Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

OAK in a Nutshell

Which I guess would be an acorn, fittingly enough for a place that’s as yet but a sapling in restaurant years & will presumably have years to grow big & mighty: the food at this Frasca spinoff is already good, though there’s plenty of room for it to get even bigger & conceptually bolder. At least I hope there’s room in the kitchen, since there wasn’t an inch of breathing space in the dining room the night I was there—such was the crush of Boulderites rushing toward the sound of owner Bryan Dayton’s cocktail shaker, yielding drinks that are not only already good but damn near perfect.

Take The Monk’s Garden,

exhilaratingly dewy with tarragon-infused vodka, green chartreuse, lavender simple syrup, cucumber & lime. Or the equally juicy Mo’s Special—

with gin, Strega, Poli Miele, blood orange, Meyer lemon & a froth of egg white, it looks & sounds frou-frou but tastes superfresh—fruity but not fruity.

My hands-down fave, however, was the after-dinner Closing Act; read all about my most recent Dish of the Week here.

My only beef with the fried farm pickles accompanied by green goddess aioli

was that the flesh of the thick-cut slices was searingly hot, making it hard to bite into & chew, so instead it just sort of slid down, defeating the purpose of actually savoring it. Still, what I could glean was the fineness of both the pickling (the difference between a mass-produced & a small-batch pickle is astounding) & the batter-frying, just so much semitranslucent, golden-brown crackling. (It occurs to me that in terms of its gratifying gloss & pull, its closest referent would be a giant scab, which may sound less appetizing than it does accurate in the absence of a nitpicking fetish. I happen to have one, so the idea perversely appeals.)

Even better was the chewy olive oil–grilled bread topped with roasted mixed mushrooms & excellent whipped ricotta: comfortingly simple, gently savory, satisfying.

In fact, the vegetarian dishes proved the cream of the evening’s crop; roasted root vegetables with heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, breadcrumbs & herbs were earthy, hearty & creamy not least in their own juices;

if I were a vegetarian with eyes for a carnivore, this would be the dish I’d use as a compatability litmus test. If he merely balked at the lack of meat, I’d chuck him.

By comparison, the sliders—braised meatballs on cheese “gougers,” a cute little typo for gougères

were surprisingly bland, unless you count the too-sweet tomato gravy they were drenched in, making me pine for Elise Wiggins’s veritable glowing spheres of juicy burger joy. And the high hopes I had for the rigatoni with rock shrimp were dashed at 1st bite;

my pal Mo (yes, the namesake of the aforementioned quaff) had questioned the wisdom of going to a restaurant to order a type of pasta that’s invariably boxed rather than house-extruded, & she had a point—might as well boil that up at home. Meanwhile, the sauce seemed to be little but butter, juice from the shrimp, maybe a touch of tomato, & rather too much salt. Surely, however, the fact that ex-Frasca chef Steve Redzikowski trained as a saucier at Le Cirque means he’ll be getting right on those adjustments; no reason this dish can’t be every bit as good as it sounded with a few tweaks.

In short, OAK at Fourteenth is already sprouting forth from the solid bole of jazzy comfort; I expect it be spreading even snazzier boughs in no time.

OAK at Fourteenth on Urbanspoon

Encore, Encore! (+ a nod to the Denver FilmCenter/Colfax)

As I noted in my recent calamari roundup, when Encore on Colfax opened 2 years ago, it was to mixed reviews from me, despite the fact that Sean Huggard, whose talent had delighted me so thoroughly at Black Pearl, was then the chef. Since his departure from the latter left it a little worse for the wear, I feared the same would be true times 2 when he left Encore, & so didn’t return until last week.

On the contrary, I’m all too happy to report that under new ownership—including that of chef Paul C. Reilly, who did time in New York with a chef I adored during his brief but glorious stint in Boston at erstwhile Restaurant L, Pino Maffeo—the place has hit its stride, neighborly & easygoing. That it also happens to be steps from the Denver FilmCenter/Colfax, which opens this week, is just technicolor gravy. Denverites, the time for dinner & a movie has come with a vengeance—especially given that the first film out of the gate is Carlos, a 5-hour-plus biopic about Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal that’s drawing extraordinary raves, even from the usually oh-so-jaded Variety.

To get through it, you’re gonna need major sustenance—far beyond the popcorn that comes with the price of admission. The aforementioned calamari (read all about it on the abovelinked post)

is a great start; so is the gorgeous, wood-fired wild mushroom, roasted garlic & rosemary pizza.

Any number of actual pizzerias could learn a thing or 2 from Encore’s kitchen about pie prep. The crust is perfect: bubbled & chewy here, charred & crunchy there. So is the cheese, gooey in the middle, broiled to a crisp around the edge. And so are the toppings, with plenty of meaty mushroom chunks as well as whole cloves of garlic that pop & melt in your mouth like so much earthy candy.

The autumn root vegetable pot pie looked a little paltry compared to the pile of exemplary, herbed, skin-on mashed potatoes

until I tasted it: caramelized & creamy in the extreme, topped with a parmesan biscuit, the portion was ideal for polishing off.

On yet another visit, 1 bite of a friend’s wood-fired artichoke with garlic aioli was sufficient to ensure that the version I admired 2 years ago

hasn’t lost its oomph.

However, that same pal—fellow food writer Joey Porcelli—warned me before I ordered the steak salad that her own pear Waldorf salad had been overdressed. Sure enough, the mixture of baby spinach, pickled red onions, pumpkin seeds & dried cranberries was likewise a bit too wet with a fairly sweet vinaigrette;

given that the dish is described as a steak salad & not steak with a side salad, 1 possible solution seems obvious: tossing it all together beforehand might make for better integration. As for the fried goat cheese balls, they were a cute surprise in & of themselves, though all the more evidence that this salad needs more balance.

Still, for the most part, Encore fits the bill for a hardcore hangout. Cue my applause.

Encore on Colfax on Urbanspoon

Argyll Pub: My Sentiments Exactly

Well, not exactly. I’m all for pounding the booze & talking dirty, too. Still, the phrase on the chalkboard at Argyll aptly expresses the laidback conviviality that is this highly acclaimed pub’s forte.

It’s on display not least at the bar during weekend brunch, when my adorable server—who I want to say looked a lot like Idris Elba, but he didn’t; still, you get the tall/dark/handsome idea—didn’t blink an eye when I bellied up alone with my laptop & ordered a bottomless mango mimosa to go with not 1, not 2 but 3 plates, nor when he refilled my glass the 1st time, nor when he refilled it the 2nd, nor when I topped it all off with coffee. Whatta gentleman in the face of gaucherie.

In all that mess, the Scotch egg, the lamb-&-beef house burger with duck-fat onions, & the mac-&-cheese were nowhere to be found; they’ve been covered, I figured, in sufficient glory. But the dish I did start with deserves its own vigorous nod: the “bacon & eggs.”

Cute, right? Atop three slices of crusty grilled bread came perfectly fried quail eggs crisped to the lacy edge & three small chunks of pork belly that appeared to be lacquered with the same garlic vinaigrette—made with roasted cloves, I’m guessing, given its intriguing sweetness; think maple-glazed bacon—that also dressed the frisée. A little bit breakfast bruschetta, a little bit composed salade Lyonnaise, wholly satisfying.

The blueberry coffee cake wasn’t quite what I expected—I was picturing something like this,

but Argyll’s simpler version works too—moist, dense & buttery à la pound cake, with a balancing touch of lemon, I think, along with the single C-swirl of warm blueberry.

Likewise a surprise was the salmon hash.

A far cry from your finely chopped, super-fried leftover standard with corned beef, this was fresh & fancy, from the slightly al dente potatoes, carrots & parsnips to the lightly smoked salmon to the sprinkle of gruyère on top. Though I think I’d have liked it even better had it been more, well, hashlike, I admired its class. And its utter butteriness—damn, it slicked the bottom of the bowl. Note that I skipped the poached eggs the dish usually comes with, my one concession to reason; I can only imagine how runny yolks would have fit into the picture.

But at the time I could only imagine how I’d have fit into the dress I’m wearing to walk the red carpet with the Director this evening at the Closing Night presentation of Black Swan—not a pretty thought.

On that note, I’m off to drink heavily, eat carelessly & speak slurringly at the Starz Denver Film Festival—& I owe it all to Argyll for getting my party started right.

Argyll on Urbanspoon

Hot, Hot, Haute Lunch: ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro

Dear server whose name I didn’t catch, I guess I owe you an apology.

I may have seemed a bit standoffish as you launched into your spiel about the wonders of small-plate dining, basically ignoring you to survey the wine list instead. (At least my charming companion was graciously all ears.) It’s just that it began with that dreaded query, “Have you dined with us before?”, from which my eaterly ego instantly recoils: even though I hadn’t, I’m perfectly familiar with the ins & outs of family-style meal-sharing; it’s nothing new, & to imply otherwise always strikes me as a tad precious.

But it’s not your fault that you’re required to spout twaddle like “Things will matriculate out of the kitchen in a sushi-esque fashion.” Your service was more than competent—indeed quite polished—& you personally proved a genuinely kind sir. And the meal itself? Damn. Amid the spate of Asian Fusion peddlers popping up these days (somewhat inexplicably, really, post-heyday—see: Se7en, Japoix), I was expecting good things of Jean-Georges Vongerichten protégé Lon Symensma especially; henceforth I’ll be counting on great things.

This being my 1st real review since going public with my identity, I should make a brief digression to admit that I’m somewhat ambivalent about the whole affair. On the one hand, I’m proud of my work & want to showcase it as best I can. On the other hand, I’m not so proud of myself to imagine that any chef with a lick of sense is scanning his dining room hourly to determine whether I’ve graced it with my presence. On the 3rd hand (food writers have 3, you know—1 to gobble with, 1 to guzzle with, 1 to think with), discretion really is the better part of professional valor. I can only say that so far I’ve not noticed being noticed, explicitly or implicitly, based on my treatment; if & when I do, I’ll state as much up front (as I do when I go to press events). And I can only add that you, possessed of the knowledge that my ugly mug is out there for all to gawk at, should take my opinion with as many grains of salt as you see fit. (Granted, that was always the case. My humble hope is that regular readers know my voice & can vouch for my intention to do them an honest service by now.)

The kitchen takes pride in exquisite presentation, as is clear with the arrival, in lieu of a bread basket, of this veritable sculpture of puffed rice & black sesame seeds,

more a textural vehicle for zesty, smoky tomato-chili jam


than a flavor conveyor in its own right (perhaps a little more salt would remedy that; perhaps not—texture is a pleasure in its own right.)

But no amount of artfulness can compensate for culinary mediocrity; I didn’t rest assured, for all his acclaim, that Symensma’s palate was on a par with his palette until our first dish, an elegant take on Vietnamese green papaya salad.

What makes the dish is that exhilirating scoop of tamarind sorbet; the contrast of textures (smooth, slick, crunchy) itself contrasts the ultra-refreshing profile of complementary flavors, tart on sour on downright acidic.

More subtly deviating from the classic is the beef tartare,

coarse-chopped rather than minced, nearly dripping with egg yolk, threaded with a chiffonade of fresh basil instead of parsley—a notable switcheroo—& flanked by buttons of Chinese-style hot mustard where the standard is mixed with Dijon. Pretty but paltry, they didn’t cut the you-know-what for me, so I requested extra on the side. Like the puffed rice cracker, the tapioca puffs served as all-but-flavorless scoops for the meat, which was no problemo—after all, the usual slices of baguette don’t carry much flavor-weight either.

That said, the baguette used for the Vietnamese French dip—basically a bánh mì—was excellent, fresh & chewy with a satisfying crust; enjoyably rich (though kept in check with “pho jus” rather than mayo), it didn’t quite carry the punch of more rustic versions, where fish sauce, cilantro & chilies give, say, head cheese a swift kick. It’s an admirable rendition; I’d have it again. But I wouldn’t give it the edge over its hardcore counterpart.

By comparison, I can’t recommend highly enough the Kaya toast with coconut jam & “egg cloud.” Nor can I fathom what I could possibly eat between now & Sunday that will trump this for the Dish of the Week. Not even diamond-encrusted haggis stuffed with foie gras & lutefisk. What an extraordinary dish.

You dip the chunks of brioche, slathered with the creamy jam, into a savory custard froth—made, I was told, by putting eggs, butter, & skim milk under a foam gun, then misting them with soy to give it a touch of funk. And then you go insane with glee for such lusciousness.

I’ve said before that, lacking much of a sweet tooth, I only order dessert when I’m too disappointed in a meal to end it on a sour note or too delighted with a meal to want it to end at all; the latter was our motivation to split the molten chocolate cake with salted peanut ice cream & toasted marshmallows.


Mind you, it was the ice cream we were after; the cake did nothing to change my opinion that the ubiquity of this dessert some 10 years after its heyday is head-scratching. But that quenelle was all we hoped for, peanut buttery & so soothing.

In short, dear server, you done good; Mr. Symensma, you done stellar. Four-&-a-half-soon-to-be-5-I’m sure stars stellar.

ChoLon Bistro on Urbanspoon

Hail Satan! El Diablo

After all the behind-the-scenes hoopla about the cojones on Jesse Morreale & Sean Yontz for launching a project so ambitious in scope, I walked into El Diablo fully expecting to experience the Waterworld of Mexican dining, overblown & underperforming. Instead it played out like a date-night blockbuster (just replace the popcorn with tortilla chips): free-wheeling & raunchy, yet full of soul. 

The devil really is in the details—which, in a place this big & bustling, could easily have been sacrificed at the altar of volume.  But no: care was apparent from start to finish, even in the things I wasn't gung-ho about.

Take the cocktails:

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on the left, the Picoso with tequila blanco, muddled jalapeños & lime juice; on the right, the Melon Loco with rum, watermelon, cucumber, mint & lime. I've been really digging the bumper crop of chiles in cocktails—see recent kudos for Kelly Liken's Clementine Kicker & Beatrice & Woodsley's Cucupeña—& the Picoso's no exception, plenty spicy but smoothed out by just enough simple syrup (I'm guessing) & cooling citrus. And the quencher on the right wasn't the least bit too fruity, just fresh & clean. Impressive.

Equally fresh & clean, if not quite as impressive as those at Chili Verde, were the greaseless chips & 3 salsas: going clockwise, tomatillo-avocado, habañero & chipotle-based morita.

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Neither the fact that I couldn't go near the habañero version without seizing nor the fact that the green one tasted above all of lime juice is damning; they were well-made, just not to my taste. The smoky-sweet chipotle salsa, however, I could've snorted.

Likewise, though the dish I was most looking forward to—the quesadilla de huitlacoche—was the one I was most disappointed in, I'm not inclined to fault the kitchen.

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Since El Diablo purports to skew Guadalajaran, I Googled "Guadalajara quesadilla" to find out if the regional variant is empanada-like, to no avail. But that's what this evoked. Again, the execution was solid—rich but not doughy, atop superb refried black beans—but if I'm going to snarf corn smut, I want to go down in flames tasting it. The mellow filling didn't absolutely reek of the earthiness I was looking for—just offered a brief whiff. Granted, that means mold-fearers might actually give it a whirl, for which I applaud it.

I've said many times that appetizers usually appeal to me far more than entrees: smaller plates at smaller prices allow for greater risk-taking on the part of the chef, for the obvious reason that they allow for greater risk-taking on the part of the paying customer. So it tends to be the case that the appetizer section features funkier flavors in bolder combinations. El Diablo's selection of entrees mark an exception to that rule: they flat-out rocked. Meats & the sauces that accompany them are clearly the forté here, cooked & spiced with a love & confidence that ensures each complements the other while shining on its own. 

So it was with the enchiladas con carne I absolutely hearted, stuffed with melting (but not mushy) beef cheeks, spinach & potatoes over a pipián rojo whose creaminess reminded me of vodka sauce, though they share nada in common ingredient-wise (pipián is distinguished by the use of chicken stock & sesame or pumpkin seeds).

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So it was with the Director's molé negro, its classic bittersweet-cocoa smokiness made all the funkier over black beans, all the sweeter by slices of fried plantain and Mission fig—none of it upstaging the gorgeous duck meat.

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So it was with the puerco pibil ordered by friend K (who writes the supercheeky Raging Lardon), wrapped in banana leaves, tended for 24 hours (as its tenderness attests), tinged with achiote (aka annato),  & served with a riot of root veggies.

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And so it was with the carnitas—although in my eyes, the real stars on the plate were the full-throttle, cotija-sprinkled frijoles charros.

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Cameos by pickled red onion added a ticklish flourish to the meal as a whole. 

To paraphrase Johnny Depp's Agent Sands in—speaking of rollicking action flicks—Once Upon a Time in Mexico, there are Mexi-cans & Mexi-can'ts. So far, El Diablo is a Mexi-can-do. 

El Diablo on Urbanspoon

Getting Down & Dirty—or At Least Earthy—with Terra Bistro & Dwele in Vail

From the Beaver Creek Wine & Spirits Festival I repaired to Vail just in time to catch Dwele at the Soul Music Fest., i.e., just in time to fall in love with Dwele—not only his supersmooth, bass-groovy, Stevie Wonder-dipping-into-hip hop sound but also his supersmooth, bass-groovy way with the ladies, as he demonstrated his favorite pickup lines:

Dwele (squatting down as fan strokes jacketed arm): Do you know what material that is?
Fan: What?
Dwele: Boyfriend material.

This year I was a guest, but I had so much fun at the Gerald R. Ford Ampitheater (who knew the infamously awkward Ford was so secretly funky?) that I definitely intend to attend all on my lonesome next year, so as to get as low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low as a 40-year-old Jewess from Oklahoma can possibly get.

Afterward, I got high at Terra Bistro. Like Denver's own Potager & The Kitchen in Boulder, the handsome longtime destination—showing my kind of style, all clean lines in brown & beige with stone floors—was apparently flying the local/seasonal banner before it was cool. Of course, in the wrong hands, the freshest, juiciest, most pristine ingredients in the world can turn to mush; good thing chef Kevin Nelson's hands aren't wrong.

As always, whenever I'm an occasional guest rather than an anonymous paying customer, I follow a few rules: 1) I state as much upfront. 2) I only write about my experience if it genuinely pleased me—if it didn't, I don't. Biting the hand that fed me would be a shitty thing to do. 3) I fully expect you, dear reader, to take my opinion with a grain of salt (unprocessed & hand-harvested, in this case); how can you or for that matter I say for sure I haven't been compromised in some way in these instances, or that I received anything close to the same treatment as everybody else? For all I know they sprinkled magic dust over my food.

If so, they probably started with the bread spread, because I couldn't keep my greasy paws out of it, an appropriately earthy, dal-like mound of split peas, lentils & garlic in spiced oil.

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But actually, all that said, my favorite dishes weren't the ones I ordered. For instance, while these moist, flaky, perfectly cooked salmon cakes in Boston lettuce cups were fun to wrap up & eat with said paws,

TBsalmoncakes

I'd have liked them even better if they'd come with more pickled red onion & less honey-mustard dressing, which almost overpowered the fish. The broth in the Dungeness crab & cucumber "gazpacho" a companion ordered, meanwhile,

TBgazpacho
was little more than lime juice, scallions, & S&P—I can't imagine they made it without vegetable or shellfish stock, but I can't swear to it either—& all the better for that, if you have the taste for pure sour citrus I do.

As for the brown butter–sweet potato ravioli, I'm sure it was fine, but it was the garnish I dug,

TBravioli
a mound of finely chopped mesclun with walnuts, blue cheese, Reggiano & herbs that they could easily have just put into a bowl all by itself & called a chopped salad, deliciously zingy.

All of which began to make clear to me that the Kitchen's forte is detail, like the funky, crunchy-fried Picholine olive crumbs on my porcini-dusted striped bass intriguingly combined with hearts of palm, frisée & judicious daubs of 2 well-matched, creamy sauces: a tarragon aioli & an orange supréme.

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Or the sauteed, almost crispy kale accompanying the Amish beef filet with blue cheese & Yukon gold mashed, which soaked up just enough of the the smoked tomato demiglace to taste meaty in itself.

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The highlight of the meal, however, had to be the avocado-chocolate parfait with caramelized bananas.

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Don't forget avocado's technically a fruit—but we do forget, because it's got that vegetal mustiness that makes it so savory. Which is precisely why, along with its creaminess, it works so well in desserts, refreshing the sweetness.

Color me impressed—but again, you don't have to take my word for it. This place hasn't needed me to keep it afloat for 17 years.

Terra Bistro on Urbanspoon

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).

EAGbuns

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.)

A Quick Recap of Jumpin’ Jax Fish House

Jax is really so much better than it has any right to be. I mean, it replaced the Terminal Bar. And it's been parked in that prime Lodo spot  for 14 years—way past long enough for cynicism to set in, for making a policy of packing in the conventioneers & game-day carousers, pouring pints down their throats, & pawning off subprime seafood on the booze-blunted suckers nightly. Never mind that whole reality-show hoohah.

But no. Whatever kind of pressure chef Sheila Lucero may or may not feel to shine in the spotlight that Hosea Rosenberg, her former Top Chef-winning colleague in Boulder, has cast on Jax doesn't show: her style is fun, even funky, but never fussy, & urbane without getting all slick.

Aside from the blackened catfish with crawfish hush puppies, red-eye gravy & pepper jam that was my most recent Dish of the Week, the Director & I also split oysters broiled with shrimp, asiago & spicy Worcestershire butter—a combination that the flavor of the oysters themselves got lost in the midst of, but their lacy edges sure were pretty, & their texture, natch, made its own contribution.

Jaxoysters
In its ubiquitousness, it's rare that a bowl of steamed mussels really sparkles—there are only so many variations on the theme—but this one did,

Jaxmussels

with roasted tomatoes & chorizo that didn't create much of a broth until, suddenly, they did, mixing magically as they cooled with the garlic, herbs & shellfish juices to squeeze out a millionth of the Mediterranean sea.

I've long been intrigued by the seasonal menus' bold flourishes—pickled mustard seeds & verjus vinaigrette here, white bean croquettes & salt-roasted marble-potato hash there—but I never quite believed the place could still possess the panache it promised after all these years. Happily, it proved me wrong—on my 40th birthday, no less. What's the point of getting older & if you can't get fatter & wiser?

Jax Fish House on Urbanspoon

Curry Laksa & Roti Canai at Jaya Asian Grill + the Gorging Global QOTW: What’s the stinkiest food you’ve ever eaten?

Read my piece on on the Southeast Asian specialties of Jaya Asian Grill, including this roti canai,

Jayaroticanai

over at Denver Magazine's The Mouthful & tell me: What's the smelliest food you've ever put anywhere near your mouth? (For the record, roti canai is not stinky—but the durian fruit so beloved to this region of the world, sure is.) Winner gets to write my next QOTW for me—woohoo!

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

Jaxcatfish

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.