all hot to lounge around in our velvet waistcoats making like Baudelaire (ah, sweet poison mixed by angels; bitter cup / Of life and death my heart has drunken up!) & getting mesmerized by

the flame of an absinthe dripParisabsinthe

It’s a classic prep meant to cut any bitterness. Here’s why it fails: it dilutes the alcohol, thereby leaving the bitterest taste of all. So while the bartender at the delusionally named Paris on the Platte did the absinthe drip I ordered there recently right, with the flaming sugar cube on the spoon & the side carafe of H2O & whatnot, drinking it was literally a matter of going through fire & water just to get a minor buzz.

Compare that to the tower of power that was

P&JatOMthe pitcher of Charteuse Siero I shared at Osteria Marco with my dear old pal P & his lovely lady J. Oh, & a 3-foot doll. Long story.

Containing no hard liquor—only housemade moracello (to backform an Italian word from the bar’s own ear-grater, “blackberrycello”), Chartreuse, ginger beer & muddled mint with a splash of prosecco—the concoction is nonetheless part of a complete mindfuck the way
was part of a complete breakfast when I was a kid (only supplemented by lots of wine in lieu of of toast & a grapefruit half). Like absinthe, Chartreuse is suffused with a) anise flavor & b) mystery, made as it is & has been for centuries in a French Alpine monastery


only two of whose monks know the complete recipe at any given time (Bert Hardy pic too fantastic not to swipe from here at, eh?).

At 40 proof, it’s also a spell stronger than your average liqueur. And I’d never have thought that its licorice edge could blend so smoothly into something as darkly fruity as blackberry cordial—much less that the two together could mingle with sprightly mint, ginger & sparkling white with such electrifying results, as if at a soiree infiltrated by the smartest, slinkiest international spies in Monte Carlo. But so they can. The word “elixir” fits. Better still, so does “steal”—the whole dang pitcher clocks in at under $30.

The immoral of the story: it’s amazing how the flavor of anise, distinct & even sharp as it is, can go with the flow. Coffee & nut flavors pair especially well, for instance, whether you toss a few coffee beans into your Sambuca & light it aflame or mix pastis with coffee, Frangelico, almond syrup & whipped cream to recreate Sel de la Terre’s unforgettable café moresque (a hot twist on the classic Mauresque). Absinthe, for its part, is really no different; fear not to free it from the fetters of water, the results of the recipe being far less romantic than the ritual.

And in the wake of our rendezvous with Chartreuse Siero—followed by a tryst with OM’s amazing blood-orangecello (i.e. aranciasanguignacello—yes!)—we know from romantic recipes.

P&JatOM2 P&dollatOM

Hot Damn! Doc’s & Dom

Recently the Director & I had huge & I mean HUGE cause for celebration, so we joined some of our dearest pals for a pizza party at the rockin’ abode of Joey Porcelli (the great Denver dining guide penner you may have met here before) & Randy, who knows then some & then some about wine & has the shelving to prove it.

more here Randywine4 more here

We got 3 pies from Basil Doc’s


the Moab with chicken, red onion pineapple, jalapenos & chili powder;


the Athenian with feta, kalamatas, spinach & red onion;


& the New Haven, white with clams & fresh garlic.

And they were all right, especially the latter. The slightly tough, bready crust lacked soul, but no point in pining for the real thing (which doesn’t mean you can’t check out that char) 1867 miles away; in fact & in all fairness, these pies had traveled enough as it was, & if they were a little worse for the wear, a little staler for the sitting, that wasn’t the Doc’s fault. After all, they weren’t really the point.

This was.


Per Stephen Tanzer, the 1993 vintage is “understated, with pure aromas of musky stone, orange, smoke and truffle. Full, ripe and harmonious; not a huge or superconcentrated wine but quite subtle and fine, with brisk, juicy flavors of orange and minerals. Lingering, ripe finish.” What the hell’s a musky stone? Think Tanzer was trying to get pheromone from a rock, heh.

Or maybe he confused it with a musk turtle? Wildlife_herps_musk-turtle

Certainly as pets go, turtles & rocks belong to the same family. But again I digress. The point was also


this, this, this & this,

in that order—ending on that brawny yet supple Barolo. On that “oh” note….

the point was to eat, drink & be merry, in reverse order. That, I think, is my new motto.

It’s a receipt! It’s a gift! It’s trash! It’s a keepsake! I’m so confused! Reserve List’s sneaky cheat sheet

In the words of the much-missed Mitch Hedberg:

“I bought a doughnut, and they gave me a receipt for the doughnut. I don’t need a receipt for the doughnut, man. I’ll just give you the money, and you give me the doughnut. End of transaction. We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this. I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would have to prove that I bought a doughnut. To some skeptical friend: ‘Don’t even act like I didn’t get that doughnut! I got the documentation right here…oh, wait, it’s at home…in the file…under ‘D.'”

I was doing some filing myself the other day when the acronym “BBQ,” as it tends to do, caught my eye.


So Reserve List receipts double as pairing primers. How above & beyond is that? Is this a trend among wine shops I somehow missed until now?

How spot-on their suggestions are I can’t say first-hand, not having taken them. But given that the southern Spanish Finca de Luzon so far as I recall is indeed big & tall, I’m sure it could stand up to ribs all right. A good cut of beef makes sense for the northeastern Spanish Onix Priorat too, but maybe with lusher seasonings?

Meanwhile, gotta ponder the potential for mischief. Assuming the suggestions are entered into a computerized register, suppose a disgruntled employee were to start hacking away? Or suppose the program itself went haywire? So you’d walk in & buy a dry rosé & your receipt would say: “Gravel & gum wads.” Or you’d pick up a gorgeously bold Amarone & the tip would be “smegma.”

Either way, it’s one of those things that makes a day just a little more fun. Good on ya, Reserve List.