Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

The Exception That Proves the Rule: Oceanaire

Like all serious eaters, I avoid most chains on principle. Even the high-end ones, the ones that actually have kitchens instead of just freezers full of factory-made product & bank after bank of deep fryers to thaw it all in, share that ethos of consistency, i.e. sameness, i.e. predictability, that goes against everything I love about dining out: a sense of place, the passing of moments that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else, an intimate understanding of the chef’s worldview as manifested in his or her cooking. The words “local” and “organic” don’t just apply to ingredients—they apply to experiences too.

But Oceanaire, as I’ve noted before, is a breath of guess what amid the stench of corporate branding. If its 1950s supper club-meets-cruise ship swankiness smacks just a touch of the boardroom brainstorm, the space is no less genuinely cool for that; if you squint you can pretend the crowd is all decked out in flannel suits & wingtips, cocktail shifts & pincurls. And amazingly, nothing else smacks thus.

The service, for one thing, is impeccable, exhibiting the perfect balance between professionalism & personality. In fact, it was Colonel Hector Bravado’s rave about one bartender in particular during our recent interview that reminded me it had been too long since my last splurge at the downtown seafooder, especially since I was pretty sure I knew whom he meant: a tall blonde whose name I got this time while doing the obligatory round of oysters at the bar—Kara, who praised the Director’s request for Laphroaig with a grin, “That’s my favorite too—so smoky & stinky & peaty.”

Meanwhile, I kept it simple with bubbly, not wanting to risk losing the flavors of the oysters on our platter, which were all new to me: gentle, clean Rappahannocks & Barcats from Maryland, plus British Columbian Fanny Bays—on whose cucumbery relish I’ll second Rowan Jacobsen.

Ooysters

OcondimentsThen, for the first time ever, we repaired to an actual table, the way nice, normal diners do, where the evidence of the extent to which Oceanaire’s charm stems from little amenities just piled up. For instance, it’s just so darn cute that the table setting includes a box of Old Bay & a little notepad! What sweet nothings might have been scribbled here? We made Top 10 lists.

Then there are the little premeal goodies—a sourdough boule that’s excellent from chewy crust to loose crumb & a relish tray of crudités, olives, cherry peppers & a highly unexpected (the 1st time) but much welcomed (always) ramekin of pickled herring.

Obreadandcrudites

And on this particular night, perhaps a perk of table dining as we’ve never received one before, our young but super-smooth server Justin brought us an amuse bouche—a bit of gingered salmon & cucumber on a housemade potato chip. Nothing groundbreaking; nice nonetheless.

Oamuse

An app of Fresno shrimp was likewise no novelty—but then, novelty really isn’t the name of Oceanaire’s game. Though the large menu is hardly devoid of innovative touches, its overall appeal, like that of the decor, inheres in the retro: shrimp de Jonghe, cioppino, scampi, escargots, creamed corn, superb Green Goddess dressing & warm chocolate chip cookies with milk (the latter two as per my earlier, above-linked post). And actually, contrary to contemporary standards, it’s the starters that hew more to the classic here, the entrees that skew more unusual.

Anyway, this is your typical heap of deep fried shrimp, a little too heavily breaded, but well seasoned enough to keep us plowing through it until somewhat past the ideal stopping point. Above all, as is often the case, it was a condiment I fell for: while the malt aioli didn’t distinguish itself beyond richness, the housemade hot sauce was terrific, thin & vinegary. Like fresh-squeezed Tabasco, basically.

Ofriedshrimp

My belly already nearing capacity à la the ship’s cabin in A Night at the Opera, I went for broke via the rainbow trout stuffed with crab, shrimp & Brie in a white wine beurre blanc. Served whole with the head & tail on, its skin crackling, that fish offered a fine exterior indeed; the flesh was milder than expected, but those few chunks that were moistened by the sauce alone shone. As for the stuffing that otherwise overwhelmed it a bit—all by itself, ahh: chunky, melting, funky & sea-sweet.

Ostuffedtrout
Lacking my gastrostamina, the Director stuck with a Caesar, which caused in me a twinge of ennui until I tasted it, with its just-right dressing, a little tangy, a little creamy, a little musty.

OCaesar
Oceanaire’s salads are all giant flavorcraft carriers, from the crab & bay shrimp chopped salad to the BLT salad with buttermilk-bacon dressing. But it’s the sides that are like the tugboats for the fleet of a full meal here: however almost comically starchy & fattening, you have to have at least one to pull the whole thing together. The slab of so-called bacon steak is rightly given widespread due, & the coleslaw has a wonderful old-fashioned roughness of character, but the Director loves his potatoes au gratin.

Ogratin
And what’s not to love? Soft cubed potatoes, thick velvety cheddar.  Impressive to behold, but fairly simple in the end as far as the comfort it offers—& thus emblematic of Oceanaire itself.

Oceanaire Seafood Room on Urbanspoon

In the rough of change, Black Pearl still a big fat white diamond

Neighborhood places are like spouses—you take ’em for better or worse, willing your memory of the honeymoon phase to see you through moments of disappointment, periods of disillusionment.

With the official installation of a new chef in the kitchen at the Director’s & my own special rendezvous, Black Pearl (you can read about Sean Huggard’s departure here), I steeled myself for just such a rocky spell—especially after an exploratory meal that went from

BPquail
smoked quail whose saltiness overpowered the accompanying arugula, pine nuts, dried apricots & even cilantro pesto, which was actually undetectable (although, picked out one by one, the cornbread croutons were good)

to conversely underwhelming, pale-flavored roasted beer-can chicken with field greens, tomatoes & asparagus that, despite bits of bacon & yet more good croutons (beer bread this time), essentially amounted to a lackluster salad.

BPbeercanchicken

Eh.

BUT. Several happy hours & another full meal (starting with a bread basket of excellent light rye, sourced I believe from the Denver Bread Company) later, I’m so relieved to see new guy Micah Watkins smoothing everything over in the spunky style that cowboy hat he sometimes wears reveals.

Above all, upon 2nd try, the chicken proved a whole different animal—less saladlike this time & super-juicy, with a lemony lager-laced broth & an uncredited cameo by roasted peaches whose sweetness presented the missing cohesive piece, balancing the bacon & the bitterness of the croutons (actually a bit burnt—perhaps accidentally, but I liked their edge).

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Aaaah!

Two out of 2 lamb burgers have been just terrific—

BPlambburger

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from fat, dripping medium-rare patty to tender brioche bun to, oh my, blue cheese fondue with just a touch of lemon, I think, to cut the sheer pungent richness. (As for the fries, they’ve always been too delish to quit.)

The lobster BLT isn’t quite the burger’s equal, but it sure doesn’t suck.

BPlobstersandwich

Turns out focaccia is a fine, olive-oily foil for light, sweet lobster meat. I bet a simple hot lobster roll (not to raise the eternal debate over hot vs. cold) would rock on focaccia.

Contrary to the sensibilities the kitchen characteristically exhibits, a recent weekly special of mild ruby red trout didn’t offer much by way of bold contrasts, emphasizing instead complementary dulcet tones of corn-honey slaw & crushed pistachios.

BPtrout

But pistachios fare even better amid squid.

BPcalamari

What was for quite some time the signature chili-fried calamari—one of the 1st dishes I lauded upon launching this blog—has morphed into a mound of springy, creamy-flavored chunks of mollusk mixed with pistachios, scallions, aged soy & toasted garlic that’s every bit as vibrant as its predecessor.

And though I’m generally against topping oysters with much but the usual accoutrements—horseradish, lemon, Tabasco (which are still more than true connoisseurs, who down them plain, will tolerate)—the addition of a pink peppercorn–tarragon mignonette to the Blue Points & ponzu, chili oil & sesame-cucumber garnish to the Goose Points

BPoystermix

is really smart (so long as you’re expecting it; we weren’t when we ordered those there oysters, but in retrospect I was glad I’d given them a try).

Also super-smart is the cheese plate.

BPcheeseplate

clockwise from top L: goat, manchego, blue, gouda

Skipping the fresh fruit & dried fruit & fruit this & fruit that that so often correlate to skimping on the star ingredient, Black Pearl’s kitchen actually delivers the hunks you paid for: in this particular case, Haystack Mountain goat  (a tad dried out, but okay); a heavily veined—hell, clotted—& sumptuously tangy bleu d’auvergne; an aged gouda that wasn’t quite as sharp & nutty as my favorite ones are, but almost; & the evening’s “forever changing” selection, a manchego that, by compensation, was sharper & nuttier & perhaps better than any other I’ve had. Sesame crackers & a few spoonfuls of honey were all the trimmings they needed.

Meanwhile, the cornmeal-crusted avocado spears, which come with a swirled dip of cream cheese & pico de gallo, are kind of nothing but trimmings—a wholly unnecessary part of any meal.

BPavocado

Which (minus a lone underripe piece, but better that than a mushy one) is, of course, precisely what makes them so good. Especially after an equally uncalled-for slug of tequila.

So cowboy hats off to you, Watkins.

Black Pearl on Urbanspoon

Domo qua locus of empirical evidence that we’re all Wanko

The consensus on Domo is so large as to be virtually irrefutable: remarkable décor; very good food; slow, indifferent service.

Ever itching to refute up a contrarian storm, I lucked out on my first try by ordering the soba noodles with shrimp tempura & calamari teriyaki, a bowl of slop I couldn’t point to solely & conclusively as disproof of social reality—see also the roundtable it inspired on the debatable concept of “ordering wrong”—but could at least use as 1 solid piece of evidence that the food might be overrated.

But that was about a year ago, & ever since I’ve been getting facefuls of the same evidence everybody else has to show that those noodles were likely a fluke & that the kitchen can, by and large, deliver fairly reliably—even if said smooth delivery has a way of being ironically intercepted by the servers themselves, who have, among other issues, the most annoying habit of refusing to bring everyone’s meals out at once. Perhaps there’s some rule of Japanese dining etiquette stipulating that food come out the instant it’s ready; after all, owner Gaku Homma is proudly ganko, a stickler for authentic experience even at the risk of diner alienation:

Customer service is, of course, extremely important, & service should be efficient & friendly. [Good luck with that.—Denved.] Sometimes, however, customers mistakenly think they’re following traditional customs for eating Japanese food, & restaurant owners & employees alike become intimidated. Not wanting to displease their clientele, staff members refrain from saying anything about improper requests or eating manners & instead try to accommodate every request. This is commonly thought to be good service, but in the long run, this approach does not serve customers well. (Much more here; I’m especially charmed by this little rant:

I have seen people in sushi bars order wasabi & gari like bar peanuts with beer. This would be the equivalent of ordering au jus & horseradish as a main course. Au jus & horseradish are used to compliment the taste of good prime rib. The same should apply to sushi.)

Really, his attitude is one I’m totally down with; I always try to start from the premise & operation on the notion that the chef knows best—for if I knew better, why would I go through the inevitably disappointing motions of dining out? Rather, I want to experience & discover & soak it all up. However, when such cross-cultural culinary teaching is left to a staff that is not, for the most part, efficient or friendly but rather appears apathetic & contemptuous by turns, nothing gets learned—& plenty goes resented. Thus the standard complaints about Domo’s service.

But to scoot back to the competent kitchen—as usual, it’s the little things that loom largest. Take the signature “fruit-based” teriyaki sauce, which has more in common with mostarda di frutta than the blend of pancake syrup & petroleum derivative that typically goes by the label in that it’s so vibrant, flickering with tartness and spice. Good thing, too, because the menu’s soaking in it. It’s what lends the teriyaki curry’s grilled beef tenders, for instance, their especially smoky intrigue (while leaking a bit of sweetness into the accompanying rich & redolent, if slightly viscous, curry with carrots & potatoes).

Domobeefcurryteriyaki

And I think it’s what acts as the red sauce to the deep-dish slice of omelet pizza that is a wedge of battara yaki—adding fruity tang to the seafood-and-scallion pancake, which is fluffier & drier than the Chinese version.

Domoomelette2

Personally, I prefer the scrumptious slickness of the latter, but this is good too, with its squeeze of aioli & sprinkle of bonito.

Speaking of mostarda, Domosushi4

the karashi saba, or raw mackerel lacquered with hot mustard, is stellar, the latter in its sharpness being the ideal match for the oily, dark flesh of the former—the only fish but one on the Wanko Sushi list to get such treatment, which goes nicely to show that in Homma’s kitchen, unlike so many places where there’s a lot of mixing & matching of meats & sauces, one flavor doesn’t automatically fit all. (That said, the other option’s squid, which I’d think far too delicate for hot mustard. Taste test next time.)

So yeah, Wanko Sushi.

Domosushi1

It’s Domo’s wholly unnecessary trademark on, to again quote the website, “sushi rice topped with fresh sashimi [& served on] small plates, or wanko.” With a name like that, it not only has to be good, it should really steer entirely clear of thick white squirts of mayo & such. It doesn’t.  Regardless, it’s a treat for its unusual style & mostly (see: squirts) lovely, chirashi-like presentation.

Of course, unusual style & lovely presentation are what Domo’s all about. Insisting everywhere on its rural underpinnings, it not only looks the part—

Domodoor

think some woodcutter’s tool-lined feudal-era cottage

Domodiningroom
DomoadsDomomask
DomooctoDomowine
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leading to a rock garden replete with 

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lily pond & painted bridge—

it acts it, too, what with such touches as the array of side dishes served family-style à la Korean panchan at dinner, individually at lunch. They’re chef’s daily choice, so it’s a crapshoot, but 1 with amazingly good odds—in fact, among all of these,

Domosides
Domosides1Domosides2
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the only dud has been the virtually flavorless rice noodles (top center). The rest form a kaleidoscope of light & rich, bright & funky, crisp & saucy, incorporating everything from black beans & corn to daikon & soba.

You might even get meatballs. Domosides3

Miso soup’s pretty special too, Domomiso

a whole slew of veggies fortifying the light, almost frothy broth. Likewise, the tofu nabemono is way more mono than nabe. It looks like an ice floe just broke up in a bowl of Antarctica.

Domotofu

Still, like everybody else, I just can’t bring myself to embrace the place wholeheartedly due to that nagging sense of not being welcomed with totally open arms in turn. It’s as though Amerikajin customers, in management’s mind, are the necessary evil of running a successful Japanese restaurant—the unpredictable, malfunctioning obstacle to perfect culinary machinery.

And yet we all keep flocking back. How wanko.

Domo on Urbanspoon

Love & marriage at Lucile’s Creole Cafe

Hunger’s a crock around most of the clock I’m on; love of food, food, food means never having to say you’re hungry (or full, for that matter). But there is one time of day when stomaching the least bite sounds like a chore, anything more than that a downright dung-sweeping labor of Hercules—& that’s early-to-mid morning. So when my friend Rebecca of From Argentina With Love suggested breakfast at the Wash Parkish outlet of Lucile’s, I figured I’d just stick with chicory coffee (great, by the way—bracing but not bitter). Sure, it’d have been nice to give the repertoire a whirl since I hadn’t been there in 15 years, when I used to brunch at the Boulder branch. But a doughnut’s just a doughnut, even if it’s a beignet, right?

Right. But a homemade biscuit’s not a doughnut. It’s a little bit of what I live for. And this was one of the better little bits I’ve encountered in a long spell. Not least for being, as bits go, giant (what, 6x6x3, maybe?).

Lucile'sbiscuit Funny I should  say that,  though, really,  because  texturally  Lucile’s  biscuits aren’t  standard-  bearers—not so  much the  layered, flaky  disks of  roadhouse  tradition  as snack cakes,  with a loose,  round crumb.

But that crumb conveys so much buttery savor you can eat the things plain. And since the butter served on the side’s foil-wrapped crap, such full flavor’s key, especially for someone lacking the sweet tooth that true appreciation for Lucile’s housemade preserves deserves. (That said, the orange marmalade’s nice & heavy on the rind.)

So as long as I was snarfing after all, I got a side of red beans. Hey, it’s not like I was suddenly ordering up a slop bucket. We were still just talking sides, right?

Right. That’s what we were talking. But it ain’t what we were eating.

Lucile'sredbeans

What we were eating was a big ol’ bowl of rich, spicy, soupy beans & ham cooked on the bone. Salty but not too salty, thick but not too thick, it was so good I kept gobbling until I thought I couldn’t eat another bite—which is when I came across a huge chunk of pork shaped exactly like a boomerang. I felt like throwing it on the off-chance that it would come back to me later, just when I needed it most.

As Rebecca lingered over her Eggs Jennifer—basically Eggs Benedict with spinach, tomato & avocado instead of ham, plus grits & spuds—

Lucile'seggsjennifer

she pointed out the okra & grilled shrimp skewers the bartender was threading & arranging in a pint glass for bloody mary garnishes, & it occurred to me how beautiful they looked—like a bouquet. Then it occurred to me that, were I ever to become a white-clad bride, I’d want my bouquet to be a giant bloody mary. It’d be a nice day for a red wedding.

Then it occurred to me I might want to get married for that reason alone. Hey Lucile’s, clear me an aisle; I’ll be back, dragging the Director behind me—kicking & screaming, at least until we can figure out how to put a scotch into the buttonhole on his lapel.

Lucile's Creole Cafe on Urbanspoon

Lucy Restaurant @ Comedy Works South: Hey, no joke!

UPDATE: Sadly, Lucy underwent a revamp shortly after I wrote this post; I haven’t returned, but I understand it’s not the same place it was. Caveat emptor.

We all know the food in comedy clubs (& anyplace, really, where the customers constitute a captive audience) is as much of a joke as the yuks (so call it the yuck). Save, perhaps, the folks behind Lucy, in the Comedy Works space at the Landmark in Greenwood Village. Seems they’re taking the whole “hey, kids, let’s put on a restaurant!” thing pretty seriously.

Which makes us the butt of the little prank they pull when you order tickets to a show—namely a package deal whereby we get preferred seating if we make dinner reservations. The setup is our assumption of a setup: a restaurant we have to be bribed to visit can only be good for a laugh. The punchline is, surprise! what it’s actually good for is dinner.

LucySo the dear Director & I discovered before catching John Oliver‘s act last week, my low expectations already rising with the stairs to Lucy’s airy second-story dining room, as chandeliers like disco balls that came unraveled led the way to sunlight pouring over white vinyl. The overall aura of suburban, which is to say quasi-, sophistication was somehow charming; without implying the not-quite-thereness is intentional, I’d hold there really is something ineffably cheeky about the place.

Well, something half-ineffable. I’d hold the other half is a reflection of chef Jeff Stoneking’s eclectic palate & smart translation thereof to the plate. Think French-cum-Southern onion soup with Vidalias & a sourdough cheddar dumpling; think striped bass enriched by crème fraîche & caramelized potato broth (whether or not the description is precise, it sounds delish).

And the 3rd half—because there always is one, eh?—I’d attribute to the lively gent who served us at the bar & who, I gathered from the intriguing blend of candor & courtesy in his approach, is either the bar manager or a partner. For instance, when I noted, in what I swear were measured tones, that the wine list seemed to be virtually all-American, he responded freely that he couldn’t wait to unload the inventory he’d apparently inherited to make room for imports. He also didn’t hesitate to make, rather vehemently, menu recommendations. Meanwhile, however, he took unusual care of the details, such as asking “May I?” before removing anything, even if it was empty—in other words showing an exceeding caution that implied respect not so much for us as for the moment. I rather liked that.

And so it was he who suggested the evening’s foremost delights—first,

Lucygrits
the stoneground grits with crawfish, Andouille sausage & spiced pork jus.

Not only were they cooked just so—risottoesque, neither al dente nor mush—but they were full of surprises, from the meat-sweet reduction on top

Lucygrits2
to the vibrant bottom layer of pork & shellfish.

And then there was the—get this—roast chicken.

Only about once annually does a chicken dish—ever the notorious compromise in the contemporary American repertoire—compel me enough to order it. Nearly a year ago indeed it was Bistro One’s fine offering; now it was the promise of spaetzle “mac” & cheese as an accompaniment that clinched it for me.

And the results exceeded the promise. How did that happen?

Lucychicken

Seriously, I’m at a comedy club in a bedroom community, I order the chicken, I’m living a cliché, & suddenly I get a seven-layer wedding cake of beautifully browned & moist chicken, just-tender spaetzle creamy with sharp cheddar & fresh spring mushrooms, sprightly broccolini & cipollini, & the tennis bracelet version of onion rings, all encircled with a sort of onion syrup? Fairy tale stuff, man.

Granted, as in fairy tales, it wasn’t all palace ball. The softshell crab was sloppily battered to the  point that detecting crab flavor would have been like feeling the pea in the mattress stacks (not to mix my princess-based plot points).

Lucysoftshellcrab

Which was odd, because, as with the aforementioned onion rings, the coating on the super-thin-sliced green tomatoes, in their case cornmeal, was also impressively delicate. The jalapeno-basil corn pudding underlying them lacked much of a chile kick but was no less fresh & sweet for that.

Lucyscallops

As for the sea scallops, while they’re generally the new chicken (chicken of the sea?) in my book—the boring heart-smart default—in the Director’s they turned out to be the just-right porridge of the bunch: firm with a lovely sear, they were well complemented by the vivid carrot broth. The risotto could’ve been more infused—it operated mostly as a placeholder—but what with the mushrooms & the peas & all the rest, there was enough going on to put the starch in its minor place.

Am I really going to end this fairy tale on a clunker? Hell yeah, ’cause look, it resonates on so many levels:

if I don’t love Lucy yet, I sure like her.

Lucy on Urbanspoon

Park Burger packs a wallop pronto

At 4:50pm, people were playing hacky sack on the sidewalk in front of Park Burger. At 4:55 kiddies were bouncing about in the sunshine. At 5, the door to the Old South Pearl burger joint swung open for business for the 1st time. Delicious, the looks on the faces of the servers & line cooks gathered in a knot at the counter—a mix of terror, dread & determination to appear cheerful—as we streamed in. I said to one of them, “You knew the neighborhood was going to descend on you, right?” She smiled wanly.  By 5:02, half the seats in the small, bright, space, all blue-&-orange stripes & chrome on white, were occupied—& by 5:30 it was packed.

Why all the gaga frothing fuss over a burger joint & nothing but? It’s not like you can’t get a halfway decent patty on a bun at Pearl Street Grill or a dozen other watering holes down the block & in the vicinity. Well, in part it’s the very purity suggested straight off by the name & illustrated more recently by the posting of the menu in the window—short & sweet with just 11 burgers, 2 kinds of fries, 1 side salad, 8 milkshakes, a root beer float & fresh-squeezed lemonade, plus wine & beer, including a fair number of Belgians. (It’s also cheap; nothing’s over $10 but wine by the bottle.) In part it’s pedigree—the owner is Jean-Philippe Failyau, a protégé & sometime partner of Frank Bonanno, magic man behind my immediate faves Osteria Marco & Bones, as well as lovely Luca d’Italia & Mizuna. And it’s partly that special, ineffable something, an aura emanating from the storefront that had us neighbors convinced it was going to be really good.

All of two hours after its grand opening, our hunch was validated. If Park Burger didn’t hit it out of the park last night, it came gratifyingly close.

The below was taken maybe 10 minutes into our meal; check out the cool black-&-white canvas depicting sorta vibrating cows in back. And check out Petey aka Constant Watcher‘s creamsicle milkshake,

PBmilkshake2

smacking of fresh creaminess with bits of orange pulp. Loudly as the peanut butter–chocolate shake called to me, a Spanish rosé sang more sweetly over that maddeningly seductive flamenco tempo of its. (My poor head is a place of constant libationary cacophony.) Pours were generous from a selection as short & sweet as the menu—wide-ranging for numbering only 11, from German riesling to Argentine malbec to Spanish garnacha. The beers, by the by, number 11 as well—someone’s lucky number, apparently. Or someone’s a fan of Spinal Tap.

PBwine

We started with a large order of fries, hand-cut so carefully they didn’t look it.

PBfries

Hot & crispy, they were rather underseasoned (& thus the only minor disappointment of the meal); we had to S&P them quite a bit before we were satisfied. Not so the sweet potato fries the Director & I also split, on whose yea-veritably-golden exteriors the salt granules were visible to the naked & horny eye. I’m not sure they were quite up to Sputnik’s snuff—but I’m not sure they weren’t either; they were that close. I’ll have to stage a fry-off soon.

PBspfries

Our waitress apologized for the fact that the burgers themselves took about 25 minutes; we assured her we completely understood, that we’d hardly expected clockwork on day one—& besides, we were enjoying ourselves, soaking up the sunny, sing-songy, super-local color, with kids chomping away grinning & parents snapping photos & gladhanding their pals from down the block.

But when they finally arrived, they were no slouches. A little smaller than your average half-pounder at 1/3 of a pound, & flatter rather than fatter—despite which the crew managed to do a fair job at keeping the meat on the rarer side of medium—on big, freshly toasted buns, they’re also piled with goodies, including other meats, making the patty size ideal. (The mini, meanwhile, ain’t, at a quarter pound;

PBmini

our friend Judy declared it, with its 1000-Islandesque house “BurgerSauce,” the best she’d had in ages—for what’s that’s worth, since she also admitted she hadn’t had a burger in ages.)

To the Frenchy with ham & Brie, I added caramelized onions,

PBFrenchy

& with the results—all salty & juicy, chewy & gooey, fat & touched with sweetness—I was just as pleased as I could be, sitting there mugging like Bill Cosby doing his chocolate-cake-for-breakfast schtick. As for that pickle, I do believe it was housemade, or at least house-tricked-out with fresh herbs.

The Director, chile monstruo that he is, wasn’t sure at 1st about the El Chilango, deeming the guacamole-to-jalapeno ratio too high, but he eventually hit the jackpot at the center & perked right up.

PBchilango

Petey did the DIY thing with pepper jack & bacon, which I didn’t try, but it sure looked plush.

PBKeith

When we left around 6:30, there was a line out the door—&, I heard from an excellent source today, not long thereafter they closed for the eve, apparently unprepared for the sheer crush of sandwich-munchers. Might I suggest they get used to it quick?

Park Burger on Urbanspoon

Overcoming eater’s block at The Kitchen

Why can’t I get past the starters at The Kitchen (see also here, here)? It isn’t because the mains don’t appeal—given half a chance I’d bathe with chargrilled mackerel in cumin yogurt & chimichurri & towel off with a flank steak, being sure to get the onion-anchovy gratin between my toes. It isn’t because I mean to eat lightly—that would be a tad self-delusional at this point, eh? I’m not entirely sure wherein the answer lies, but I’m sure I don’t care so long as the excellent small plates keep coming.

Okay, I’m fudging the answer slightly in the case of my most recent meal there—due to a snafu involving poor friend Mo & Project Angel Heart’s Dining Out for Life 2009, some of the apps I snarfed (& she, rightly bummed out, long story, merely picked at) actually came compliments of the chef-owner. But not all of them: the salmon rillettes with pickled onions & grilled bread, for instance, were my own smart call.

Ksalmon2

Made with, if I’m not mistaken, lightly smoked salmon, the chunky spread was way funky—piscophobes beware. Me, I got down with every last schmear.

The freebie that followed, a special that evening, was basically your classic bistro salad—frisée + Dijon vinaigrette + poached egg—but with pieces of what I believe was the same salmon as appeared in the rillettes in lieu of of the usual lardons, along with big cubes of new potato.

Ksalmonsalad

Since I’d already had my share of salmon, meanwhile, I focused more on the bowl of roasted veggies drizzled with tahini-tempered harissa—a rootsier rendition, what with parsnip, carrot & red onion, of the vegetable antipasto I’d had once upstairs.

Kveggies

The same basic sauce formed a broth, sprinkled with just-wilting baby spinach & parsley leaves, for the housemade lamb sausage—which, evoking North African merguez (albeit in milder, juicier fashion), was along with the rillettes my fave of the eve.

Ksausage

Although, if I had a sweet tooth the size of my savory…what? way past tooth, pretty much my whole mouth—the amazingly light, fresh, hot, sugar-sprinkled funnel cake à la mode would probably have taken the cake. When a cake takes the cake, what happens? Does it enter the 4th dimension or something?

Kfritters

If you’re thinking, hey, that’s dessert, not a starter—says you. With another inch of room in my tum, I’d have followed it right up in the app roster with those creamed mushrooms on toast in truffle vinaigrette. Next time.

The Kitchen on Urbanspoon

FOUND: goat curry in Denver! LOST: my shit. Thanks, India’s Pearl!

A week or so ago I was blindsided by a craving for goat curry
that the
sketchiest of preliminary research
indicated was bound to go
unfulfilled so long as I remained in this here city’s limits. I’d
been limping along ever since.

So it was with hot thrilled squeaks that I received the news,
while lounging upstairs at India’s Pearl with the Director
& Mo (whom you may remember for her dear
Yuletide tirade
), that the chef is now whipping up none other
than my caprine dream—2 versions thereof, in fact, like my
caprine dream were a fantasy about bunny twins.

The 1st our waiter—the
same guy
who serenaded an audience of, basically, us on the
karaoke machine between serving duties awhile back—called simply
“goat curry,” which struck me as masala-esque; Mo noted later it
“wasn’t as spicy as I would’ve thought…plenty of bold flavors
though.”

IPgoatcurry

The boldest of which may have been the goat itself, which I like
to think of as the duck of ungulates—its meat being especially
dark & fatty, it only reinforced the richness of the creamy,
cashewy korma my own version came a-swimming in.

IPgoatkorma

Because he’s like Mary with the damn lamb, or rather the
anti-Mary since wherever lamb goes, he’s sure to follow, the
Director had to get my goat & get some lamb instead. Even
he’d had his fill of vindaloo, however, having ordered it
incessantly of late, so the server suggested the lamb sali
boti—again, your basic (which isn’t to say blah; as I’ve said
before, India’s Pearl’s are the best I’ve had in Denver)
tomato-&-onion-based curry, with the kicker of fried shredded
spud on top.

IPlambsaliboti

Googling “lamb sali boti,” intriguingly enough, yields recipe
after recipe that also includes apricot, of which we caught
neither hide nor hair, or in this case fleece, nor does the menu
mention jardaloo (i.e.,
apparently, apricot). The potato topping alone, however, added a
whole new dimension, especially as it sunk in & became part
of the mélange.

IPlambnaan

Lamb-sprinkled keema naan is sheer minimalist pizza. Dip chunks
into raita or cilantro chutney if sauce is a must, although if
you ask me the naan’s ghee sheen suffices nicely.


IPswordfishpakora

The only disappointment to date, & by now I’ve plucked my
share of pearls from this this wall-to-wall jewelry case of a
menu, was the swordfish pakora, its batter altogether too heavy.

Not to grouse in the least about a place that garnered my vote
from the get-go for best Indian joint in town; now that it’s got
goat to boot, it may warrant a nomination for coolest joint in
town of any ethnic stripe.

Heaven Star: the best dim sum you can get from a place not named Super Dragon!

Really, of all the combinations from the names Super Star & Heaven Dragon the owners of them two dim sum palaces could possibly have come up with for a joint venture, why would they go with Heaven Star over Super Dragon? Especially given the golden karma they’d have reaped for sharing a moniker with

01

this guy,

versus the sorta louche aura surrounding what instead sounds like

Supergroup

some disco-era supergroup?

Nevertheless, ’twas Heaven Star that The Boulder Weekly’s Clay Fong invited me, Joey Porcelli & Culinary Colorado’s Claire Walter (whose writeup’s here) et al. to a dim-sum showdown at, so ’twas Heaven Star for which the Director & I skeptically reached—Broomfield certainly feels as far away as the night sky from Platt Park—wishing our small army were raiding King’s Land instead, preferring it to Super Star as we both do.

But I’ve gotta admit, once we got there, it seemed like Heaven Star might have beaten us to the invasion—looks like the King’s gonna have to cede some turf. What with Clay, who knows his dim-sum shit, ordering up a storm for the whole gang, everything I stuck in my mouth was either a) a revelation b) a treasure or c) both. So speechlessly grubby was I before it all that, true to the experience, I’ll leave the commentary to a minimum & mostly let the photos speak for themselves:

HSBBQpork

Crispy BBQ pork: the porcine equivalent of Neapolitan ice cream, replacing chocolate, vanilla & strawberry with crackling skin, rich pink meat & pure, glistening belly fat;

HScalamari

Fried squid: hypercrispy—if the emphasis was on the frying technique & seasoning rather than the cephalopodic flesh (as it is in, say,

Atrani_ Amalfi Coast_ Italy

Atrani—heavy sigh), it was no less exquisite for that;

HSchickenfeet

Chicken feet: Having tried them once before only to find myself spitting up bits of gelatin & bone shards for far longer than their size would have suggested, the 2nd time was a charm. They’re basically just intricate drumsticks, i.e. dark meat; per Sir Fong, the difference between my two experiences was a mere matter of freshness;

HSfishchickenfriedrice

Salty fish & chicken fried rice: If it were chicken & fried rice salty fish, i.e. emphasis on the pungent latter, I’d have loved it above all, but as it was it was still gobbledy-good comfort stuff;

HSleekshrimpchixdumpling

Pork, shrimp & leek dumplings: What rich, silky & juicy little bundles were these!

HSclams

Steamed clams: A special order off the dinner menu, this slew of bivalves was gingerrific & garlicky to boot.

HScrepe

BBQ pork–stuffed rice crepe, its filling unexpectedly complex.

HSeggplant2

Shrimp-stuffed eggplant: Pure lusciousness—batter-dipped hunks of edible velvet. Not to mix metaphors or wax overwrought.

HSnoodles

House pan-fried noodles: The small bite I took was piping & snappy; what more can you demand from simple noodles?

HSscallopdumplings

Scallop dumplings: Exquisite, really, these delicate little peekaboo packages sprinkled with flying fish roe.

HSshortribs

Short ribs in black pepper sauce: Another fave, what with the meat melting in your mouth—a hateful but in this case exactly apt phrase—straight from its hot oil–based bath.

HSsiumai2

Pork siu mai done right, with palpable care.

HSspareribs2

Spare ribs with black bean sauce: Steamed, they may look a little slippery & wan, but bless ’em, they’re all stout heart on the inside.

HSstuffedlotus

Chicken & dried scallop sticky rice steamed in lotus leaves: If a little light on the meat (not that there should be gobs, but neither do mere flecks suffice), the rice was just right, aromatic & cohesive but not gluey.

HSporkbun

BBQ pork buns: The more I get to know dim sum, the less loathe I am to confess that steamed char siu bao just aren’t my thing—too close to, like, the malfatti of all white bread for comfort. But even preferring them baked, I know a proper steamed bun when I see it, like this one.

And if all that wasn’t just the beginning, it was far from the end: shrimp dumplings, steamed gailan, pan-fried turnip cake with sausage—none of which I had room for—& roasted BBQ duck, which I’d have slit my gut & pulled something out to make room for, also made appearances at various points, as did classic egg custard tarts, the centers of which looked the way I felt by meal’s end, kind of gooey & green yellow.

But not so much so that talk of an imminent return for dinner didn’t perk me right back up into fine plump & rosy form.

Heaven Star on Urbanspoon

Beatrice & Woodsley: On notice

Not to toot my own tuba, but I was 1 of B & W’s 1st & most flowery champions—& I’ve been strewing it with awe-petals ever since (see e.g. here, here). Balancing the edgy & the whimsical with aplomb, it seemed to me to mark Denver’s dining future in sure, clear strokes.

But the future may already be passé.

Then again, it may not; a lapse does not a collapse make. So fervent is my hope that my most recent experience fell on a rare off-night that I can’t bring myself to categorically downgrade the place just yet. But the following had better prove flukes:

—There was a limo parked out front. On South Broadway, on a block firmly packed with have-nots. In a recession. Stretch. Nor could you tell just by scanning the groomed & perfumed crowd of haves, their worldly faces unlined by worldly concerns, to whom it might belong—could’ve been anyone. (Except us, of course.)

—Our waitress wanted to know if we understood how small plates worked. Um, like teacups? No? Humidifers? No…the cerebral cortex? Oh, like big plates, only small! How abso cosmo.

—The current menu is noticeably less interesting, decidedly safer, than were repertoires past. Where once sweetbreads & cockles & curios that yield no Google results (e.g. pouxfle) popped up right & left, now only the usual luxuries languish: foie gras, pork belly, chanterelles—in short nothing Kevin Taylor wouldn’t use. (The brunch menu, oddly but fortunately enough, still reflects some risks taken, what with frogs’ legs & turtle soup & corned buffalo.)

—The moment of truth turned out to be amateur hour (following, perhaps, a good old-fashioned tastebud-blunting crew-wide cigarette break?): not 1, not 2, but all 3 of the savory dishes the Director & I shared were grossly oversalted.

Since we’d started with the house-cured, grilled sardines—themselves delicious, actually, dark & juicy, charred & pungent—

BWsardines2

I initially chalked the problem up to them, guessing they’d just rubbed off somehow on the almost bitterly salty dressed arugula & the pickled peppers, while thankfully sparing the airy, fresh housemade mozzarella & buttery grilled brioche.

BWsardines

But the escargots were just as corrosive with sodium;

BWsnails

if not for the excellent, hot, fresh baguette that we could tear off in hunks big enough to absorb the impact of even the smallest daub of sauce,

BWbaguette

our mouths would have rusted.

Ditto the saddle of rabbit stuffed with braised leg meat & redundant “herbed pistou“—a real shame since the flesh was beautifully cooked. If there’s 1 creature whose death should never be in nearly inedible vain, it’s the fluffy bunny.

BWrabbit

Insofar as our companions happened to order dishes that inhered in elements of sweetness, they may have fared better. Certainly the braised veal over pumpkin risotto with chanterelles & dates looked like something I’d have smeared all over my nakedness under the right conditions.

BWveal

Camembert cut into squares & served with a lump of crystallized chestnut honey & fig both whole—broiled, I gather—& pulverized into filling for a sort of housemade Fig Newton was likewise lovely,

BWfigs

even if—speaking of not understanding how meal courses work—the baguette our friends requested to accompany it didn’t arrive until after the plate had already been cleared (& the dish of butter another 15 min. after that, when the loaf was half gone).

Regular readers will note I rarely eat dessert. Lacking much of a sweet tooth, I tend to order it in either of only 2 scenarios: 1) following a fantastic repast that I don’t want to end & 2) following a disappointing dinner that I want to end on a note other than the sour one it seems bound to.

Thus did we treat ourselves to the soulful, richly spiced pumpkin-gingerbread pie with, IIRC, caramel ice cream

BWpie

& the chocolate bubble: a dark chocolate shell enclosing white chocolate semifreddo & “a surprise”—a different filling every day, per our waitress—alongside a few spoonfuls of panna cotta.

BWchocolate1

My half-orb oozed raspberry.

BWchocolate2

Aside from the fact that the spoon I was given didn’t cut it, literally hence figuratively—either a more appropriate slicing utensil needs also to be provided or the kitchen should make an incision in the shell before sending it out—this was by far the highlight of my eve, reminiscent at once of tartufo & a jelly doughnut, & not at all of a

Salt Lick Green

salt lick.

The edible high point, anyway. There was a potable peak as well: the Tiptoe Through the Tulips.

BWvodkacocktail

There’s an apparent fellow fan of Zubrówka bison grass vodka behind the bar who has seen fit to mix it with lavender & lime. The result zings—subtly sweet & tart, green & so clean & refreshing it’s like drinking linens being hung to dry by a singing virgin in a breezy, blossoming vale.

Hell, visiting Beatrice & Woodsley at its best is itself like becoming a singing virgin in a breezy, blossoming vale—restored, rejuvenated, golden & rosy, touched for the very 1st time & all that. I trust next time I’ll be gently, gracefully led back out of the dark, rocky crevice of disillusion this time found me in.

Beatrice & Woodsley on Urbanspoon