Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dish of the Week: Uni Risotto at OTOTO Food & Wine

I’d say “what Laura Shunk said,” because I completely agree with her take on the dish I first had at a sake-pairing dinner at OTOTO a few weeks back—but that would be lazy. Which I am, but not that lazy.

By “first had,” I mean first had here in Denver; back in Boston, I came to love sea urchin pasta at Taranta, a Southern Italian–Peruvian restaurant run by a chef very dear to my heart, José Duarte, whose version combined spaghetti with a velvety sauce enriched by the shellfish along with shavings of bottarga—fish eggs (usually those of tuna or mullet) cured & compressed into a cake. The result was at once soothing & sharply pungent, like smoking a cigarette on the ocean floor.

With the use of risotto rather than long noodles, Ototo Den’s version is of course creamier by virtue of the risotto, the urchin playing an even more yolk-like role texturally; still, its musty, iodine-tinged savor—think of uni as the pickled forest mushroom of the sea—mingles & tingles.

Dish of the Week: The Jaxx at Jack-n-Grill

Getting a bunless burger at Jack-n-Grill makes about as much sense as that old joke about the girl who leaves the cherry off the hot fudge sundae because she’s on a diet. Nevertheless, it was the least I could do to forestall an anyeurism as I eyeballed the burial piles of chow on tables around me & my pal Rebecca (author of From Argentina with Love) at the Littleton branch—surprisingly festive & warm given the soulless strip-mall location—especially considering that those were the “normal” portions. The fact that, according to the server in the photo, fully 15 fellow diners had ordered the 7-pound burrito tackled by Adam Richman on Man Vs. Food back in 2009 BEFORE 1 PM was more than even my relatively insatiable appetite could bear. Who wakes up in the morning & thinks, I want to pack on 24,500 calories’ worth of extra fat by bedtime?!

So anyway, I asked for The Jaxx sans bun, & it was still hilarious. Somewhere under the chopped green chile, bacon slices, American cheese, ketchup & mustard; over the guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, tomato & red onion; & alongside a mess of onion rings was a 10 oz. patty of ground chuck.

Was it awesome? Not from a legitimately critical standpoint—the burger kinda gristly & medium-well; the “guacamole” just unseasoned, roughly mashed avocado; the thought of 7 condiments at once (not counting the veggie garnishes) as unappealing as it was appealing. But somehow the combination was addictive in a trashy way, each questionable element compensating for another to equal an answer, the answer being hell yes! As for the onion rings, how often do they really suck? Generally speaking I like my breading looser, lighter, & fresher à la Rodney’s, but here it slid off the sweet & slippery onion flesh in grease-spurting crunches I couldn’t say no to.

That said, the red chile on Rebecca’s bean “sopaipilla” (the pen’s for size comparison) was flat-out excellent—pure-tasting, full of that smoky, slightly bitter savor of roasted pepper skin. As far as I’m concerned, New Mexico having always been my second home, no sopaipilla should be so stretched so thin that it’s bursting at the seams—it should be a pocket unto itself—but once again the dish as a whole came together as it should have, a mosaic of textures & funky flavors.

Jack-n-Grill’s an institution for a reason. A reason that’s grotesque in the literary sense—”combining ugliness & ornament, the bizarre & the ridiculous, the excessive & the unreal”—but a reason nonetheless.

Jack-n-Grill on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Bacon Sauerkraut at Lou’s Food Bar

Yeah! The accompaniment to Lou’s venison-cheddar sausage is just so damn good—as soft & thick as pudding, all vinegar tang & bacon grease. It tastes like something you’re gonna regret later.

But you won’t. You’ll be far too busy regretting what you ate before & after you went to Lou’s. Long story—to come.

Dish(es) of the Week 1/24-1/30: A Leisurely Lunch at Rioja

I couldn’t pick just one; the meal as a whole was so satisfying. When it comes to Rioja, Dish of the Week is a Choose Your Own Adventure–type affair. Only there’s no chance that last step’ll be a doozy; all the possible endings are happy.

It starts, of course, with the best bread basket in town: black olive ficelle, lavender country bread, one I’m forgetting—are they orange-fennel rolls?—&, of course, the famed goat cheese biscuits. To catch the flight of water buffalo cheeses, read on…

Whew! In a stroke of luck, you’ve uncovered a sampler of 4 artisanal slices + accoutrements—going clockwise from top, classic, fresh-as-spring-water mozzarella di bufala with a mini-tomato bruschetta & a fried basil leaf; blu di bufala with adorable, warm, chewy housemade Fig Newtons; my fave, the quadro di bufala with olives, which I can’t find anything about online (quadro means “square,” but that’s not helpful), so can only tell you it’s semisoft & buttery, much like taleggio; & casatica di bufala—the creamiest of the bunch, akin to funky robiola, paired with honey & a slice of pear. To go for the gold, proceed to the saffron-manchego risotto…

Jackpot! This current menu standout plays on the deceptive elegance of risotto—which is, after all, just Italian-style cheesy rice—with a chiffonade of bitter-edged fresh spinach & radicchio, a ring of rich citrus jus & a crown jewel of Medjool date stuffed with a pesto-like mixture of pistachios & pine nuts. I wouldn’t have said no to one more of those, the better to chop up & fold fully into the rice, since the bold contrasts are where the dish is at. Or would you rather run with a roll-up?…

It’s called a roulade, but it’s basically a wrap of grilled flatbread filled with housemade hummus, feta, spinach, tomatoes, arugula, & marinated artichokes with lemon-basil vinaigrette. Simple, straightforward by Rioja standards, & refreshing. Still, the most thrilling adventures don’t end on sandwiches, even with vegetable chips. They end with…

Bingo! Rockin’ pastry chef Eric Dale’s exquisite Whopper torte, a hemisphere of chocolate flan & caramel mousse balanced atop a shortbread crust, topped with malted anglaise & speckled with malted milk balls. Velvety here, crunchy there, a bang to go out on all around.

Dish of the Week: Huevo Escalfaldo y Chorizo at Ondo’s Spanish Tapas Bar

For the delectable details on this deceptively simple winner (& more), click here.

Dish of the Week: French Bread Pizza at Green Russell

An evening that starts with 4 women & 6 bottles of Chardonnay in a hotel room is bound to end in tragedy.

My only clues to the mayhem that apparently ensued are a receipt from Green Russell & the photo below; the unanswered questions swirl: what’s a Boulevardier? wherefore these blisters on the roof of my mouth & 2 new pounds on my bathroom scale? who gave me a lobotomy?

I suppose the answer to the 1st question lies in the glass on the left (& maybe Twitter), the answer to the 2nd in the dish on the right, which appears to consist of 4 baguette halves smothered in blue cheese & chicken.

Were they good? The answer to that mystery, I imagine, lies in the 2nd question itself: my scalded palate & extra roll of fat suggest I couldn’t scarf it down fast enough.

For helping to make a blubbering mess of me, then, Green Russell’s French bread pizza has got to be the Dish of the Week. My frontal cortex will never be the same.

Dish of the Week: Chicken Fried Steak with Sweet Potato–Chorizo Hash, Lola

Chicken-fried steak: just a swastika on a plate.

At least that’s how it looked to me as a Jewish kid growing up in Oklahoma. When it was served in the school cafeteria, everyone but me seemed to know & find comfort in it; thus the yellow-gray slab of gristle stood a symbol of my outsiderliness, & the fact that it likely derives from the weinerschnitzel German immigrants brought with them to Texas only confirmed my suspicions. Help, help, I’m being repressed by Aryan edibles!

Now that I’m a slightly less touchy adult, breaded, fried steak doesn’t seem so ominous; in fact, it’s right up my gut-busting alley, especially as made fresh at Lola—with chorizo cream gravy, sweet potato-chorizo hash & pickled onions.

Granted, even here it’s not exactly a delicacy; you don’t go pounding & battering filet mignon into oblivion, but rather a cheaper, tougher cut. So it’s a little chewy, a little greasy—but that’s all to the good of a brunchtime hangover cure, easing the throb with its deep, dark savor & crunch.

Still, the rich, peppery sauce & roasty, toasty, earthy-sweet & salty hash are what keep it interesting beyond the 1st few bites, especially when alternated with the excellent salsa sampler.

Of the 4—tomatillo–green apple, grilled chipotle–tomato, chile verde & signature muñoz—the first 2 really stood out, the 1 tart & refreshing, the other smoky & tangy on warm tortilla chips.

For a full report on brunch at Lola, click here. Or file your own—at the time of this posting, you’ll still have 2 1/2 hours to experience for yourself some sopapillas with lavender honey & house-cured salmon benedict (which, granted, could use a bit more salmon; but the yellow tomatoes add zing).

Dish of the Week 11/15–11/22: The Closing Act, OAK at Fourteenth

High time I rename this category Dish &/or Drink of the Week, given how often the booze takes the cake. Then again, this particular tipple from brand-new Boulderite OAK at Fourteenth practically was a dessert in itself—a far, far more sophisticated & satisfying one than those milkshakes in a martini glass that pass for cocktails in your average meat market.

With rum, the Italian artichoke bitter known as Cynar, sucanat (whole cane sugar) syrup, egg white, allspice & nutmeg, it evoked eggnog—then revoked it, being far lighter, silkier, savorier, spicier & spikier. In a word: damn.

Stay tuned for a full report on the meal.

Dish of the Week 11/1-11/7: ChoLon Bistro’s Kaya Toast w/ Coconut Jam & “Egg Cloud”

As predicted, nothing I sampled this weekend—& I sampled some fine vittles—could touch this wacky snack.

Read all about it in my review of the Asian Fusion pleasuredome that is ChoLon. Then go try it. Then tell me I’m wrong, that it’s not the edible orgasmatron I’m cracking it up to be. Go on, I dare you.

Dish of the Week: Beatrice & Woodsley’s Hoppin’ Mad

Pretty much the whole shebang that was Beatrice & Woodsley’s Ghosts by Lantern Light Dinner qualified as one long, collective Dish of the Week, but I’m compelled to single out this cocktail.

Combining Milagro Blanco Tequila with carrot juice, apricot brandy, Cascade hops, simple syrup, & lemon & lime juices, it”s like a smoothie with spikes. I repeat, while the kitchen here gets the acclaim it’s due, the bar goes overlooked for its equal flair for invention + execution. Check it out—& as long as you’re at it, kick back with a Cucupeña as well.