Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Around the World in 10 Dishes: Flatbread Edition at Eater Denver

After nearly a year(!), I’ll be returning to this space from time to time to show off a thing or two.

For starters, I’m working on an occasional series over at Eater, Around the World in 10 Dishes, where I’ll be exploring the glorious riches of Denver’s international kitchens in thematic, systematic, hydromatic, ultramatic fashion. First up: flatbreads.

Behold the companion photo gallery to the article, which you should read the crap out of right here!

Manaeesh with za’atar at Amira Bakery

Kulcha at Azitra

Taftoon at Babajoon’s Kabobs

Scallion pancake at Dae Gee

Injera with molokhia at Elsa’s Ethiopian Restaurant

Focaccia al formaggio di Recco at Lo Stella

Huarache con bistec y nopal at Los Carboncitos

Roti canai at Makan Malaysian Cafe

Tlacoyo with grilled chicken at Paxia

Frybread stuffed with shredded bison at Tocabe

 

A Look at Il Pastaio, via Boulder Weekly

Since former Boulder Weekly correspondent Clay Fong had already covered the trio of lasagnas that features on the lunchtime buffet at rightly beloved Italian café Il Pastaio back in 2010, I focused on other favorites in my review, now live on the publication’s website.

Which doesn’t mean I could resist a bite of the beef-filled version (there’s also turkey & veggie)

before my companion devoured it, & before I did the same to the rigatoni described in the article.

That there’s a heck of a deal for 10 bucks. To give you a full account of the cafeteria-style offerings, we could also have opted for classic sausage & peppers or chicken Marsala as an entrée, as well as Costa Rican black beans & rice, roasted sweet potatoes, scalloped potatoes, sautéed zucchini, or carrots instead of the new potatoes & broccoli we chose as sides.

Dinner, though still casual, is a sit-down affair, starting with the giant rolls also provided at lunch

& continuing through antipasti like these—lest you need a reminder of the delights inherent in the Italian language, by the way, cauliflower with butter & almonds translates as cavolfiore al burro e mandorle

& onward through primi & secondi piatti like this sausage ravioli in tomato cream & this eggplant parmesan, which comes with your choice of pasta (e.g., gnocchi in pesto cream).

Though I skipped dessert, all your old friends are here: tiramisù, cannoli, spumoni.

Happy reading, happy eating!

Il Pastaio on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Chipotle- & Bourbon-Butter Grilled Oysters at Angelo’s Taverna

I’d never set foot in the previous, long-standing incarnation of Angelo’s Taverna—what’s another neighborhood pie parlor, eh? But “Denver’s only pizza & oyster bar” is a whole other matter—one worthy of scrapping my planned search for a place to watch the PPV Mayweather-Canelo fight last Sat., Mantonat convinced me.

He was right—& not just because the bout turned out to be a bust (no boxer will go down in history with more skills yet fewer guts & even less heart than will Floyd Money Mayweather). In fact, the real knockout that night went down on the plate on the left:

Them’s some honking oysters chargrilled in a mixture of chipotle- & Breckenridge bourbon–infused butter, adobo sauce & brown sugar; the result’s a wild ride of brine, tangy sweetness, smoke & spice whose complexity caught me by surprise.

No surprise on the right: just straight-up hot, crusty-gooey garlic bread covered in cheese. None below either: the stromboli’s pure goodness. With my choice of 2 of about 30 pizza toppings to supplement the filling of mozzarella, ricotta & classic marinara (which also comes on the side), I went with grilled eggplant & sundried tomatoes. Comfort food warrants far more discussion when it’s done badly: stale chips, soggy burgers, waiter there’s a fly in my pho, etc. When the construction is solid, when the ingredients are balanced, when you’re lulled into enjoyment rather than egged toward analysis, etc., as was the case here, it’s all pretty self-explanatory. (Note also the toasty glow coming from Soul Food Scholar‘s pizza with sausage, pepperoni, peppers, onions, mushrooms & olives.)

The rest of the menu’s a mishmash of red-sauce staples & more-contemporary Italian-inspired fare: there’s fried calamari & chicken parm, but there’s also a salad of arugula & toasted gnocchi in truffled herb dressing & Southwestern-style ravioli made with blue corn, red chiles & pepperjack. Same goes for the bar: there’s Bud & Pinot Grigio, but the cocktails skew craftward & the limoncello’s made in house (check out the jars in the display case near the entrance).

Granted, as Mantonat observed later, “Realistically, it’s not an easy menu to make a full meal from if you don’t want pizza or pasta.” Though Angelo’s does offer gluten-free crust, Mrs. M—who leans that way—& he opted instead for an appetizer of beef carpaccio with mustard aioli, plus sides of grilled shrimp & roasted mushrooms. Said the author of Westword blog A Federal Case—who you’d think would be getting his fill of Asian food these days—”the carpaccio was a little bland, but the mushrooms & shrimp were simple yet tasty. We actually stopped on the way home for a little sushi!”

Still, he scored the coup of the evening by noticing the quintet of oyster shooters on the beverage list. Being at that point 2 glasses of vino down, I declined to join him in a round, but the Chach—pepper vodka, cucumber, mint, lime juice—& the Webber with pale ale, housemade cocktail sauce, Cholula & a lime wedge continue to call my name.

In the end, I can’t say I know the ins & the outs of the place yet, but the statement it’s aiming to make is clearly thoughtful, & the questions that remain are minor. (For instance, what’s with the homage to the Red Hot Chili Peppers hidden in the names of the combo pizzas? And did we really accidentally convince our poor sweet waitress that Sudoku is a type of oyster?) What I can definitely say is that I’ll be back soon. From the rustic comfort of the dining room & the soulfulness of the eats to a could-be-much-worse Cal-Ital wine list & the fact that, on a busy weekend night, no one hassled us about lingering for nearly 3 hours, there’s no reason not to be.

Angelos Taverna on Urbanspoon

Scintillating Stuff: Ferrari Wine Dinner at Barolo Grill

True crime confession: before last Thurs., I’d only been to Barolo Grill for a bite at the bar. But I’d long hankered to go full splurge—& now that I’ve had the opportunity on someone else’s dime, I’m gung-ho to repeat the process on my own major chunk of change. Though what follows is a photo essay, not a review (which I’ll save for said return trip), that should tell you what I thought of the luxe northern-Italian longtimer.

The occasion: a visit from Marcello Lunelli of Ferrari, which makes traditional-method sparkling wines from the Trento DOC. As fellow guest Claire Walter of Culinary Colorado has pointed out, most Americans don’t realize Italy has a tradition of bubbly outside of Prosecco & Asti, but indeed it does, mostly in northern regions where the climate is best suited to its production—including that of sparkling reds like Lambrusco & Brachetto d’Acqui. Unlike all those examples, which contain indigenous grapes, Trento wines follow the Champagne model: only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & to a lesser extent Pinot Blanc are allowed. (For more on the appellation, you can purchase a copy of the article we at Sommelier Journal ran back in Feb. here.)

What many casual wine drinkers also don’t realize is that bubbly is not just a celebratory aperitif—on the contrary, it’s got major pride of place on the table, as my piece on summer sparklers for Imbibe explains. I mean, you might not want to serve an extra-brut blanc de blancs with BBQ brisket, but there’s a style for virtually every dish you can think of. And if you’re used to classic profiles marked by brioche, lemon, pear, apple, chalk & so on, you might be surprised to discover they can possess notes that run from smoke & herbs to truffles, Parmesan rind, brine & salted caramel: I detected all that & more (in various permutations) both in Ferrari’s 2006 Perlé bottlings, the Rosé & the Blanc de Noirs, & in its tremendous Riserve del Fondatori Giulio, especially the 1994 & 1993. Those were just 4 of the 10 wines we sampled throughout our 7-course dinner, preceded by an amuse bouche of house-smoked salmon with crème fraîche & caviar

& continuing apace with a truffled egg custard so silken & intensely pure it was like I was eating an egg for the first time. I don’t think I’ll be able to put another anywhere near my mouth for some time.

Equally gorgeous was the foie gras terrine with peaches so ripe they were practically papayas, as well as dots of pistachio cream.

And quenelles of baccalà—salt cod pureed with olive oil—accompanied by tempura artichoke, pea puree & black-garlic aioli.

An eloquently minimalist salad of raw crimini, chanterelle & royal trumpet mushrooms.

Plin, a ravioli-like pasta from Piedmont, stuffed with rabbit sausage over cardamom-spiced carrot puree.

The main event: chef Darrel Truett’s take on cassoulet starring cabbage, white beans, seared halibut cheek, grilled prawn & a disk of wonderfully delicate seafood sausage—primarily scallop, it seemed, surrounded by a pretty vegetable confetti.

And finally, the most limpid vanilla-bean panna cotta with local honey & microbasil.

All around, a superb experience. Now I’m on a quest to determine if it’s this good on average.

Barolo Grill on Urbanspoon

Entering the Pie Hole—& Moving On Up(Town)!

Oh Lordy it’s a fact. I moved to Denver from Boston to be with the Director almost exactly 6 years ago; from day 1, we planned to abandon his abode in Platt Park & find ourselves a centrally located love nest. As of yesterday, we finally got our piece of the pie, a stone’s (or pie’s, for that matter) throw from Steuben’s & Ace.

That means a whole new neighborhood to explore inch by inch—or, as is sometimes the case with me in deadline mode, delivery option by delivery option. But first, a word about one of the by-now legion pizzerias lining Broadway south of Speer: Pie Hole.

You bet the name says it all: if the language of pizza is sing-song southern Italian as articulated—at least in the immediate vicinity—by Pizzeria Locale, this is in-your-face American slang. And since, as I’ve noted before, I’m not a Neapolitan purist—loaded baked dough is pretty universal—I dig the sound of both.

Though the menu is strict in 1 sense—you got your à la carte slices & your café-tabletop-sized 19-inchers, & nothing in between—it otherwise plays fast & loose with the genre. Besides marinara, bases range from hummus to Alfredo sauce to, er, “vegan roux”; besides the classics, toppings include pulled pork, cilantro, scallions & mango. The latter appears on a wacky little (well, huge) number called the Munchy Mango, which also features peanut sauce & brown sugar-roasted jalapeños as well as mozzarella.

The Director, miffed at the description, was having none of it—until he grudgingly had some of it. A couple slices in, he caved: “This is actually pretty good.” And it was. Look, nuts, fruit & cheese are a classic combination. Here, the gently sweet, creamy sauce; salty cheese; & slightly underripe, hence tart & meaty, cubes of mango made for vibrant interplay, intensified by the heat of the chiles. Equally important, the crust was decent: relatively thin, crunchy & brown-bubbled along the edges.

That sleeper hit earned me enough goodwill to go for the Hot Wing Pie: housemade hot sauce, pepper jack cheese, chicken & more jalapeños, adding up to an almost Tex-Mex savor. Think flat nachos.

In fact, the only pie that didn’t do much for me was the most traditional (by American standards): the Combo with pepperoni, sausage, black olives, onions, peppers & mushrooms.

On any given day, that’s a sodium bomb, but this was intensely, unexpectedly, inexplicably salty—maybe the marinara was overseasoned?

Still, 2 out of 3 are fine odds for a tiny, nondescript counter joint hemmed in on all sides by bigger, better-known names in pizza. I’ll be back for a hummus slice yet.

Pie Hole on Urbanspoon

Noshes for the New Year: Going Cheeseless at Pizzeria Locale Denver

At this point we’re closer to the next New Year’s than the last one, but some of us (ahem) are still staggering along in half-assed (or full-assed, as the case may be) resolution mode. Now, you might assume that just as the quick-casual Baker District outpost of Boulder’s celebrated Pizzeria Locale (you know, the Frasca folks’ full-service nod to Napoli’s most legendary creation) caters—unlike the original—to non-Italophiles (read: red-blooded, flag-waving, stubbornly unadventurous eaters) with American-style pies, it’s catering to calorie counters (read: blue-blooded, yoga-mat-carrying, stubbornly unadventurous eaters) with cheeseless pies. But you’d be wrong. After all, Italians sport their own stubborn streak when it comes to culinary traditions, such as the rule that frutti di mare & formaggio don’t go together. Though I happen to disagree with that assessment in general, I’m a big believer in doing as the Romans (or whoevers) do—& I have vivid & fond memories of the pizzas topped with red sauce, chunk tuna, red onions, corn, & capers, but decidedly no cheese, that I spent 1 summer eating in the seaside cafés of Otranto. So I appreciate the fact that Locale holds the dairy while applying the anchovies to its Campagnola pie—as well it should. The combination of those salty little fishies with equally salty chopped green olives & capers, atop a tomato base as intensely tangy-sweet as its color suggests, is pungent enough by far to pique & sustain the palate. (The crusts here, which the state-of-the-art oven finishes in a flash, are rather more uniform & therefore less interesting to me personally than those at the original, but as Mia Farrow says in The Purple Rose of Cairo: “I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything.”)

In fact, I liked it so much that I decided to experiment with my own version 2 nights later: behold the Ruthless with tuna, grilled eggplant, red onion & a drizzle of olive oil (that latter actually the creative contribution of the guy behind the counter—one of 7 or 8 adorable sweethearts who are surely reason #2 if not 1 that the neighborhood’s gaggles of young hotties appear to be congregating here).

Yeah! I nailed it—good stuff. And while shaving off a few hundred calories in the form of fermented-milk product wasn’t even my primary intention, it didn’t suck as a bonus.

Still, if you’re not watching your figure, by all means do as the Director did & go for a white (that is, all-cheese-all-the-time) pizza like the aptly named Bianca—its blanket of fine mozzarella scattered with the most delicately rendered of sausage crumbles & bright, slightly bitter bits of broccolini as well as red-pepper flakes.

Or, what the hell—do as my pal A did & stick with the Supreme: sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, red & green peppers, red onions, you know the Americano drill.

As for the “caponata” salad in the forefront, it’s flavorful enough, though it’s really just a sprinkling over arugula of random ingredients used in Sicily’s namesake specialty (eggplant, zucchini, red peppers, red onions, green olives) rather than the full-fledged stuff, which I’d just as soon hoover by itself (my favorite version also contains tomatoes, capers, pinenuts, & raisins). Those hunks of pizza crust on top, though? Perfetto, just as at the Locale flagship.

Pizzeria Locale on Urbanspoon

Now Open! Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria

Think of the latest outpost in Frank Bonanno‘s sprawling empire, located way down south at the Park Meadows Mall, as a breezier, more streamlined, family-friendlier Osteria Marco. Though smaller, the menu shares obvious elements with that of its older sibling, including an assortment of formaggio fatto in casa & imported salumi, a few salads & panini, & above all pizza, here baked in a custom-built Italian oven. But you also got your crudo & your fritto—that is, raw & fried—selections, & at a family-&-friends preview this week I started with one of each as a real-world compromise to starting with all of each (my appetite floating in a whole other dimension as it does).

We all reach a point where we’ve had our fill of a trend: beets, brussels sprouts, marrow, molten chocolate, Fernet Branca, what have you. Because it’s our job to cover trends as they develop, food writers tend to reach that point well before the average diner. Then again, we also get over being over things quicker, I think—we’re reminded that before they become trends & after they cease to be, they’re just ingredients that have their time & place.

Take raw tuna. There are only so many ways to prepare it; I’ve had them all countless times, & since I’m usually on a mission to try the new & unusual, I tend to ignore it. I’m glad that, this time, I didn’t, because the sliced ahi crudo was terrific topped with a salad of chopped romaine, basil & olives in caper vinaigrette. Simple, straightforward, refreshing. I also liked the pan-fried polenta pictured with it below, though if I ordered it again I’d mix it up bite-for-bite with some house-cured lonza or something! Because why not!

As for the pies, come on—Bonanno’s probably been making pizza in his sleep since he was 12. Of course the crust boasts great structure, with crunch & pop & give; of course the toppings are premium. The question that remains is one of personal preference, so I can’t offer much guidance except to say that the fresh, velvety ricotta—which appears on 4 of the 10 combos—is just dreamy; it certainly made for a meltingly delicate counterpoint to the mozzarella, garlic, olive oil & chili flakes also on the punchy Walter White, along with, of course, Blue Sky crystals—I mean blue-cheese crumbles! Heh.

Meanwhile, earthy accents highlighted the overall lusciousness of my companion’s wild-mushroom pizza with béchamel, robiola, & truffle oil,

but the pie I’m jonesing to try next combines fontina, ricotta & sausage with broccoli rabe & garlic butter, which sounds like just the right balance between salty juiciness & jolts of bitterness.

Finally, Osteria Marco’s butterscotch bread pudding has made the trek to Lone Tree intact; it’s a springy, peachy take on a typically heavy dessert.

In short, it’s heartening to see an independent chef bringing octopus, burrata & Aperol spritzes to the ‘burbs, damn the old “will it play in Peoria?” dilemma. Here’s betting it will, at that.

Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

More Noshes for the New Year from Pastavino

Surely it’s possible to have an ultra-fattening meal at this mod Boulder trattoria—but it isn’t easy. Having derived so much pleasure from this lunchtime tuna dish, I’ve since returned to try a number of items, & even the heaviest of them were rendered with a light touch—as is typical in cucina italiana, of course; the heaps of meat-&-cheese-smothered carbs we all grew up with in the States aren’t typically found in chef-owner Fabio Flagiello’s homeland. (Which isn’t to say they’re “inauthentic”; Italian-American food has its own history &, at its best, myriad charms. But that’s another post.)

While white flour’s a no-no on many of today’s diets, those of us whose regimen entails simply trying not to eat like a draft horse all the time are in luck: breads are baked in house (generally about 3 types on any given day), arriving warm with olive oil, balsamic vinegar & red-pepper flakes for dipping. (Also on the table is a trio of sea salts, much appreciated since traditional pane tends to be very low sodium.)

One of these loaves was supposedly flavored with rosemary, the other with black olives; damned if I could really tell whether they were, but fresh bread is fresh bread—staff of life & all.

Admittedly, anything with the word “fried” in it isn’t on anyone’s diet. But Pastavino’s fritto misto—literally “fried mixed”—of calamari, bay scallops, caperberries & a single ricotta-stuffed raviolo is unusually delicate & greaseless, paired with a bright, pure tomato sugo. So if you’re powerless to resist a little splurge, you could do much worse.

Same goes for the gnocchi alle noci e salvia—that is, with walnuts & sage, as well as brown butter, fontina sauce & a sprinkling of ground espresso beans. Though definitely one of the richest pastas on the long menu (there are 15, including 3 daily specials), it too is executed with restraint—gently coated, not drowned, in burro & formaggio. (And if you split it with a pal, as I did—what’s pictured below is a 1/2 portion—you won’t even feel guilty at all.)

Then again, you could hardly do better than with the acqua pazza (“crazy water”), an examplar of cucina povera (“poor cuisine,” ironically among the richest aspects of Italy’s culinary heritage). Pastavino’s version isn’t so impoverished, containing vino bianco as well as mineral water—but it’s highly refined, subtle, even pristine with steamed clams & chunks of sea bass, cherry tomatoes, olives (albeit black ones, not green as advertised), & chopped parsley. Gently delicious.

Ditto the tonno al pistacchio—perfectly cooked pistachio-crusted tuna atop a mixture of balsamic-marinated onions & roasted fennel, alongside a dollop of zingy salsa verde.

Streamlined elegance permeates this place—& your bones as a patron of this place.

Pastavino on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week/Noshes for the New Year: Tonno at Pastavino

I’ll do a full post about this stylish Italian café, run by a native of Trieste on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, in the very near future, but I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in thinking the place underappreciated (see Douglas Brown’s recent props in the Denver Post).

This lunch entrée, simply listed as “Tonno” (tuna), was not only the best thing I ate last week but a fine choice for those still committed to world’s #1 New Year’s resolution (see other recent picks here), at least if they’re taking the low-carb approach. Twofer!

Nicely seasoned & grilled on the outside, rare yet warm on the inside, the gorgeous hunks of albacore perched atop a generous mound of spinach, asparagus, leeks & mushrooms sauteed in a tangy, garlicky lemon-caper sauce; my own resolution—to not eat everything on my plate—melted away in the face of the pure, simple pleasure.

Stay tuned for more on Pastavino’s very real appeal.

Noshes for the New Year: Tomato-fennel bisque (& more) at Arugula Bar e Ristorante

Still with me, weight watchers? Let me tell you what a pleasure it was to leave Boulder’s Arugula last night feeling chipper rather than sluggish—feeling, for once, quite unlike Louis CK (you know, “The meal is not over when I’m full! The meal is over when I hate myself.”)

For starters, I actually heeded the advice of all those experts who recommend soup for its volumizing benefits. That is, it takes up stomach space you might otherwise devote to something more fattening—assuming, of course, that it’s not cream-based or something; bisque, for one, should be off-limits, defined by The Oxford Companion to Food as “a rich soup of creamy consistency, especially of crayfish or lobster.”

Being vegan, however, this tomato-&-fennel-based number fills that bill not a whit; it’s not really a bisque at all except in the very broadest terms—i.e., it’s pureed. Sticklers for etymological accuracy may thus grumble. Calorie counters will not. Because it’s very good! Small amounts of balsamic vinegar, olive oil & grated grana padano (for the non-vegans) give it some depth, smoothing out the sprightly vegetal edges.

Arugula also deserves credit for offering half-portions of pasta. Granted, what’s pictured below are full portions, namely of hand-rolled garganelli 2 ways: with Italian sausage, goat cheese, tomatoes & caramelized onions (top) & with roasted squash, apples, fontina, honey, rosemary & more sausage (bottom). And granted, neither is diet-friendly per se. But the al dente pasta’s just lovely—perhaps tossed in the sauté pan briefly for a touch of toast—& the earthy, tangy flavors fully melded, & the range of textures such that your mouth’s interest is held bite for bite, so you can slow down & savor. And if you can do that, you might even do what I did—only eat half. (Then again, if you can do that, you might as well go with the half-order & save yourself a few clams. Hindsight!)

When I’m not in dieting mode, though, I could come back to the below dish again & again.

Last I had it, it was called squid scampi, & boy, did it pack a punch (& undoubtedly a pound)—buttery indeed, but garlicky & acid-edged too, with lots of chopped herbs. The current menu lists it as “big squid” & mentions cherry tomatoes as well. Either way, it’s a nifty twist on a classic.

By the by, if it’s your wallet that has lost weight post-holiday, chef-owner Alec Schuler cuts some weekly deals: 3-course prix fixe menus ($26) on Mondays & Wine Wednesdays, when the entire selection by the bottle is 40% off. And a smart bottle list it is: neither boringly small nor bogglingly big, adamantly narrow or indiscriminately wide, it’s focused on charming picks from some of my own favorite regional Italian producers like Paolo Bea, Foradori & Alois Lageder.

All in all, a suavely low-key, serenity-inducing performance by Arugula.

Arugula Bar & Ristorante on Urbanspoon