Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Back in Black (Pearl)

It had been a while since we’d stopped in at our neighborhood place, dear as it is to us, mainly because the wine list is all too dear: my 1 major, oft-stated complaint with Black Pearl is that the beverage markups are almost offensively disproportionate to the price of the food. Currently, there’s only 1 bottle of red under $40—Jacuzzi Merlot, for crying out loud. Who’s gonna order that without feeling like this?
70sscrapbook1md
The 2nd-cheapest is about $60. The gouge a bottle of white leaves is slightly shallower; we stuck with prosecco.
Meanwhile, my 1 minor complaint is that the menu doesn’t change often enough to suit us regulars, especially those with tastebuds as restless as mine. (Yours too, if Gray’s Anatomy’s to be believed:
250pxgray1018
You’ve got a whole seafloor of throbbing anemones & swaying tentacles lining that mouth of yours! Who knew?)
Much as I crave that chili-fried calamari, those shishito peppers & comme-il-faut moules frites, etc. etc., & much as I respect the integrity behind the implication that less is more when it’s coming from a small kitchen with limited resources, I still think the crew therein has the talent to take a few more risks a little more often. (Ditto Deluxe, by the by.) In all fairness, BP is doing a weekly-changing 3-course prix-fixe these days, but I’ve always found that sort of thing to be geared more toward the change-savers than the change-cravers.
Be all that as it may, we found ourselves swooning as usual over updated versions of our favorite signatures. Given the constancy of the menu from season to season, I’ve got to be that much more impressed by the unassailable soulfulness of the cooking; instead of seeming rote, everything’s done with such care as to seem fresh time & time again.
Last time we had the tuna, it was parsley-crusted and surrounded with lentil-sausage crumbles; now, it’s rolled in sesame seeds & accompanied by tiny crab fritters atop schmears of hollandaise as well as bias-cut asparagus. The fish was seared so perfectly & remained so tender it was a bit of a shock; the hollandaise was stirringly pure. That, in fact, is the collective rare gift of the BOH: its ability to remind me what something’s supposed to taste like.
Bptuna2
That goes for the ribeye sprinkled with breadcrumbs & aged balsamic as well, although I think I prefer the former manner of presentation, in thin, delicate slices.
Bpsteak2
Actually, it doesn’t so much go for the smoked-potato hash beneath the beef;
Bppotatocake
I didn’t even know you could smoke potatoes (except like this
Potato2),
& it’s quite the sneaky treat. Like the hash-slinger at the diner was using the grill for an ashtray, in a really good way.
We downed a few oysters as well. I have a growing collection of shells (it’s scattered all over the beaches of the world—maybe you’ve seen it? No, wait, that’s Stephen Wright), as I like to swipe the ones that strike me as particularly stunning from the platter. But sometimes I slow my slurping pace enough to notice how gorgeous the meat itself can be:
Bpoyster
Again, that’s Black Pearl’s forte: showing you clearly what you already know, reintroducing you to what you already love.

Second Home, no mortgage!

Wow, I wish somebody’d told me my second home was so much swankier than my first one before I moved in. I didn’t know I had the funds to install a wall-to-wall wine rack, or employ a stonemason, or arrange low-slung couches & leather armchairs in my lounge in such offhand fashion. I didn’t know I had such fine taste.

Better yet, my good taste turns out not to be automatically synonymous with expensive taste. After 4 dishes & 4 drinks, the Director & I owed 40 bucks apiece. If I’d have known it would be so reasonable, I’d have eaten way more & wished I had two working mouths like that wacky Indian baby.

The menu falls into a category I love to pretend to hate but also to secretly love: upscale comfort food. Take this trout dip:

Shtroutdip_2

Served with herbed flatbread wedges & rye toasties, it was solid, chunky, more like a spread than a dip proper: think brick-type cream cheese suffused with the smoke of the flaked trout & tinged with the iron of torn spinach. Huh, brick, iron, smoke—sounds like we were eating a detail from an industrial landscape. In that case it tasted better than it sounds.

Or take our side of green-bean casserole. All too often, chefs’ ostensibly playful takes on white-trash cooking are just plain condescending, being no better but 10 times as expensive as the originals—you know, the whole “let’s serve tiny boudin noir with green-tomato chutney & call them ‘cocktail weiners with ketchup!'” or “let’s make our own English-rose-&-African-violet-infused jellybeans & then put them in little boxes which we’ll smear with sugar ‘thumbprints’ so it seems like they’ve been fished back out of the movie-theater garbage can by alley bums!” thing is so played out. But this, richly fresh with green beans & that funkiest of spoonable perfumes, cream of mushroom soup, is downright soulful.

Shgreenbeancasserole_2

Sprinkled with fried shallot rings, it does its part to right a wrong that contemporary kitchens have been perpetuating for all too long. My hat’s off, & it’s not even a Prada trucker cap.

Hosannas for Mosaic

***UPDATE: Mosaic is now CLOSED.***

Before we caught, in every (except the literal) sense, Dengue Fever at the hi-dive last night (if you’re unfamilliar, get familiar: the doll-like lead singer wears what our friend Keith pegged as a gently used prom dress & sings mostly in Cambodian; the guitarist channels some sort of Hasidic Castro; the bassist is a 7-foot-tall black bouncing ball of winningly awkward sexual exuberance; the keyboardist has some sort of Rob-Reiner-as-Meathead thing going on, and every number’s like a cross between a TV spy-show theme, a torch song you’d, if you were a GI in some wartime cabaret overseas, cry in your warm, watery beer over, & early-’80s ska), we drove out to Parker on something of an Open Table–generated whim to check out Mosaic.

To the extent that you can be ambivalent about your own whims, however, we were. Wherefore the dearth of press coverage, the wordlessness-of-mouth? Why stuck way out on the barren corner of a freeway exit in Parker in a squat building whose darkened exterior suggests some sort of industrial paint outlet? Is the guy in street clothes who left his cocktail at his seat at the bar to come greet us at the host stand a customer? Should the lounge be so aura-destroyingly fluorescent? Why is the dining room, much more handsomely if sci-fi-ly mood-lit by this Star Trekkian fireplace

Mosaicfireplace

(cf. 390955750_6c78eb96dd)

& the fishtank behind it as utterly empty as it is ambitiously spacious? What’s with the spooky video loop of the tropical waterfall on the smattering of flatscreens? Why is this 14-year-old in a Nehru collar—actually, the question could end there—serving us an amuse bouche before we’ve even opened the wine list, & why is he calling it “honeydew, sundried tomato & corn ceviche with a wonton chip”? If it’s fishless, isn’t it just honeydew, sundried tomato & corn with a wonton chip?

Mosaicamuse

But then we tasted it, each little chile-peppered cube producing a burst of juice (& hence a flood of fond memories of this gum—love that squirt!),

Gum

& our questions began to yield to answers, doubt to delight. Of the 5 dishes we sampled, 4 totally startled us with their gorgeously wrought complexity, which the menu descriptions rarely even came close to capturing.

This, for instance, is not lamb tempura. This is a lamb fritter, & no less fabulous for that,

Mosaiclamb2

thickly but crisply battered, cumin-scented & tamarind-glazed. Nor does “mascarpone & macadamia nut relish” begin to cover what lies beneath;

Mosaiclamb1

the smoky-bright, sweet-tart stuff contained dark & golden raisins & bits of orange & fresh cranberry too, here & there mingling with scant dollops of spicy mustard.

What the menu intriguingly calls “Balkan meat & potato stones” are basically croquettes, in themselves crackerjacks—beneath their outer shell the potatoes hot, soft & moist as if freshly whipped, with just a whiff of good old but ever-welcome truffle; the lamb & beef at the center ground to a near-paste that made me wish they made meat-flavored Crest—but especially fascinating for being smothered in a sesame oil–tinged, smoked Thai chili–corn sauce so deliciously elusive we could have sworn it was cheese-based, but no—& yet yes, in spirit, I believe it was:

Mosaicstones_2

By the way, those are also called “small plates.” Ditto this “sauteed feta,”

Mosaicfeta

its texture somehow reminiscent of frittata, its saltiness mellowed not only by the cooking method but also by the brown-bread slices the squares sat atop, so thin & crisp they were really hot brown crackers, & of course by the drizzle of balsamic syrup, but at the same time echoed (the saltiness) in the daubs of what the menu lists as baby spinach, pine nuts, raisins & caperberries—which again, given the myriad facets of flavor those tiny baubles of condiment contained, I’m betting was indeed all in there, & possibly olives too, as they clearly evoked tapenade.

While I kept on going strong with a superb signature salad that was like nothing so much as smoked-fish gorp, the Director suffered the only blow of the evening, delivered heartily—the only thing delivered heartily—by what was supposed to be pan-seared salmon & scallops in a smoked onion broth with lobster, corn & potato hash & kiwi-watercress salad but seemed just mostly to be some fish in some liquid, all the rest melting away. Where everything else had been subtly layered & swirled, this was just muddied.

Mosaicsalmon

Still. I’d gladly wade through a little sludge to get to another meal as originally conceived, smartly executed &, get this!, fairly priced—the entrees hover around the $20 mark; wines rarely break $40—as this one.

Coming to beefless grief at Leaf

Wow, Leaf certainly is leafy green & squeaky clean & wall to wall with lean mean meat-fighting machines. I don’t know what you’d have to do to leave here saying “oof,” but the chance that it involves eating anything off the menu is way fatter than the one that it entails getting knocked out on your duff for talking shit about soy products.
They called this white bean & spinach soup—what a crock. It was spinach & white bean soup.
Leafsoup
Still, though more leaf than bean, it was plenty chunky as well as quite cheeky, unexpectedly peppery. Ditto this artichoke “guacamole,” not as creamy as the avoriginal yet with a good strong tang, atop a meaty white bean cake; too bad the red curry–coconut cream was so thin, just making the patty’s bottom soggy as though it were part of an Irish nursery rhyme, rather than adding punch 2 to the punch 1 the rest of the ethnoclectic recipe it was in fact part of delivered.
Leafguac
Speaking of thin, that & pale is what I turned by having this Asian seaweed salad.
Leafsalad
Honeymooning with my mother, my father lost his brand-new wedding ring at White Sands. We had picture placemats from there, like this;
Images111
to settle me down at mealtimes, he’d tell me to find his ring in the photo. It’ll be no less a challenge for you to locate the jicama, wakame, bok choy, bamboo shoots, palm hearts & water chestnuts supposedly mixed up in the above mound of mizuna sprinkled with carrots’ toenail clippings. The French toast stix–looking things on top are marinated grilled tofu triangles, which actually might as well have been French toast stix for all I could judge by the taste—good in an indefinite, unmemorable way.
Come to think of it, though, I did leave saying “oof”—namely after getting an eyeful of the menu at conjoined-twin Aji, where the same talent that, though obvious, just languishes over post-nouvelle portions of pavement-crack growth at Leaf must put all its energy toward funky, hunky-sounding ends like lobster arepas, rib & cabbage tortas & stuffed poblanos with walnut sauce.
I’m all for vegetarian dishes—provided there’s actual food on them. Until Leaf beefs it up a little, I’ll be next door.

The often exciting & always true conclusion of Pimp My Meal!: Mission to Fruition

If there’s one thing I believe in, it’s crappy endings. Tragedy. Chaos. Anticlimax. In one or more of these do life’s episodes most convincingly conclude. As Amos Tutuola’s title character puts it in the Palm Wine Drinkard, “And so all our trials, difficulties and many years’ travel brought only an egg or resulted in an egg.” Though I don’t exactly recall what that means anymore, the redundant little flourish says it all, still makes me laugh with a sad face. Show me a good happy ending & I’ll show you a movie with Dudley Moore & Liza Minnelli in it, & that’s about it.
So I wasn’t inclined to trust a place called Fruition. & a perusal of the menu didn’t change my angle, as I indicated when my dinner mechanic, MC Slim JB, handed me the keys & bid me take it for a test drive against Opus. Fruition, it even sounds like a Ford model, doesn’t it? The 2008 Fruition—now it comes to you.
Well, I went to it, looking more forward to the company of a cool lady I know who grew up seeing the same bands I did (Defenestration! Chainsaw Kittens! Flaming Lips!) than to the “sophisticated comfort food” whereof the website boasts. The phrase gives me the willies—& I don’t really know what those are, which makes them even worse—for its oxymoronic presumption. Sure, I suppose anything could be comfort food to someone. I suppose if your parents were filthy-rich globe-traipsing gourmands, gold-dipped lobes of foie gras might be comfort food. If you grew up naked in the bush, live grubs might be comfort food, the wrigglier & squishier the better. But for most of us stateside in the 21st century, comfort food doesn’t have anything in it you don’t have to check the date on or smell before using. It doesn’t have any French in it, that’s for sure. Slim’s label, “slightly modernized Continental fare,” strikes me as far more accurate, but I guess that doesn’t quite a slogan make. You can’t put an exclamation point on the end of “slightly modernized Continental fare.”
You can, however, put an exclamation point on the end of this:
Fonionsoup
Wow, quelle soupe a l’oignon! The flavor had such depth you’d have thought, & certainly hoped, the bowl was bottomless. Sweet as well-browned onion made it, so the broth base made it intensely savory—was it veal? I think it was veal. I think it came from a calf made of velvet brocade & lavender jade. That’s how beautifully intense it was. And that spiral of gruyère—I’d swear it was mixed with mayo, for it too was tinged with sweetness & had a lovely dollopy quality. I was so into swirling & spooning up that stuff I forgot all about the braised short rib holding up the crouton until suddenly it was all that was left. & not only could I eat it with the spoon, I could practically have eaten it with a knife, just spread it on top of the crouton. It was that willing.
And then, from the looks of this photo, I could have turned the knife on the psycho who tried to serve me some evil Satan-worshipping monkfish bathed in blood blood bloooooood.
Fmonkfish2
Good thing the creepshow was only playing in my weird camera’s head. The pan-roasted monkfish with herb-flecked spaetzle, caramelized brussels sprouts, fennel confit & Meyer lemon beurre fondue was totally innocent. Well, except of one transgression: the filet was surprisingly overcooked, a tad rubbery. But the rest was dandy: the spaetzle al dente, the veggies thankfully not—sprouts’ quasi-grassiness overlapping with fennel’s anise veneer—& the sauce as sprightly as it was silken.
The cool lady (who posts on Chowhound.com’s Southwest board as rlm), meanwhile, praised her adorable! pasta carbonara complete with “angelic egg sitting on top”
Fcarbonara
for the “perfectly crisped” house-cured pork belly beneath it. My praise goes to (besides her manicurist) the stellar butter in that dish rlm’s holding in the corner, which I think was sprinkled with at least two different sea salts. The bread comes courtesy of a guy in a tie with a wicker basket on his arm, who asks you whether you want French white or whole wheat. Since my answer is Yes, I’ll allude once more to the great American bread-basket post, full of intrigue & heartbreak, I will one day compose & note that Fruition’s won’t crack the top 5 for 2 reasons: 1) the rockingest bread baskets contain at least 1 surprise treat, mini-muffins or baby biscuits or slices involving olives &/or nuts &/or cheese &/or dried fruit &/or herbs & 2) the rockingest bread baskets aren’t in the crook of someone else’s elbow, they’re on my table, so I can stuff my face & complain afterward about how it snapped up all my stomach’s most valuable real estate only to turn it right back over to me for an obscene asking price.
And while, as rlm said sweetly & with a winning smile within earshot of our waiter when I noted she hadn’t finished her entree—roast duck breast over risotto with smoked-duck prosciutto, arugula & red-onion marmalade—
Fduck_2
“if I’d had more duck to go with it, I’d have eaten more risotto,” heh, the only major disappointment for me was the very dessert I’d drooled over in the aforelinked post. Though the cream-cheese ice cream was great—as tangy as all get out, as though it got low low low low low low low low in baggy sweatpants—the blond carrot cake was rather dry. My camera couldn’t even be bothered to focus on it.
Fcarrotcake_2
So the meal, mighty fine overall, didn’t end with a bang so much as a pfft, didn’t quite come to fruition. Maybe they should rename the place Only An Egg.
***
All due thanks once again to MC Slim JB for his input & insight! Any of you fellow Denveaters planning trips to Boston will want to check here &/or here for more words of dining wisdom.

Fruition on Urbanspoon

Hallucineating at Black Pearl

I’ve been having insomnia like I was Ed Norton in Fight Club—or for that matter Gatti in the fight club that was his ever-lovin’ trilogy with Ward:
Images
So perhaps the moules frites I thought we had at Black Pearl were all in my zonked head. These can’t be real, right?
Bpmoulesfrites
Aside from defying gravity as only a dream dish can, it seems to me that, from the splayed things on bottom to the peekaboo on top, it’s all a little too ripe for Freudian interpretation. Black Pearl should have a couch for me to lie down & eat it on.
Or perhaps Richard Seaman, which unless I’m mid-delusion as we speak I swear I’m not making that up, can explain it all, since he’s got an eye for edibles (or so they say) like this:
Dogstinkhorn

Pimp My Meal! Part 5: Table 6

There are bricks. There are woodplanks. There are blackboards. There’s a communal table. There are two-tops and four-tops, not too many, spaced just so. Voices rise & fall; things clink & other things rustle. The familiar charms of Table 6 are so simple they’re almost caricature. There’s an open kitchen; when I glanced in, I saw the perfect chef, a bit plump, a bit scruffy, grinning, a salmon-colored ascot set jauntily about his neck. No, wait. It was a handtowel draped over his shoulder. Damn. Still, it was pink; it might as well have been a cravat. He might as well have been drawn that way.
He certainly cooks that way, the way you’d expect a cartoon chef to cook—with warmth & humor on the one hand, seasoned judgment & precision on the other. He cooks like he’s cranky & jolly by turns, like
Images3 + Images4,
only more French. His cooking shows he knows where humble meets haute. While, given bad directions, so many of his peers speed right through the intersection, he hangs out on its corners. That’s his turf, more than that of any chef I’ve encountered of late.
A case in point: the signature tater tots.
Tatertots
Where everybody else just keeps on adding truffle ad nauseum, he—Scott Parker, according to the website—studs his little cutie-patooties (yeah, I said it—see, I’m a softie when you get to know me & don’t serve me crap) with Marcona almonds, giving them at once extra crunch & suaver savor. Though I thought them slightly undersalted, they were otherwise perfect, right down to that smoky, slightly tart tomato jam—a jam to give that other jam I mentioned recently no mere black eye but a total Klitschkovian ocular meltdown:
Images5
Considering them along with the other cases in point, I’d go so far as to say Parker’s a master of texture. Everything balances the crispy with the creamy, the succulent with the firm until you’re just about to kiss your fingers and go, “mmmwwahhh!”, except then you’d have to admit this place was turning you from a secret softie into an open, running sap.
That goes, speaking of schmaltz, for the pot pie—sure enough “blitzed,” per the menu, with chicken fat & topped, per the Director, with a nugget of dark meat, “very juicy, very well-fried…a very nice touch” (hey, who’s writing this?)—
Potpie
as well as my grilled striped bass atop a pool of malt-vinegar-infused mayo below a cylinder of celery-root kugel below a how-the-hell-do-you-like-that surprise piece of frisée tempura:
T6bass
Between the two was enough technique to play a piano & paint a picture simultaneously from another room without eyes or hands. The pastry crust was rose-petal tender; the deep-fry batter was delicate enough to dip a feather in; the sauce had body & tang; the silky browned skin on the fish made me want to take it off & wear it, like the Ed Gein of piscivores.
Not having room for white-chocolate crumpets with blackcurrant jam (well, & not having trouble comparing myself to a screaming psychokiller), I went home a broken woman.
But I may be made whole again; salvation’s nigh. On March 16, Table 6 starts serving brunch. The biscuits come with lamb gravy. Pray they serve mine in a baptismal font.

Table 6 on Urbanspoon

Pimp My Meal! Part 4: Sinkhole 32

***UPDATE: Swimclub 32 is now CLOSED.***

Choosing Swimclub 32 over Thëorie in episode 1 of Pimp My Meal!, Slim explained that the menu seemed to have “more dishes beyond the range of my kitchen skills” than did the latter. As dining criteria go, that one’s about as solid as they come; I don’t care to frequent any eatery whose kitchen would have me as a chef either—unless it’d let me make my famous grapefruit, pistachio, water chestnut & canned salmon salad, otherwise known as broke-ass delight. Sometimes I add gherkins. Actually, the Director has an old joke book in which the author advocates saving all the pistachios that won’t open until you have a serving bowl’s worth, then sitting back to watch hilarity ensue as your guests sweat to budge the shells. I always thought Hilarity Ensues would be a great porn name. Until the Oscars the other night, I’d never heard the thing Jon Stewart said about how you’re supposed to add your first pet’s name to the first street you lived on to get your porn name. Thing is, the first street I lived on was named for a locally beloved football coach, making my porn name Starshine “Bud” Wilkinson. Which would go over just fine, I guess, in the right clubs.

Images1

+

Images

=

hot hot hot!!!

Speaking of being hot in the right club, if you are or just want to feel like you are or just want the people you’ll be spending the evening looking at to be, & you or they intend on staying that way or at least feeling like you’re or they’re staying that way by drinking lots & eating little, Swimclub’s your place. The huge mirror hanging over the bar is itself gorgeous, providing a literal framework for its beautiful subjects.

S32mirror_2

But if, as for Slim (& myself in this post, for that matter), you describe “your place” as one that offers dishes you don’t have the talent or inclination to make yourself, you’d best beware the implied corollary to your definition: that the offerers themselves do have the ability & motivation to follow through.

Let’s just say one or the other trait didn’t characterize Swimclub’s kitchen the night we were there.

If that’s putting it more delicately than I usually have the talent or inclination to put anything, it’s out of deference to the bar staff, whose ability & motivation very nearly compensated. Though the wine list is small, its heart is in the right place, devoted to smaller producers & more obscure blends & listing plenty of bottles in the $30 range; our Verget du Sud was absolutely lovely, light & bright. & though it wasn’t on the cocktail list, our bartender/waitress—so bubbly I wish her name were Pippi, though the Director said it was Angelica when I asked later if we remembered to ask, but I think he was making that up because then he added, “Huston,” whom I’m almost positive she wasn’t—wasn’t only obliging but downright eager to make me an espresso martini, which she did with a full shot of coffee to counterbalance sundry liqueurs (IIRC, Kahlua, Irish cream & Frangelico). It was fine & dandy.

Not so this scene-of-an-accident-looking scallop ceviche.

Scallopceviche_2

I’m not sure it contained anything besides scallop & bell pepper. I’m not sure the scallop & bell pepper it contained contained scallop & bell pepper—those little bits just seemed like placeholders for where their flavors were supposed to go. If chiles & lime juice were supposed to be there too, they must have gotten stuck in the tomato jam, arriving only after all the other ingredients gave up on them & left.

Yes indeed, just like post-accident traffic, the cloying mess of that jam brought everything else to a standstill. The Director said it reminded him of something you’d put on a playschool afternoon snack, like maybe saltines & peanut butter—which, come to think of it, all mashed up together, would have made for a much more successful kind of ceviche.

Likewise, if it looks like a duck quesadilla & acts like a duck quesadilla, it may well be a duck quesadilla—but that still doesn’t mean it tastes like one (so maybe the below photo belongs here).

Duckquesadilla_2

As the Director notes, duck has a fairly low “gaminess threshold,” one it was bound to pass as soon as it came into contact with those spiced mashed black beans (themselves admittedly delicious, moist yet sturdy & punchy), never mind 3 different dressings (mole, herb cream & annatto oil). Really, I’m all for paying triple for once-humble ethnic snacks tarted up beyond recognition, but in this particular case, workhorses like pork & chicken might simply have been better equipped to pull their own weight than was that languishing anatine diva.

Next up: the signature beef,

Beefhotrock_2

served raw for searing not on these rocks, which formed the base of the bar,

Rockbar_3

nor this one, which held the check,

Billrock_2

but this one, heated to 650 degrees—

Hotrock_2

which begins to beg the question, why not call it Rockclub? The music’s loud & pounding enough.

Anyway, what can I say about this dish the photo itself isn’t tearfully confessing? Or, okay, maybe it’s me who’s cryingly ashamed of having paid over $20 for some dip, plus maybe 3 bites of beef—& not from the kind of cow that gets daily massages & sees a Jungian therapist in its field of 4-leaf clover, either, just your average New York strip—as well as less than 1 layer of red onion & less than 1/2 of a new potato, all of which I had to cook myself. On a rock. With sticks. To see me, you’d think I also wore dirt & spoke in a series of grunts. (Oh, wait.)

As for these mussels,

S32mussels_2

they were, sitting fat in their bath of coconut milk & Pernod, quite good. You know, just like everybody else’s mussels.

Slim, I fear this particular ride is beyond pimping. It’s no bombed-out jalopy, mind you—more like the kind of flashy European sports car whose erratic performance is irrelevant to those who can afford it; they just like to see themselves, & have others see them, sitting in it, whether or not it’s going anywhere.

I’m cute! Cute cute cute cute cute!: The Dish Bistro

***SAD TO SAY: THE DISH CLOSES AS OF 5/4/08. Read & weep.***

An old boyfriend of mine used to say that at all the worst moments. I just Googled it to see if he’d been quoting someone, & found myself watching the entire length of Mary Kate & Ashley’s “I Am the Cute One” on YouTube (I’ll spare you a link). Then I Googled something else he used to say, “Do you love Stevie Wonder? Yes I do, yes I do,” a move that likewise (despite “not matching any documents”—can anyone name that hiphop tune? Be much obliged) led in more unexpected directions than a Choose Your Own Adventure paperback (including toward countless fansites & forums for & parodies of CYOA itself, my favorite perhaps being this one, a link I’d be compromising my core values to spare you).
So, yeah, things are going smoothly here in the den of unemployment.

Anyway, if The Dish Bistro could talk it would say the same, with a similarly sassy little side-to-side tilt of the head. Of course, the people inside can talk, & what they have to say confirms as much. First the reservationist called me “sweetie.” Then, far from giving us the attitude The Director & I arguably deserved when we walked in the first night of Restaurant Week only to express our consternation that it was Restaurant Week—I’d forgotten all about it, RW being IMO a whole rigmarole of dumbed-down repertoires & harried service that defeats its own promotional purpose—the hostess cheerfully went to great lengths to make sure we were quickly seated at the bar where the regular menu was available. Then there was our bartender/waitress; an inordinate amount of time having passed between our appetizers & our entrees, she thanked us for our patience before uttering 1 of the 2 most stirringly mellifluous phrases in the English language, “This round’s on me”—the other being her opening line: “For tonight’s wine special, the Malbec is half off.” Which pretty much guaranteed that in no time we were half off too—our stools! Ba-dum-bum.

The menu likewise has charm written all over it, literally: each bears the signatures of owner Leigh Jones & chef Carl Klein beneath an inked inscription, “Enjoy!” It also credits by name, in not-so-small print, “The Crew Who Makes It Happen”—a gracious gesture if ever there was one, the sort that underscores for me just why, all else being equal, I’ll take the Dishes & Deluxes & Kitchens & Black Pearls over the Kevin Taylors & Spagos of the world any day. People work here, not just names & toques & suits.

Ironically enough, the only thing that didn’t strike me as totally adorable was the dishware, which kept reminding me I need to get my teeth cleaned.

Dishdish

As for the food on the dishware—I could pretty much write “appealingly simple” or “refreshingly straightforward,” followed by “enough said,” & be done with it; it’s that kind of good solid everyday stuff. But seeing as how happy hour’s a ways off—clock, you’re killing me here—I guess I’ve got some time to elaborate.

These here are the fries with truffled aioli & pecorino. While I usually like my fries like I like my male strippers, flashing a bit more crispy golden skin, surprising subtlety was what this dish had to show, no one earthy element overpowering another.

Trufflefries

They may look a little disheveled (heh! no pun intended, but what the hell), but these roasted mushrooms, with their cipolline and more pecorino and fried shreds of polenta and schmear of, presumably, red wine–mushroom glaze, really came together, dark & meaty-sweet.

Dishmushrooms

Mom, close your eyes: this here’s my lusty ham-&-cheese sandwich (she’s a JewBu so totally rolling over in the grave she doesn’t even have yet & may never, depending on which way she decides to, you know, go).

Hamsandwich

The imported ham was rosemary-cured, the Swiss aged, the mayo housemade. Only the bread lacked something…oh, flavor, that’s it. If it was indeed sourdough as indicated on the menu, it was self-hating sourdough determined to pass as white. A little rye or pumpernickel flava’d have gone a long way in my utopian vision of a diverse sliced-bread society. But at least it had a nice crumb.

The Director’s lamb pretty much speaks for itself. No, not Baa, I was cute—cute cute cute cute cute. More like I’m tender, warm & serene. Isn’t that a Stevie Wonder lyric? Guess I’ll go Google it for the next few hours.

Dishlamb

A portrait of Hugo Matheson as Courtney Love

In case you’ve been living under a rock—which, after all, as Boulderites, you may well be (look, mother Earth, no footprints!)—this bit of common knowledge bears repeating:

Kitchensign

Although it’s this bit of perhaps less common knowledge that caught my nystagmic eye: according to The Kitchen’s website, “We give the open bottles of wine to our staff at the end of the night.” No wonder they’re called ecoholics.

But just because I’ve already implied it doesn’t mean I’d go so far as to say The Kitchen fakes it so real it’s beyond fake. (Now that’s having your sticky toffee pudding & eating it too, which I did, & it was all it was cracked up to be—as adorably spongy as it was ridiculously sticky & pecantastic to boot.)

Toffeepudding

I’d say rather the sheer simple goodness of the food says it all about chef-partner Hugo Matheson’s ethicurean stance & its distance from mere posture—from the brand spanking newness of this soup,

Img_0931

tasting of the very branches whence the tomatoes & the olives (see oil drizzle) sprang, to the most curiously heartfelt, painstaking approach to a salad ever,

Choppedsalad

with its chewy golden raisins & crunchy hazelnuts, smooth globules of goat cheese & sharp shreds of radicchio, confetti of meaty purple Cherokee beans & nutty, news-to-me desi chickpeas & its unusually subtle yogurt dressing—all besprinkled with a brunoise dice of beets & carrots that practically made me choke up. Someone back there really cared about this fucking salad. & so did I.

I’d also say “with dolls called honey,” because that’s what I wrote in my notebook. That’s what it looks like, anyway, so it took me a while to remember that one of my lunch companions was telling me about these little dolls called Homies—whose novelty to me I guess goes to show I’ve been trapped under some sort of heavy object myself. Anyway, talk about ethicurean stances