Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dish of the Week: Potstickers, Lao Wang Noodle House

Why wait ’til Sunday to spread the good word? Nothing I knock back in the next 2 days could possibly touch these potstickers.

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Though I’m a Chowhound forever, I gotta high-five the Yelpers here for giving Lao Wang Noodle House all the love it so deeply deserves, reserving special kudos for these babies. They’re all about their incredible wrappers: really, the pork is just there to slosh juice across the inside of the smooth, chewy dough, flavorful in & of itself with its darkly crunchy flat-bottom. Dipped into the killer house chili sauce, they slide down so easy the phrase “go like hotcakes” should officially be changed to “go like Lao Wang potstickers.” I hereby move that it be so.

Everything else pal K & I tried was equally winning, as ye shall see in the full review.

Dish of the Week: Why, It’s Urchrüter, St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop!

Just yesterday I woohooed this wonderstuff.

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Today I’m turning around to give it the weekly grand prize, because no other eligible edible I’ve encountered over the past 7 days can compare. In fact, with a couple of modest exceptions, the past 2 weeks have rather lacked in lipsmacking luster: in case you missed it, for the 1st time since launching the series last fall, I awarded no Dish of the Week last week.

Rare as it is that I don’t stuff down something worth shouting about every few days, my feeling was, why give it up for crap just for the sake of continuity? Now, if I doled out medals for mediocrity, last week would’ve been a humdinger. On the bronze podium, McCormick’s stuffed mushrooms with a way-too-high ratio of crumbs to crab & shrimp (although the herbed butter sauce made a decent bread dip).

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Taking the silver, Hapa Sushi & its cutely named but completely bland Green Eggs & Ham roll

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with quasi-wasabi-flavored tobiko & mushy hamachi.

But the low-grade gold would’ve had to go to Brooklyn’s downright frightening chicken fingers, like the thawed & deep-fried spawn of the Xenomorph, their mechanized alien nature undisguised by the fig leaf of that poor piece of lettuce.

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Better luck next week, eh?

Dish of the Week: Kaos Pizzeria’s garlic bread

For the 2nd time in just over a month, I’ve got to give Kaos the kudos. But while the initial props were for the promise shown, now it’s for the goods delivered.

Juicy report on the pizza itself to come; for now, though, all glory goes to the garlic bread.

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With Caesar salad, French onion soup & roast chicken, garlic bread is part of that battery of litmus tests by which to measure a kitchen’s integrity as much as its skills. Deceptively simple as such classics are, they’re easily botched—& garlic bread in particular, as a lowbrow token of your average red-sauce joint, seems to lend itself to corner-cutting: cheap storebought baguettes, preminced garlic, unnecessary pile of melted mozz. Pasquini’s stale-ass doughsticks are a case in point.

Jon Edwards, Patrick Mangold-White & crew, however, pass the garlic-bread audition with aplomb. Their version is essentially a puffed-up round of chewy focaccia—fresh-baked, brushed, & thoroughly infused with garlic butter & perfumed with a sprinkle of fresh rosemary.

In fact, it’s nothing short of an inspiration: I’m feeling motivated now to put it up in a taste test against Virgilio’s & Proto’s loaves—& I’ll be rooting for it.

Dish of the Week: Izakaya Den’s Lamb & Lotus Root Potstickers

Somehow a recent happy hour turned into a nutso half-marathon that took us from Black Pearl to Izakaya Den & back again, through wine, oysters & sweet potato tempura, sake, sushi, shumai, potstickers & more wine, yet more wine, bread & butter, shishito peppers, mezcal, spiked milk & cookies &, finally, steak & potatoes, in that order.

But the blockbuster of the whole rockin’ bunch (of which more later) was Izakaya Den’s quartet of pan-seared lamb & lotus potstickers.

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These weren’t the traditional wonton-skinned pouches but flat, open-faced wedges of pastry with disc-shaped lamb meatballs in the center, flanked by dollops of lush baba ghanoush & tangy sweet chili sauce, an intriguing combo (but not such an odd one in the light of relishes like pickled eggplant or caponata).

Though the edges were too dry, the middles were outright scrumptious, the rich gaminess of the lamb mellowed, if I understood the menu right, by red wine & “sweet soy,” presumably kecap manis. Here’s to a seriously suave creation.

Dish of the Week: Lechon con chimichurri via From Argentina with Love

I don’t often bother to suggest you click on the pic for a closer look, but now’d be an excellent time to do so.

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How’s that for a pile of pig—skin, feet & all? I’ll tell you how—fantastic. For a holiday dinner party the Director & I  were lucky enough to score an invite to before heading to ABQ, Rebecca Caro of From Argentina With Love marinated & roasted a whole suckling pig (i.e., an unweaned piglet less than 6 weeks old) in her fabulously super-sour chimichurri—sometimes she makes it with red wine vinegar, but this time she used pure lemon juice, giving the meat a tanginess to offset its baby-fatty savor.

Just in time for the New Year, click here to get her recipe for lechon—the raw material, so to speak, for which she purchased at Carniceria Guadalajara—& give yourself & your guests a little taste of prosperity in 2010 (pork symbolizes progress, per Epicurious, although I imagine the poor pig would beg to differ).

Dish of the Week: Kaos Pizzeria’s Seasonal Pumpkin Pie

Pizza pie, natch, of which I partook while pondering the apparent penchant among southside pizzerias for names that point toward tumult: first The Rebellion, now Kaos. What do they know that we don’t? If the next new parlor’s called The Apocalpyse, I’m heading for the bomb shelter. That’d be one delivery guy I wouldn’t want to come face to face with. Especially if he shows up on a horse.

Anyway, if it didn’t quite amount to chaos, the seasonal pizza with pumpkin butter, figs, mascarpone, sage, toasted pumpkin seeds &, supposedly, walnuts—although mine yielded none, unless it was those 2 tan little tidbits at 6 o’clock—was certainly a conundrum. And not just thanks to the missing nuts. You can probably already begin to guess why.

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Because if the pizza had arrived hot, those delightful mini–ice cream scoops of mascarpone would have melted in transit, & I’d have been left with a drippy mess. What I don’t know is whether it’s deliberately served at room temperature, even to customers eating in; if so, I wish I’d been notified when I ordered it, because it came as a less-than-pleasant surprise, especially insofar as it highlighted the dryness of the uncharred thin crust (which doesn’t, thankfully, appear to be the norm at Kaos; see Lori Midson of Cafe Society’s black-bubbled looker here). Besides, though the mascarpone—an ultrasoft cheese that tastes of all the fresh cream from which it’s made—looks lovely intact, the fact that you have to smear it in yourself so that it mingles & melds with the other ingredients means it’s a messy affair after all.

BUT. To suggest—& I guess I would—that this pie wasn’t quite a success isn’t to say that I didn’t really dig the gist of it, especially when I stopped thinking of it as pizza & pretended it was a giant hors d’oeuvre on a cracker. Then I could appreciate the earthy-sweet, spiced, autumnally indulgent combination; in & of themselves, the premium ingredients are a treat, not only the mascarpone but also the pumpkin butter sourced from Denver’s own, aptly named PRiMO.

There’s obviously no question that the owners of Kaos know what they’re doing & why they’re doing it, just as they do at Gaia Bistro down the street (Old South Pearl, that is). For all its problems—which, again, may or may not have been a function of the delivery process—this pizza only proves it, charmingly inventive & delicately handled. I’ll look forward to seeing what they come up with for spring—& to giving the ever-changing Chef’s Whim a whirl in the meantime, not to mention good old pizze alla margherita e bianco.

Dish of the Week: Interstate’s Candy Apple

My assumption in launching this series a month-plus ago was that the Dish of the Week would simply be the best thing I’d eaten for 7 days bar none, hands down, no ifs &s or buts, etc. etc.

As usual, my assumption is already proving wrong.

Case in point: Interstate Kitchen & Bar‘s Candy Apple with Pistachios, which is earning the title more for its memorable potential than any irrefutable perfection.

Upon ordering it the 1st time (I tried it twice in 2 days; complete review of Interstate to come), my companions & I naturally expected we’d be making a 3-way mess of 1 of these.

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So it was a surprise, refreshing as such, to be presented instead with an elegant deconstruction thereof.

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Actually, not quite: the photo is of the subsequent order. The 1st order consisted of only 1 poached apple half, while the dollop of caramel was much more prominent (here it’s hidden beneath the whipped cream).

As you might imagine at a glance, we had a field day piling a bite of this & a smear of that on our forks, ripping apart the dried apple slice by hand. What you can’t tell by looking is that the poached apple has a veneer of burnt sugar; & you certainly can’t see that the aforementioned caramel boasts an intriguing consistency, somewhere between taffy and pudding. You have to sort of actively mix the roasted pistachios into the caramel or whipped cream before you can grasp their role in the whole, but they do have a key contrastive one, not least in giving some textural edge to the fruit, which seemed a bit disconcertingly on the soft side.

Still, ultimately the dessert strikes me as representative of the place as a whole: its prog-retro image is already so polished that it’s hard to yet see beyond it to a viable identity. More on this anon.

Dish of the Week: The Corner Office’s Szechuan Fries

***OK, technically the Dish of Last Week. A day late & a dollar short as always; following the wrap of the 32nd Starz Denver Film Festival last night, in which you may know I am heavily involved, several marbles short as well. So bear with me as I regain my equilibrium, such as it ever is, for the next couple of weeks.***

Having never gone gaga over the grub, I’m increasingly drawn to The Corner Office like a drone to a cubicle for various, only semivalid reasons I’ll go into in a later review. But if there’s 1 dish to justify any jones for the joint, it’s this one.

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Cut to ribbons on a mandoline, the Szechuan fries are what the kids these days call a hot mess. Aside from constituting a sweet excuse to flout etiquette—you just sort of yank at the pile with your hands & take what comes loose—they’re also a thrilling grab bag of texture: some pieces are soft as spaghetti strands, others fried to a complete crisp. They come with a hot mustard aioli (I suppose that’s the Szechuan part) which, while echoing Encore’s hot mustard drizzle, bests it for, well, being aioli, hence creamy with mayo.

Lest any part of that compliment sound in any way backhanded, let the fact that I ordered them twice in less than 24 hours convince you of my sincerity.

Dish of the Week: Salt’s Apple Crostada w/ Cheddar Crust, Buttermilk-Caramel Ice Cream & Maple-Bourbon Reduction

It may only be Tuesday, but I’m already calling a landslide for the dessert I tried at Salt today.

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Though it wasn’t perfect—the nicely spiced apple slices were a tad too toothy, & the reduction too faint—it was close, being as savory as sweetness gets. Even the ice cream was more buttermilky than intensely caramel, & as for the crust, with its tinge of cheddar tang—there could be worse ways to go than getting encased alive inside it & trying to no avail to gobble your way out. Dying with a grin & all that.

More on the full meal forthwith.

Dish of the Week: Gjetost

Granted, the week’s already over by a few hours, & this isn’t a dish by most people’s standards, it’s just an item. But me, I could easily gnaw through a block of this Scandinavian cheese & call it a night.

Gjetost
If it looks like a giant caramel, well, that’s what it tastes like. I’m still not convinced it’s actually cheese. According to The Cheesemonger’s Wife, “Gjetost is made by boiling a mixture of milk, cream & whey carefully for several hours so that the water evaporates. The heat turns the milk sugar into caramel, which gives the cheese its characteristic taste.” Meanwhile, according to Brunost (as the cheese is also known), “Real cheeses are made only from the curds. Ricotta, brunost & similar, [sic] although often called cheeses where they are produced, are technically whey-based dairy products.”

Then again, an old professor of mine handily summarized the difference between poetry & prose—&, more to the point, the problem with defining by naming—according to where they’re shelved in the bookstore. By the same token, if it’s stored in the cheese case, it must be cheese. Go ahead, test the theory, & the delicacy, out at Sunflower, whence this particular cube hailed.