Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dish of the Week: LoHi SteakBar’s Big Salad

To inaugurate the new blog, Dish of the Week is back, baby!

And it’s big. A big big salad with a totally incongruous array of ingredients that just goes to show ya—if you take just about anything of quality, add lettuce & toss it all lightly in well-made dressing, you’re gonna have a hit.

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mixes an array of vinaigrette–moistened greens with sliced tomatoes, red onion, cucumber roasted yellow beets, goat cheese, dates & dollops of guacamole (the menu description just lists avocado, so it’s a bit of a surprising twist); it’s all topped with frizzled…I’m guessing shallots.

It’s ripe, textured, fruity, fun to pick through—it’s not just an afterthought for the vegetarian customers that I assume are in the vast minority here. (As for the spud on the side—there’s no entree in the world a baked potato doesn’t make even better. Maybe not a potato casserole. But maybe even that.)

Dish of the Week: Euclidean Cheesesteak, Euclid Hall

Disclaimer: I’ve never set phoot in Philly, & I’m no phan of its phamous cheesesteaks. Processed cheese, boring sandwich rolls, not much else besides the meat, & meat is meat, so what’s the phuss?

Connoisseurs, however, insist that the ado is about a great deal. If they would therefore find Euclid Hall’s interpretation entirely too fancy, even schmancy—well, so be it; more for me.

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Basically, it’s a mega-gougère filled & drizzled with chef de cuisine Jorel Pierce’s “homemade Cheez Whiz,” thankfully far lighter & more delicately flavorful than its namesake; topped with rich hanger steak a shade pinker than medium rare, smacking vaguely of corned beef brisket (the cuts border each other, after all); & served over pickled onions & jalapeños to cut the fat & add a kick. Great stuff—& reasonably sized to boot, so you can round it out with, say, any of this…or any of the other fine funky fare I sampled along with the cheesesteak, to be fleshed out here pronto.   

 

Dish of the Week & I’m Not Kidding: Gazpacho à la Guadalajara from Whole Foods

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Here's what's in it: tomato juice, corn, cucumber, avocado, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, cumin, cayenne, sea salt. That's it & that's all. It's a lovely soup: chunky but not too pico de gallo–like, spicy but not merely salsa-esque, deriving a little creaminess from the avocado. Of course I could've made something like it myself, but I didn't have to. 

Dish of the Week 8/23-8/29: bao at East Asia Garden

My fondness for East Asia Garden has only grown since I profiled the S. Broadway Dongbei joint & the sweet-as-pie family who runs it for Gorging Global over at Denver Magazine's The Mouthful a few weeks back. Among the eats I'm unable to refrain from ordering every time, which, since I also insist on ordering specialties I haven't tried yet every time, means my table & I groan under the weight of at least 5 or 6 dishes every time, are the bao (steamed buns).

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Stuffed with pork & pickled veggies (&/or any of 5 other combos, but that's my favorite filling), chef Lee Qingrong's silken-skinned bao are made with a dough that, while risen, isn't quite so fluffy & yeasty as that you commonly find at Cantonese dim sum joints (cf Star Kitchen's); trusty Chowhounds tell me the difference is likely regional. (The good folks at China Jade make theirs in this style too, though I found them unfortunately too thick & clunky. Still, too many people I respect worship the place, so I need to give it a few more whirls.)

Dish of the Week 8/16–8/22: The Beaver Creek Wine & Spirits Festival

Yeah, pretty much the whole shebang (or at least the bits of it I attended), wrapped up in one big shiny bow (click on image to see schedule).

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The 1st workweek of my 40th year on earth was a stinky bitch. Monday I had one of my semiannual bouts of food poisoning, mostly in the parking lot of the Greenwood Village Shops at the Landmark (sorry, whoever pulled in after me). Tuesday I worked for 16 hours straight (sorry, Director, who had to put up with me). Wednesday 1 of our cats developed severe conjunctivitis & I had to help the vet tech hold him still while she took his temperature from the wrong end (really sorry, Jasper). Thursday—I don't even know where to begin. It started with insomnia & went from there. And Friday, I woke up at 5am to pack & get to the airport by 7:30, where I picked up my mom, drove her to Estes Park for her annual Buddhist retreat at the Y, & proceeded to make every conceivable wrong turn en route from there to Beaver Creek, finally arriving just in time to miss what was by all accounts a debauched lunch at Grouse Mountain Grill.

But from there on out was the smoothest of pleasure cruises through demos & dinners &

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aspen groves.

In full disclosure, this was a press trip; I didn't pay for jack. That said, rest assured the richies who did wouldn't stand for anything less than royal treatment. Being in their midst, without a badge to indicate I myself am just a poor (& I mean poor) freelancing slob, I'm pretty sure they experienced what I experienced.

And so without further ado, a few highlights, starting with the "The Perfect Steak," part of the Wine Spectator Demo Series with Beaver Creek Chophouse's Jay McCarthy & Chateau St. Michelle's Tim Clark.

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Here's a fancy aerial view via mirror of the stovetop,

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which wasn't in use—technically this was a seminar about cuts, not a cooking demo, & the discussion focused on food & wine matching above all. Our lovely little portion, in a bourguignonne-esque sauce of red wine & mushrooms with a side of mashed potatoes dotted with carrots, peas & green chiles,

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was paired with 6 Merlots, mostly from the Chateau St. Michelle family (which includes Stag's Leap)—which I must say impressed me far more than any of the CSM whites I've ever tried, my favorite being the  2006 Canoe Ridge, not nearly so fruit-forward as the Merlots that got hammered a few years back by dear old Miles (it seems more than a few winemakers may have actually learned something after getting their asses handed to them by a fictional character), showing rather a nose dusted with dried herbs & barbecue smoke, chocolate & licorice on the palate.

An all-around impressive dinner at contemporary Italian Toscanini started with the terrific heirloom tomato “martini,” less like a bloody mary than gazpacho-infused Cap Rock vodka, complete with basil & an S&P rim.

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Two pancake-sized slices of fine bresaola—air-dried beef from Lombardy—topped a tradition-minded salad of arugula, pine nuts, shaved parm & balsamic-marinated onion.

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Though the classic appetizer as it’s served in northern Italy is even simpler—drizzled not with vinaigrette but just olive oil & lemon juice—this was certainly a lovely, deeply earthy variation thereon.

And my rigatoni was a midsummer night’s dream,

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at once hearty & harvest-fresh, sauteed with fresh artichoke hearts, strips of bell pepper, onion & salami, & shards of pecorino romano, then finished with rosemary & olive oil. I left, I think, 2 or 3 pasta tubes so as not to totally humiliate myself in front of my less gluttonous companions.

But I don’t think they were fooled, since I went on to polish off a float made with root beer vodka (desserts being the only excuse for artificially flavored spirits) & smartly subtle, vanilla-tinged root beer gelato.

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Good as it was, the banana-panettone pudding with white chocolate & hazelnuts ordered by Jen Heigl of Daily Blender was even better, evoking a molten fruitcake—which, come to think of it, is a brilliant idea. Copyright Denveater

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After that was yet another cocktail I don’t want to talk about, thanks anyway, & then I think I ate all the truffles sent up by the 8100 Mountainside Bar & Grill to my hotel room at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort & Spa—I actually vaguely remember the coconut & Irish cream—

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& then I found myself on a hiking trail at the crack of dawn surrounded by the knock-knock-knock of woodpeckers & signs that said something like: YOU MAY ENCOUNTER A BLACK BEAR. DO NOT APPROACH THE WILDLIFE. Having approached the wildlife the night before, I was all set with that.

And then, 2 hours later, I was drinking a mimosa in the presence of great American hero Anthony Dias Blue

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& standing in the kitchen of Splendido at the Chateau watching renowned Dallas-based chef Stephan Pyles (center), with the assistance of Splendido chef David Wolford (left), cook me & maybe 20 other people

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a 3-course lunch of red snapper tamales with red curry masa, Veracruzana sauce & caramelized bananas,

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coriander-cured lamb loin with cascabel aioli & a salad of pintos, navy beans & black turtle beans (marinated in ham hock stock), arugula &  pickled onions,

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& a chocolate-filled samosa with pistachio, rose & gum mastic ice cream.

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We would’ve had 2 wines, but since De Tierra Vineyards didn’t send enough for more than a taste each of the 2008 Pinot Gris & the 2007 Pinot Noir, the GM of Splendido stepped up to & beyond the plate by pouring us 2 wines from his own cellar as well. That, friends, is what a) polished hospitality & b) $$$ get you. (Again, not my $$$, but rather the $$$ of the socialites around me, including 1 tall, willowy creature entirely in white who was such a ringer for Linda Gray I thought I might actually have been transported to Dallas.)

Honestly, I was such a sucker for Pyles’ flourishes that the fundamentals didn’t matter. Don’t get me wrong, they were great; but if I’d been served nothing but the masa (a little undercooked but delicious anyway), bean salad & ice cream—based on a 200-year old recipe Pyles sampled in Damascus—I’d have been ecstatic.

From there we headed to Vail, which didn’t suck. Details to come.

Dish of the Week 8/9–8/15: Blackened Mississippi Catfish at Jax Fish House

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I technically crowned this beauty

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the DOW before the Sunday 11:59:59pm deadline. You may also know I’ve got a bit of a thing—okay, a big fat thing—for catfish based on my involvement with

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the Okie Noodling Tournament (about which I’ve posted much; check the archives for an eyeful).

At the tournament, it’s breaded & cooked up in huge sizzling fryers, but our server at Jax suggested we order our catfish blackened rather than fried, since the filet is balanced atop 3 fat fried crawfish hush puppies. Sandwiched between is spinach sauteed with onions; pooled beneath is red-eye gravy, & ringed round is red pepper jelly.

Wow, kids. What a dish. The complex blend of spices coating the tender, flaky meat erased all memories of the salt licks I encountered back in the 1980s when blackening was big. The hush puppies, too, were perfect balls of moist, dense-but-not-leadlike cornbread (the crawfish was almost nonexistent, but that’s my only complaint). And the sauces! The gravy really knocked me out with its hint of rich sweetness, I suspect from onions, balanced by the smoky chunks of bacon on whose drippings it was presumably based, plus herbs & something else—coffee, maybe, as is traditional? I’m quite sure it wasn’t tobacco, although I used to know a guy whose grandmother deliberately smoked over the stove, letting some ash fall into the pan. But that’s Carolina country cooking for you, & this isn’t. The jelly served as a stellar spicy-sweet foil.

More on the rest of the meal to come; for now, suffice it to say that Jax hasn’t lost its marbles after all these years.

Dish of the Week: Adrian Miller’s Cracklin’ Cornbread

It’s no coincidence this little piece of lasting happiness is shaped like a heart.

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What’s cracklin’ cornbread? Why, it’s cornbread studded with cracklings, or chunks of fried pork fat &/or skin. Who’s Adrian Miller? A man with more than his share of talents, as I learned while interviewing him a year ago, not only for my blog but for this Denver Magazine piece on the Husted Collection.

I tried Miller’s cornbread this weekend at a wonderful dinner he prepared as a way to test recipes for the soul food history & cookbook he’s currently writing (more on which later). Though his super-dense version is, I’m assuming, a pre-publication secret, there are numerous recipes online. All those bacon-stuffed cupcakes, pancakes, waffles, etc. etc. everybody’s been stuck on for the past 3 years? This here’s the vastly superior prototype.

Dish of the Week: Tomasso Bussola Amarone della Valpolciella Classico 2003 (+ Wine Poem 2)

Yes, another liquid dish. Amarone was the first wine I ever fell in love with; evaluating this one in my International Wine Guild certification class today—as happens every time I get to taste it (which isn’t often since they average $45-$60)—I swooned all over again. Made in the Veneto from grapes dried on straw mats, they’re naturally powerfully redolent of dark fruit; this one (available at Total Beverage)

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was all figs, except where it was mushrooms.

One sip always takes me back to a poem I wrote years ago with Amarone in mind; I think I’ve posted it here before, but what the hell, it conveys my thoughts on Amarone better than I can (“the poem is smarter than you are,” my old pal Matt Rohrer once claimed).

Wine Poem 2

When the last corpse was drained and jarred he took me to wife,
whisking me over the pain threshold and into the honeymoon dungeon.
The hook used to extract the brain doubled as a corkscrew.
The test tubes bubbled over with champagne.
We dabbed our eyes with scar tissue as we played our song

and drank like plunging knife and fork, clashing blade and prong,
and drank like dart and arrow through each lung,
and drank like pharoahs with our hearts removed
to make room for more wine. And then that sound

fell headlong down the stairs.
We felt the shadow spill across the floor above our heads
the way a flashlight washes over treasure,
smearing gleam throughout the tomb.
The still lifes froze and the statues wanted down.

Before the mirror of creation stood reaction with a hood.
It was there reflection lay, stunned, may still lie.
As the darkness stopped before our portraits,
we popped the corks below and drank our brains out.

Some wine you let breathe, some you’ve got to smother.
We kissed deepest when we kept our distance, then we deeper slept.

Dish of the Week: Rabbit liver crostini + Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus, Meadow Lark Farm Dinner at Red Wagon, 7/24

The Meadow Lark Farm Dinners have grown so ridiculously popular that pals L, Mo & I have had a bitch of a time getting reservations this year, but with the memories of last year’s rousing successes still vivid (see here & here for details), 2 of us  jumped at some last-minute cancellations for the craft beer dinner at Red Wagon Organic Farm yesterday eve. Full report to come, but the passed appetizer with which it kicked off warrants special kudos & huzzahs.

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Whether it was the nature of the beast or of an extra-smooth preparation, or both, the rabbit liver pâté dusted with fleur de sel was lighter, sweeter, more delicate in flavor than its fowl-based counterparts—but no less rich in body, of course. As such it was a prime candidate for pairing with

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this Belgian framboise, aka raspberry lambic, whose exceptionally dry, tart sparkle put in relief all that unctuous funk.

Dish of the Week: Clementine Kicker at Kelly Liken, Vail

So what if “Dish of the Week” has lately morphed into a euphemism for “glug, glug, glug”? “Food” & “drink” are kind of arbitrary distinctions anyway. Take soup versus a smoothie.

I’m sans every last shred of energy, so I’ll have to explain what I was doing swanning around Vail later. And I’m sans card reader, so I’ll have to upload the photo of Kelly Liken‘s Clementine Kicker later too. But, you know, it looks like a drink. For now just close your eyes & picture a lowball filled with fresh ginger & jalapeño muddled & mixed with Svedka Clementine Vodka, agave nectar & lime juice, strained & served on the rocks. UPDATE: See?

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Don’t sweat the flavored spirit; rest assured it attains some measure of dignity in balancing the invigorating spice with its citrus shine. The bar staff’s light touch behooves the cocktails generally here; almost as good & every bit as cleanly refreshing was the Cucumber Lime Elixir, combining Colorado’s own Cap Rock organic gin with house-squeezed cucumber-lime juice.

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As for the grub, stay tuned.