Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dish of the Week: Colorado Lamb Duo at District Meats’ Chef’s Table Dinner

Premature as it may seem to have chosen the Dish of the Week on, um, the 1st day of the week, I’m almost positive I won’t get lucky enough to attend another 5-course dinner hosted by a world-class chef & a winemaking rebel before Sunday. On Monday night, in the eye of the Restaurant Week storm, Charlie Palmer himself joined Infinite Monkey Theorem’s Ben Parsons for a Colorado-themed blowout at District Meats, where chef Jeffrey Russell knocked me out with his two-way take on Colorado lamb: a daringly rare loin chop & a shoulder crépinette (a type of caul-fat-encased sausage), shredding at the touch of a fork. Like his cooking methods, his simple presentation let the lamb be lamb: black-trumpet mushrooms in the form of both coulis & roasty nubbins complemented the meat’s earthiness, as did brussels sprouts leaves fried to translucence; a few golden raisins iced the cake. And IMT’s 2010 Petite Sirah proved a classic match, musky on the nose but plenty juicy with cranberry on the palate.

Of course the rest of the meal was nothing to sniff at, starting with cauliflower-almond velouté—unexpectedly toasty & almost créme brulèe-like in texture, surrounding a dumpling that burst with sweet lobster & sprinkled with salty local trout roe, espelette pepper & crushed almond. Beautiful, of course, with Parsons’ peachy, slightly herbaceous & heartily acidic 2011 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Grilled on a cedar plank, skin-on striped bass had the meltingly fleshy texture of much oilier fish, well matched to crisp-edged sweet potato-Andouille sausage hash, plus a touch of butternut-squash coulis; the foam was composed of the 2010 Chardonnay we drank with the dish, whose smokiness startled me (in a good way).

Slow-braised Tender Belly pork cheeks over parsnip-chestnut puree ranked a close second in my heart to the lamb for their aching tenderness, in a reduction that I assume contained a touch of the oh-so-velvety Blind Watchmaker—all cherry pie & milk chocolate—to which tart preserved pears & sauteed bitter greens added contrast.

We finished with an admirably simple sampler of Ugly Goat ricotta, Avalanche blue cheese, & Busy Bee Farm comb honey, garnished with roasted beets & an herb-flecked disk of gelée made of everybody’s favorite wine in a can—the wonderful sparkling Black Muscat that accompanied it all.

Weighing my 1st experience at District Meats against this one, I’d have to say that the crew is really finding its groove—except I can’t, in all honesty, since the circumstances were so atypical, Palmer being in town & me being an invited guest at an off-menu dinner. Still, it’s proof that the kitchen has high-caliber potential, which I fully intend to see if they’re realizing nightly. High hopes.

Binge Bingo: Ghost Plate & Tap, Table 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghost Plate & Tap on Urbanspoon

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

Sleek, Sure-Footed Black Cat Bistro

Shame, shame, shame on me. I’m embarrassed that it took me years to get around to a meal at Black Cat Bistro, embarrassed that it’s taken me weeks to post about the extraordinary multicourse tasting I finally experienced—long enough for the details to be lost in the haze of general appreciation for chef-owner Eric Skokan’s style, eclectic in scope yet laser-precise in execution, & the graciousness & intelligence of the floor staff. Among them was the young wine gun Dev; if it weren’t for the menu he handwrote for me, I’d be embarrassed about the number of delicacies I could no longer identify—which, granted, is partly Dev’s fault, given the copious amounts of N.V. René Geoffroy premier cru rosé & Castelfeder Lagrein Riserva 2006 he kept pouring.

What I’ll never forget, however, is the tiny, scrumptious slice of heirloom carrot-chèvre terrine peeking out there next to the salt-&-vinegar turnip chips on an appetizer sampler that also included white radish soup with black truffle & heritage pork head cheese in a dried-tomato shell.

It was followed by a sturgeon duo: 1st, creamed & pickled sturgeon on a buckwheat blini with chopped egg & winter herb purée,

& 2nd, roast sturgeon with black garbanzo beans and black garlic.

A pasta duo included nutmeg-tinged farro with chanterelles & cherry tomatoes

& another strikingly funky dish I won’t soon forget—farmer’s cheese gnocchi with grilled chicken livers & mustard.

Meat courses took the elegant form of chicken ballantine with a lentil fritter, apple chutney & raita

& celery crêpes stuffed with duck ragôut, accompanied by squash gratin & sumac jus.

Yet another unforgettable tidbit: the warm apple-thyme tisane that came with a simple green salad. You use the spoon to stir it up before sipping—so pure, so refreshing.

Finally, I’m embarrassed to admit that I snapped a pic neither of the cheese course—a pungent, cold pairing of crumbled gorgonzola with beet gratinée—nor the palate cleanser we received in lieu of the dessert we just couldn’t hack: Asian pear with grapefruit & bruléed figs.

From start to finish, the tasting was accomplished, suave, balletic (& I say that as someone who hates the use of dancing metaphors in food writing). This post doesn’t do it justice; may it, in all that it lacks, inspire you to strike forth to Black Cat & judge for yourself.

Black Cat on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Fried Smelts & So Much More at Trillium

Thought about titling this post “Trillium in Manillium,” decided it was a stretch. But Ryan Leinonen’s new homage to the cookery of Scandinavia and its immigrant American offshoot is a thrilla, right here in Five Points instead of the Philippines. Leinonen’s repertoire is intelligent, inspired & just plain fun to explore.

If you’re anti-anchovy or sardine, boo on you, but even so, don’t mistake smelts for either. These tiny freshwater fishies are white-fleshed & cod-like rather than salty & oily, & Leinonen does the Midwestern tradition of the fish fry proud with his mini-version; sourced from Lake Michigan, marinated in buttermilk & deep-fried in cornmeal batter, they’re ultra-fresh, light & crunchy right down to the tiny bones, gaining creamy tang to boot from the lemon-vodka tartar sauce.

The balls on the below dish, if you’ll excuse the expression, smacked my mouth off at the media opening I got to attend, warranting a last-minute nod as one of the top 10 dishes I tasted over the course of my season-spanning guidebook-research marathon. The second time was no less a charm: it’s a boldly multifaceted juxtaposition of velvety, subtly funky foie-gras mousse, sharp pickled chanterelles, cloudberry preserves & the whole-wheat biscuit-like flatbread called rieska.

I wasn’t as fond of the trout terrine, a bit bland by comparison; pretty as the central dot of herbs is, the recipe would benefit from a more rustic approach, I think, with the herbs incorporated throughout a fish-heavier mixture.

I was also not as enamored with the portobello fries, a tad thick & clunky, as I thought I’d be; by contrast, I wouldn’t have ordered the salad pal @MO_242 picked, but wound up being delighted she did. Bearing some similarity to the insalata russa so common in the delis of Italy, but gesturing toward the MItteleuropean penchant for sweet-&-sour, it’s a chopped mélange of beets, apples, potatoes, boiled eggs & pickles over greens in just enough sour cream–mayo dressing.

Though grilled beef tenderloin with roasted root veggies is grilled beef tenderloin with roasted root veggies, Leinonen makes it his with the addition of bacon whipped cream & black pepper–brandy caramel—all ingredients used in classic steak preparations, but reconfigured anew.

Better still was the beautifully crusted, juicy pan-roasted chicken over fresh egg noodles in bacon-mustard vinaigrette; IMO, the old adage that chicken is for the birds—specifically the early birds & the bland of palate—is too easily disproven to count for much. Sure, there are a lot of duds out there, but there are also a lot of standouts. This is one of them.

And the carrot cake is truly one of the best I’ve ever had, dense, moist & heavy on the carrots, served with maple ice cream over carrot caramel.

Though the space isn’t to my taste—a little bare & glaring—the staff is lovely (that Linda’s a fittingly-named charmer) &, most important, Leinonen’s food is so winning—& so unlike anything else in town—that I see many visits in my future. 2011’s been a doozy in terms of debuts, but the opening of Trillium marks one of the most solid by far, IMO.

Trillium on Urbanspoon

The Penrose Room: “If You’ve Been Here, You Know.”

That’s the trademarked motto of the legendary Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, & while it’s pretty meaningless from a literal standpoint—if you’ve been to a crack house, you know what that’s like too—the ultra-elite implications are clear, not least with respect to the historic 5-star resort’s most celebrated restaurant, The Penrose Room. Come to think of it, though, the motto still doesn’t make much sense, since even if you haven’t been here, I bet you can make a fairly accurate guess as to the experience. Posh. Elegant. Lavish. Formal. Twinkling lights & tinkling crystal. Prix-fixe & multi-course. Extravagant from the bread basket service & the amuses bouches I wrote of earlier to the take-home gift bag bearing a block-sized marshmallow—compliments of head pastry chef Rémy Fünfrock, who with exec chef Bertrand Bouquin boasts a sparkling résumé dotted with names like Daniel Boulud & Alain Ducasse & the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie.

Here’s what I, having been there, definitely know: it’s really not my kind of place. The whole VIP rigmarole with all its bells & whistles tends to make me nervous, in direct opposition to its intended effect. I feel too closely watched & kinda trapped, & in short I’ve never found fine dining terribly sensuous. Heck, I was far more attuned to & comfy in my environment yesterday at the Drunken Fry in OKC, where I sat in near-darkness surrounded by, among other things, retro votives & real live ashtrays, headless spattered mannequins & paintings of PBR-pounding dinosaurs & the ever-spooky sounds of Roy Orbison, while knocking back a Dubbel & a shitload of Belgian-style frites with cheeseburger sauce & curried mayo.

That said, if you are indeed into pure luxury & penthouse views & all that jazz, then The Penrose Room will bowl you right over.

I & my companions—whom, it should be said, were from the hotel’s PR department, as I was on assignment, but who did not pay for my meal—opted for the 4-course tasting menu, which gets you 2 appetizers, a favorite being the lone signature dish on the otherwise seasonal menu: good old Caesar salad prepared tableside.

The value’s all in the entertainment, of course—otherwise there’s not much point in ordering the perfectly well-made but perfectly common concoction. You’re here to luxuriate, so you may as well delve into the delicacies. You can even (for a supplement) order an appetizer tasting, which might look a little like this:

That pristine slab of foie speaks for itself, but my favorites were 1) the frothy cream of white asparagus soup with watercress coulis & a dab of caviar & 2) the lobster carpaccio with horseradish-caviar cream—the one classic, the other inspired. Lobster doesn’t get played with enough; I’m actually not sure I’ve ever seen it thin-sliced before.

Between the amuses & the appetizers, it seemed soup is one of Bouquin’s fortes: I also loved the blue crab bisque, ultra-smooth with an inxplicable, almost hazelnutty savor.

But my own pick, the wine-braised calamari, was terrific too. Over favas & chunks of bacon, the little pouches were as thin as cellophane & nearly as translucent; I don’t even recall what they were stuffed with, so enamored was I of the texture.

Overall, it was clear Bouquin favors a light touch in summer, which failed him only with respect to my entrée. “Ravioli” that were actually scallops sliced & filled with a dollop of American caviar, arranged over a sauté of diced purple artichoke & sunchoke in tomato consommé, & topped with basil foam sounded extraordinarily inventive, but lacking any sort of anchor—a rich ingredient or even a bit more seasoning for counterbalance—were so light they were nearly flavorless. (Supposedly there were capers too but I didn’t encounter any.) I don’t even mean the dish was bland, quite—more like ghostly, there but not there. Which is kind of fascinating in & of itself, but still.

Ultimately, though, a meal like this inheres in its lovely little flourishes—coffee service being a prime example, coming complete with a full dish of chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Finally, Fünfrock’s dessert selection, as the display in the foyer suggested,

changes even more frequently than the main menu, but it too is a study in refreshment & refinement more than comfort & decadence. Pineapple charlotte, for instance, wasn’t exactly what I expected, being mostly fruit topped with a small slice of coconut-lime dacquoise. But after all those coffee beans, I hardly needed a chocolate bomb.

As for the wine list, it’s far deeper than it is broad—the emphasis is firmly on the Old World rather than emerging regions, châteaux more than boutiques. But again, that’s to be expected at a place whose 50-year reputation is built on royal splurges. Why come but to succumb? (Now there’s an apt motto.)

Penrose Room on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Fried Avocado at Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar

As one ex-TAG employee starts to make his mark on Row 14, another’s taking his leave—I’m really sorry to see the talented & totally gracious Tyler French go. But he’s headed east, & tonight’s his grand exit, so stop by to bid adieu—& while you’re at it, order up a plate or 2 of these babies.

 

I hate it when the word “tempura” is used in glorified lieu of “batter-fried”; they aren’t automatically the same thing. But if anybody would have an excuse to appropriate the term (though he doesn’t), it’d be new chef Jensen D. Cummings; the coating on his fried-avocado appetizer is every bit as light & delicate as its traditional Japanese equivalent, melding right into the ultra-creamy yet herbally tinged flesh of the fruit—which is in turn complemented by the sweet-chili crema; a julienne of lightly pickled carrot & green papaya adds the requisite sharp edge (actually, I could’ve used more of it, but that’s my acrid-toothed dealio; a garnish is a garnish).

As for strawberry–cream cheese gyoza, they’re nothing if not fun fun fun, so long as you bite down with care, because they do squirt hotly. Actually, my favorite part was the silky, bay leaf-tinged crème anglaise sprinkled with Cocoa Pebbles; I could’ve downed a bowl. And speaking of Cocoa Pebbles, if you think anything in the previous 2 sentences sounds obscene, you should read this.

Dish of the Week: Amuses Bouches at The Penrose Room

A striking amuse bouche is tops among the mood-setting stuff fine dining’s made of; like bread-basket service or a champagne cart, it’s an indication that the experience will be no mere transaction of ordering & receiving but a far more intimate & complex (even wordless) matter of call-&-response. (It’s almost unnerving: Is this a flattering & gracious edible gift or an almost eerie insinuation that you are not entirely in control of your desires &/or how they’ll be gratified? Surrender, whispers the mouth-entertainer. Accept that we are not just addressing but correctly anticipating your every wish as our command. I sort of wonder if there are statistics on whether recommendation queries increase after amuses bouches are served; I bet so. You just sort of lusciously slump & say, Okay, you tell me what to do.) Last night at The Broadmoor’s famed Penrose Room, the amuses were as exquisite as anything on the printed menu. Hence this mid-week shout-out: odds are slim I’ll eat anything more memorable before Monday.

On the left is Rocky Ford cantaloupe soup with a bit of chopped shrimp & microherbs, which intriguingly evoked savory-sweet ice cream melted to room temp; on the right, fennel pannacotta, aromatic & pure satin; in the middle, a tiny cracker with an even tinier, salt-walloped dollop of tapenade made with 3 types of olive, including new-to-me Meski.

After that came 3 courses, la di da, of which more later, & then a pre-dessert amuse that I didn’t snap but that may have been my single favorite bite of the evening, a honey-saffron pannacotta that was almost obscenely gelatinous, tartly fruity & richly sugared at the same time. As in sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

One to Watch: Will Nolan of Eight K Restaurant at the Viceroy Snowmass

Not to brag—okay, maybe a little—but I have a knack for picking winners, which I should really take to the track sometime. From Boston to Denver I’ve called many an emerging talent, so mark these here words: Will Nolan, chef de cuisine at Eight K—the stunning signature restaurant of the Viceroy Snowmass (whose name refers to the altitude but also approximates the number of calories I consumed there)—is one to watch. Under exec chef Rob Zack, the Louisiana native is bringing downhome, Deep South influences to bear on the contemporary repertoire that defines fine dining in the ski resorts of the Rockies as elsewhere—with exuberant results. Through the standard narrative of urbane delicacies made with local/seasonal ingredients, he’s weaving a thread that’s borderline idiosyncratic.

Having sampled nearly the entire selection of small plates & starters, I’ll single out a few for special mention:

Crispy pork confit crêpe with sweet soy, kimchi, watermelon & arugula

Intricately balanced between the delicate & the finger-licking, tender smoky pork & bright fruit & veggies; the kimchi was only lightly fermented, almost a spicy slaw.

Truffled gnocchi with crab fondue, baby shiitakes & peas

Perfect little puffs of velvet bathed in a warm, thick cream turned deeply sweet with lumb crabmeat.

Crawfish hush puppies with remoulade

Crunchy, chunky, yielding, corny, salty, tangy—yet still juicy with shellfish savor. (Boudin balls weren’t quite as successful, being a little too much ball & not enough boudin.)

Pancetta-wrapped rabbit loin with carrot puree & mustard jus

Striking as it was, the sweet-sharp combo of buttery carrot & spiced mustard didn’t overwhelm the gentle medallions.

Shrimp with BBQ vinaigrette, sweet corn puree, green beans & chanterelles

Zippy vinaigrette in lieu of sticky barbecue sauce was a smart move, keeping the fat, firm shrimp & almost mousse-like corn purée afloat.

Grilled asparagus & crispy poached egg with prosciutto, preserved lemon & frisée in creamy parmesan dressing

Foie gras torchon atop crunchy cinnamon toast with cherry mostarda

Deviled eggs with ham

Word to the waiflike: Nolan’s salads eat like a meal.

8K Salad with crispy prosciutto, white cheddar, cashews & spiced apple puree in balsamic vinaigrette

Cheese, meat, fruit, nuts—it’s like an antipasto platter over lettuce. The prosciutto’s transformed into chips…

Baby romaine with lobster & radishes in mustard vinaigrette

…an idea so satisfying it’s repeated here with capicola. I especially liked the use of ingredients as sharp as mustard & radishes in atypical contrast to lobster, which is usually coddled in complementary flavors. Carefully incorporated, they give it a little zing of a boost.

Heirloom tomato salad with camembert, plums, Marcona almonds & frisée in plum wine vinaigrette

Fruit, cheese & nuts meet again under lighter circumstances; this reminded me of 2 of my favorite salads in Denver, Izakaya Den’s grilled panzanella & Lala PIzzeria + Wine Bar’s Insalata Susina.

Choosing an entrée should’ve been hard: molasses-cured duck confit with dirty farro, agrodolce & garlic kale? Glazed, double-cut Berkshire pork chop with black-eyed peas, grilled savoy cabbage & debris gravy? Seared scallops with crispy pork belly, fried green tomatoes, charred shishito peppers & romesco vinaigrette? The sheer fun Nolan’s clearly having as he richochets from haute to country & back again was, for me, totally infectious.

Still, I knew what I wanted the second I laid eyes on the words “chicken oysters.”

Fresh cavatelli with chicken oysters, morels & microbasil in brandied cream

These little nodes of dark meat on the back of the bird—which do share something of the texture of Rocky Mountain oysters, though they’re named for their shape—are something you almost never see on restaurant menus, & they gave the softly luscious dish a funky backbone (so to speak).

As for dessert, pastry chef Ashley Jenkins absolutely followed Nolan’s hard act.

L to R: vanilla cream-filled doughnuts; malted chocolate layer cake with graham-cracker crumbs, hot fudge & caramelized cocoa puffs; chèvre cheesecake with salted graham crust, pistachio brittle & blueberry fritters

The latter showed particular panache, with its mix of textures & vibrant bursts of flavor.

And now for a giant disclaimer. All of the above was served at a press dinner. That should raise two suspicions in your mind. One, that my opinion was bought & paid for. To that, I’ll say what I always say in these cases: as a media guest rather than an anonymous diner, I don’t bite the hand that feeds me; I just keep my mouth shut if I’m unimpressed by the meal. If I do say something, I mean it. Which still doesn’t mean you should take my word for it, especially given suspicion number two: that the staff, both front & back of the house, was on its very best behavior toward us. To that, I’ll say: undoubtedly. As is true with any review—but especially in these circumstances—there’s only one way to tell if it’s accurate: by judging for yourself.

For what it’s worth, I did return the next night for a light meal al fresco on my own dime. My server, who was not among our servers the previous night & so wouldn’t have recognized me, was lovely—a little slower on the ball, but then, she was busy in a packed house; her attentions had to be evenly spread. Even so she managed to find me 2 cans of soda in a hotel with no vending machines. So no complaints there, & none for the complimentary happy-hour nut mix—warm, tossed with rosemary & brown sugar, olive oil & sea salt.

The flatbread I took back to my room, however, was overbaked, the crust a stale brown cracker. Too bad not least because the topping combo of duck confit, sherried onions, roasted grapes, chèvre & saba (a grape syrup) was great—almost like a modern deconstructed mincemeat.

What does the disappointment reveal? Hard to say, since I’d come straight from the 2nd Annual Snowmass Culinary & Arts Festival up on the mall—where Chefs Zack & Nolan were still manning a booth. Weighing a single miss in the chefs’ absence against a slew of hits in their presence is weighing apples & oranges. It might say something about the line cooks’ level of experience. Or it might simply have been a fluke. Granted, that’s what a mistake had better be at a restaurant this posh. But it doesn’t change the fact that creativity can’t be faked. Nolan’s got it, which means that as long as he’s around Eight K’s got it—something special.

Eight K Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Donut Tartare & Other Delights at D Bar Desserts

D Bar Desserts is not, frankly, my kind of place. Having a taste neither for sweets nor for the generally girlie aesthetic of specialists thereof—as exemplified here by baby-blue walls that match the frosting of the signature cupcake—

I just never bothered to put this Uptown favorite anywhere near the top of my list, Keegan Gerhard or no Keegan Gerhard.

My chocolate-crazed pal Beth, however, feels otherwise. And on the eve of her departure for a 12-month tour of as many US cities, a girl gets what a girl wants. As for me, I got far more out of the bargain than I ever dreamed.

Including my pick for Dish of the Week. Unlike Crave’s notorious Luther Burger, D Bar’s take on the doughnut sandwich is startlingly savory right down to the unsweetened yeast dough of the bomboloni (Italian-style doughnuts)—no glaze here. Instead they’re stuffed with beef tartare, topped with tomatillo jam & a serrano-chile sliver, & set atop a schmear of ultra-garlicky “decret sauce,” much like Lebanese toum. (Whether “decret” sauce is a portmanteau of “D Bar” & “secret sauce” or just a typo, seeing as how “D” is next to “S” on the keyboard, is hard to figure. Cutesy names are a hallmark of the menu for better or worse; in the case of the apricot créme brulèe someone saw fit to call “crapricot,” I’d have to say worse.) Execution lacked a little; the pastry was too dry, the tartare underseasoned & therefore unable to stand up to the pungent sauces. But the concept tickled me enough to warrant the nod.

The pizza salad sandwich, however, knocked me out. D Bar makes, of all things, a mean salad, crisp & slicked with strong vinaigrette. It makes a pizza dough like a pastry shop (as opposed to a pie parlor) should—tender & buttery—as well as excellent, unctuous yet tangy pesto. And it doesn’t skimp on the nicely textured cheese, both gooey mozzarella & crumbled goat.

An equally good mix of four cheeses, plus meaty, spiced pepperoni & cherry tomatoes that were warm but still uncooked enough to pop, meant that Beth practically couldn’t get a bite of her own pizza in edgewise. (Sorry about that, B, sorta.)

Said mean salad—sprinkled with toasted pinenuts & shaved parmesan & flanked with lusciously, perfectly ripe sliced avocado—is a keeper as well.

I didn’t try Mo’s mac & cheese, but the fact that it comes gratinéed with panko crumbs &, right on, Cheese Nips, bodes well (maybe she’ll weigh in). I did try the lobster tempura (offered as a supplemental special), & though the breading was thick enough that aragosta fritta might have been a more accurate moniker, it wasn’t too heavy—a judicious combo of salty crunch & sea-sweet flesh.

Rebecca’s steak frites was lovely too, not least for the fact that the beef topped the fries rather than sitting beneath or next to them (as is more common). So all those umami juices mingled with the shreds of parmesan to soak the spud sticks in a way that caused joyous flashbacks to Chilean chorrillana.

Finally, yeah. I may not actively crave dessert, but that doesn’t mean I don’t rise to the freaking occasion. My chocolate-cheesecake brownie, topped with a quenelle of pure chocolate, was dense & intense & the very stuff of teen romance novels. To this day I remember the description of a kiss in one I read when I was 12, before I’d had a real kiss of my own, so it stuck: “like chocolate, slow & warm & sweet & good.”

As for Rebecca’s signature cake & shake,

Beth’s special—wherein bananas Foster collided with French toast—

& Mo’s chocolate-caramel tart with caramel ice cream & Godiva affogato

they were all, needless to say, comme il faut, so far as my overwhelmed palate could tell. Same goes for that moist cupcake—neither the génoise nor the buttercream sugary but just sweet enough—which I snarfed the second I got home. Damn you, D Bar! You’ll give me a sweet tooth yet.

P.S. Did I mention the terrific selection of wines by the glass, including this kickass, earthy Pinot Meunier? Consider it mentioned.

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