Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Pi-eyed

The final few days of the Starz Denver Film Festival being
the most whirlwind, we checked into the Hilton Garden Inn downtown last week so
we could decrease the distance between us & the action, aka drunk
point A & drunker point B, blissfully unaware our sweet little secret hideaway was about to be converted into our sweet little convalescent home.

The evening before his seizure, though, the Director was
able to clear his schedule sufficiently to give us some time alone together at Pi
Kitchen + Bar
off the lobby; the evening after his
seizure, his schedule got cleared sufficiently for him, not that that amounted
to us being alone there together so much as together there alone (he’s addled for at least a
day, usually more, following these electrically awry extravaganzas his brain
stages, & is presently unable to retrieve any info about our revisit). I’d noticed the place before but had no cause or inclination to check
it out until then, being naturally wary of any eatery with a name that’s smarter
than I am (e.g. the Boston area’s obscurity-bound Conundrum & Apocrypha)—an
attitude the cool old journeyman bartender who’d surely be played by Tom
Wilkinson
in the movie version validated when I asked,
“Why Pi?”: “Because they gave ungodly amounts of money to some
consultant to come up with it, that’s all I’ve ever heard, & I’ve been here
since Day 1.” Of course, his answer simultaneously neutralized my suspicions too, going to show that the pretentiousness of the name at least hadn’t
rubbed off on the staff, affable and attentive down the line.

That
includes the kitchen crew. Without implying it belongs on any local connoisseur’s
short (or even long) list of must tries, I can safely say Pi has its charms,
namely an air of casual quietude; the sorts of diversionary bartop perks that
point to a familiarity with & forbearance toward the world’s more seasoned &/or lonely flies, including snack mix

Photo 23

& collections of trivia,

Pibooks

whence I learned that a) the US military has created a nearly indestructible
sandwich that stays fresh for 3 years & b) “a fig is technically a fish”—or
so I noted after a few glasses of surprisingly decent, palate-rich yet
wallet-cheap ($25/bottle) Trapiche Oak Cask Pinot Noir, but I’m pretty sure it actually read “a fig is technically a flower,” unless it was an only randomly
fact-checked collection of trivia; &, above all, a menu that suggests its
creators were far more aware of both the limitations & the strengths of hotel
line cooks resigned to feeding a largely accidental clientele resigned in turn
to being fed thereby than were the apparently overcompensated consultants who preceded
them, emphasizing ultra-ease from the standpoints of both execution &
enjoyment.

Over
the course of 2 meals, we polished off this fresh-tasting, tangy
paprika-oil-drizzled hummus with warm, fluffy pita triangles;

Pihummus

the Buffalo Meets Italy, a “prociutto [sic] & buffalo blue cheese panini [sic, unless 2 halves count as 2 wholes],” bubbling over with cheese that resembled nothing I expected & accompanied by the precisely expected set of plastic pick-up sticks that are previously frozen institutional fries, but mesmerizing enough nonetheless with its pile of warm grilled ham that I forgot to gobble 2nd, snap 1st;

Pipanino

this mac & cheese—all the Director could chew with his screwy seized jaw—

Picrabpasta

which contained, albeit not in spades, actual shreds of lump crabmeat amid the actually al dente penne, creamed in actual mascarpone as well as melted fontina;

& this braised pork sandwich,

Piporksandwich2

whose advertised slices of pancetta & green apple (as opposed to unadvertised slice of Swiss-like stuff) I have no recollection of encountering, so unless I’m exhibiting some sort of sympathy amnesia, I’m vouching for their absence even as I realize an inundation of fairly honeyed BBQ sauce may simply have effectively obliterated their physical presence.

Likewise, I’m inclined to chalk the pre-cerebral-shitshow lack of impact these crab egg rolls with cilantro-citrus dipping sauce made on us

Pieggrolls

up to their apparent origins on a conveyor belt in Garden City rather than some earnest wonton wrapper’s work surface at the Garden Inn.

Still, insofar as it showed rather more genuine character than it had a right to, I didn’t mind getting chance 2nds on Pi, nor would I object to someday grabbing 3rds.

Pi Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon

Encore recon

I’m on a mission to scope out anew some of the spots I’ve either slammed or shrugged off in the past year, in particular those that others whose opinions I respect seem keen on. Having crossed The Corner Office off the list—my original impression of the place as taking its own playfulness rather too seriously intact—the Director & I recently revisited Encore, which we had, Black Pearl fans that we are, rushed to on the heels of its opening last winter with high expectations, only to trudge home bearing a major grudge against its categorically generic sensibilities—really, an apparently steady commitment to the generic as an aesthetic, right down to the repertoire of the pianist in the corner, who (as I wagered might go without saying in my post about the experience) actually whipped out “Piano Man,” the only redeeming aspect of which is that it serves as a reminder to reread that Michael Ian Black piece in McSweeney’s that’s always good for a chuckle.

Shown to a table that was exactly where the piano used to be, we agreed things were already looking up.

On that note, I’ll reiterate my bitterest complaints. (1) The menu remains largely a compendium of the obvious, to the point that after eyeballing just a few of the items you can pretty much close your eyes & guess what all the others are. Here’s your fried calamari, there’s your Cobb, over there’s your wood-grilled salmon & fucking crème brulée to top it off (the dessert that to me, except under the rarest of conditions, is what merlot is to Miles in Sideways). Yes, there are exceptions, most notably the mustard-drizzled fries & the pepper poppers I praised last time; yes, the nonexceptions all boast their minor twists. But by & large it lacks the inspiration its sibling exhibits in giant sparkling bursts. (2) Here as at BP—how many times & in how many ways can I say this?—the wine list (sorry, “program”) is infuriating from front to back. Here as at BP, the prices are grossly out of proportion to those of the menu. These aren’t markups, they’re shoot-’em-ups, and guess who has to bite—or, rather, swallow—the bullet. I believe there are 2 reds under $40, 1 of which is the equivalent of crème brulée (see above), the other, thankfully, a malbec (which we did order & enjoy). The next-cheapest red is maybe $45? & the whites are no more a bargain. I remain ever-baffled as to this wine director’s absolute devotion to a cellar better suited to a special-occasion destination, & desperately wish he or she would take a few cues from the selections at places like Table 6 & Bistro One, which are full of surprises both oenologic & monetary.

All that said: the 2nd time at Encore was something approaching a charm. Our meal was really pretty delicious.

On a roll with the thistle family lately, we started with the roasted artichoke, which is not only accompanied by a ramekin of herbed aioli

Encoreartichoke1

but serves as its own ramekin for melted butter just touched with truffle oil

Encoreartichoke2

the way the glasses of some so-called martinis are just rinsed out with vermouth. It’s true a little truffle goes a long way, but in this case a little more wouldn’t have gone too far.

Still, we had a fine time comparing our methods of attack: the Director worked from the inside out, allowing the most-soaked leaves to drip-dry a bit before teething (unfortunate but appropriate here, that word) them, whereas I worked from the outside (where only a few leaves were tougher than they should have been) in, dipping as I went, a slightly more awkward but no less rewarding MO.

Before our entrees came a plate of bread with a mound of chile-spiked honey butter that with my meager photographic skills I couldn’t do justice to: it’s the color of orange sherbet, & its infusion of piquant sweetness is such that it made me want cornbread. Or pancakes, pancakes with a dash of chili powder & cinnamon & maybe ground coffee in the batter. How does that sound, ingenious or foul? I rarely know the difference.

Encorebread

Nor did the chile chase end there. We split the roast chicken smothered in NM red chili sauce—not wholly unlike a good (by which I mean not primarily sweet) barbecue sauce—& it was the best I’ve had since Bistro One, some time ago now: juicy & tasting of chicken, which chicken so rarely does anymore.

Encorechicken

& magic happened when a small dollop of the sauce got mixed into the vigorously herbed red bliss mashers, chunky & smooth in all the right places.

The golden-raisin-sprinkled Moroccan-style short ribs we also split were exemplary—spiced with just the right amount of cinnamon & cumin & such; tender, they retained their integrity over, orange-scented, I believe, couscous. If I’m wrong about that, so much greater the chef’s achievement for making me think it.

Encoreshortribs

Only the caper vinaigrette on the griddled asparagus disappointed, being unexpectedly more like a mayo dip, too sweet & heavy.

Encoreasparagus

So, though I offer no ovation, I’m no longer inclined to heckle either. A round of sincere if hardly wild applause’ll do it.

What happens at The Kitchen stays in the parking lot

Having, on the strength of some simple but vibrantly satisfying soup, salad & sticky pudding, declared myself a sucker for The Kitchen early last spring, I was psyched to return recently to meet this really funny chick I dig (we’ll call her FC) for happy hour, which turned into 2, 3, 4 & 5 hours, which turned into me letting the whole remaining-upright thing slide & just slithering back to my little Ford Focus (or Unfocus as the case may be) to sleep it off for awhile before driving back to Denver in the darkest of night.

FC made some particularly lush & insightful comments about the Grüner Veltliner she sipped & I pounded; perhaps she could be persuaded to repeat them here for your enlightenment, if she hasn’t been so scandalized by my sloppiness that she’d just as soon not come forward as my oenocompanion.

She also said, when the fries—thoroughly crispy & golden, refreshingly plain with sea salt & herbs & no volcanic ash or gold flakes or dried leaf of Afghani opium poppy or what all fries are getting sprinkled with these days—

Kitchenfries

arrived with a ramekin of ketchup, “Look, it’s the baby Jesus.”

Kitchenketchup

You can kinda see it.

Images

My only beef with the wood-roasted mussels in a chorizo-infused cream of a broth would’ve been that there weren’t quite enough for 2, amounting to a mere handful in the small bowl—except that at the special “tasting hour” price of $5, there certainly were enough for me to chuck said beef.

Kitchenmussels

Not having subsequent dinner plans, I also ordered a bowl of house-marinated olives—which I don’t recall as being noticeably laced with any nonoleaceous savor, like citrus zest or chili flakes, but that was no skin off my nose (such as might rather befleck really fancy fries), since the olives themselves were just gorgeously pungent, nicely firm yet juicy, as though each were hand-picked (mushy, overripe olives, which pop up in some eateries way more than they should, are a huge peeve of mine):

Kitchenolives

The house-spiced nuts, by contrast, were nothing if not magnified (hence the close-up! or because I no longer had upper-body motor control) by the mixture with which they were tossed.

Kitchennuts2

Judging by my once close familiarity with Sally Sampson’s swell cookbooklet Party Nuts! (I used to entertain a lot more than I do now—I mean deliberately, as opposed to inadvertently behind my back), I’m guessing there was a lot of chili powder & salt, a little brown sugar & a little egg white as binder, but I could be totally off. Anyway I don’t think I left one behind.

PN

Finally, the vegetable antipasto seemed at 1st glance pricy for its size, but proved painstakingly exquisite enough to justify the tag:

Kitchenveggies

Between the marinated radish slices, braised buttered (I’m guessing) baby carrots, warm yellow tomato chunks with pesto & grilled zucchini disks with aioli, , each element fully realized, I had a jolly time picking & plucking & mixing & matching.

I continue to categorize The Kitchen under Eateries That Give Me Hope rather than Eateries That Get Me Hot simply because I’ve yet to have a full meal there. But I suspect it’s only a matter of time. Like when the hangover finally subsides.

Piecemeal: Black Pearl

*** Gentle reader: this post was originally a series thereof. I’ve now assembled them into 1 ridiculously long post for your convenience &, hopefully, mild pleasure.

My mom has a penchant for the most rococo & corny—rococorny—of interjections. One is crimuhnutleys!, as I’m inclined to spell it. Needless to say Google is useless in this wise. Maybe it’s Yiddish, maybe it’s gibberish. All I know is it roughly translates as Jesus H. Christ! (at least in my obviously non-Yiddish-filled book).

On that note, crimuhnutleys, it’s been a rough couple of weeks workwise, and the next couple are looking even rougher. Thus my latest adventures in gut-busting will likely be recorded piecemeal. Hah! pun totally intended.

For instance, 2 weeks ago now MO, Mr. MO, the Director & I spent a hyperleisurely (sounds contradictory, isn’t) evening at good old Black Pearl, which just so happens to have a good new fall menu whose highlights I promised to detail last week.

Having bemoaned BP’s overpriced wine list ad nauseum, I’ll let it suffice to say this smug little attempt at oenologic humor ain’t 1 of ’em.

BPwinelist

But the chili-fried calamari, though actually a longtime signature rather than a recent introduction, certainly is. Much justice as the Director’s fine illustration thereof does it, this snapshot adds little beyond showing how deftly crumbed rather than clumsily breaded the nice big buttery chunks of squid are, how judiciously smeared with a more nutty-sweet than spicy glaze.

BPsquid

One dish down, a slew to go. As layers of nacre form slowly around an irritant to create a pearl, so I’ll work around my deadlines to gloss over our meal a bit more each day(ish) until it’s covered. To be continued…

***

When we last left our hungry heroes, they were hanging from the cliff of a first course at Black Pearl: following a round of prosecco & oysters, they had moved on to such specialties of the house as calamari, pan-fried shishito peppers—ever so pleasantly glistening with oil & accompanied by sesame-spiced salt, with a grassy savor that MO the following day called “luscious, although I was still tasting them this morning when I woke up”—

BPpeppers

& the old standard that has become “exquisite” parmesan-&-truffle-dusted fries (not pictured) with a simple aioli. According to MO, it was at this point that Mr. MO apparently recalled with a shudder that his wife was “not capable of going to a restaurant without trying half the menu” and “throwing lots of other shit on the bill.” Over on our side of the table, the Director was likewise querying as to just how far MO & I intended to take this whole face-stuffing thing.

Like him, you’ll soon find out.

***

Does catatonia translate into print? Suffice it to say I’m working so hard these days that my downtime amounts to occasional fleeting moments of, as Merriam-Webster defines the disorder, “marked psychomotor disturbance that may involve stupor or mutism, negativism, rigidity, purposeless excitement, and inappropriate or bizarre posturing.” Bingo, minus the excitement part.

Hence, as warned a few days back, these bits & pieces—dribbles & gurgles, really—will keep coming. But perhaps it’s a nice change from my usual endless rambling, & my deadline is so close now I can reach out & smack it, so all will be back to normal, whatever that means, soon enough.

For now, please enjoy this jaw dropper of a dish (which, granted, could in turn be a bit gag-inducing for whomever’s seated across from you who order it) off BP’s fall menu:

BPporkbelly

lozenges of pork belly that are truly the savory, carnivorous equivalent of lemon bars, crusty on the outside & squishy in the center—only with the maddeningly exquisite fat of a pig rather than citrus curd.

285210470_d22a07b79d[1] not quite, but almost

But if the pork was exemplary, what sandwiched it—kabocha squash cakes below & fried Fresno chiles above—were exceptional: the latter expanding upon the crispness of the skin, the former upon the softness of the flesh, & both contributing their own touches of vegetable sweetness. The squash in particular was beautifully done, intense but not cloyingly so, no candied sweet-potato casserole of sad Thanksgivings past:

225_10651_Candied whew! not even close

To be continued, seemingly forever…

***

Feast that lasts for days on end: awesome. Post that lasts for days on end about a feast that didn’t: not so much. So, in conclusion:

Much Palatino have I already spilled about Black Pearl’s breadcrumb-&-balsamic-sprinkled steak, but since the kitchen has a way of tweaking the presentation slightly every time—kinda like some avant-jazz combo reinterpreting an old standard several nights running at the Knitting Factory, only pleasurable—it’s always worth a look-see:

BPsteak3

The Director ate it all up, while MO assured us her salmon with mussels & panzanella, which she requested without sausage, “was perfectly balanced even sans chorizo—far superior to the lackluster $36 salmon dish I had at [Disneyland’s] vaunted Napa Rose a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a while since I’ve ordered a dish with mussels where at least 1 or 2 either weren’t opened or were gritty.” In your little fairy-dusted face, Tinkerbell.

BPsalmon

& as for Mr. MO’s crab cakes—

BPcrabcakes

they were quite the crustacean bongos I just wanted to bang on all day & eat all night.

Black Pearl on Urbanspoon

Putting Pete on the A-List: brunch at Beatrice & Woodsley

If it’s much longer before Pete List, exec chef at Beatrice & Woodsley, is bundled up with Denver’s other dynamite sticks—the Bonannos & the Jasinskis etc. of the dining scene—I’ll eat my hat, & not just any old hat either, but something like this.

Hot_dog_hat

The optimism with which I moved to this city over a year ago—whereby the culinary landscape appeared so fertile as to bear copious fruit, by spontaneous generation as much as cultivation, any moment hence—has born repeating ever since, if with slightly less emphasis. Urbanity can be its own form of provinicalism, city-slickness just reverse naiveté—& it’s only now really beginning to sink in that, for instance, there’s a dearth of Cape Verdeans in the Rockies (how I miss this place), an even worse dearth of squid in the supermarkets & so on.

But to peruse B&W’s menu is to feel validated. Encouraged anew. & hungry. For brunch, List is currently offering stuff most American chefs wouldn’t offer even after cocktails, never mind before coffee: turtle soup, frog’s legs, lamb hash & lamb pie, croque madames. I wish I were his mother so I could beam with pride.

On the occasion of the Director’s 40th year on this earth, we started with the frog’s legs to go with our champagne, flanked by barely poached eggs & sauteed in what I’d call a sort of modified sofrito, very light in deference to the delicacy of the meat—if flavor were sound frog would whisper so soothingly. (Unless you dwell on it until you hear the wretched croaking of Kermit mid-dismemberment, so don’t.)

BWfrog

The Director’s pork belly, I suspect because it was grilled as well as braised, didn’t have that virtually liquid center one comes to expect from the cut; it actually had more of the texture of slab bacon, which was fine by me. Beneath a drizzle of honey, the griddled masa cakes evoked open-face sopaipillas.

BWporkandeggs

I didn’t taste yet more poached eggs in spicy tomato sauce, but the Director says there was a lovely chipotle-like smokiness there.

Instead I focused on the special of the day—corn-&-crab-stuffed sole with cherry tomatoes in a champagne cream.

BWsole

Now that there’s a (pete) list of ingredients that would make some chefs quake in their clogs. None of them are known for their pungency; wherein would lie the spice rub? Wherefore the study in contrasts?

But the dish was stunning—the sole absolutely, almost abnormally rich & juicy, the onion-enhanced filling vibrant, the sauce complex. Even the tomatoes added pop.

Keep on keepin’ on, List. Make forays into more & more offal, more & more obscure technique. Surprise us, challenge us, show us what’s what. I think this town’s nearly big enough for you.

Little bang! theory

Kudos to the owner of this Highlands eatery for coming up with what I hereby propose is a virtually pun-proof name. Given the choice between corn qua praise (A bang-up job at bang!) & porn qua pan (for instance), a would-be wag sure is rhetorically caught between a bang and & a whimper.

As for registering benign enjoyment: merely middlingly killer wordsmith that I am, I’d best not go to great lengths attempting to pull off some elaborately humorous conceit involving hair—to wit, forelocks at that tricky in-between stage. But if I could, I would, since that’s about where bang! seems to be: no longer edgy fringe, not yet fully grown.

Certainly the space (for lack of a better word) suggests as much: with a streetfront kitchen emanating awkward chic, with its pair of dining rooms all snug, patchwork-hued & prone to wink-wink artsy touches like the vertical sign reading MARINATE in brushed-chrome letters, it’s as comfortably cool as, say, the downtown walk-up of some design student with a bright future & a striking resemblance to Parker Posey or Zooey Deschanel.

Ditto the repertoire. Indeed, “comfortably cool food” seems here rather more precise than “comfort food,” a label that, for all its admitted convenience, has for too long stuck so fast to so much as to be nearly meaningless—accounting indiscriminately for regional traditions & personal idiosyncracies alike, applying as easily to congee in Chinatown as grits in Chattanooga. Granted, there are a few inductees into the stateside hall of fame 1 could nominate sans asterisks—meatloaf, sure, & mashed potatoes, grilled cheese & corned-beef hash, etc.—but perusing bang!’s menu, I experienced as many flashbacks to grad-school potlucks as to the squash-patch-colored kitchen of my formative years: casual but heartfelt, quirky but barely. From the briefest of research, I get the sense it doesn’t change much, which if true is a shame for reasons I’ve touched upon w/r/t Black Pearl: repeat business needn’t mean repetitive business.

That said, the apparently signature hush puppies are indeed keepers, with a hot salty crust & a moistly corny interior. Though nothing like spicy, the jalapeño tartar sauce does give the slightest, nicest acidic twist to each dunked chunk.

Banghushpuppies

You’d think the potato croquette at the center of this here entree, being likewise a starch-starring sphere, would appeal equally. Instead, a tad too big, it essentially collapses under the weight of its own mush—taking the rest down with it: since it’s what distinguishes the otherwise clichéd combo of grilled shrimp, pureed corn & roasted red pepper on paper, in practice the whole thing falls a little flat.

Bangshrimp

By contrast, a pasta so nondescript it may as well be listed in invisible ink—penne with pesto, sausage & parmesan—really materializes with verve: a testament to the boldness of understatement, of the length to which a little goes, its shavings & crumbles & dollops & tubes just so.

Bangpasta

On that note, while bang! seems a bit strong, pfft is all wrong. Think I’ll nickname this quasi-funky little kitchen spark. That’s just dynamic enough.

Dear Bistro One: my bad.

Hey, remember how I razzed you a ways back for all those misspellings & malaprops on your website, insinuating links between linguistic & culinary carelessness? Well, smart as my mouth was then, it’s all the smarter now, the day after a meal that taught it a thing or 2 about the brains & brawn your kitchen crew actually possesses. So, you know, sorry about that, & thanks for all the grub.

Which in this case sorta means anything but, as our waiter, the kind of guy who clearly spends an inordinate amount of time making his own sunshine, indicated by reeling off all the nongrubby things chefs Olav Peterson (formerly of 1515, which I’ve never been to) & Travis Lorton (formerly, according to Westword, of Chicago’s Blackbird, which I have been to & deeply dig) are making in house: bread, bacon, charcuterie, pasta, pickles, ice cream; &, not so much in house as on it, they’re growing rooftop herbs & veggies.

Under the circumstances, then, how could we say no to the evening’s special, a charcuterie plate complete with duck pate, pork terrine, bacon brittle, 1 sunny-side-up egg, just-picked cress, pickled baby carrots, warm grilled bread & red-wine syrup?

B1charcuterie

We couldn’t, that’s how, & were all the gladder for that once we got a load of the layer of pure bacon fat atop the pate & the dollop of candied mustard seeds gracing the terrine. Though, due to the excess of salt exhibited by both meat products, it didn’t earn more than a B for execution, the phrase “A for effort” was made for dishes of its ilk. & the brittle was a kick in the teeth.

This, by the by, followed a basket of the delicious bread du jour, caramelized onion & parmesan—whose satisfyingly tight crumb bordered on that of pound cake—along with a dish of the infused oil du jour, roasted garlic, which our eager little beaver poured & peppered for us.

B1oil

It preceded escargots in potato cups that had, we were told, been confited, i.e. I assume basically kept for a spell, in butter.

B1escargot

Snails have always struck me as the shapeshifters, or rather flavorshifters, of the molluscian world; these tasted of nothing so much as portobellos. The tarragon aioli was as heavily herb-perfumed as a pothead in a cloud of patchouli, only much more nicely so.

A crazy thing happened after that: I ordered chicken. You know, who besides Cherry Creek sleekazoids & the GI-dysfunctional ever orders chicken? But it sounded swell, all gussied up like my plate was the prom in mustard & balsamic & champagne cream atop a ham-&-swiss risotto cake. Better yet, it was, being crunchy & luscious in all the right places—just salty & tangy & rich enough. I have hereby rendered its goodness photographically, by applying some sort of artistic filter—”diffuse glow,” I believe, fittingly enough.

B1chicken

Lacking an equally compelling aura, unfortunately, was the dull, muddied vegetable pot pie, which contained mainly potatoes & mushrooms, devoid of any brighter bits—a few carrot coins, broccoli florets or peas would have added some oomph. It’s not like it’s the dead of winter on the Eurasian steppe where we nomads are foraging for the last remaining roots. (Then again, chicken & bacon would help too. Come on now, there’s nothing about the noun phrase “pot pie,” in all its stout-hearted charm, to warrant its yoking to such a meager adjective as “vegetarian,” is there?) The sharply mustardy dressing on the frisee was lovely, however.

B1potpie

The pie wasn’t the only letdown; I was also roundly bummed about the dessert special, a lemon–olive oil cake accompanied by candied kalamata olives. But that was a matter not of its inferiority but of its failure to get in my belly altogether; the Director was too full to split it & I was too full not to. With memories of a brilliant chilled soup of candied kalamatas I used to slurp up back in Boston burning in my brain, I settled for an admittedly dandy scoop of cream-cheese ice cream, refreshingly reminiscent of ice milk in texture & tinged with tartness.

B1icecream

Additional kudos for a shrewd wine list that includes the quirky likes of what happen to be some of my own fave quaffs—e.g., Emilio Bulfon’s Piculit Neri and Zamba Malbec—& excludes anything over $40. (Equally streamlined is the space, minimalist but comfy in cream & chocolate tones.)

A single shining kudo, too, goes to whoever finally spell-checked the menu. Details, details.

delite, demoted to decent

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

Beatrice & Woodsley’s pretty little petri dishes

It’s not that he’s a molecular gastronomist or anything; don’t be expecting pistachio sponges with morel jelly & mandarin air. But whoever this Pete List fellow is (Googling his name as it appears, accompanied by the title of exec chef, on Beatrice & Woodsley’s small-plates menu yields only results for some Brooklyn-based beatboxer, whom I’m assuming he isn’t—which reminds me, there’s a documentary I’m excited to see about a guy who went around the world meeting all the other guys that turned up when he Googled his own name), he’s certainly taking enough risks—especially given the eatery’s location smack in the middle of the Baker District, where it’s surrounded on all sides by dives both legit & faux filled with sweet-potato-fry-eating, shot-pounding hipper-than-hipsters (not that I’m not down with shots & fries; au contraire, especially if you’re buying)—to qualify as a low-level, local-class experimenter. And judging from my 1st meal here, he’s clearly got the chops to pull off his mini-taste tests, from crawfish beignets with spicy powdered sugar to cauliflower gratin with shallot cream & pistachio crumbs.

His quirky repertoire is part classic French & part historico-regional American—think rillettes & ratatouille on the one hand, spoonbread & succotash on the other; intriguingly juxtaposed, they’re simultaneously joined in their contemporary reimagination. Take the sweetbreads, my fave of the eve:

Bwsweetbreads

Constituting a bit of a culinary pun in that they were set atop wedges of chestnut-honey cake that soaked up their juices most satisfyingly, the little nuggets were as buttery as could be—that telltale if subtle twinge of iron flavor softened even further, perhaps, by the white-peony tea with which they were seasoned (I can’t say I detected it otherwise).

The vegetable mousses were marvelous as well, a snappy dollop of fresh garbanzo offsetting the almost puddinglike nature of the carrot & parsnip; actually, given their garden sweetness, a sprinkling of sea salt on the matzohesque housemade crackers would have been a bonus.

Bwdips

Touches of pizzazz distinguished even the ubiquitous cheese plate, from hearty black-walnut bread to spiced pear slices & what we were told was mango jam but I’m sure was papaya, unless I’m developing the tropical-fruit equivalent of color blindness. At any rate it was super, like chunky punch.

Bwcheeseplate
Grapeskins from a wine press speckle the cheese in the background.

By the time the braised pork belly arrived, I was pretty much in my cups, as this addled little composition shows.

Bwporkbelly

Come to think of it, though, it’s a fairly accurate image of what I tasted; I gobbled up those cute little potatoes & pickles & sort of forgot about the pork belly, which, as well as I can recall it, was perfectly adequate but didn’t quite reach the crispy-edged, melting-centered benchmark set by Rioja.

Still, the only real disappointment was the stew of cod & cockles. Charming though it appeared,

Bwcod

the seafood was overwhelmed by too much housemade pancetta; only the brussels sprouts & cubed potatoes could stand up to its saltiness. Somehow I don’t think “sprouts & spuds” would sell as well. Although seeing as how they’ve got the chutzpah to bill a dish of I’m guessing leafy greens as “market growies,” I might humbly suggest it nevertheless.

All in all, I’m rooting loud & hard for this wacky joint.

delite, scoot over. Beatrice & Woodsley, come sit on my lap…

Having alluded off-handedly to Flight of the Conchords’ “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” the other day, I’m hearing those lyrics really resonate this morning:

And when you’re on the street
depending on the street
I bet you are definitely in the top 3
good-looking girls on the street
(depending on the street)

That’s because last night I was at delite (of which more in a forthcoming post), minding my own business (maybe), finding it all perfectly deliteful—emphasis perhaps on the lite. It was the most beautiful room in the room, at any rate.

But then the Mad Russian (whom you may remember being all mad & Russian at Izakaya Den a while back) used a cigarette break to finagle an invite to Beatrice & Woodsley, the just-opened sibling of Mario’s Double Daughter’s Salotto, though it’s still in semi-secret shakedown mode.

& suddenly poor delite, brand-new itself, didn’t even look to be in the top 3. Beatrice & Woodsley just sweeps the whole category.

If there were no such thing as Log-Cabin Goth before, there is now.

Come, slip between the stands of birch,

Bw3

play hide & seek among the drapery clouds,

Bw1

whisper to one another above the silent roar of the chainsaws supporting the log bar,

Bw2

Bw4

linger & feel mysterious a while, even in the bathroom, where the gold bricks are backlit to suggest, I suppose, sunset in an outhouse or something

Bw7

& strands of silver beads comprise the ceiling-to-sink faucet, like a small waterfall.

Bw5

But you have to find it first.

Bw6

I’ll return later to unpack the food.