Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Hapa Sushi via Delivery by Jeeves: not worth the non-trouble

Let’s leave aside the disclaimer that no washoku connoisseur has any
business ordering sushi in—that content is & should be
inseparable from context in this case, the food from the
experience of engaging with & eating according to the
expertise of your itamae. A,
I’m no connoisseur, & B, to get all poetic on you, one could
equally argue that there are no ideas (i.e. mental processing, i.e. experiencing) but
in things
: if, as I suggested in the above-linked Chowhound
thread, delivery sushi is akin to poetry in translation—i.e.,
something other than the real thing—it’s still a thing you can
gauge on its own merits. So, for instance, if nigiri brought in
from Sushi
is inferior to nigiri consumed at Sushi Den, it’s
nonetheless inarguably superior to nigiri ordered in from, oh,
say, Hapa
Sushi Grill & Sake Bar
, the batch of which I had recently
was so insipid as to make the thought of an in-house taste
test—though eventually necessary & only fair—altogether too
dispiriting for the nonce.

In Japanese, happa, 2
Ps, means “leaf,”
including the ganja, or maybe “explosion.” A Google search
yielded conflicting translations, though it did help confirm that
hapa, 1 P, doesn’t mean anything in
Japanese. It’s actually a Hawaiian word, which per Hapa’s website
describes “a harmonious blend of Asian and American cultures” but
per Urban Dictionary is derogatory slang for a half-breed. Guess which
source I trust more.

Actually, the menu explicitly pledges allegiance to a Hawaiian
influence or 2, which is kind of cool, but what clinched an order
from me 1 night when I didn’t feel like cooking & the
Director didn’t feel like getting off the couch was the listing
for umeshiso maki. So far as I’ve searched, no one else in Denver
serves the rolls filled with pickled plum paste & shiso leaf
that I thought were a given in US sushi bars. (If any of you are
aware of other local purveyors, please send word!)

Though I’d looked into using By Jeeves before, this was my first
experience with the delivery service, & I was quite pleased
with the process. The “phone waiter” was very nice &
efficient (if not exactly a whiz in Japanese pronunication—for
one of many instances, hotate nigiri, or ho-TAH-tay nih-GIH-ree, became
HO-tayt ni-ZHEE-ree.
Kinda cute, actually). The delivery dude arrived only a few min.
past the hour allotted, & the service fees were already added
in. In short, the whole affair was fairly hassle-free.

Not so the yaki onigiri.


Being unfamiliar with these “grilled balls of rice served with
teriyaki sauce,” I was intrigued, imagining a sort of naked Asian
version of Sicilian arancini; what I got was a clump of plain rice,
somehow sticky & dried-out at the same time, except for the
quarter-inch bottom layer that was saturated with cloying goo
(the inclusion of which was altogether an Americanization
according to my fellow Chowhounds, who also assured me the
interior should be almost melting).

The sauteed edamame was fine if a bit messy beneath its
smattering of “Hapa’s seasonings”—a not-so-proprietary blend of
garlic & sesame.


And some of my sushi was just fine too. I was indeed delighted to
be reunited with my sour-salty

Hapaumeshiso Hapaoshinko
umeshiso maki, & I’m always down with punchy oshinko (pickled
daikon) rolls.

sheepishly cop as well to getting a kick out of the Mork &
Mindy roll with white tuna (presumably albacore?), salmon, chives
& a bit of mandarin orange—not surprisingly a nice combo,
given the easy affinity between fish & citrus, though what it
has to do with the goofy old sitcom is beyond me (any ideas?).

But the nigiri was flat-out flavorless.

Hapatuna Hapasalmon Hapahotate Hapamackerel

From the yellowtail & the salmon to the grilled scallop (i.e.
the aforementioned hotate, which the Director chose over raw on a
lark) & even the mackerel (not an easy fish to defang), what
should have been the sparkling centerpieces seemed like
storebought afterthoughts. Granted, my bad for not just assuming
that Hapa would have it all ass-backwards once I saw the way the
menu was categorized—whereby the “beginner” rolls are very
simple, just raw fish & veggies, while the “advanced” rolls
are mostly abominations of baked cream cheese, fried smoked
salmon & garlic-basil butter, bearing names as tacky as their
ingredients. To willingly request the Climax or the Booty Call is
to just ask for it in every sense of the phrase. I’m not
objecting to the inclusion of such concoctions on the menu, mind
you; again, I’m no purist. What gives me hives is the
oh-so-American & no-so-Japanese equation of novelty with
sophistication. The difference, it seems, is in knowing the difference. That
culinary experimentation is, at least in my book, a good thing
does not automatically mean the results thereof are too.

Hapa, you got me up on my soapbox, where I tend to be
particularly awkward (hey, does this platform make me look fat?).
For that reason alone, I damn thee.

Hapa Sushi (Cherry Creek) on Urbanspoon

Husted Collection Curios: My Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book, by & for the desperate housewives of 1930

***Part of a semiregular series about my findings at the Margaret Husted Culinary Collection—a remarkable, undersung cookbook archive whose 1000s of specimens run the gamut from serious historical finds to quirky flukes.***

It’s falling apart on the inside as well as the outside.


Glam as the recipe testers must have been with their pre-WWII careers, their matching handbags & pumps, their wasp-waists & Veronica–style tresses,

their souls were surely clawing ceaselessly to escape the gaping maw of the dark within. At least, that is, if the frantically cheerful, culinarily delusional &/or creepily suggestive headnotes are any indication. In all 3 categories:

Barbecued Pork Chops (& by “barbecued,” they of course mean oven- baked with ketchup)

Tri-Meat Roll-Up (4 if you count the bacon! Love the garnish of whole onions)

In the generation-gap category: Tuna mousse is doubtless “tops with high-schoolers” (oh, kids today & their fish-pulp)! In the zonked-out-Stepford-Wives category: Shrimp-orange salad’s “pretty, fresh-tasting, and a company puzzler.” (Because everything’s hard to figure after a few highballs. “Jeepers, am I one zozzled tootsie, or is this salad some kind of trick?) In the no-cuisine-please-we’re-American category: “Lemon gives lamb a chickeny taste and color!” In the “gee,-I-hope-you-didn’t-go-to-any-trouble-on-my-account” category: Hawaiian ham “has that just-made-for-you look guests go for!”


One can only sigh dreamily to picture the editorial meetings around a tableful of auburn-coiffed, milk-skinned dames moving from purrs to shrieks, the skeletons of one another’s hubbies dancing in their mental closets all the while.

Husted Collection Curios: Trade Winds Cookery, 1956 (sneak preview: fish popsicles!)

***Part of a semiregular series about my findings at the Margaret Husted Culinary Collection—a remarkable, undersung cookbook archive whose 1000s of specimens run the gamut from serious historical finds to quirky treats like this.***

In all its exotic mystery, the cover of Trade Winds Cookery: Tropical Recipes for All America by Norma A. Davis (not to be confused with Nelson_alice2 )

naturally caught my eye, filling me with urgent questions: What’s that native girl doing on an 8’x8′ island with a bunch of groceries? How did she get there? How long can she stand like that? Shouldn’t someone send for help (like maybe the guy who drew her picture from the deck of his passing yacht or something, the heartless bastard)? Etc.


The recipes didn’t disappoint, equally lush with illogic. Take the caviar ice cubes from, uh, Santo Domingo. Because when you think “sturgeon eggs,” the republic that comes to mind is the Dominican one, right? Or, okay, Soviet, close enough. At any rate, what a clever idea, eh, freezing caviar with a little onion & lime juice in a tray so you can pop a cube or 2 into a nice cold glass of boutique vodka?

Oh, wait. The cubes go on a plate with buttered toast points. Of course—why didn’t I think of that? After all, what’s a party without some stickless fish-egg popsicles & soggy croutons? (Seriously, am I missing something?)


For the record, I actually made some with tobiko, minced onion & lemon juice, thinking they’d make a good snack out of a shot of my fave bison-grass vodka. Here’s what they look like in one of the tarantula-print candleholders the Director mistook for bar glassware when he bought them (speaking of lush illogic, especially since we use them all the time). Here’s what they taste like—what they are, which is good if you don’t mind bottoming up the dregs of piscine ova. (Hey, waiter, there’s a flying fish fetus in my booze.)


Another startlingly dreamy-sounding recipe that I haven’t made yet:


Avocado is a fruit, after all, used to make ice cream & smoothies the equatorial world over. Mashed with sugar, chocolate liqueur & a little citrus for balance, it’d make a fine dessert indeed—although I’d think seriously about substituting Amarula or Kahlúa for crème de cacao, just to up the intrigue a little.

Really, the book’s full of such breezy, balmy attention grabbers, from fried grapefruit


to this:


Should some enterprising reader be inclined to test any of the above, I’d welcome a guest post.

It’s a receipt! It’s a gift! It’s trash! It’s a keepsake! I’m so confused! Reserve List’s sneaky cheat sheet

In the words of the much-missed Mitch Hedberg:

“I bought a doughnut, and they gave me a receipt for the doughnut. I don’t need a receipt for the doughnut, man. I’ll just give you the money, and you give me the doughnut. End of transaction. We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this. I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would have to prove that I bought a doughnut. To some skeptical friend: ‘Don’t even act like I didn’t get that doughnut! I got the documentation right here…oh, wait, it’s at home…in the file…under ‘D.'”

I was doing some filing myself the other day when the acronym “BBQ,” as it tends to do, caught my eye.


So Reserve List receipts double as pairing primers. How above & beyond is that? Is this a trend among wine shops I somehow missed until now?

How spot-on their suggestions are I can’t say first-hand, not having taken them. But given that the southern Spanish Finca de Luzon so far as I recall is indeed big & tall, I’m sure it could stand up to ribs all right. A good cut of beef makes sense for the northeastern Spanish Onix Priorat too, but maybe with lusher seasonings?

Meanwhile, gotta ponder the potential for mischief. Assuming the suggestions are entered into a computerized register, suppose a disgruntled employee were to start hacking away? Or suppose the program itself went haywire? So you’d walk in & buy a dry rosé & your receipt would say: “Gravel & gum wads.” Or you’d pick up a gorgeously bold Amarone & the tip would be “smegma.”

Either way, it’s one of those things that makes a day just a little more fun. Good on ya, Reserve List.

Back-to-back meh: Blue Moon & Twin Dragon

“One sits and beats an old tin can, lard pail…one beats and beats for that which one believes,” says Wallace Stevens in “The Man on the Dump.” But sometimes one beats too hard, too fast, causing pain for herself & others. I wrote a blogpost the other day that (lest you arrived here in search of it) I have since taken down for that reason.

Enough said, besides I’m truly sorry to those I hurt.

What with the new kitty, I’m less inclined to budge from the couch than ever, so the Director & I have been ordering in a lot lately, including once from (make that “in a”) Blue Moon Asian Cuisine & Sushi. In keeping with the space it’s made in—that low-rent chalet on S. Colorado—the food’s pretty utilitarian. By the same token, of course, it’s also a sight cheaper than most (with a majority of items costing less than, for instance, their Sushi Den counterparts by a buck or more).

The Dynamite was Dynamite. Which isn’t the same as being dynamite. ‘Twas what ’twas.


By & large the maki was quite all right. Keep in mind that, while I know a thing or two about about a fish or 2, I’m no aficionado—not like Chowhound regular cgfan, whose fascinating thread (which links to photos & videos) on a day in the kitchen with his favorite itamae can be found here.

Therefore, I’m all too glad to snarf the stuff the snobs (sympathetically enough, really) sniff at. Hey, we all have our issues, as both the aforelinked & this Chow thread attest; mine just happens to be with bastardized Italian rather than Japanese. Besides, I ordered uni too, but the hostess called back to say the kitchen was out (a claim of which I’m slightly suspicious. Not to be a snob myself, but are Blue Moon habitués really that into echinoderms? Acquired tastes like [at least here in the US] sea urchin tend to develop only with investments of time & money—the very things places like Blue Moon aim to help you save.)

So I was happily stuck with my tricked-out rolls. Ignoring the Director’s basic nigiri from 12 to 2 o’clock (see, time really is of the essence at Blue Moon!), going clockwise from about 3, we got unagi (eel w/ avo) maki; east maki w/ shrimp, egg & avo; salmon skin maki; & spicy scallop maki. At the center top is sunshine maki stuffed with salmon, avo & pickled burdock & covered with tuna & tobiko; below that is Manhattan maki filled with spicy crab (maybe actual crab, since it’s one of the pricier rolls & since the menu specifies kani elsewhere?) & layered with tuna, salmon & avo. Nothing wrong with a one; all was just fine—the scallop being especially fine, bursting with meat & not especially gloppy, while the sunshine roll’s heavy dusting of flying fish roe was nice & messy.


The takeout menu for Twin Dragon boasted its past Best Ofs; though none were recent, a leaf-through pointed to a curio or two—5-flavor pork loin, honey roast pork, creamy walnut chicken (shrimp being the more usual version). And these

TDwrappedchicken TDwrappedchicken2

paper- {sic] wrapped chicken.<

They were basically chicken meatballs, boomerang-shaped, scallion-spiked &, I’d swear, lightly egg-dipped, then browned to a turn.

The rest of the order, though, took a turn for the worse. I knew I was taking the name “crispy, tangy pork” too literally, but I couldn’t help but hope against hope that it wasn’t actually just a euphemism for “doughy, sweet & sour pork.” It was. Still, the addition of what I guess was some sort of seaweed, almost mushroomy in flavor, was a nice touch.


Similarly, “sesame egg noodle salad” was just overcooked sesame noodles with undercooked veggies & none of the advertised citrus-soy dressing.


Plan on moving an inch again any moment now, so more reports on the big bad world of eats out there soon.

Blue Moon Asian Cuisine & Sushi on Urbanspoon

Twin Dragon on Urbanspoon

Product testing a go-go-arigato: the seafood counter at Pacific Mercantile

If Pac Merc were a bar I’d be its fly lately, just hanging around looking for suckers I could sweet talk into buying me another round of groceries, waking up ragged the next morning on a sidewalk strewn with empty bags of senbei & boxes of Pocky. Besides the snack attacks I’ve been having (see here & here), I get dizzy around the seafood counter, which is not only way cheaper than most other local supermarkets but also stocked with sea funk the latter should damn well carry but don’t.

Like squid. I don’t bitch much about being landlocked post-Boston, but the overall absence of squid from counters around town gets me down sometimes. What perks me back up is knowing that if I just gotta have it I can always cruise on down to Pac Merc and get some, that, whole & uncleaned, ‘ll kill 2 birds with 1 stone, to use a totally inapt cliché—satisfying not only my cephalopodal cravings but also, 1st things 1st, my taste for gore, squirting out guts as it does with every slash of the knife.


Or like the smelt roe below in the middle &, on its right, niboshi, to use the Japanese word (despite the fact that the label reads “arigato,” apropos of nothing immediately apparent) for the dried anchovies I tend to call by the Malay name, ikan bilis,


memories of Boston Chinatown fixture Penang’s asam ikan bilis fried with onions, tamarind, chili & shrimp paste misting mine tummy-sized eyes.

Getting them home, though, mostly what I called them was a bitch to figure out, because I didn’t have any tamarind & so had to make something up. I based the below on a recipe I have for a wonderfully refreshing Mediterranean dish of pan-seared calamari & roasted new potatoes with mint, replacing the squid (which I was saving for a stirfry) with the anchovies & the mint with seaweed, adding browned onions, chili & fish sauce to boot & topping it all with some of the roe.


Honestly, it could’ve been worse, but I won’t insult your culintellect with a recipe. Or wait, hell, why not.







Combine anything with the remaining things. Cook. Serves some people.

Near the seafood counter is a refrigerated case with tiny cartons of quail eggs.


These I just quickly hard-cooked, topped with yet more roe & used as garnish for a variation on my beloved eggplant soup, which I also don’t really recommend unless you’re weird.


Still, if you think my cooking’s weird, wait’ll you see what one of those pervs preserved in the Husted Collection recommended I do with the rest of the roe. Stay tuned.

Product-testing a go-go: pickled eggplant & hot fruit-flavored beef jerky, Pacific Mercantile

Man, I love me some Pac Merc, the killer, disheveled Asian grocery at Lawrence & 19th. If I couldn’t care less about food I’d love Pac Merc, because I’d still care a lot about language & cartoons, & thus shriek & giggle within myself, sometimes without, to see

PMpeanut PMpeanut3PMpeanut2

& PMseaweed .

But since I couldn’t care more about food, I really dig Pac Merc. Take pickled Japanese eggplant. Besides gulping them down whole, I don’t really know what to do with the chewy, juicy, super-sour, quite spicy things with just a slight, not unpleasant chemical tinge of food coloring—


nor do I know what my fondness of late for products evoking castration procedures gone awry entails***


(for more on British Bulldog Pub’s bangers, see here)—

but they sure are as yummy as they are ugly all by themselves. As for

PMjerky ,

I bought it half-jokingly, thinking


Kool Aid–koated jerky

would be good for a laugh on whoever ate it. And it was, because I ate it &, lo & beLOLed, actually enjoyed it, as peppery as it was, well, fruit-punchy. Plus look, it’s got wine in it. Wouldn’t it be even funnier if they were using, like, a vintage Bordeaux?

***Not to mention film scenes, e.g. here & here.

Husted Collection Curios: goofball gems from the Beat era (sneak preview: T-shirt pie!)

***This will be the first in a semiregular series about my findings at the Margaret Husted Culinary Collection at DU’s Penrose Library—a remarkable, undersung cookbook archive whose 1000s of specimens run the gamut from serious historical finds to, well, the following.***


“From the Unsquare corners of North Beach, The Village, and Venice West, comes this authentic collection of Beat Recipes” published by 7 Poets Press in 1961, according to the intro, which continues:

“Most of the recipes are inexpensive (who has bread for steaks?), quick to prepare, and a gas to gobble, compiled over a period of three years spent On The Road and two years Up the Creek. …
A Loft is not a Pad without a Beat Generation Cook Book—Eat Beat! It’s the way out, Man.—The Editors.”

(Psychedelic highlights courtesy of me!)

Thing is, the recipes are wack like crack (or, less anachronistically but less mellifluously too, like LSD). Check out the 1 for Streetcar Pie:


Groovy, eh? At least I think so, though the ambiguously gendered guy with several missing toes in the illustration at the bottom of the page doesn’t seem so sure.


Now it’s your turn to spot the pot-fueled humor!


But here’s the best part: the back ad.


Sure wish Bukowski & Hughes had contributed some recipes too, although in the former case I guess it would just be:


1 bottle of beer, unopened

Open bottle. Serves 1.

As for Hughes—what, dried grapes?

After all, poets tend to be too busy writing, fighting, drinking, & going insane to think about eating much, never mind developing recipes. And bona fide rock stars like Sonny & Cher? Forget it.


Which makes “The Yardbirds’ Lemon Butter Chicken” a little hard to swallow. But sure, maybe that wacky Don Adams, aka Agent 86 on Get Smart, really did whip up a dip of port wine, peanut butter, raw onion & processed garlic cheese from time to time to smear all over Agent 99 back in the trailer.


Boston Tea Party Turns Denver Thai Party: Thai Basil & the dearth of dandy Mile High Thai take-out

I’ve roasted the skin (hope it’s thick!) off poor Thai Green Chile; I’ve sprayed phrase-mace in Jason of Jason’s Thai Bistro’s face; I haven’t bothered wasting even an inch of cyberspace—& it’s infinite!—on Swing Thai or Spicy Basil. Yet looking at the menus of the likes of  Chada Thai, with its miang kum & haw moak, and reading the raves for Edgewater’s US Thai, I realize that it’s too soon to conclude from my experiences thus far that there’s no Thai around here to speak of except in snarky tones.

That’s especially true insofar as I’ve been insisting, by a series of associations, on ordering the stuff in. I tend (as I think most humans, with our serotonin levels & various biological drives, do) to associate carbs & fat with comfort. I tend (as the luckier among us humans do) to associate home, with its old sofas & filthy sweatshirts & sweethearts lounging around on & in them, with comfort too. Thus I tend, as I think a lot of lucky-gimme-gimme-yay Americans do, to associate the delivery of carb-heavy, fatty foods to my front door with comfort. And thus in turn, I think, do we tend to order in those dishes immigrant cooks have altered precisely to suit our inborn palates, as opposed to the more “authentic” (whatever that means, as usual) dishes we’re more willing to try when already out of our comfort zones anyway, i.e., seated in the restaurants, away from our couches. To basically quote what I wrote in this Chowhound thread I started to get to the bottom of precisely this here theory (which is already yielding interesting & insightful answers, God bless that site), “Takeout/delivery seems to center on Americanized versions of dishes, be it pizza, Chinese, or whatever.
For instance, when I think of eating Chinese in, I think of Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway in bed digging with their chopsticks into moo choppy gumshoe or whatever in Manhattan…No one’s ordering, say, tripe and jellyfish. As for pizza, if I’m ordering it in, I’m not likely to be getting a pie topped with zucchini blossoms and fresh mozzarella.”

And as for Thai, the ultimate hot-sour-salty-sweet cuisine, if we’re ordering it in, we’re not likely to be calling up the joints that specialize in miang kum & haw moak; we’re going for noodles whose sauces are oozing with brown sugar, tamarind &, for fuck’s sake, ketchup.

Point being twofold: A, as an American I can’t ask to be catered to like everyone else & then complain when I’m catered to like everyone else. I can’t shit on, say, Thai Basil for loading everything I order with sugar & thickeners when sugar & thickeners are where it’s at in most of the stuff I order. And yet B, as an American, just because I can’t doesn’t mean I can’t. I’m an American! As no less a quintessential American poet than Whitman put it, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” True that.

In short, I still say Denver Thai take-out largely sucks until proven otherwise. As for Thai Basil specifically, about half of my fair sampling of dishes can be taken & shoved, to use another expressly American line:

hot & sour soup, actually sweet & starchy viscous liquid

drunken noodles, actually oil junkies

golden tofu, actually beige cushion stuffing

& crispy fish with black bean sauce, actually breaded whatever (for a while we thought it might be some funky duck; that’s how unfishlike it was) with

shiny chunky fructose glop.

But I guess if (duck-fish aside) it walks like junk food & talks like junk food, then it’s probably junk food. By contrast, the green curry with chicken, if neither particularly green nor chickeny, at least had a nice medium texture & a moderate kick;


ditto the more generously laden red curry with scallops.

Potstickers & spring rolls were potstickers & spring rolls, neither here nor there—which is a good thing; both are all about soothing texture, remarkable only (unless you’re in the rare presence of a dumpling master) in the negative, i.e. if the former are doughy or the latter loose. These weren’t, so okay then.



Both here & there, meanwhile, were the marinated crispy duck—rich & glistening & definitely *not* to be confused with the aforementioned crispy fish—


& the Indonesian chicken salad, not to be confused with…anything definitively from Indonesian cuisine or any another so far as I know (do tell if you know otherwise), but yum nonetheless with roast chicken, cashews, raisins, mixed greens & peanut sauce.


These latter appeased me just enough to keep me from throwing Thai iced tea into the harbor—Rocky Mountain spring, whatever—at least until I’ve made it over to Chada.

Thai Basil on Urbanspoon

Product-testing a go-go: Salditos, Pacific Mercantile

My long overdue virgin visit to Pacific Mercantile—the downtown Asian grocery, not the bank—with Petey yielded, if not the nem chua I’m still seeking, myriad other delights to be revealed bit by bit.

Salditos—dried, salted plums—weren’t one of them, however. Not even close.

These, kids, are salditos.


These are rose rocks.


Turns out the striking resemblance is not at all coincidental, as the former indeed might as well be iron-heavy aggregates of barite & sand for all you can bite into them without cracking many a veneer.

They are also salty as the walls of hell.**

Digging for the dirt on these buggers on Chowhound, I was dismayed to find they were as they should have been—&  thus a taste acquired in toddlerhood or not at all.

I’ve yet to admit defeat, mind you. I’ve been soaking them in water; I’m going to add a little something to the liquid—vinegar? juice?—& give them one more chance to bloom into actual roses for the mouth. Wish me luck.

**You know, the ones surrounding pits of fire, so the walking wounded are eternally caught between, to put it mildly, a rock & a hard place. I’m guessing.