Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Let Me Count the Ways: East Asia Garden

This is how lazy & stupid I am: I’ll wait an extra 15 minutes (at least) & spend an extra $5 (at least) to order delivery from a place I could drive to for take-out in 3 minutes tops. So when I saw that GrubHub, newly launched in Denver, included East Asia Garden—which I fell hard for while covering it for the now-defunct Denver Magazine a few months back—among its options, I promptly got a jones for northeastern Chinese food & set about placing an order, though the joint’s just around the corner. Funny thing, though: the phone number listed was EAG’s own. Confused, I contacted customer service online to ask: if I’m calling the restaurant directly, how do you know what to deliver? Answer: we don’t; they deliver it. In short, GrubHub basically acts as a menu clearinghouse, kinda useless in the case of restaurants that have websites—but helpful with respect to those, like EAG, that don’t.

Anyway, between my visits there, run by an adorably sweet family, & the delivery guy’s visits here, I can count the myriad ways I’m so glad this place is in my hood, & why you should support it too, sketchy appearance along an ugly stretch of South Broadway notwithstanding.

1. Though much of the menu consists of your standardized Chinese-American stuff, there are a few sections boasting regional specialties you’ll rarely if ever find the likes of between the coasts—Cold Dishes, Cross Bridge Noodles, & Traditional Northeast China Flavor (the latter does not appear on the take-out menu, only on the dine-in menu, which luckily is the one shown on GrubHub)—as well as a selection of buns & dumplings (baozi & jiaozi). Here you’ll encounter…

2. An array of “hot & spicy”—more accurately “room temperature & spicy”—preparations including julienned seaweed & potato (aka “silk”), sliced cucumber & tofu skin, alone or in a combo,

as well as beef shank.

Any & all are a must—smeared with chili-reddened & garlic-electric yet lightly sweet-&-sour marinade, they’re nonetheless cooling.

3. EAG’s buns are sometimes superb & sometimes not quite, but the odds are good that you’ll get a heap of tender, gleaming, silky-smooth pouches oozing with the savory juices of the pork/shrimp/cabbage inside, best doused in the accompanying black vinegar.

Though the filling’s every bit as moist & flavorful, EAG’s dumplings aren’t quite as successful. The 1st time I ordered them, they arrived steamed, a surprise since the menu noted “steamed also available,” which led me to assume pan-fried prep was the default. In any case, they were a bit on the thick, sticky side.

The 2nd time, I specified that I wanted them fried, again assuming they’d be pan-fried; instead, they were deep-fried.

Interesting, if a little underdone. Still, I’ll stick with Lao Wang’s potstickers from now on.

4. The traditional homestyle dishes are richly sauced, but not in the gloppy, cloying fashion of so much sweet-&-sour slop; rather, they’re all about a nice umami balance—soy, fermented bean pastes, rice wine, etc.—with the main ingredients that still shine through, from the sliced potatoes, tomatoes & bell peppers in the Three Earth Fresh

to the eggplant braised with onions, carrots & peppers in a soy-based sauce (with cornstarch, clearly, but not too much, lending silkiness)

to more eggplant in broad bean sauce, showing a completely different profile—darker, deeper & funkier,

to hairtail filets (bone-in) braised à la the first eggplant dish—fleshy, pungent, & not for those who don’t like fish that tastes like fish,

to firm yet fluffy, omelet-like wedges of tofu with more onions, peppers & carrots.

Granted, all of the above entrees are fairly similar in the comfort they offer; if you want the hard stuff—though you may have to do a bit of wheedling if you’re pale-faced—there’s fried pig liver, cold pig ear with cucumber & creamy, luscious tofu with black eggs, which cracked my 2010 Top 10 list.

Does EAG really deserve 5 stars? Obviously, the trio of Urbanspoon users who’ve reviewed it as of this writing don’t think so. So let me put it this way: the benefit of the doubt goes to the kitchen for caring & daring to do things a little differently, to broaden the horizons of a neighborhood in which the “ethnic” options are mostly mediocre (with a few exceptions, the Kizaki brothers’ empire included). That despite the odds it succeeds more often than not warms my cockles. And hope, rare as it is for a cynic like me, warrants at least a star or 2.

East Asia Garden on Urbanspoon

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.

Ondo’s Spanish Tapas Bar: What They Said (And Then Some)

Reviews of Ondo’s, both pro & amateur, largely agree: the cooking, courtesy of Spanish-trained chef-owners Curt & Deicy Steinbecker, is the real delightful deal; the bland Cherry Creek ambiance is anything but. Well, I’ve got nothing to add to that consensus, but at least I can concur in my own inimitable style.

There’s something about the tradition of tapas that, perhaps more than most cuisines, demands commensurate atmsophere—the leisurely intimacy, I suppose, of sharing small plates over the course of a night of imbibing. Anything other than a rustic, cozy, preferably subterranean or at least windowless space in which candles flicker & a lone guitarist pines for the rugged hills of Andalucia just doesn’t cut it. Ondo’s is below street level, but otherwise it falls jarringly short: the dining room decor looks downright cheap, with flimsy tables & chairs awkwardly spaced—too far apart in the center, leaving swathes of industrial gray carpet, but too close along the wall lined with the usual landscape posters. Granted, the tight seating there makes for juicy eavesdropping—apologies to the clearly frustrated hipster guy whose ladyfriend, professing food allergies, wouldn’t eat anything, glancing at our table from time to time to whine, “I wish I’d known to get that—I don’t understand how to order from this menu!”

Darlin,’ as long as you know how to read English, it ain’t any different than ordering from any other small-plates menu. Even Spanish words like pinxtos & bocadillos are clearly defined as “tapas on toasted bread,” “sandwiches,” etc. How did we “know” to get the cazuelita (clay pot dish) de setas? Because the menu described it as “grilled oyster mushrooms with broiled with garlic & parsley.” It looked good on paper; we ordered it with our mouths. No arcane expertise, innate genius, or mental telepathy required.

And it was good, very. Plump & meaty, oyster mushrooms really do possess something of the sea-gray savor of their namesake, but they also gained a brightness from the garlicky olive oil & parsley, plus a bit of smokiness via paprika.

I’ll give dumb-bunny ladyfriend this: tuna salad on toast might seem like a mistake to anyone unfamiliar with the excellence of Spain’s canned seafood. Years ago, Saveur devoted a whole cover story to the topic; Ondo’s bonito del Norte pinxto provides a clear indication of why.

Atop a crusty baguette slice, this tuna salad was the richest, smoothest, creamiest version I’ve ever tasted; the red pepper–touched shrimp on top added a bit of sweetness it hardly needed (even less so the reduced balsamic vinegar on bottom), though their firm-fleshed texture did enhance the mouthfeel.

Of course, perhaps the most straightforward way to judge a tapas bar is by the quality of its solid-gold standards—most of which, like pan con tomate, patatas bravas, & tortilla española, we skipped. But we did try a surprisingly large order of spinach & pinenut croquettes, wonderfully flavored with what I think was red pepper aioli & a touch of liqueur—I’m guessing some sort of anisette, which wouldn’t be unheard of with spinach & pinenuts in either Italy or Spain.

Classic solomillo in blue cheese sauce was also beautifully done—the tenderloin so tender it was almost all juice, the sauce so silken its funky tang came almost as a surprise. The crisped-to-ribbons side of potato gratin was unnecessary, but lovely just the same.

The highlight of an entirely highlit meal, however, was revelatory for me: huevo escalfaldo (poached egg) with chorizo & mascarpone puree.

The first bite was blinding: it was as though I’d never experienced contrasting textures or complementary flavors before. A bit of luscious, pure egg; a bit of charred, then unctuous sausage; a bit of creamy-sweet creamy cream-cheesy cream. Gorgeous; I don’t know how else to say it.

Next time I go, which will be soon, I’ll sit at the bar with my back to the ugly room; the food will provide all the atmosphere I need.

On that note, happy new year.

Ondo's Spanish Tapas Bar on Urbanspoon

Halloween at My Favorite Haunt: Beatrice & Woodsley

Since its stealth opening 2 years ago, I have rarely failed to be enchanted by what is 1 of the most original & exciting restaurants in town if not far beyond. (For my most recent review, see here.) Last night’s Ghosts by Lantern Light Dinner, served in the cellar, was no exception. Needless to say, the exquisitely moody Log Cabin–goth decor borders on spooky come Halloween (as does that of B&W’s freaky sibling, Mario’s Double Daughter’s Salotto); so though poor you are out of luck with respect to this prix-fixe one-off, here’s hoping my play-by-play inspires you to stop in this weekend to soak up some sumptuously eerie atmosphere while snacking from the regular menu. (The crawfish beignets are a must-try, & though I’ve never had the PEI mussels in roasted tomato-fontina broth, fond memories of mussels bathed in robiola at my old haunt in Boston, Neptune Oyster, give me high hopes for the dish. Actually, these 2 personal faves remind me of one another insofar as their chefs have a flair for neo-surf-&-turf—scallops with ham, oysters with beef tongue, shrimp with pork belly & chicharrónes, veal sweetbreads with clams, sturgeon with duck confit, etc. etc.—that makes me keel over swooning.)

With only 12 of us seated around a long table surrounded by increasing darkness—the many candles on the table were extinguished a few at a time after each course, until all that was left was a bit of gas lamplight—much picture-taking would have probably gotten me strung up by the noose hanging on one wall, so may my words do the whole thing justice.

Cobwebs filled the stairwell; smoke spilled from buckets of dry ice (it’d have been cool if it covered the whole floor, but there’s probably some code against that); the table was scattered with gourds (bringing to mind that classic McSweeney’s essay, It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers.)

More about that fine cocktail from B&W’s inexplicably underrated bar in future; let’s start with the “amuse booche.” All of a centimeter, it was an adorable play on candy corn, composed of triangular layers of corn & carrot gelée sprinkled with sherry salt & paired with a revelatory sparkler—Hesketh Proposition blends Shiraz, Chardonnay & Semillon to watermelon-juicy effect.

Next course: chunky white bean soup swirled with savoy cabbage & diced housemade bacon; a thick coin of almost creamy boudin blanc sat on top. Earthy, hearty & a touch fruity—I suspect via a splash of sherry—it indeed ate like a meal rather than 1/5 of a meal. Oof.

Which brings us to the grilled lamb liver & kidney pie with picalilli (of currants, I believe?)

Tearful confession: with the exception of superfatty foie gras & buttery patés, I am not a liver lover. I’ve tried, God knows I’ve tried, & I still try, but there’s something about the tang of iron—smacking of this color—I can’t take. It’s literally bilious. I chewed as much as I could stomach between big forkfuls of the flaky pie, spilling with bits of kidney & root veggies.

Which was just as well, because I polished off every last bite of the final courses, grotesquely full as I was.

Tender braised veal breast & fried sweetbreads came with fingerling hash & two superb sauces that not only thrilled the meats but played off 1 another: caramel-apple on the one hand, a pesto of capers, golden raisins & mint on the other. The whole was as richly colorful as autumn itself.

And then there was mincemeat pie. Oh my. More like a slump or cobbler in that it was just topped with crust, the cooked fruit was threaded with shredded yak—darkly luscious & topped off with freshly whipped cream & what may be the best ice cream I’ve ever had, really, & I’ve had a lot of freaking ice cream in 40 years on this earth: crunchy-smooth sweet potato–toffee. The Errazuriz late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc made for an inspired pairing—while its honeyed quality was a natural complement, it also showed notes of lemon that cut through a bit of the dessert’s richness.

Sheer trick-or-treat kudos.

Kids in the (Euclid) Hall: Zany Young Gun Jorel Pierce

Ever seen the French fur trappers sketch, where Dave Foley & Kevin McDonald paddle their canoe down office hallways to catch businessmen in their snares, clubbing them to death for their Armani & Fendi pelts? 

That's nice. It's not really relevant, except to the extent that Jen Jasinski's chef de cuisine at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, Jorel Pierce, is another Kid in the Hall who likes to butcher & skin stuff. Like this pig.

Jorel1

Among the stellar results are these Buffalo-style pig ears; 

EHpigears
beautifully breaded & fried—crisp & greaseless on the outside—these strips of porcine appendage are themselves just pure, melting fat, unrecognizable to the squeamish as sense organs (unless you hold them up to your own ear—then you can just make out the oinks & mud-sucking sounds of the sty!).  The accompanying hot sauce, paired with ranch dressing, is just terrific, as fruity as it is spicy thanks to the inclusion of…no fruit at all, but rather carrots. (The 2 sauces are mixed together for the cheese curds; technically, according to a Wisconsinite I spoke with, they're supposed to be eaten as close to the source as possible as soon after their manufacture as possible, but Pierce goes the next-best route by obtaining them directly from a Dairy State producer. Never having had the freaky pleasure of squeezing fresh curds between my teeth to hear their famous squeak myself, I can't say with any authority how Euclid Hall's nuggets stack up. I can only point out that it's fried cheese—ergo awesome.)

EHcheesecurds

On the gentler side, Pierce is also a keen pickler (not to say a Cabbage Head, though there is kimchi on the duck foie gras poutine), 

Jorel2

obtaining all manner of curious cucumber varieties (plus other veggies) from Thistle Whistle Farm in Hotchkiss for the seasonal selection he offers—

EHpickles
each pickled differently in wine & hops & herbs: some sweet & sour, some spicy, some mild & fruity. I especially hearted the basil-brined cuke on the right, which I could've sworn Pierce called a "punotera," but I can't find any such thing on Google. If you've got the veggie vocabulary to solve this mystery, I'm all ears.

Then there's the mushroom soup, which Pierce just added to the menu as a segue into autumn. Not cream-based but rather starting with a shiitake bouillon, it's light & aromatic enough to appeal even in the still-warm weather, with gorgeous chunks of fungi, lots of fresh dill & a translucent sliver of lardo on top. (Word to the wiser than me: let it melt in; I tried to cut it with a spoon, which doesn't work.) 

EHmushroomsoup

In case it isn't obvious given the walk-in tour, I was a guest for this feast (which also included the Euclidian Cheesesteak, last week's Dish of the Week). Thus I suggest, as I am wont to do in these cases, including my sneak preview of the place, that you take my praise with a grain of salt—or, better yet, with a dollop of any of the 4 housemade mustards on offer, of which my favorite was the Bordeaux (which uses whole grain & verjus, i.e. grape must).

EHmustards
Whatever it takes to get you in the door. As far as I'm concerned, both it & El Diablo are really living up to the hype as fall's grandest openings.

Euclid Hall on Urbanspoon

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.

EHphillycheesesteak

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.   

 

Geeks Who Drink: Steamworks Euclidean Pale Ale Debuts at Euclid Hall

Math nerds, beer geeks, food freaks, who cares? We're all wacked out in one way or another. (Does that answer your question?  Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.) 

And we're all welcome at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, which, as if it weren't already awesome enough, will as of next Thursday be tapping the 1st in a whole planned line of proprietary beers: Steamworks Euclidian Pale Ale.

EuclideanPaleBadge
The eponymous father of geometry looks kind of sad, but I'm sure he's just busy deducing theorems from a small set of intuitively appealing axioms, such as: 

This EPA, made from entirely local ingredients, contains premium Colorado two-row barley & red wheat malt;
+
the hops (predomimantly Cascade & Centennial) are organically grown;
+
the water is first-use water from the San Juan Mountains
=
It will surely be awesome, especially with just about anything on the menu but the marlin crudo. (Doesn't take a genius to figure that one out.)

Hot Babe in the Woods: Beatrice & Woodsley

I fell so in love with this place from Day 1—I think it was literally Day 2—that when our honeymoon phase seemed to come to an abrupt end with a mediocre meal a few months later, the loss & betrayal I felt kept me far away for the better part of 2 years. Better to remember the good times, I reasoned, to let bygones be bygones on the assumption that it wasn’t personal, that Beatrice & Woodsley was still as romantic as ever—even Casanova probably had off-nights. I continued to recommend it highly to others—but I just wasn’t ready to risk reopening the wound I’d received by returning myself.

Until last week. A pal from my old Chowhound crew in Boston, in town for a conference, had found herself in the sudden midst of a whirlwind romance of her own—& it somehow seemed fitting that I take the happy couple there, to a place whose concept was inspired by the elopement of its historical namesakes. Maybe Beatrice & Woodsley & I, caught up in the spirit of circumstance, would kiss & make up.

We totally made out & made up. Good thing the Director wasn’t there; it might have gotten ugly. Or it could’ve led to a foursome, Beatrice & Woodsley & The Director & me. That’s how seduced anew I was with exec chef Pete List’s cooking.

Although the first sign that things would be okay was nothing new at all: the reappearance on the menu of one of List’s inaugural dishes, crawfish beignets.

B&Wbeignets

B&Wbeignets2

These warm orbs of Creole crunch & chew are basically seafood doughnut holes, flecked with diced zucchini & oozing with red pepper aioli that blends with the powdered sugar on top for a spicy-sweet finish. What, after all, is sexier than a spicy-sweet finish?

Nothing, if the pimiento cheesecake is to be believed.

B&Wcheesecake

To be sure, it’s so good it almost isn’t to be believed. With an extremely dense, moist cheddar crust & a garnish of pepper-heavy chow chow & frizzled onion, it’s creamy & luscious in one bite, multitextured & ultra-piquant the next, all of the above the next. Brilliant.

But no more brilliant than the grilled scallion blini.

B&Wblini

Exemplifying what List does best, these thick, springy green pancakes bounced all over the place in terms of influence, only to finally suggest a faraway, long-ago place & time: East Asian, yes, à la scallion pancakes topped with firm grilled slices of shiitake; Near Asian, maybe, with dollops of housemade yogurt cheese; but something else too—a darkly hearty whole-graininess evoking vodka-drinking climes, the snowy bundled-up landscapes whence the word blini originates.

On the opposite side of the flavor spectrum, surprisingly, but the same side of the awesomeness spectrum, not surprisingly, was pal H’s risotto champenoise.

B&Wrisotto

Infused with bubbly & lemon juice, speckled with diced summer squash & enriched with fresh mozzarella curds & pine nuts, it was as lightly & sprightly & sparkling as could be given that, most importantly, the texture was just right: neither ricelike nor oatmeal-like, in the velvety-soft sweet spot.

Confit tuna salad was essentially a layered Niçoise (minus the potatoes & olives), with olive oil–poached albacore, hard-cooked egg & grilled bread which I’d just as soon have used to turn the whole thing into a sandwich. Funny how much more satisfying the exact same ingredients can be in hand-held form.

B&Wtunasalad
I swiped only a small bite of this pan-seared scallop over toasted cornbread & pepper slaw,

B&Wscallop

but its lovely components were as well-integrated as all the rest.

Finally, there’s always 1 cocktail here to stir my fancy into a frenzy. Beatrice’s bar team is, I think, highly underrated—perhaps because the bar itself nabs all the buzz, built from antique fireplaces, with shelves supported by chainsaws. My former fave, Tiptoe Through the Tulips—a blend of buffalo-grass vodka, lavender & lime—is no longer on the list (though our server assured us the bartender could still make it), but in its place is the killer Cucupeña,

B&Wcucapura
the smoke & flame of whose jalapeño is gradually doused by the coolness of muddled cucumber & the sweet-tartness of citrus vodka, triple sec & simple syrup.

The flames of my own, um, jalapeño for Beatrice & Woodsley, meanwhile, have only been fanned.

Beatrice & Woodsley on Urbanspoon

Frasca: È Davvero Tutto Quello

Pazzissimo Italophile though I am, I don’t get up to Colorado’s single most celebrated Italian restaurant if not restaurant period—the Fruilian-inspired Frasca—very often. In fact, until last week, I hadn’t been in 2 years. And while both the expense & the drive to Boulder are prohibitive factors, they’re not the primary reasons for my long absence. The truth is, my tastes tend toward the exuberant & quirky, whereas chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson’s style is elegantly subdued. That it extends from the dishes to the descriptions thereof means the ever-changing menu rarely speaks to me personally; at any given time, perusing it doesn’t make my heart go pitter-pat the way a glance at, say, this menu always does.

But to admit that Frasca doesn’t have me at hello is not to deny that it’s got me by goodbye. From the sparklingly clean design to the ultraprofessional yet warm service to master sommelier Bobby Stuckey’s extraordinary wine program to, yes, the stellar cooking, it earns its national rep every night. Being made to feel special is a luxury we humans experience so rarely, but lavish attention is Frasca’s stock in trade. To translate the post title, this place really is all that.

It all starts with a complimentary tajut of the proprietary white, Scarpetta, which Mo & I paired with the house mix of marinated olives & nuts—

Frascanuts Frascaolives

cashews, almonds & peanuts tossed with vaguely Indian or Moroccan spices: cumin for sure, maybe some turmeric. From there, whatever wine you request—in this case the slow-building 2001 Grattamacco Bolgheri Rosso Superiore—will be preceded by the arrival of artfully appropriate stemware, like this tulip-shaped glass I feared would shatter if I so much looked at it askance.

Frascawine Frascaglass

By the time you place your food order, the leisurely mood set by the luxe appointments, the hum & clink of others quietly celebrating special occasions, & the solicitous comings & goings of the staff leads you in a 3-or-4 course direction whether you intended to go there or not.

You might not, for instance, have planned on starting with salumi, but suddenly there it is:

Frascasalumi

a slice each of prosciutto di San Daniele (the most famous along with that of Parma), speck (a smoked variant on prosciutto),  & finocchiono (aka finocchiona, a fennel-spiked salame), plus grissini (breadsticks), a smear of crema di rafano (horseradish sauce), a couple of marinated mushrooms, a single Castelvetrano olive (my favorite for being unusually fruity & mild), &, best of all, a single wedge of frico caldo—a sort of cheese-laced hashbrown as compared to the crackerlike frico croccante Frasca also makes (of which more in a moment). The latter doesn’t, I believe, usually come on the platter; it appeared to be a gift, perhaps in advance thanks for the hefty tab my 3 companions & I had just committed to. Because how better to repay a shitload of food than with more food?

In fact, that wasn’t the only thing we received gratis: having heard me hem & haw about the coleslaw & finally opt against it, Rose brought us a surprise bowl anyway.

Frascacoleslaw

Sweet & sour with the clear savor of caraway, it may seem out of  place here, but didn’t taste it. Again, MacKinnon-Patterson’s light touch ensures an easy rapport among his dishes, whatever the combination.

With all this came an offer of bread which everyone but me reasonably turned down. I just couldn’t, not after catching a glimpse of the butter—

Frascabutter
as sigh-inducing as it looks, soft & sweet with just a sprinkling of salt.  I’d had 2 pieces by the time we got our 1st “real” course—the 1st of 4.

And what a “start” to the meal it was: the frico croccante with chestnut polenta, speck & ricotta became my most recent Dish of the Week. Having anticipated how rich it would be, I followed my antipasto up not with a primo piatto (traditionally the pasta course) but another antipasto: the steelhead trout crudo.

Frascatrout

Spread with horseradish, drizzled with olive oil, dotted with quarters of marinated golden beet & fortuitously adorned with a heart-shaped sliver of scallion, how could I not heart the trout in turn? Yet again, pungency was eschewed in favor of a rainbow of delicately juicy checks & balances, the flavor of the fish almost as peachy as its color.

Of course, I simultaneously ogled with deadly envy Mo’s raviolo della casa—crispy-edged & filled as it was with ricotta & a whole farm egg just waiting to burst through—

Frascaraviolo
& the others’ gnocchi with braised oxtail. But only because I’m shameless & insatiable, not because the trout didn’t wholly satisfy.

In fact, I preferred it to the actual fish course. It’s not that my secondo piatto, the braised golden tilefish with chanterelles, fennel, broccolini & onions wasn’t just as accomplished as everything else,

Frascatilefish

but as examples of where my tastes diverge with the chef’s go, this is a prime one, being all about subtle complements, mild earthtones, rather than striking contrasts. Still, no legitimate complaints—the fish was flawlessly moist & flaky, the fumet like lemon velvet, & the slices of chanterelle enchantingly meaty.

Frascamushrooms
A swipe at Mo’s incredibly tender grilled veal breast with morels, spinach & “root vegetables”—primarily carrots—was, however, a revelation. Veal is generally prized for its delicacy, but this was especially dark & rich.

Frascaveal

I didn’t try Susan’s pan-roasted diver scallops with housemade sausage, chickpeas & chard, but I think we can safely assume it didn’t suck.

Frascascallops

Which leaves dessert: going clockwise from 1 o’clock is a trio of coconut gelato, dark chocolate gelato & raspberry sorbet; a chocolate torta with feuilletine, vanilla bean buttercream & banana as well as chocolate pearls & almond-toffee gelato; & bombolini, Italian doughnuts with mascarpone cream & Meyer lemon curd.

Frascadesserts

Mine was the latter, which I found to be a little on the dry side compared, say, to Panzano’s zeppole (savory or sweet). But the blend of mascarpone & curd was so luscious I wished it came as a bowl of soup. Topped off with the smoothest cappuccino I’ve ever had outside of Italy,

Frascacappuccino
it was the perfect end to an exceptional meal. Well, almost: we were brought complimentary glasses of amaro with the check, to help us digest the shock a little easier.

I kid. Frasca’s truly worth every last dime.

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The Squeaky Bean Gets the Girl

Dumb name, dandy food, as I noted in my most recent Dish of the Week post. But then, you probably knew that. Silly as its sobriquet is, I’d never have set foot near the place, presuming the menu to be equally misconceived, if I hadn’t finally been knocked over by the giant waves of raves about the Squeaky Bean. My squeamish mistake was your smart call.

Yes, you’ve already seen fit to squeeze into that tight corner space, as friendly as could be with its retro trimmings—old radios, ’70s-era beer memorabilia—& hit that patio as it sparkles on warm nights with boozy neighborly love.  You’ve undoubtedly savored the roasted cauliflower salad in all its variegated savvy (see abovelinked post). And been lulled into reverie by the duck rillettes with grilled bread, housemade preserves (apple butter–like, though I couldn’t be sure) & stone-ground mustard.

SBrillettes
The joy is in watching the layer of duckfat that tops every scooped-out spoonful just melt all over your plate, its flavor barely there for all its mouthfeel, achingly subtle & fleeting. Like the gist of a Frank O’Hara poem, really.

SBduckfat

And you’ve surely already ogled the sandwiches going by on servers’ platters like pretty girls, maybe even hit on 1 or 2. I sure couldn’t resist making a pass at my companion’s lamb reuben.

SBlambreuben
As an admitted aficionado of acids, she felt it needed more sauerkraut, in lieu of which she added the mustard from the rillettes plate & was pleased with the results; me, I guess I snitched a bite with just the right ratio of thick, rich 1000 Island Dressing & tart, not especially salty pickled cabbage to funky corned lamb. (The panino came with a side of white bean–potato soup that did not in turn come with a spoon; by the time we were able to wave down the way-busy waitress, it was cold, so she cheerfully offered to fetch a fresh bowl.)

My only tiny quibble, meanwhile, was with the peanut butter & chocolate mousse cake with brûléed bananas & peanut brittle;

SBmoussecake
Reese’s excepted, any true devotee of PB will tell you that its combination with chocolate is overrated, while, dead Elvis notwithstanding, its affinity for banana is somewhat underappreciated. Here, the base of chocolate mousse, wan & fluffy, did nothing for the firmer, suaver & more flavor-forward top layer—which paired so much more satisfyingly with the caramelized crunch & creamy tang of the fruit that I felt the bottom layer, too, should have been banana-flavored (as it was at one time, judging by the still-posted Valentine’s Day menu), or else done away with; sandwiching it all, the more intense topping of ganache & bottom crust as well as the smear of sauce were really all the chocolate it needed (though a cheddar-based topping & crust might be even cooler). But then, I know you knew that.

In any case, owner Max MacKissock’s won me over; I’ll return soon, & follow him wherever he goes from here on after. If it’s the Gassy Garbanzo or Flatulent Flageolet, so be it.

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