Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dish of the Week: Cantine Vinci Inzolia 2008, Fuel Café (+ notes on brunch)

Don’t tell me wine isn’t a food. It’s got 8000 stereoisomers in it. Just like the dictionary contains every book in the world, 1 sip of wine offers enough sensory stimulation to feed your soul for at least a week.

Granted, not all of them are memorable for their complexity. Many linger after a single thrilling trumpet-blast. Like the Cantine Vinci Inzolia 2008 (the liquid gold on the right).

Fuelwines
Coincidentally, the most interesting description I found online for this Sicilian white was on City ‘o’ City’s website: “An offbeat Sicilian grape, Inzolia is complex, with a subtle
nutlike flavor & hints of almond, citrus, fresh herbs & bitter orange. Amazing on it’s [sic] own but robust enough for any
meal.”

Not that I entirely agree with that: the overwhelmingly distinctive note I picked up was one of banana. A little vanilla, but mostly banana, both on the nose & on the palate, though the aroma was much sweeter than the flavor, initally intense but ending quietly. Quite the quirky wine.

Pal K & I had hit Fuel to check out its Sunday brunch, for which it opens only on occasion (like Father’s Day). So long as you haven’t, say—don’t laugh—made a commitment with your beau or belle to stick to the South Beach diet for a few weeks, you’ll have a ball. If you have done something stupid like that, you’ll still have a ball, albeit a guilty one, since the 9- or 10-item menu is entirely based either on wheat, corn or potatoes. Like the chilaquiles,
Fuelchilaquiles

obviously much lighter than the traditional version, & decent, although honestly the freshly sweet roasted tomato sauce & pickled onions were so evocative I couldn’t help but wish they were together in something that didn’t depend on fresh-made chips that got soggy quick—some sort of meatball sandwich or something.

Much harder to get enough of were the cheddar-scallion biscuits with sausage gravy & 2 eggs over-easy.

FuelB&G
Speaking of complexity, as cream gravies go this was surprisingly subtle—rich, of course, but not plainly so. Either the sausage itself was herbed or there were otherwise green notes…

Anyway. Allow me to reiterate how lucky Denver is to have this place; as soon as carbs are again within reach, I’ll be back for the pupu platter with feta-beef cigars & shrimp toasts, yes oh yes.

Dish of the Week: Japanese Cheesesteak, Den Deli

A day late & way more than a dollar short: it’s a sorry state to be in for too long, a sludge whence I emerge only when grubbing something groovy—or the Director makes me laugh, or the Celtics spank the Lakers. You know, the lovely little things life’s made of.

And speaking of Kobe in a pile of shiitake, it was this Kobe-shiitake mixture that made everything OK enough to get my kudos as Dish of the Week 5/31–6/6.

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Whether the goodly amount of thick sliced, perfectly medium-rare beef on Den Deli’s so-called Kobe cheesesteak is actually certified Kobe or merely Wagyu, I couldn’t say; while the Kizaki brothers are certainly known for sourcing quality ingredients, the former is notoriously expensive, & this isn’t. It’s succulent in any case, served on a buttered hoagie roll with grilled onions, shiitakes & the lusciously strange combo of provolone & wasabi mayo that really sets it apart.

The sandwich comes with either fries or potato salad; the latter’s obviously the better choice, housemade with chunks of ham, cukes, carrots & an extra squiggle of mayo. For more on the goodies this sub shop-meets-noodle bar-meets-seafood market dishes up on Old South Pearl, click here.

Dish of the 6-Day Week: Miticana de Oveja, Lala’s Wine Bar & Pizzeria

***Because last week ran 8 days; click here to see why.***

Word to Lala’s Wine Bar & Pizzeria: you’ve got a rarely updated cheese blog; I’ve got some unanswered cheese questions. Here’s a golden opportunity for you to fill in some blanks.

Because there’s not a lot of info out there, at least that I can find in English, on miticana de oveja; as this blogger points out, what little there is seems to confuse goat’s milk & sheep’s milk, but if sheep were goats, they’d be called, um, goats.

In any case, I’d never heard of this Spanish sheep’s cheese log before last night, when I ordered Lala’s Insalata Susina to go (we had some basketball that needed watching back home). Though it was underdressed, much of it being totally dry, I could tell that evenly drizzled with olive oil & lemon juice it would be terrific—arugula, dried plums & toasted pumpkin seeds making for a nifty combination full of chew & crunch, its bitter & tart notes a refreshing backdrop for the complex slices of cheese.

Lalasalad
As you can see, it’s composed of rings—a rind; a gooey yellow circle where the mold has penetrated; & a fresh core where it hasn’t yet. While the interior has some of the crumbly tang of feta, the middle is rich & buttery, but nicely edged with the bitterness of the exterior. Wonderful stuff. It’s also available as part of a platter of salumi & formaggio or even à la carte—give it a try any which way.

Dish of the 8-Day Week: Unagi Tojimono at Domo

Grubbing & shrugging, grubbing & shrugging. Though I pigged out plenty last week, more on which to come, as Sunday rolled around I just couldn’t get whipped up enough about any of it to name a Dish of the Week. By Monday I knew why—I was destined to wait for a taste of an old favorite: Domo‘s tojimono.

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To Google the word is to get the sense chef-owner Gaku Homma made it up; it only appears in connection with his restaurant. As it’s served in the breathtaking cabin of wood & stone & antique bric-a-brac or in the garden out back (for more views, along with a full review, click here),
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it’s essentially a cross between an omelet & soup. With a choice of both broth base & meat, smart cookie that I am, I went for miso & eel, the inherent sweet muskiness of each of which suffused the ragged-creamy eggs ringed by shiitakes, bok choy & wakame. Earth & watery depths, earth & watery depths.

Dish of the Week: Mongolian milk wine, Rackhouse Pub

Okay, it’s not a dish. Okay, okay, it’s not even any good. It pretty much tastes like sour water. Lukewarm, sour water—at least as served at Rackhouse Pub, in a snifter inside a pint glass.

RPmilkwine

But come on—it’s Mongolian milk wine, which so far as I’m aware no other place in town (or, um, anywhere) offers, & which, according to this blog,

“is made with any type of milk, the most valuable & famous made using horse milk. To make milk wine the Mongolians use raw milk & put it into a wooden barrel or porcelain jar. There, it is allowed to ferment & separate itself from the fat. The fermented milk without its top layer of fat is transferred to a pot equipped with a distillation device. This is usually a bucket of cold water placed above 2 brick jars covered & insulated with towels. The heat under the pot is kept at a high temperature, the evaporated alcohol condensing underneath the cold water bucket where it drips into the prepared brick jars. The most expensive horse wine is fermented & distilled 6 times. Horse milk wine tastes sour, sweet, & slightly bitter all at the same time.”

Horses, barrels, towels & brick jars. Awesome. Then again, being colorless, it doesn’t look anything like the picture of Mongolian milk wine shown here, so who knows what I was actually drinking. For all I know they made it in a gym sock in the Stranahan’s distillery toilet with raisins & moldy bread (see: Steve, Don’t Eat It!, Vol. 8). Either way, more power to ’em for the novelty—paired with some mighty fine grub, of which more anon.

Dish of the Week: Buttermilk Biscuit, Dot’s Diner

If I don’t snarf something in Chile that can wallop a biscuit before Sunday, I’ll have done something horribly, terribly wrong. That said, Dish of the Week awards go strictly to stateside eats—& as such, the buttermilk biscuit at Dot’s Diner on Broadway in Boulder is way worthy.

With its scuffed wooden booths, recycled artwork & doowop soundtrack, Dot’s resembles a retro hybrid of urban greasy spoon & crunchy health-food hang.

Dot's
The menu’s fairly basic—omelets & pancakes, Mex classics & a smattering of sandwiches—& the cooking, from what I sampled, is mostly pretty utilitarian.

Dot'shuevos

The Director’s half-order of huevos rancheros on a whole wheat tortilla was simplicity itself—a good thing in my libro—but the green chile didn’t particularly distinguish itself beneath its blanket of cheese & refritos.

My Greek scramble with tomatoes, spinach, black olives & feta was likewise just okay, a little light on the mix-ins—eggs being for me just a vehicle for cheese.

Dot'sGreekeggsbiscuit
But the thin sliced potatoes were great, peppery & orange-tinged with the charming grease of 1000s of spuds before them. And the biscuit? Just look at it! Nubby & crunchy on the surface, its interior was spot-on—not too cakey, not too bready, & unusually, clearly suffused with the flavor of buttermilk, not just butter.

I’m hardly the 1st to fall for their awesomeness; Bon Appétit printed the recipe by request some years back—so if hippies give you hives you can skip the trip & make your own.

Dot's Diner on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Zengo’s Sichuan rice noodles with pork

Once bitten, I was twice shy about returning to Zengo after a nearly 2-year absence: had my bad experience been a fluke or a downhill alert? There being only 1 way to find out, curiosity finally overcame qualms, & we hit the admittedly sexy, darkly gleaming Richard Sandoval showcase for a late dinner mid-week.

Long answer forthcoming, but the short answer to my question is woohoo! It must’ve been a fluke, because the kitchen killed it this time; in fact, from beginning to end, the meal was by far the best of the 4 I’ve had there. Interestingly, the highest of high points was the least representative of the restaurant’s Latin-Asian fusion repertoire: Sichuan rice noodles with shredded pork crispy tofu, poached egg, roasted eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, cashews & scallions.

Zengonoodles

Oily in a good way, the yolk mixed in with the drippings to create an impromptu sauce, every bite a slick, slurpy, chewy wonder of smoky umami. I don’t know what made it Sichuan specifically—seems Thai or Vietnamese or any of a dozen other Asian adjectives would have been just as fitting, which is to say loosely—but I don’t particularly care, either. Delicious is delicious is delicioso is haochi.

Dish of the Week: saag paneer (& more) at Sherpa House

Given their closely linked histories & habitats in the Himalayas—& given mainstream America’s (mainstream anywhere’s) tendency to hew to the familiar—it’s no surprise that many Tibetan & Nepalese restaurateurs include northern Indian staples in their repertoires. What was a surprise, at least to me, was that my favorite dish at Sherpa House would be an Indian rather than Tibetan or Nepalese standard—& that I’d think it better than any version I’ve had in local Indian joints: saag paneer.

What differentiated it from the usual was its extreme freshness & lightness. The average Indian kitchen tends to engage in batch cookery, its curries & such developing their flavors over hours—sometimes to a robust intensity, sometimes past the point of muddiness. While I’m not assuming that Sherpa House does otherwise, the fact that I was there at lunch may have ensured the vegetarian classic hadn’t been simmering too long: the spinach still tasted as leafy-in-sunlight as its color, the fresh cheese maintained its springy, tofulike texture, & the zest of lemon & nutmeg was distinct.

SHsaagpaneer
The leftovers were even better; left to sit not over heat but in the fridge, the ingredients melded further, became richer, without overcooking into undistinguished mush.

In any case, it was a refreshing choice for an al fresco meal on Sherpa House’s back patio this gorgeous day—but the interior, it should be noted, is utterly lovely too, filled with the intricate bric-a-brac of Nepal.

SH1
SH2
Check out the recreation of a traditional Sherpa kitchen above. Though none are visible in the photo, Indian-style clay ovens are used by cooks across the Himalayan region; Sherpa House’s “sizzlers,” still breathing steam as they arrived in their cast-iron pan, are essentially tandoori platters, the meat—in this case yak—marinated & roasted in yogurt & traditional spices (cumin, coriander, ginger & such) along with peppers & red onion. They’re accompanied by a yogurt sauce strangely reminiscent of avgolemono (the famous Greek egg-&-lemon soup that is, however, yogurt-free).

SHyakSHyogurtsauce

Yak is apparently very lean, hence quick to toughen; this unfortunately was, the chunks real jaw-twisters. Their flavor, however, was wonderful, the lamblike gaminess highlighted by the piquancy of the spices & bright squirts of lemon (oddly roasted with the meat, making for hot-to-handle wedges).

What I liked best about Sherpa House’s momos (dumplings)—steamed vegetable on the left, fried beef on the right—

SHvegmomos SHbeefmomos

was the abundance of chopped onion, cabbage & such inside; combined with the fresh tomato sauce, they, like the saag, exhibited an unexpectedly springy lightness.

Speaking of lightness, as reviews go, this is a bit scant; I’ve barely made a dent in the menu. But the 1st impression was pleasurable enough to ensure I’ll get a 2nd one soon.

Sherpa House Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Grilled Mushroom Salad, Izakaya Den

Though the monotexture—soft, softer, softest—left my dining companion cold, it didn’t bother me a bit, befitting the incredibly lush, meaty flavors of this warm, earthy salad of grilled shiitake & oyster mushrooms & melted shavings of parmesan atop creamy avocado puree, ringed by pricklier dollops of roasted tomatillo–jalapeno sauce.

IDmushroomsalad
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

IDmushroomsalad2

The sprinkling of chives &  (I think) micro amaranth, those lovely crispy bits at the edges of each velvety, juicy slice of ‘shroom…quite the creation. Between this, the famous crab & pistachio panzanella, & the pan-fried calamari with spinach & yuzu-soy vinaigrette, Izakaya Den deserves recognition for its way with salads as much as anything that constitutes the Kizaki brothers’ bread & butter. Maybe their next venture should be a…sarada-ya? Is that the word for salad bar?

Dish of the Week: Roasted Cauliflower Salad, The Squeaky Bean

Fair or not, in the same way that I get a gigantic hitch in my getalong over menu misspellings (more on this to come anon), I nurse a nasty bias (like my pal MC Slim JB & others) against bad restaurant names. I don’t care what the justification is, the fact that it bears explaining in the 1st place is a sure sign of a misconceived moniker. In this case, the claim that the name “was inspired by garden-fresh green beans & the sound they make as they squeak on your teeth” doesn’t make The Squeaky Bean sound like any less a cross between a hippy-dippy veggie hut & a 1st grader’s fart joke.

However, the fact that it has fast become synonymous with excellent cooking at least ensures that you can get past your embarrassment just by stepping across the threshold. The moment you do, servers whizzing by with one gorgeous dish after another, you’ll know your fear that questionable taste in nomenclature might translate into questionable taste in the kitchen is wholly unfounded here.

The roasted cauliflower salad, for instance, is the very essence of exquisite taste.

SBcauliflowersalad
Not only is it plated as artistically as a Kandinsky, but it’s a truly inspired combination: while the curry vinaigrette reflects the natural affinity between all those members of the crucifer family & the distinctive spice mix of the subcontinent, luscious chopped Medjool dates on the 1 hand & pungent smoked trout on the other, along with a squiggle of parsley coulis & a sprinkling of fresh tarragon, take that classic pairing to a whole new level. It’s bold & it’s beautiful, the epitome of a contemporary salad.

More on that score to follow.