Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

In which Potager drops some philosophy on Denveater, who swallows it almost whole

Remember the goody-goody you loathed in grade school for being cuter than you, tidier than you & quicker than you, with spiffy penmanship, a firm grasp on the multiplication tables & a smug mug in your direction whenever the teacher chewed you out? I’d have bet, especially after reading the high-toned and spell-checked vision statement on its website, 10 x 10 bucks Potager was the restaurant equivalent of Tara Little.

But I’d have been happier to lose all 90 (heh—I kid, I did finally memorize the correct answer, 110), because the repast I had there recently was a refreshingly snappy retort to my snide assumption. Coming from “a waitstaff that…takes pride in [its] techniques and expertise,” our server did ask whether we’d dined with them before—my least favorite tableside question after the oafish “You still working on that?”, leading as it usually does to a righteous harangue; but she proceeded to keep it long on the smarts & short on the self-satisfaction.

And then she proceeded to bring the Director the best gnocchi I’ve had in years, literally—me, an Italophile who’s traveled half the Boot, who gladly bled herself dry paying rent in one of the nation’s most celebrated Italian neighborhoods (Boston’s North End)—& who hasn’t, with the exceptions of Panzano & Bonanno’s joints, been largely overjoyed by the Italian options offered me by the Mile High City (granting that I’ve yet to take it up on too many, & emphasizing too that what I’ve lost in some cuisines I’ve gained in others—that’s just the way of the geographical world).

Potagergnocchi

And as the best, it’s the very picture of Potager at its best—of what chef-partner Teri Rippeto apparently does best: put the ultrafresh, microlocal, sustainably produced ingredients she’s so committed to in service of deceptively simple, good solid cooking. Developing with the movement toward locavorism has been a somewhat disingenuous tendency on the part of many chefs to repeat ad nauseum the mantra that their goal is to acquire the best ingredients they can and do as little to them as possible. Really? Because, you know, I can do that. I call it staying home & making a salad (more on which below). Meanwhile, I go to restaurants to experience the technique a talented & trained chef can bring to bear on her materials. And if Rippeto truly, per the Lanza del Vasto quotation on the menu, seeks “the shortest, simplest path between the earth, the hands & the mouth,” I’m glad she doesn’t seem to have found it yet. Instead she seems to be treading the most thoughtful one—which is indeed sometimes short & simple, but hardly always.

So her gnocchi unfolded in soft little bursts of earthiness, punctuated in ideal measure by the tang of capers, fried breadcrumbs, & bits of broccoli, olive & parmesan.

And the generous bite of lobster—roasted in basil butter, then set in a pool of peach soup atop a corn souffle & salad of grilled peach, corn & prosciutto salad—one pal gave me proved a total gotcha. On paper it had looked to me like an error on the side of congruity, a mere ditty of sweetness minus the depth a little dissonance provides. But in my mouth it sang a more complex tune, which just goes to show the power of a) multitexture & b) proper seasoning.

Potagerlobster

Not going quite as constantly gaga over mussels as The Director does, I also didn’t expect to be titillated by ogling them naked in a steambath of corn, cream & marjoram. But in fact it was a bit of a orgy, all the seemingly mild-mannered ingredients coming together, teehee. Those babies got sauce.

Potagermussels

And the zucchini carpaccio served as a rejoinder to my regular assertion of bold tastes over subtle. Julienned, speckled with toasted almonds, parmesan & fresh mint & drizzled with a distinct olive oil, it’s the kind of dish that makes you a better eater, encouraging you to think about each bite & the intriguing, crunchy-smooth, green goings-on therein.

Potagerzucchini

Of course, at a place as persistent about produce as Potager, the odds that something would fall off the tightrope of subtlety to land on its back in an embarrassing spotlight of blandness weren’t all that low. If you know how much I dig great gobs of salad, you’ll get how bummed I was that the Big Salad (as it’s called on the menu) of mixed leaves with chicken, feta, almonds, olives, peaches, cukes, green beans, tomatoes, red peppers, basil & corn didn’t amount to much, underdressed & lacking cohesion. Was the chicken poached? Was all the rest raw? Somewhere, an opportunity was missed to grill a thing or two, roast a thing or two, season a thing or two, just enough to catalyze the latent oomph of the whole.

Potagersalad

The rather similar appetizer I preceded it with was somewhat more successful, if too light on the La Quercia** prosciutto, especially in proportion to a wonderful sheep’s milk ricotta that proved once & for all “milky yet pungent” is not a dumb thing to say except about somebody’s mama. It too came with almonds & peaches mixed with lettuces, though in this case I detected (imagined?) a harmonizing touch of honey.

Potagerhamandcheese

And if the fresh pappardelle with goat cheese, green beans, pine nuts, capers, currants, garlic & basil lacked the magic of the gnocchi, it was this close to capturing it. A few more crumbles of cheese, a sprinkle or two more of S&P, & voilà, I bet.

Potagerpasta

But then, given my streak in this post so far, I’d better not bet on anything beyond the fact tha
t I bet I’ll be back at Potager ASAP. That one I know I can win.

**whose website strangely doesn’t come up amid the hundreds of slavering mentions on Google…

Potager on Urbanspoon

Lucy Restaurant @ Comedy Works South: Hey, no joke!

UPDATE: Sadly, Lucy underwent a revamp shortly after I wrote this post; I haven’t returned, but I understand it’s not the same place it was. Caveat emptor.

We all know the food in comedy clubs (& anyplace, really, where the customers constitute a captive audience) is as much of a joke as the yuks (so call it the yuck). Save, perhaps, the folks behind Lucy, in the Comedy Works space at the Landmark in Greenwood Village. Seems they’re taking the whole “hey, kids, let’s put on a restaurant!” thing pretty seriously.

Which makes us the butt of the little prank they pull when you order tickets to a show—namely a package deal whereby we get preferred seating if we make dinner reservations. The setup is our assumption of a setup: a restaurant we have to be bribed to visit can only be good for a laugh. The punchline is, surprise! what it’s actually good for is dinner.

LucySo the dear Director & I discovered before catching John Oliver‘s act last week, my low expectations already rising with the stairs to Lucy’s airy second-story dining room, as chandeliers like disco balls that came unraveled led the way to sunlight pouring over white vinyl. The overall aura of suburban, which is to say quasi-, sophistication was somehow charming; without implying the not-quite-thereness is intentional, I’d hold there really is something ineffably cheeky about the place.

Well, something half-ineffable. I’d hold the other half is a reflection of chef Jeff Stoneking’s eclectic palate & smart translation thereof to the plate. Think French-cum-Southern onion soup with Vidalias & a sourdough cheddar dumpling; think striped bass enriched by crème fraîche & caramelized potato broth (whether or not the description is precise, it sounds delish).

And the 3rd half—because there always is one, eh?—I’d attribute to the lively gent who served us at the bar & who, I gathered from the intriguing blend of candor & courtesy in his approach, is either the bar manager or a partner. For instance, when I noted, in what I swear were measured tones, that the wine list seemed to be virtually all-American, he responded freely that he couldn’t wait to unload the inventory he’d apparently inherited to make room for imports. He also didn’t hesitate to make, rather vehemently, menu recommendations. Meanwhile, however, he took unusual care of the details, such as asking “May I?” before removing anything, even if it was empty—in other words showing an exceeding caution that implied respect not so much for us as for the moment. I rather liked that.

And so it was he who suggested the evening’s foremost delights—first,

Lucygrits
the stoneground grits with crawfish, Andouille sausage & spiced pork jus.

Not only were they cooked just so—risottoesque, neither al dente nor mush—but they were full of surprises, from the meat-sweet reduction on top

Lucygrits2
to the vibrant bottom layer of pork & shellfish.

And then there was the—get this—roast chicken.

Only about once annually does a chicken dish—ever the notorious compromise in the contemporary American repertoire—compel me enough to order it. Nearly a year ago indeed it was Bistro One’s fine offering; now it was the promise of spaetzle “mac” & cheese as an accompaniment that clinched it for me.

And the results exceeded the promise. How did that happen?

Lucychicken

Seriously, I’m at a comedy club in a bedroom community, I order the chicken, I’m living a cliché, & suddenly I get a seven-layer wedding cake of beautifully browned & moist chicken, just-tender spaetzle creamy with sharp cheddar & fresh spring mushrooms, sprightly broccolini & cipollini, & the tennis bracelet version of onion rings, all encircled with a sort of onion syrup? Fairy tale stuff, man.

Granted, as in fairy tales, it wasn’t all palace ball. The softshell crab was sloppily battered to the  point that detecting crab flavor would have been like feeling the pea in the mattress stacks (not to mix my princess-based plot points).

Lucysoftshellcrab

Which was odd, because, as with the aforementioned onion rings, the coating on the super-thin-sliced green tomatoes, in their case cornmeal, was also impressively delicate. The jalapeno-basil corn pudding underlying them lacked much of a chile kick but was no less fresh & sweet for that.

Lucyscallops

As for the sea scallops, while they’re generally the new chicken (chicken of the sea?) in my book—the boring heart-smart default—in the Director’s they turned out to be the just-right porridge of the bunch: firm with a lovely sear, they were well complemented by the vivid carrot broth. The risotto could’ve been more infused—it operated mostly as a placeholder—but what with the mushrooms & the peas & all the rest, there was enough going on to put the starch in its minor place.

Am I really going to end this fairy tale on a clunker? Hell yeah, ’cause look, it resonates on so many levels:

if I don’t love Lucy yet, I sure like her.

Lucy on Urbanspoon

Overcoming eater’s block at The Kitchen

Why can’t I get past the starters at The Kitchen (see also here, here)? It isn’t because the mains don’t appeal—given half a chance I’d bathe with chargrilled mackerel in cumin yogurt & chimichurri & towel off with a flank steak, being sure to get the onion-anchovy gratin between my toes. It isn’t because I mean to eat lightly—that would be a tad self-delusional at this point, eh? I’m not entirely sure wherein the answer lies, but I’m sure I don’t care so long as the excellent small plates keep coming.

Okay, I’m fudging the answer slightly in the case of my most recent meal there—due to a snafu involving poor friend Mo & Project Angel Heart’s Dining Out for Life 2009, some of the apps I snarfed (& she, rightly bummed out, long story, merely picked at) actually came compliments of the chef-owner. But not all of them: the salmon rillettes with pickled onions & grilled bread, for instance, were my own smart call.

Ksalmon2

Made with, if I’m not mistaken, lightly smoked salmon, the chunky spread was way funky—piscophobes beware. Me, I got down with every last schmear.

The freebie that followed, a special that evening, was basically your classic bistro salad—frisée + Dijon vinaigrette + poached egg—but with pieces of what I believe was the same salmon as appeared in the rillettes in lieu of of the usual lardons, along with big cubes of new potato.

Ksalmonsalad

Since I’d already had my share of salmon, meanwhile, I focused more on the bowl of roasted veggies drizzled with tahini-tempered harissa—a rootsier rendition, what with parsnip, carrot & red onion, of the vegetable antipasto I’d had once upstairs.

Kveggies

The same basic sauce formed a broth, sprinkled with just-wilting baby spinach & parsley leaves, for the housemade lamb sausage—which, evoking North African merguez (albeit in milder, juicier fashion), was along with the rillettes my fave of the eve.

Ksausage

Although, if I had a sweet tooth the size of my savory…what? way past tooth, pretty much my whole mouth—the amazingly light, fresh, hot, sugar-sprinkled funnel cake à la mode would probably have taken the cake. When a cake takes the cake, what happens? Does it enter the 4th dimension or something?

Kfritters

If you’re thinking, hey, that’s dessert, not a starter—says you. With another inch of room in my tum, I’d have followed it right up in the app roster with those creamed mushrooms on toast in truffle vinaigrette. Next time.

The Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The Dish Redux: Jonesy’s EatBar

Fan of easygoing neighborhood eateries that I am—your Black Pearls, your Billy’s Inns—I was sorry to see The Dish go. Which means I’m happy to see it come back, with a goofy new name & a shiny new veneer but the same old funky, friendly ways. Stopping in for drinks, pal Beth of Living the Mile-High Life & I got just enough of a taste of the place to confirm a bigger, sloppier bite would be in order ASAP.

Not that a mere nibble of Beth’s “lamby joe” sliders (1 of 6 kinds) wasn’t plenty sloppy, hence the name—with caramelized onions (&, supposedly, bacon & blue cheese, though I didn’t catch any in my 1 mouthful), the shredded lamb leaked its dear juices all over the place. Substituting the buffalo fries for the 3rd slider was a smart move on Beth’s part; while the fries themselves are just fine—crispy enough for not being, I suspect, hand-cut—the goodly drizzle of blue cheese dressing & Frank’s Hot Sauce makes ’em new & keen.

JEBslidersfries

Rumaki blasts back from its Trader Vicsian past—or semi-rumaki, rather; I’d just as soon the kitchen wrapped chicken livers up with the water chestnuts & bacon per the classic recipe, but a dollop of kicky pineapple chutney does a different trick.

JEBrumaki

Note, by the by, the cool mismatched plates, a signature quirk from the Dish days. The owner even held on to some of the oldies, which I still love for looking like a Rorschach test out of a dentist’s nightmares.

Dishdish

A side order of mac-n-cheese charmed for its simplicity: no casu marzu–&-caciocavallo farfalle here, just elbow noodles with cheddar, cream & a wittingly Krafty consistency.

JEBmacnchs1

I’ll be back for Indian-spiced cauliflower, goat cheese sliders with fig mayo, shredded lamb–scallion gnocchi &, really, just about all else.

Jonesy's EatBar on Urbanspoon

delite at the end of the tunnel

“They made me come ask you why you’re taking pictures,” said our table model (not to denigrate her skills as a server, which were as polished as her tall shiny boots), sheepishness darkening her tall shiny face until I wanted to mop her brow with a lace hanky & coo “there, there, now.”

“Oh, I always take pictures of my food!” I chirped—which, after all, is true. The fact that it wasn’t really an answer to the question didn’t seem to bother her, & off she went to report to whomever they were. I can’t blame them (unlike them)—at least 1 picture-taking customer in their recent past turned out to be a flaming bitcheroo. Wonder what her problem was. It couldn’t’ve been discomfort, since the space is great, sliding back & forth along a spectrum from sleek to almost louche, surf to urban, mod to pomo—with perfectly capable service to match. It couldn’t’ve been the crowd, since there isn’t any at the preternaturally happy hour when delite opens & she, apparently—like me—opts for a headstart on the sink into oblivion. Couldn’t, on that note, have been the drinks, because they’re drinks. Could it have been the food?

IMO, yes & no. Yes, because the menu, which overlaps with Deluxe’s as it is, has barely budged since delite debuted nearly a year ago; this kitchen is entirely too talented to settle for same-old to such an extent, as I argued then when my craving for novelty drove me out of its bed—okay, booth—& into the arms—okay, booth—of Beatrice & Woodsley, which opened the same week. No, because same-old is still same-solid. Rarely is a hair—eww, okay, garlic chip or parsley flake—out of place among this crew.

And there were, after all, 1 or 2 new-to-me tidbits—the deviled eggs with pesto & bacon, for instance.

Deliteeggs

I might have mashed a little extra pesto directly into the yolk, myself, for maximum pestoxic shock. Still, my gang & I popped them all into our mouths like unborn–chicken gumdrops. Gallus-gallus gobstoppers.

Even savory-M&M-er, however, were the spicy edamame—stir-fried, I suppose, to just the right bite with chili & garlic, & maybe a little sesame oil? Maybe a touch of sugar as well as salt? Whatever, pop, pop, pop.

Deliteedamame

The open-face steamed pork buns

Deliteporkbuns

didn’t cut my own personal mustard, i.e. Chinese hot, because I was—admittedly not reading the menu closely, so perhaps erroneously—all giddy to go for more traditional char siu bao, which are closed up to keep the meat juices in. Admirable as delite’s more elegant twist is, elegance doesn’t drip down your chin.

As for the menu’s aforementioned overabundance of signatures, you’d think there were only so many times in this life you can eat smoked-salmon potato skins

Deliteskins2

& potato chips with truffle aioli & blue cheese.

Delitechips3

But, you know, you can learn something new every day, even at novelty-resistant delite. I learned that if there’s one thing it’s impossible to maintain disdain for once it’s before you, it’s potatoes, nineteenth-century famines notwithstanding. Potatoes & babies, maybe, satirical responses to 19th-century famines also not withstanding.

Root Downer

Before I start spewing I feel compelled to acknowledge that with the exception of Peaks Lounge, of all places, & Saigon Bowl, it seems to have been quite a while since I’ve posted a mainly positive review. Not fancying myself the unacknowledged Pauline Kael of Denver dining, I’d just as soon keep the focus on the fun fun fun of eating out—the whole convivial shebang, not just the food. And I’m all too aware what a tough business running a restaurant is—the majority of restaurateurs, chefs & floor staffs alike love what they do & work long & hard at it. Look, I’ve devoted the past several years of my life to making their business my business; I only piss & moan for the same reason I give praise, because I love.

But my 1st experience at Root Down rubbed me in so many wrong ways I’ll need a full-on Banya session getting beaten with twigs to smooth out.

It actually started before I got there, with a look at the website. Not only is it splattered with twaddle—”Like Jazz, we are the summation of different flavorful perspectives rhythmically combining seasons and foods into a [sic] asymmetrical masterpiece”; “We’re the [sic] all about the convention of life in all it’s [sic] eclectic glory”—but, as the quotations also show, it’s riddled with typos (“terriyaki,” “pommegranate,” “coissant,” & “grens,” to name a few; & while “shitake” actually is a legit variant of shiitake, is it really the one you want to use in a supposedly appetizing context?).

What does poor spelling have to do with the quality of the dining experience, you protest? As I’ve argued before, possibly nothing—but potentially everything. To me it suggests carelessness at best, ignorance about the tools (ingredients, techniques, regional/foreign traditions, what have you) of one’s own trade at worst.

The curtain on the shitshow of pretension really lifted, however, upon our entry into the former gas station, now a temple of postironic retro chic screamingly teeming with the sorts of fetching smarty-pantses whose turf is by definition the place to be at any given moment. The dining room is actually a welcoming space, warmly lit, with a lovely view of the downtown skyline; less hospitable, though, is the bathroom, whose decor is likely supposed to be cheeky but frankly just strikes me as mocking.

RootDown

Granted, the offense I take undoubtedly says more about me than about the designer. But in response to the implied message that I should be thinking about my weight, my inclination is to nod, cancel my order, go straight home & mutter blackly over a bowl of soup.

Maybe even my own take on Root Down’s roasted beet & parsnip soup.

RDsoup

After all, it wouldn’t be very hard to recreate; given its very fresh but otherwise unremarkable, one-dimensional flavor, they can’t have done much more than hit a button on the blender. The only real oomph came from a sprinkling of walnut-orange gremolata & a drizzle of yogurt; perhaps with another heaping tablespoon of the latter & a little more good old S&P, it might nearly have been worth $5 for all of a cup (that said, the price is actually $7. And that’s for the full portion, too, not the $4 half, which must be doled out in an eyedropper or something). The counter to the oft-made argument that a chef’s job is to get out of the way of his ingredients—to showcase them in all their pristine glory—is that I can do that too. Minimal prep is what home cooking’s for.

I’d asked our server if the panzanella would be sufficient for a main course; he said he thought so, because of “all the bread in it.” You can count the cubes yourself—6.

RDpanzanella

That’s not panzanella, that’s a side salad with croutons. This is panzanella—

81964_f520

an exemplar of cucina povera created to stick to the ribs of peasants whose cupboards were bare of meat but bursted with stale bread. See the difference, kids?

The rest of it, like the soup, was just plain boring. Having expected some sort of warm mélange of richly caramelized root veggies, I got instead a few random pieces of unappealingly al dente carrots, parsnips & fennel with arugula that just sat there & let the balsamic vinegar do all the talking, along with a few daubs of goat cheese & an admittedly generous handful of pinenuts. They said, “Help! Get us out of here & into another dish!”

I sort of did, by ordering the sweet-&-sour fire-roasted eggplant bruschetta likewise topped with fresh cheese (feta this time) & pinenuts, as well as golden raisins & chives—

RDbruschetta

from a server who not once but twice pronounced it brooshetta. Really? In 2009, some 20 years after its importation from Italy into mainstream American kitchens? When there are even Facebook groups for people who make fun of people who still don’t know it’s broosketta? See above re spelling, & add pronunciation; I don’t really fault the server for his mistake half so much as management for their negligence in training. I do fault the server for his apparent inability to do more than 1 thing (say, remove a single empty glass) at a time, disappearing for 10 minutes between each thing to go do 1 thing at some other table (we’d been there for 25 minutes before we even got drinks, at which point I had to practically manhandle him to stay put & take our order). A seemingly sweet kid, he was nonetheless as unseasoned as the soup & salad.

As for the bruschetta itself, I’d judged from the words “sweet & sour” that the topping would resemble caponata, a Sicilian relish that does indeed have a sweet-sour savor; it too contains eggplant, raisins & pinenuts, as well as tomatoes, capers, peppers, onions, vinegar & sometimes celery and olives—in short, despite a little bit of sugar, it remains essentially savory, vegetal. Off-balance to the point of being downright sugary, this version made for a bitter end to an all-around failure of a meal.

Meanwhile, the Director’s selection was, in the main, so superior to mine I’d have wondered if I’d just ordered wrong, except that A) I’m still not convinced there is such a thing & B) our companions weren’t remotely impressed with their dishes either, among them “rice-crispy” calamari with tomato-chili salsa & arugula—

RDcalamari

about which there was, again, simply nothing interesting. Like so much else, the calamari, though cooked okay, was underseasoned, the sauce very fresh-tasting but otherwise bland.

By strange comparison, the Director’s tuna tartare—usually at the top of my list of dishes that put me to sleep before I’m done chewing—was a thrill,

RDtuna

the fat, juicy pearls of fish touched with just enough salt & chili to up their own luster all the more, served with the most delicate of pappadum.

Even more agreeably complex was his Spanish Caesar salad—

RDcaesar

the dressing creamy yet pungent, the shredded manchego in abundance, & the whole thing made new by “gnocchi croutons” (though a more accurate name would have been “tater tots”;

FOOD-gnocchi_IMGP3100 cf. Tater tots
)

&, perched atop the fresh anchovies, a shard of superb “frozen Xerez [sic] vinegar” that, of course, melted neatly into the romaine.

His buffalo sliders, however, were more like backsliders.

RDbuffalosliders

Cute & plump as they were—& in contrast to all the other errors on the side of underseasoning—their Mongolian barbecue sauce & (er) shiitake relish completely overpowered the patties. True, the teriyaki slaw in the middle—composed, IIRC, mainly of carrots & burdock root—was terrific, bold & splashy; it just wasn’t the point, is all.

Speaking of the point—the fact that, as I think even my artless photos show, presentation was highly polished only further proves mine: that Root Down is basically just the enfant terrible of the current local restaurant scene, spending its considerable energy cultivating undeniably unique style at the expense of substance. It’s that very energy, however, that may serve the infant well as it matures & develops some character. I’ll go back & check in on it at some point, like when it’s old enough not to need a sitter.

Root Down on Urbanspoon

It burns, it burns: return to South Broadway Grill

***UPDATE: South Broadway Grill is now CLOSED.***

The problem with the 3rd time being a charm is there isn’t one that doesn’t make you a chump. Once bitten, twice lenient; twice bitten, thrice pissed. The poor Director, who had it worse than I did on our return as well as our initial visit, stated in no uncertain terms that henceforth I’d have to fly solo to South Broadway Grill.

Which is a damn shame, because, as I noted in my earlier post (which links to their reviews), I’m all thumbs up about the owners’ other operations, Flower Wraps & Breakfast on Broadway. What’s more, as I also noted, the menu, being a flat surface, couldn’t hold more promise without spilling it everywhere. Good old pan-fried, bacon-topped calf’s liver and onions? Ahi tuna nachos? Sloppy joe sliders? There’s almost nothing on the menu that doesn’t scream more flavor than your mouth really even knows what to do with.

But far too often the chef doesn’t seem to know what to do with it either.  Like the chicken and waffles before it, the Director’s turkey meatloaf with homemade ketchup & sides of mashed bourbon sweet potatoes & sauteed green beans with roasted garlic

SBGmeatloaf

came out to us absolutely at room temperature. Lukewarmth would have been an improvement. But it isn’t only their heat lamps &/or their sense of timing that clearly need major adjustment. In this case it’s also their recipe, which is grievously bland; the loaves were basically like fat, limp croutons, just vehicles for zippy, well-structured homemade ketchup & vibrantly luscious spuds. Meanwhile, the green beans actually squeaked to the bite. As it is with mice or most people’s kids, that is a rather diconcerting & irritating trait for a vegetable to have.

An appetizer of supposedly barbecued shrimp was better, if skimpy at nearly $15 (we got 2 critters each), but exactly what was barbecued about it is beyond me.

SBGshrimp

It looks pretty much like shrimp poached in court bouillon, no? Which, come to think of it, is also on the menu, so maybe they actually sent out the wrong dish. In fact (speaking of croutons), the advertised grilled ciabatta was nowhere to be seen either—that there in the photo was toast, through & through. Barbecued, poached, grilled, toasted—it’s like someone scrambled their glossary of cooking terms as a prank. Nice, fat, fresh shrimp in subtly spicy broth though.

The fact that they can do something right was, however, far more strikingly illustrated by the braised buffalo short ribs stroganoff over pappardelle.

SBGshortribpasta

The meat, tender & well seasoned, boasted a beautiful sear; the pasta, perfectly cooked, appeared to be fresh (so if it was boxed, all the more power to ’em); the mushroom cream sauce brought it all together super-smoothly.

So one out of three (twice in a row) ain’t good; more to the point, it’s bewildering. How can the kitchen be so amateurish 66.66667% of the time, so pro 33.33333%? I wish I could be a fly on the wall back there. But I don’t really wish to be a diner in a seat again, at least not anytime soon.

South Broadway Grill on Urbanspoon

Turning up the heat on the South Broadway Grill

***UPDATE: South Broadway Grill is now CLOSED.***

The curious little florist-run coffeehouse that is Flower Wraps & the likewise quirky daytime cafe that is its sibling Breakfast on Broadway having rather quickly endeared themselves to me (as you can see here & here), I was tickled to hear the owners had had the gumption & wherewithal to give it a third whirl, opening the

SBG ,

in the old El Ranchito space, just south of Evans on its namesake (303.993.2301).

Whether they’ve got the gumption & wherewithal to keep themselves from spinning right out again remains to be seen.

Sheerly on the strength of the kick we got out of the menu, the Director & I already plan to return: as at Breakfast on Broadway, just about every item exhibits some intriguing little twist. Like if they were girls in the fifties you’d whistle & go, “Say, you’re cute little numbers.” Queso dip made with smoked cheddar & crawfish sausage, green apple–freshened French onion soup, buffalo short ribs stroganoff—it’s all so retro-innovatively yin-yang.

On the strength of what we actually ate, however, we probably wouldn’t bother. Take the Director’s fried chicken & waffles, served with both sausage gravy & syrup—the way they should be but rarely are (it’s usually one or the other, which makes about as much sense to me as eschewing the cherry on top of the sundae like the girl on a diet in the old joke. What part of “chicken & waffles” don’t these people understand that restraint should seem in order?).

If only they’d looked as good as they’d sounded.

SBGchixwaffles

They’re like the pale, doughy 98-lb. weakling that, say, M&D’s brawny golden boy

MDschickenwaffles

kicks sand in the face of, & you’re actually on the bully’s side. (Not sure why I’m pulling all my metaphors out of the ass of the Eisenhower era here. Must be something I ate.)

To be blunter, the waffles were flat-out cold (hey! Like they really did get punched by the stud!), the chicken flaccid.

The Broadway salad, meanwhile, appeared to have a fighting chance.

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But appearances deceived. Except for sufficient date & fig (which nonetheless could’ve used a little maceration), below that topmost sprinkling of grilled chicken chunks, goat cheese & almonds was virtually nothing but barely dressed romaine—along with precisely 1 polenta crouton.

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We were finally issued something of a reprieve from our mealancholy, however, by Swedish meatball sliders.

SBGsliders

Or, rather, by some things called Swedish meatball sliders. Ground beef patties aren’t meatballs unless you live in Flatland. And Flatland’s out of eggs, breadcrumbs & onions. But the plain old Swedish sliders were a treat nonetheless—the buns very soft & fresh, the sour cream sauce rich & beefy to boot.

Still, seems like it’s been a while since I’ve been wowed by a vittle. Maybe it’s my party-pooper attitude of late. I’m probably cruisin’ for a bruisin.’

Mixed Tastes Wine Bar & Bistro (plus inexplicable hijinks at India’s Pearl)

There’s this exchange in DeLillo’s Americana:

“Do you think I’m handsome?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Do you want to know if I think you’re pretty?”

“Okay.”

“I think you just miss,” I said.

Ditto, Tastes. Hit the uptown branch last night with Beth Partin to be moderately charmed & mildly chagrined by turns, for pretty much the same reasons I go back & forth between digging & deriding the Village Cork. Like its fellow wine bar & self-styled bistro, it’s got quaint looks & quietude on its side. It boasts an eclectic, ever-evolving & not-at-all-expensive selection of wines by the glass—although why, amid all the much-appreciated tasting notes, the list omits vintage is beyond me—& affable folks to serve them. My Fleur de Cap pinotage was indeed lighter than a pinot and deeper than a cinsault; I certainly enjoyed pretending I could tell that the Can Blau blend of carignan, grenache & syrah offered hints of cedar, minerals & baking spices; & I especially liked the carménère, which was apparently violet. Or so I wrote down, period, being rather rosy at that point myself.

But as at the Village Cork, the hors d’oeuvres tend to look a little more like afterthoughts in person than they seem on paper.  Take the serrano ham–wrapped, brie-stuffed dates with balsamic “cream”:

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It’s a minor quibble that the advertised cream is in fact a reduction; it’s a bigger quibble that deglet noors are just like the cockroaches to the grand tarantulas that are medjools. Bigger, richer, moister dates would have struck a greater contrast to the ham & given the cheese a tad more room to assert itself.

Actually, the stand-alone cheese we selected was, but for the generous portion, likewise underwhelming; honestly, I can’t recall what it supposedly was—a Pierre Robert? a Brillat Savarin? one of those named for some French joker at any rate, the description of which read as though it was studded with bits of strawberry, which it was, if by that we agree to mean just accompanied by cranberries instead. It was also a bit on the dry side, enough so that it seemed a lesser imitation of its type, which is probably why I’m forgetting what that type was exactly.

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As for the meatballs with Belgian curry sauce & pineapple,

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they were actually a treat, the curry sauce being unexpectedly almost honey-mustardesque—but, really, Dole tidbits? If fresh pineapple might be too overwhelming—& it might—how about incorporating a little bit of candied pineapple or even pineapple juice into the meatballs themselves? Or, you know, just letting the pineapple idea go altogether? The canned stuff just smacks so hard of dessert with grandma at the nursing home.

Speaking of smacking, however, the duck liver pâté really was, lipwise. Whether or not it was housemade wasn’t clear, but its quality was, on the mild side but creamy & smooth as could be.

Tpate

Never knowing when enough is enough until afterward, I talked poor Beth into joining me to meet the Director for a nightcap in the upstairs lounge at India’s Pearl, which turned into an afterdinner (you know, like an afterparty, only more belly-distending). While the Director had his usual lamb vindaloo—which happened to be especially, wonderfully on fire last night—I opted for the excellent malai kofta,

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really just about the most comfortingly rich rendition of fried potato-paneer-nut–raisin-et cetera patties in creamy curry ever.

And believe you me, some comfort was in order under the circumstances that were one-man karaoke night—the one man being our server, who pretty much tended to the 3 of us, namely his entire audience, between Gwen Stefani numbers. Straight out of some would-be Cassavetes, I tell you.

Beatrice & Woodsley: On notice

Not to toot my own tuba, but I was 1 of B & W’s 1st & most flowery champions—& I’ve been strewing it with awe-petals ever since (see e.g. here, here). Balancing the edgy & the whimsical with aplomb, it seemed to me to mark Denver’s dining future in sure, clear strokes.

But the future may already be passé.

Then again, it may not; a lapse does not a collapse make. So fervent is my hope that my most recent experience fell on a rare off-night that I can’t bring myself to categorically downgrade the place just yet. But the following had better prove flukes:

—There was a limo parked out front. On South Broadway, on a block firmly packed with have-nots. In a recession. Stretch. Nor could you tell just by scanning the groomed & perfumed crowd of haves, their worldly faces unlined by worldly concerns, to whom it might belong—could’ve been anyone. (Except us, of course.)

—Our waitress wanted to know if we understood how small plates worked. Um, like teacups? No? Humidifers? No…the cerebral cortex? Oh, like big plates, only small! How abso cosmo.

—The current menu is noticeably less interesting, decidedly safer, than were repertoires past. Where once sweetbreads & cockles & curios that yield no Google results (e.g. pouxfle) popped up right & left, now only the usual luxuries languish: foie gras, pork belly, chanterelles—in short nothing Kevin Taylor wouldn’t use. (The brunch menu, oddly but fortunately enough, still reflects some risks taken, what with frogs’ legs & turtle soup & corned buffalo.)

—The moment of truth turned out to be amateur hour (following, perhaps, a good old-fashioned tastebud-blunting crew-wide cigarette break?): not 1, not 2, but all 3 of the savory dishes the Director & I shared were grossly oversalted.

Since we’d started with the house-cured, grilled sardines—themselves delicious, actually, dark & juicy, charred & pungent—

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I initially chalked the problem up to them, guessing they’d just rubbed off somehow on the almost bitterly salty dressed arugula & the pickled peppers, while thankfully sparing the airy, fresh housemade mozzarella & buttery grilled brioche.

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But the escargots were just as corrosive with sodium;

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if not for the excellent, hot, fresh baguette that we could tear off in hunks big enough to absorb the impact of even the smallest daub of sauce,

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our mouths would have rusted.

Ditto the saddle of rabbit stuffed with braised leg meat & redundant “herbed pistou“—a real shame since the flesh was beautifully cooked. If there’s 1 creature whose death should never be in nearly inedible vain, it’s the fluffy bunny.

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Insofar as our companions happened to order dishes that inhered in elements of sweetness, they may have fared better. Certainly the braised veal over pumpkin risotto with chanterelles & dates looked like something I’d have smeared all over my nakedness under the right conditions.

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Camembert cut into squares & served with a lump of crystallized chestnut honey & fig both whole—broiled, I gather—& pulverized into filling for a sort of housemade Fig Newton was likewise lovely,

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even if—speaking of not understanding how meal courses work—the baguette our friends requested to accompany it didn’t arrive until after the plate had already been cleared (& the dish of butter another 15 min. after that, when the loaf was half gone).

Regular readers will note I rarely eat dessert. Lacking much of a sweet tooth, I tend to order it in either of only 2 scenarios: 1) following a fantastic repast that I don’t want to end & 2) following a disappointing dinner that I want to end on a note other than the sour one it seems bound to.

Thus did we treat ourselves to the soulful, richly spiced pumpkin-gingerbread pie with, IIRC, caramel ice cream

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& the chocolate bubble: a dark chocolate shell enclosing white chocolate semifreddo & “a surprise”—a different filling every day, per our waitress—alongside a few spoonfuls of panna cotta.

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My half-orb oozed raspberry.

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Aside from the fact that the spoon I was given didn’t cut it, literally hence figuratively—either a more appropriate slicing utensil needs also to be provided or the kitchen should make an incision in the shell before sending it out—this was by far the highlight of my eve, reminiscent at once of tartufo & a jelly doughnut, & not at all of a

Salt Lick Green

salt lick.

The edible high point, anyway. There was a potable peak as well: the Tiptoe Through the Tulips.

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There’s an apparent fellow fan of Zubrówka bison grass vodka behind the bar who has seen fit to mix it with lavender & lime. The result zings—subtly sweet & tart, green & so clean & refreshing it’s like drinking linens being hung to dry by a singing virgin in a breezy, blossoming vale.

Hell, visiting Beatrice & Woodsley at its best is itself like becoming a singing virgin in a breezy, blossoming vale—restored, rejuvenated, golden & rosy, touched for the very 1st time & all that. I trust next time I’ll be gently, gracefully led back out of the dark, rocky crevice of disillusion this time found me in.

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