Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Halloween at My Favorite Haunt: Beatrice & Woodsley

Since its stealth opening 2 years ago, I have rarely failed to be enchanted by what is 1 of the most original & exciting restaurants in town if not far beyond. (For my most recent review, see here.) Last night’s Ghosts by Lantern Light Dinner, served in the cellar, was no exception. Needless to say, the exquisitely moody Log Cabin–goth decor borders on spooky come Halloween (as does that of B&W’s freaky sibling, Mario’s Double Daughter’s Salotto); so though poor you are out of luck with respect to this prix-fixe one-off, here’s hoping my play-by-play inspires you to stop in this weekend to soak up some sumptuously eerie atmosphere while snacking from the regular menu. (The crawfish beignets are a must-try, & though I’ve never had the PEI mussels in roasted tomato-fontina broth, fond memories of mussels bathed in robiola at my old haunt in Boston, Neptune Oyster, give me high hopes for the dish. Actually, these 2 personal faves remind me of one another insofar as their chefs have a flair for neo-surf-&-turf—scallops with ham, oysters with beef tongue, shrimp with pork belly & chicharrónes, veal sweetbreads with clams, sturgeon with duck confit, etc. etc.—that makes me keel over swooning.)

With only 12 of us seated around a long table surrounded by increasing darkness—the many candles on the table were extinguished a few at a time after each course, until all that was left was a bit of gas lamplight—much picture-taking would have probably gotten me strung up by the noose hanging on one wall, so may my words do the whole thing justice.

Cobwebs filled the stairwell; smoke spilled from buckets of dry ice (it’d have been cool if it covered the whole floor, but there’s probably some code against that); the table was scattered with gourds (bringing to mind that classic McSweeney’s essay, It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers.)

More about that fine cocktail from B&W’s inexplicably underrated bar in future; let’s start with the “amuse booche.” All of a centimeter, it was an adorable play on candy corn, composed of triangular layers of corn & carrot gelée sprinkled with sherry salt & paired with a revelatory sparkler—Hesketh Proposition blends Shiraz, Chardonnay & Semillon to watermelon-juicy effect.

Next course: chunky white bean soup swirled with savoy cabbage & diced housemade bacon; a thick coin of almost creamy boudin blanc sat on top. Earthy, hearty & a touch fruity—I suspect via a splash of sherry—it indeed ate like a meal rather than 1/5 of a meal. Oof.

Which brings us to the grilled lamb liver & kidney pie with picalilli (of currants, I believe?)

Tearful confession: with the exception of superfatty foie gras & buttery patés, I am not a liver lover. I’ve tried, God knows I’ve tried, & I still try, but there’s something about the tang of iron—smacking of this color—I can’t take. It’s literally bilious. I chewed as much as I could stomach between big forkfuls of the flaky pie, spilling with bits of kidney & root veggies.

Which was just as well, because I polished off every last bite of the final courses, grotesquely full as I was.

Tender braised veal breast & fried sweetbreads came with fingerling hash & two superb sauces that not only thrilled the meats but played off 1 another: caramel-apple on the one hand, a pesto of capers, golden raisins & mint on the other. The whole was as richly colorful as autumn itself.

And then there was mincemeat pie. Oh my. More like a slump or cobbler in that it was just topped with crust, the cooked fruit was threaded with shredded yak—darkly luscious & topped off with freshly whipped cream & what may be the best ice cream I’ve ever had, really, & I’ve had a lot of freaking ice cream in 40 years on this earth: crunchy-smooth sweet potato–toffee. The Errazuriz late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc made for an inspired pairing—while its honeyed quality was a natural complement, it also showed notes of lemon that cut through a bit of the dessert’s richness.

Sheer trick-or-treat kudos.

Getting Down & Dirty—or At Least Earthy—with Terra Bistro & Dwele in Vail

From the Beaver Creek Wine & Spirits Festival I repaired to Vail just in time to catch Dwele at the Soul Music Fest., i.e., just in time to fall in love with Dwele—not only his supersmooth, bass-groovy, Stevie Wonder-dipping-into-hip hop sound but also his supersmooth, bass-groovy way with the ladies, as he demonstrated his favorite pickup lines:

Dwele (squatting down as fan strokes jacketed arm): Do you know what material that is?
Fan: What?
Dwele: Boyfriend material.

This year I was a guest, but I had so much fun at the Gerald R. Ford Ampitheater (who knew the infamously awkward Ford was so secretly funky?) that I definitely intend to attend all on my lonesome next year, so as to get as low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low as a 40-year-old Jewess from Oklahoma can possibly get.

Afterward, I got high at Terra Bistro. Like Denver's own Potager & The Kitchen in Boulder, the handsome longtime destination—showing my kind of style, all clean lines in brown & beige with stone floors—was apparently flying the local/seasonal banner before it was cool. Of course, in the wrong hands, the freshest, juiciest, most pristine ingredients in the world can turn to mush; good thing chef Kevin Nelson's hands aren't wrong.

As always, whenever I'm an occasional guest rather than an anonymous paying customer, I follow a few rules: 1) I state as much upfront. 2) I only write about my experience if it genuinely pleased me—if it didn't, I don't. Biting the hand that fed me would be a shitty thing to do. 3) I fully expect you, dear reader, to take my opinion with a grain of salt (unprocessed & hand-harvested, in this case); how can you or for that matter I say for sure I haven't been compromised in some way in these instances, or that I received anything close to the same treatment as everybody else? For all I know they sprinkled magic dust over my food.

If so, they probably started with the bread spread, because I couldn't keep my greasy paws out of it, an appropriately earthy, dal-like mound of split peas, lentils & garlic in spiced oil.

TBbread
But actually, all that said, my favorite dishes weren't the ones I ordered. For instance, while these moist, flaky, perfectly cooked salmon cakes in Boston lettuce cups were fun to wrap up & eat with said paws,

TBsalmoncakes

I'd have liked them even better if they'd come with more pickled red onion & less honey-mustard dressing, which almost overpowered the fish. The broth in the Dungeness crab & cucumber "gazpacho" a companion ordered, meanwhile,

TBgazpacho
was little more than lime juice, scallions, & S&P—I can't imagine they made it without vegetable or shellfish stock, but I can't swear to it either—& all the better for that, if you have the taste for pure sour citrus I do.

As for the brown butter–sweet potato ravioli, I'm sure it was fine, but it was the garnish I dug,

TBravioli
a mound of finely chopped mesclun with walnuts, blue cheese, Reggiano & herbs that they could easily have just put into a bowl all by itself & called a chopped salad, deliciously zingy.

All of which began to make clear to me that the Kitchen's forte is detail, like the funky, crunchy-fried Picholine olive crumbs on my porcini-dusted striped bass intriguingly combined with hearts of palm, frisée & judicious daubs of 2 well-matched, creamy sauces: a tarragon aioli & an orange supréme.

TBstripedbass

Or the sauteed, almost crispy kale accompanying the Amish beef filet with blue cheese & Yukon gold mashed, which soaked up just enough of the the smoked tomato demiglace to taste meaty in itself.

TBsteak
The highlight of the meal, however, had to be the avocado-chocolate parfait with caramelized bananas.

TBparfait

Don't forget avocado's technically a fruit—but we do forget, because it's got that vegetal mustiness that makes it so savory. Which is precisely why, along with its creaminess, it works so well in desserts, refreshing the sweetness.

Color me impressed—but again, you don't have to take my word for it. This place hasn't needed me to keep it afloat for 17 years.

Terra Bistro on Urbanspoon

Hot Babe in the Woods: Beatrice & Woodsley

I fell so in love with this place from Day 1—I think it was literally Day 2—that when our honeymoon phase seemed to come to an abrupt end with a mediocre meal a few months later, the loss & betrayal I felt kept me far away for the better part of 2 years. Better to remember the good times, I reasoned, to let bygones be bygones on the assumption that it wasn’t personal, that Beatrice & Woodsley was still as romantic as ever—even Casanova probably had off-nights. I continued to recommend it highly to others—but I just wasn’t ready to risk reopening the wound I’d received by returning myself.

Until last week. A pal from my old Chowhound crew in Boston, in town for a conference, had found herself in the sudden midst of a whirlwind romance of her own—& it somehow seemed fitting that I take the happy couple there, to a place whose concept was inspired by the elopement of its historical namesakes. Maybe Beatrice & Woodsley & I, caught up in the spirit of circumstance, would kiss & make up.

We totally made out & made up. Good thing the Director wasn’t there; it might have gotten ugly. Or it could’ve led to a foursome, Beatrice & Woodsley & The Director & me. That’s how seduced anew I was with exec chef Pete List’s cooking.

Although the first sign that things would be okay was nothing new at all: the reappearance on the menu of one of List’s inaugural dishes, crawfish beignets.

B&Wbeignets

B&Wbeignets2

These warm orbs of Creole crunch & chew are basically seafood doughnut holes, flecked with diced zucchini & oozing with red pepper aioli that blends with the powdered sugar on top for a spicy-sweet finish. What, after all, is sexier than a spicy-sweet finish?

Nothing, if the pimiento cheesecake is to be believed.

B&Wcheesecake

To be sure, it’s so good it almost isn’t to be believed. With an extremely dense, moist cheddar crust & a garnish of pepper-heavy chow chow & frizzled onion, it’s creamy & luscious in one bite, multitextured & ultra-piquant the next, all of the above the next. Brilliant.

But no more brilliant than the grilled scallion blini.

B&Wblini

Exemplifying what List does best, these thick, springy green pancakes bounced all over the place in terms of influence, only to finally suggest a faraway, long-ago place & time: East Asian, yes, à la scallion pancakes topped with firm grilled slices of shiitake; Near Asian, maybe, with dollops of housemade yogurt cheese; but something else too—a darkly hearty whole-graininess evoking vodka-drinking climes, the snowy bundled-up landscapes whence the word blini originates.

On the opposite side of the flavor spectrum, surprisingly, but the same side of the awesomeness spectrum, not surprisingly, was pal H’s risotto champenoise.

B&Wrisotto

Infused with bubbly & lemon juice, speckled with diced summer squash & enriched with fresh mozzarella curds & pine nuts, it was as lightly & sprightly & sparkling as could be given that, most importantly, the texture was just right: neither ricelike nor oatmeal-like, in the velvety-soft sweet spot.

Confit tuna salad was essentially a layered Niçoise (minus the potatoes & olives), with olive oil–poached albacore, hard-cooked egg & grilled bread which I’d just as soon have used to turn the whole thing into a sandwich. Funny how much more satisfying the exact same ingredients can be in hand-held form.

B&Wtunasalad
I swiped only a small bite of this pan-seared scallop over toasted cornbread & pepper slaw,

B&Wscallop

but its lovely components were as well-integrated as all the rest.

Finally, there’s always 1 cocktail here to stir my fancy into a frenzy. Beatrice’s bar team is, I think, highly underrated—perhaps because the bar itself nabs all the buzz, built from antique fireplaces, with shelves supported by chainsaws. My former fave, Tiptoe Through the Tulips—a blend of buffalo-grass vodka, lavender & lime—is no longer on the list (though our server assured us the bartender could still make it), but in its place is the killer Cucupeña,

B&Wcucapura
the smoke & flame of whose jalapeño is gradually doused by the coolness of muddled cucumber & the sweet-tartness of citrus vodka, triple sec & simple syrup.

The flames of my own, um, jalapeño for Beatrice & Woodsley, meanwhile, have only been fanned.

Beatrice & Woodsley on Urbanspoon

How Do You Get to Euclid Hall?

Practice, practice…

Just ask local luminary Jen Jasinski of Rioja & Bistro Vendôme, & her partner in smarts Beth Gruitch, whose joint restaurateurship has wowed us all for years now. Ask Jorel Pierce, Jasinski’s right hand, now chef de cuisine of their soon-to-open Euclid Hall.

Just don’t ask me. I got to Euclid Hall by going to Rioja, where I was treated today to a sneak preview of a menu that combines biergarten heart with contemporary savvy, funk with finesse. It’s “a study in properties of given elements that remain invariant under specified transformation”—which is to say in superb ingredients cooked superbly—which, as it happens, is 1 of the definitions of geometry, which is in turn, after all, what Euclid was the father of.

Which may or may not be whom Euclid Hall was named for. According to the fact sheet I was given, Euclid Hall was built in 1883, a time when mathematics mattered to Denverites only insofar as it allowed them to calculate how much gold was worth how much booze. Between then & now, Euclid Hall has also been known as The Cootie Club, Maudie’s Flea Market & Soapy Smith’s Eagle Bar. Like I said, don’t ask me.

And don’t ask me about the food, either. If I were to gush, you’d question my objectivity, rightly, since I’ve already told you I was an invited guest for a free meal. If I refrained from gushing, you’d question my sanity, taste, or both, rightly, since you already know yourself Jasinski’s a treasure with a sparkling crew (among them not only Pierce but also pastry chef Eric Dale, whose pineapple upside-down cake I still drool over in my sleep).

So I’ll just leave it to the photos to speak for themselves, as well as the following menu excerpt (the dishes we tried are marked “(pictured)”; the dishes I especially super-crazy adored are boldfaced; the dishes I can’t freaking wait to try are marked with ¡!)—but keep in mind the repertoire may yet change a bit before opening day.

POUTINE
Hen of the woods, porcini gravy & cheddar curds (pictured)
Roasted duck, duck fat gravy, black pepper & cheddar curds

EHpoutine

SAUSAGE
Grilled beer brats (pictured, served with 3 mustards & 2 pickles)

Boudin noir with onions, eggplant, raisins, curry & cider
(pictured, ditto)
Turkey corndog
EHsausages
EHcondiments
SCHNITZEL
Pork with warm potato salad, bacon & shallots (pictured)
Chicken ‘n’ sourdough waffles with maple & salty walnut syrups
EHschnitzel

SANDWICHES

Brat burger on “bretzel” bun with 999 Island dressing, Jarlsberg, pickled cabbage
(pictured)
Griddled Camembert with Colorado peach preserves

EHburger

DOCK (Fish Dishes)

Hiramasa (yellowtail) crudo on watermelon with fried chilies
(pictured)
¡Fish in chips: potato-wrapped kingfish with dark malt vinegar gastrique & lemon-tarragon tartar sauce!
EHcrudo

BLOCK (Meat Dishes)

Duroc pork & beans: head cheese with pork-studded romano beans
(pictured)
¡Buffalo-style pig ears with ranch dressing!

EHporkandbeans

ROUGHAGE & SIDES
Heirloom tomato & watercress salad with Stilton vinaigrette & crispy shallots (pictured)
¡Rye spatezle with 999 Island dressing!

EHsalad

DESSERTS

Car bomb float: Bailey’s chocolate soda with Guinness ice cream & Jameson caramel
(pictured)
Red velvet cupcakes (pictured)
¡Fried pies: chocolate, cheesecake, peach preserves!

EHdessert

24-Hour Dispatch from Vail Part 2: Kelly Liken (insert your choice of pun here)

I don’t need Google to know there must be a million of ’em: Kelly Liken—what’s not to liken? or We be lovin’ Kelly Liken! or whatever. Especially now that her stint on Top Chef D.C. has made her a household name.

And I don’t need to incorporate a pun of my own into the title to foreshadow a positive review of her eponymous Vail restaurant. Between her résumé & the raves she’s garnered over the past few years, the name alone is synonymous with culinary distinction. Presumably, something would have had to go horribly awry for me to have been colored unimpressed (what color is that, anyway, gray? puce?). And given that, as I noted in Part 1, I was a guest on a press trip, a bad meal was even less likenly (okay, just 1).  Moreover, had such a fluke actually come to pass, rest assured you wouldn’t be reading about it here; biting the hand that literally fed me would be beyond uncool. That’s why I rarely accept this type of invitation as a blogger; when I do, it’s with a fair amount of confidence that any praise I have for the place will be unassailable, from the cocktails & amuse-bouches to the assorted sweets that come with the check.
KLamuse KLsweets

The trip was billed as a tour from market to table; sure enough, on Sundays in season, to coincide with the Vail farmer’s market, Liken forgoes the regular menu to offer a 3-course prix fixe built around produce from rotating local farms—in this case Granby’s Morales Farms, Platteville’s Miller Farms, & Palisade’s Wynn Farms—along with a supplemental Colorado wine pairing (which, at $15 for 3, is a stellar deal, especially in light of a wine list that includes a $10,000 bottle of Domaine de la Romanée Conti).

Fitting, then, that among the standouts was the simplest of salads; the below photo doesn’t do justice to this showcase for incredible fresh spinach—mild but still truer to its funky roots than, say, baby spinach—set off by lightly pickled radishes & crispy bits of onion, all lent warmth by a bacon–red pepper vinaigrette.

KLsalad

Make that, then, the deceptively simplest of salads; its flavor profile was actually fairly complex compared to that of the caramelized spring onion soup, light in texture but intensely sweet, with only the slightest telltale allium nip. (My guess would be that it was purely vegetarian; I tend to appreciate the umami heft that meat stock gives the classic version, but I admire the desire to derive every last drop of flavor from the bulb.) In the center sat a parmesan-sourdough crostino that got soggy quick but was good while it lasted.

KLonionsoup

As a table of 3, we got to share the entire selection of entrees, but I was secretly thrilled to be the official recipient of the grilled pork tenderloin.

KLpork
Beneath the juicy, tender, rose-delicate meat was a roasted cauliflower puree so rich & creamy that I wrote in my notebook, “just like foie gras!” Surely that was the booze talking…or was it?! I’ll put it this way—I’d bet money there was something unusual about its preparation, a bit of stock whisked in or something. An spunky spring onion pesto & wedges of caramelized spring onion also added zing.

Herbed risotto (see the left edge of the pile) enthralled above all for those wedges of globe squash, lightly brown-buttered & a touch sweeter than, say, late-season zucchini; spooned around the edge was roasted yellow pepper puree, & on top, a blossom of what according to the menu was crispy eggplant but mostly tasted like crisp (nothing wrong with that).

KLrisotto

Similarly, it was the clean, clear, exquisite tomato-tarragon nage that stole the show from the pan-seared striped bass with potatoes, asparagus & chives (& more spring onion).

KLfish
For that matter, the same went for the sable tart—so named for its crumbly, sandlike consistency—with vanilla mousseline; lovely, light & crunchy as it was, the spirit of the summertime dessert inhered in the juicy zestiness of the strawberry-rhubarb compote.
KLtartlet

In short, if the Sunday Harvest Dinner is any indication, it’s Liken’s ingredient-driven sense of restraint with respect to technique that may be her greatest asset. Those who really know how to cook also know when they don’t much have to.

24-Hour Dispatch from Vail Part 1: The Wildflower at The Lodge

The vast majority of Colorado is wasted on me. I don’t ski or snowboard or snowshoe or make snow angels or snow cones or do anything in snow except trudge through it miserably as little as possible. I’d hike if it didn’t entail going up so much. I have a bike, which I ride to the liquor store & back.

Unnamed
But the opportunity to take a 1-day press trip to Vail wasn’t one I was about to pass up, given that in summer it promised to be a “market-to-table experience” rather than a “mountain-to-examining-table experience.”

And it was. Winding all the way through Vail Village, the Vail Farmer’s Market & Art Show is purportedly the largest in the state, its 100-plus vendors showcasing everything from fresh-dug onions & loaves of organic ciabatta to woven Ghanian baskets & portraits of ski bums to tamales & empanadas.

P1060404
In fact, prepared food booths outnumber produce stalls by a noticeable margin: giant barbecued turkey legs, Greek pastries, crêpes, samples from area restaurants. But the mechanics of eating are hard enough for me to master without adding bipedalism into the equation, so I opted for a sit-down lunch; as we had big dinner plans, my host suggested her favorite for light salads & sandwiches al fresco, The Wildflower at the Lodge.
WF

Best-laid plans, best-laid plans. Turned out they were only serving a small brunch menu, which we glanced at closely enough to notice a couple of salads before taking a seat on the mellow patio amid flitting hummingbirds & live piano music.

Not, however, closely enough to notice they were part of a prix-fixe. A 4-course prix-fixe.  A 4-course prix-fixe that started with

WFstrawberries

strawberries in fresh Devonshire cream plus

WFpastries WFmeloncoupe

a 3-tiered stand of croissants, muffins, scones, intense lemon curd & light, bright rhubarb purée, followed by a melon coupe with slivers of prosciutto & a splash of port poured tableside—the only false note in it all, struck by the slightly stale croissant, being resolved sweetly by the dense-crumbed, buttery berry scone.

And then came my salad, a veritable Dale Chihuly seaform of refreshment.

WFshrimpsalad
Three red curry–grilled jumbo shrimp & a fireworks of both fried sweet potato & yam twists topped a half-shell of watermelon filled with its own chunks, along with fat mixed berries, sliced shallots & radishes, & mixed greens in a lime dressing: a zesty, tropically tinged, shining example of the basic truth that in the simplest dishes lies the clearest indication of a kitchen’s commitment to quality. (First the roast chicken, where inferior ingredients & technical mistakes have nowhere to hide; then the galantine.)

Thus did I suspect that the egg salad, which my host ordered sans hoagie roll to wind up with a truckload of the stuff plus a simple side salad, was just a fluke. Made with crème fraîche, it was indeed super-creamy, but the menu description also included black truffles—not truffle oil but actual slices—which, of course, would be the whole point of ordering it, but which I neither saw nor tasted.

WFeggsalad

The oversight was easy enough to forgive seeing as how a) it wasn’t my dish, b) the level of service was such that if we’d asked, I don’t doubt they’d have showered us with fungus petals in apology, & c) the desserts marked a sure return to form. As the solid version of an Irish Car Bomb, Guinness-spiked chocolate cake with Bailey’s ice cream is nothing new, but based on the meal so far my expectations centered on careful treatment, not wild originality, and that it revealed aplenty, from the moist, loose-grained, dark-flavored cake to the trimmings: shard of toffee, browniesque crumble, smear of caramel.

WFchocolate
Meanwhile, the orange-grapefruit soup stunned in its cool clarity, highlighted by a scoop of honey-lemon sorbet.
WFcitrussoup

All that plus a bottomless glass of sparkling wine—prosecco IIRC—came to $40 before tip, which would be more than fair anywhere, never mind in a resort town.

It was the right foot on which to start off an afternoon expedition, as you’ll see in Part 2.

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).

Fuelwines
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
meal.”

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,
Fuelchilaquiles

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.

FuelB&G
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.

The Squeaky Bean Gets the Girl

Dumb name, dandy food, as I noted in my most recent Dish of the Week post. But then, you probably knew that. Silly as its sobriquet is, I’d never have set foot near the place, presuming the menu to be equally misconceived, if I hadn’t finally been knocked over by the giant waves of raves about the Squeaky Bean. My squeamish mistake was your smart call.

Yes, you’ve already seen fit to squeeze into that tight corner space, as friendly as could be with its retro trimmings—old radios, ’70s-era beer memorabilia—& hit that patio as it sparkles on warm nights with boozy neighborly love.  You’ve undoubtedly savored the roasted cauliflower salad in all its variegated savvy (see abovelinked post). And been lulled into reverie by the duck rillettes with grilled bread, housemade preserves (apple butter–like, though I couldn’t be sure) & stone-ground mustard.

SBrillettes
The joy is in watching the layer of duckfat that tops every scooped-out spoonful just melt all over your plate, its flavor barely there for all its mouthfeel, achingly subtle & fleeting. Like the gist of a Frank O’Hara poem, really.

SBduckfat

And you’ve surely already ogled the sandwiches going by on servers’ platters like pretty girls, maybe even hit on 1 or 2. I sure couldn’t resist making a pass at my companion’s lamb reuben.

SBlambreuben
As an admitted aficionado of acids, she felt it needed more sauerkraut, in lieu of which she added the mustard from the rillettes plate & was pleased with the results; me, I guess I snitched a bite with just the right ratio of thick, rich 1000 Island Dressing & tart, not especially salty pickled cabbage to funky corned lamb. (The panino came with a side of white bean–potato soup that did not in turn come with a spoon; by the time we were able to wave down the way-busy waitress, it was cold, so she cheerfully offered to fetch a fresh bowl.)

My only tiny quibble, meanwhile, was with the peanut butter & chocolate mousse cake with brûléed bananas & peanut brittle;

SBmoussecake
Reese’s excepted, any true devotee of PB will tell you that its combination with chocolate is overrated, while, dead Elvis notwithstanding, its affinity for banana is somewhat underappreciated. Here, the base of chocolate mousse, wan & fluffy, did nothing for the firmer, suaver & more flavor-forward top layer—which paired so much more satisfyingly with the caramelized crunch & creamy tang of the fruit that I felt the bottom layer, too, should have been banana-flavored (as it was at one time, judging by the still-posted Valentine’s Day menu), or else done away with; sandwiching it all, the more intense topping of ganache & bottom crust as well as the smear of sauce were really all the chocolate it needed (though a cheddar-based topping & crust might be even cooler). But then, I know you knew that.

In any case, owner Max MacKissock’s won me over; I’ll return soon, & follow him wherever he goes from here on after. If it’s the Gassy Garbanzo or Flatulent Flageolet, so be it.

The Squeaky Bean on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Roasted Cauliflower Salad, The Squeaky Bean

Fair or not, in the same way that I get a gigantic hitch in my getalong over menu misspellings (more on this to come anon), I nurse a nasty bias (like my pal MC Slim JB & others) against bad restaurant names. I don’t care what the justification is, the fact that it bears explaining in the 1st place is a sure sign of a misconceived moniker. In this case, the claim that the name “was inspired by garden-fresh green beans & the sound they make as they squeak on your teeth” doesn’t make The Squeaky Bean sound like any less a cross between a hippy-dippy veggie hut & a 1st grader’s fart joke.

However, the fact that it has fast become synonymous with excellent cooking at least ensures that you can get past your embarrassment just by stepping across the threshold. The moment you do, servers whizzing by with one gorgeous dish after another, you’ll know your fear that questionable taste in nomenclature might translate into questionable taste in the kitchen is wholly unfounded here.

The roasted cauliflower salad, for instance, is the very essence of exquisite taste.

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Not only is it plated as artistically as a Kandinsky, but it’s a truly inspired combination: while the curry vinaigrette reflects the natural affinity between all those members of the crucifer family & the distinctive spice mix of the subcontinent, luscious chopped Medjool dates on the 1 hand & pungent smoked trout on the other, along with a squiggle of parsley coulis & a sprinkling of fresh tarragon, take that classic pairing to a whole new level. It’s bold & it’s beautiful, the epitome of a contemporary salad.

More on that score to follow.

Bistro One: Lemonade Stand of Antique Row

The horrendous, endless construction project along South Broadway between Mississippi & Evans has put a huge, almost literal dent in many an already-economy-bruised business, as this Westword post pointed out as early as last fall. But Bistro One—about 1/2 full on a recent Tuesday night—is doing what it can to make some proverbial lemonade, with only the occasional & only slightly sour note, from the lemons it’s been handed.

The Director made fun of me for taking a picture of bread, but it’s an illustration of how this smartly mod little spot continues to exceed my expectations. The freshly house-baked loaves come out warm, soft & in ever-changing flavors with dishes of seasoned olive oil; this one was green olive–feta (as you can see if you click on the image to enlarge it).

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There was much to dig in the black bean soup (really more a thick, smooth puree) with cubed Tasso-style duck ham (those pomegranate-seed-looking bits) & cilantro sour cream;

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its assets, however, were the flip side of its flaws. As it was quite spicy—welcomingly, but surprisingly—I found myself wishing it were actually cream of black bean soup, with more of the dairy garnish blended in for balance. It was also a tad oversalted, a fact the pungent, crispy ham only highlighted.

By contrast, the smoked garlic Caesar was lackluster—neither smoky nor garlicky nor much of anything else. Though I’ll give the kitchen the benefit of the doubt that they were housemade, even the croutons were bland & a bit stale. If it’s token, it ain’t smokin’; Caesars being one of not only my but many diners’ main litmus tests for a restaurant’s overall quality, I humbly submit the chef get his together with a punchier dressing, a white anchovy or 2, seasoned croutons, etc.

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But if apps fell a bit short, mains went above & beyond. The sweet soy–marinated buffalo

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arrived truly rare and tender, its drippings (visibly! look close) enriching the creamy ginger buerre blanc that, though not sharply gingery, was a veritable liquid spice cake. And meat & sauce came together beautifully with sweet potato spaetzle & mushroom hash—each bite a smooth, earthy-sweet little burst of dumpling & juice. If I did ties, this dish would’ve handily tied for Dish of the Week with Il Punto’s crudo di seppie.

Meanwhile, if the Director’s lamb bourguignonne with fresh pappardelle, bacon, &, as I recall, fresh goat cheese was less imaginative, it was no less accomplished, from silky noodle to blood-rich wine sauce to the refreshing sprinkle of fried leeks & fresh herbs on top.

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We skipped dessert—but, lovely as it sounds, the lemon–olive oil cake with candied lemon & lemon crème fraîche only further indicates this place has got the juice to squeeze sweet lemonade until summer shines once again on its newly smooth stretch of South Broadway.

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