Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dish of the Week: Agnello Stromboli at Lala’s Wine Bar + Pizzeria

Every time I ever go to Lala’s Wine Bar + Pizzeria I’m all set to be pleased, not downright delighted. And every time, there’s at least 1 or 2 dishes that exceed my expectations.

This week, it was the stromboli stuffed with lamb-&-risotto meatballs, provolone, mozzarella, braised spinach, & San Marzano tomato sauce, with extra on the side for dipping.

Chewy & gooey, rich & tangy, with just enough red pepper & spinach to add a rougher edge to the soft & juicy whole—comforting but not dumbed-down, the very stuff of homestyle generosity.

We got perfectly decent roasted Yukon Golds on the side, but the quinoa-chickpea salad with leeks that came with our other sandwich is the even-better bet—

light, crunchy, nutty, lemony, scallion-tinged.

I’m really beginning to think this place is underrated, even by me.

La Scala Trattoria Coming Your Way 5/16; Healthy Asian Garden Open Next Door

Glad to see South Denver’s pasta void is finally about to be filled, following Westword’s announcement of the venture 2 months ago:

Its neighbor is a take-out multi-Asian place that I’ve been meaning to check out for the past month or so—

but now that their menu’s online I’m guessing I can mostly skip it; I think they left the word “Variety” off the end of their name. It’s your basic den of egg-fu this & happy that delight. There are a couple of curiosities: under appetizers, “green vegetable dumplings” (chive, by chance?) as well as “donut (10)” (who knows?); house specials list salt-&-pepper salmon & flounder (this slightly spicy fried preparation is usually reserved for shellfish); & the phrase “gon bao” pops up frequently, which is unfamiliar to me & yields only a couple of unhelpful Google hits. I’ve already cast a line on Chowhound; will edit this if someone bites with a definition.  EDIT: Oh, duh—it’s an alternate transliteration of kung pao. Never mind.

Pizza Pity Party Redux: Colore Pizzeria Moderna, Kaos Pizzeria

I’m writing from Des Moines, whose Italian population is more established than that of Denver & whose red-sauce joints & pizza parlors are, therefore, better than Denver’s, pound for pound. I’m willing to go on record with that. Just last night we downed a couple of pies from Bordenaro’s, strewn with excellent capicola, crumbled sausage & chopped banana peppers, that beat the hell out of recent deliveries from Colore Pizzeria Moderna & even Kaos, which I usually like a lot—never mind the myriad disasters by the slice I faced a couple of months ago.

The fact that the delivery guy from Colore appeared on our doorstep not 15 minutes after we called—that’s no exaggeration, even though the place a good 7 or 8 minutes away as the car drives—was the 1st bad sign. The 2nd was the appearance of the crust.

You could tell by looking it would taste uniformly leaden & stale, presumably prebaked & then finished in such a way that, far from being black-&-blond, crackling & chewy & airy by turns, it was more like a hard unsalted pretzel.

Speaking of salt, the white sauce on the Vegetale in the top photo sounded terrific, a blend of ricotta, parmesan, garlic & olive oil. But it tasted bland & rubbery. The freshness of the namesake mixed vegetables—eggplant, tomato, mushroom, zucchini, spinach—was the saving grace. (The Director’s sausage & onion pizza was marginally better, perhaps because the flavor of the topping leeched into the iffy mozzarella.)

Our order from Kaos—the garlic-based BLT, a monthly special—also arrived within 15 minutes; though it’s only a couple of blocks away, that’s still not enough time to make a pizza—as should be obvious from the photo.

Atop the underdone crust was a fairly stingy, uneven sprinkling of bacon.

Sigh. The quest continues.

Colore Pizzeria Moderna on Urbanspoon

Drunk Dining: The Pizza Problem & The Syrian Solution

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” wrote Blake, giving me one good reason to live. “Sucky bread is sucky—you can quote me on that,” said my pal yumyum21 once, & so I have done ever since.

By extension, sucky crust is really, really sucky—a lesson I think I finally learned the hard way with 3 pizzas in a row that ranged from pathetic to merely mediocre.

In theory, I’m not a pizza snob. There’s a time & a place for all kinds of pie, from a classically simple margherita to the most outrageous vehicle for cognac-marinated lobster & champagne-macerated caviar to the greasiest, floppiest takeaway. The latter’s time & place is, of course, a late-night, boozy haze (the kind that might, say, obscure the filth of the cutting board you’re using as a backdrop for the slices you got to go *after* a long session at Lou’s Food Bar).

But in practice, shining examples of the corner-joint ideal are few & far between. Even as I bought the below slices from Famous Pizza, I slurred to myself, Wow, those pepperoni disks look like Shrinky Dinks.

And that’s exactly what they tasted like. Stuck on cheese that tasted in turn like it was shredded with the plastic it came in. Amid sausage crumbles that didn’t taste like anything—how is that even possible? Atop a crust so bland & chewy it was like old gum. The slice on the right was a slight improvement if you disregarded the feta’s weird texture, like dried toothpaste.

That description may be harsh, but not as harsh as the experience of eating it—one I have no intention of repeating. After all, I’ve made the same mistake over & over with Pasquini’s—but this time was the last. Pleased as I was to see a generous sprinkling of whole roasted garlic cloves & toasted pine nuts on my pizzetta, it was undermined by rubber chicken chunks, pallid crust, & inexplicable blandness overall—I actually added salt.

By comparison to the above, combo slices from Joyce’s Famous Pizza were halfway decent. The crust was no less stale, but the pepperoni at least had enough juice to yield droplets of spicy grease, while the cheese, sauce & veggies actually resembled themselves. Not platonic versions of themselves, but themselves nonetheless.

Still, halfway decent isn’t even an eighth-of-the way great. On the scale of true greatness, it wouldn’t register incrementally, especially not after the deduction in points that must occur when the guy behind the counter hawks a loogie into the trashcan right before taking your order. True story.

Which brings me to the fatteh from Ya Hala Grill. If the homely photo doesn’t inspire confidence, that’s because, never having had the dish before, I didn’t know I probably should have mixed it up first for a truer picture.

Middle Eastern fatteh, much like Indian papri chaat, is a mélange of toasted flatbread (here pita) chips & yogurt sauce, along with an array of variable ingredients—in this case chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil & parsley. The result is earthy, smoky, salty & tart; creamy, crunchy & messy—perfect, in short, for boozy grubbing. Before you take that long pizzeria-lined road all the way home, consider this shortcut to edible enlightenment.

This Week on Gorging Global: Sauce & Sausage at Gennaro’s Cafe Italiano

The differences between regional Italian cookery & that of Italian-Americans are legion, but central to them is that the latter is far meatier. In bitter winter weather like these, so am I. If you, too, are inclined to store blubber these days, try Gennaro’s on for size (XL). Click on the link to read all about the good old Sicilian-style sausage & peppers,

hand-tossed pizza, pasta & more.

A Dish a Day: Wild Mushroom Pizza at Kaos

New posts on Denveater will be fewer & further between for the next couple of weeks while I go through dietary detox, following an epic Boston splurge made excruciatingly clear by my Dirty Laundry List of eats: 70-plus dishes in 6 days. Oof, oops, ow.

But the night before I left, the Director & I went to town on our favorite pie from Kaos Pizzeria: the Wild Mushroom

with provolone, mozz, pesto, caramelized onions & shallots. It’s rich yet fresh, green yet earthy, with just enough saltiness & wood-fired chew for comfort’s sake. This low-key Old South Pearl parlor just does its thing well, sans hoopla. Continued kudos, Kaos.

Parts Is Parts: Quail Legs at Lala’s Wine Bar vs. Sticky Wings at Rackhouse Pub

***If you read this blog with any regularity you’re aware of my heavy involvement with the Denver Film Society. With the 33rd Starz Denver Film Festival just 3 weeks away (much more on that anon), The Director’s & my lives are not our own—hence my infrequent posting of late—so takeout’s the name of the dining game around here, of which less-than-gorgeous presentations are a given. For that my apologies; the restaurants owe none.***

From breasts & backs to giblets & feet, there’s almost no part of poultry that isn’t eminently edible. (Halfway through typing that I had to Google “Do birds have ears?” & “Can you eat chicken beaks?” Not among my finer moments.) But it’s the wings & legs that stick out, literally, for most of us when it comes to noshing, at least stateside.

Actually, quail legs don’t stick out much: they’re tiny. But no less delectable for that.

Drumettes di Italia are new on the menu at Lala’s Wine Bar & Pizzeria (more on which here), & they’re impressive—succulent little roasted chunks of dark meat, strongly coated with herbs, S & P. They come with a supposedly spicy butternut squash dipping sauce, which isn’t spicy at all, tasting of little other than the squash itself—a fresh, sweet, thin puree to balance the seasoning.

In short they’re the elegant, well-integrated counterpart to Rackhouse Pub’s down & dirty hot sticky wings.


Baked yet crispy with sweet whiskey glaze (presumably Stranahan’s), the wings per se play 2nd fiddle (heh) to their coating, charcoal-bitter in spots—a plus in my book to undercut the indeed sticky-tangy sweetness of the whole. The meat’s just there to absorb it all, which is generally true of such snacks, & fine in the context of game day. Still, the best wings IMO speak for themselves as chicken; Rackhouse can & does do much better (see here).

They come with 2 dips. First is your choice of blue cheese or ranch dressing; the latter’s homemade, so why choose the former? Buttermilky & on the thin side compared to the bottled stuff gunked up with coagulants & preservatives, it’s quite nice. Much odder, & I mean odd, is the wasabi cream. With a mousselike texture, it’s sweet. Quite sweet. If I were trying to recreate it I’d use mascarpone. It’s like wasabi-mascarpone cupcake frosting. It’s intriguing in its way, but I can’t help but wonder if it was just a fluke, like someone in the kitchen accidentally reached for the sugar instead of the salt that day. I dunno. Spread some on a slice of leftover spice cake & see what you think.

Take-&-Bake Makes Good: Organic Pizza Company

Disclaimers: I mostly ignore press releases from franchises, established or would-be, locally based or otherwise; though I suppose there are exceptions, the corporate model stands in opposition to everything I love about the dining experience: intimacy, spontaneity, discovery. Furthermore, the idea of take-&-bake pizza leaves me cold. If I'm in the mood to go out for pizza, I'll go out, & soak up some color while I'm at it. If I feel like staying in, I'll make it myself, from scratch.

But I recognize that that's just me, & that a lot of people don't have the time, energy or inclination to mess with the kneading & the rolling & the saucing & so on. In which case, Organic Pizza Company may prove a real-deal go-to.

The 1st 2 locations will open downtown & in the Highlands on September 24, with others, ambitiously enough, already in the works. I have to admit I'm impressed with the eco-ethos the company's espousing: the buildings are LEED-certified, all the packaging is recyclable or biodegradable, & even the staff uniforms are organic cotton. Moreover, it's partnering with Metro CareRing, a local food bank, to regularly donate both proceeds & product to Denverites in need. Pretty cool, really. 

The menu, of course, emphasizes organic ingredients as well—but more important, it's appealing. Designed by Kevin Mooney—a catering chef who has apparently done stints at the Palace Arms & The Little Nell—it lists 13 signature pies & 9 salads featuring the likes of roast pheasant, smoked duck & ground buffalo; vodka sauce, Alfredo sauce & white truffle oil; even cantaloupe, Asian pear & mandarin oranges. Huh! 

I wish I could see the after picture, because it's hard to tell from the before shot below how well the crust bakes, or whether the Alfredo sauce, once warm, ceases to resemble mayo. 


This salad, however, looks pretty darn good. 

Herbivore Salad

Here's hoping the reality does the publicity justice. 




What Lala’s Wine Bar & Pizzeria & Footage of a Chain-Smoking, Fat Sumatran Toddler Have in Common

I assumed I’d be appalled by them both. But it turns out they’re pretty adorable!

Ardi Rizal’s that 55-lb. 2-year old with the cutest 2-pack-a-day smoking habit ever.

Lala’s is that Capitol Hill joint you just know from a glance—what with the patio opening onto the airy, sponge-painted dining room in 75 shades of copper (oops, terracotta) & lined with cheeky retro scenes from cocktail soirées—is gonna be jammed with rank Polo-wearing-since-1981 Bluetooth users & the gaggles of gals who love them, Sex & the City reruns, & calling themselves “gals,” in some order. And babies, of course—not the hard-partying kind but the plain old bawling kind in pathway-clogging strollers.

And you’re right; it often is. But here’s what you can’t tell from a glance: that your (okay, my) knee-jerk snottiness will dissolve with the next glance at the Italianate menu & the wine list, both of which are extremely easy to like, as are the invariably pretty young things working that jammed floor, being mostly very sweet & on the ball (thumbs up, Kaycee).

Reliance on quality cheeses & meats is a hallmark. I’ve already thumbed up the Insalata Susina for its inspired use of miticana de oveja; another example is the housemade burrata. I’d briefly stopped in here once before to try it with pal L, who ordered it sans condiment; having now had it with the grape tomato–balsamic jam as well, I see her point—

it’s way too heavy & sweet for the ball of fresh mozzarella stuffed with ricotta &, apparently, mascarpone instead of the usual plain cream—which is no less mild for being rich, contradictory as that sounds. (I still prefer Osteria Marco’s silkier version, but Lala’s comes in 2nd.)

Mascarpone also crops up in a dip for warm flatbread; you scoop it up with arugula pesto—saucy with lots of olive oil, the way I like it, rather than chunky—


& then you just luxuriate in all those fat grams like a bubble bath for your mouth. I’ve already got my eye on the roasted garlic & ricotta w/ parsley for next time, though the choice of spreads also includes lighter options like tomatoes with basil & cannellini “hummus.”

So does the array of pizzas; the Pizza Betabel, for instance, is a downright healthy choice, what with its very light schmear of pesto & cheese—I’d actually say too light; the pesto barely registered—& generous scattering of roasted red & gold beets, arugula & a crumbly-fresh & milky goat cheese atop an extra-thin, crunchy, edge-charred crust. Had those base ingredients been upped just a bit for balance, it might’ve been my favorite.

That said, there wasn’t a bad pie in the bunch I tried over the course of 2 visits. Is it the best in town? No; though lifelong artisan mastery is a hard thing to pinpoint (aside from generally being supplemented by ovens that are older than you are), you know it when you taste it. But is it solid pizzamaking, at once serious in craft & splashy in variety? I sure think so.

Consider Nonna’s Pizza, where housemade Italian sausage finds its soulmates in fresh, chunky tomato sauce & roasted fennel (a common flavoring for salumi, after all)—while vibrantly sweet peppadew peppers add a neat New World twist.


Even better, however, was the Pizza Diavolo with slices of luscious full-cured chorizo, onions & chunks of roasted poblano over fontina. It’s supposed to have a red base; ours didn’t, but the mistake turned out to be a fortuitous one; rather than balance it as on Nonna’s Pizza, tomato sauce, IMO, would just have gotten in the way of such a lusty, robust combo of toppings.

Fontina (mixed with parm) & mighty fine prosciutto are also what distinguish the inexplicably named Alcachofa—which does also boast plenty of marinated artichoke hearts, but the word for “artichoke” in Italian is carciofo; alcachofa’s the Spanish word.


Whatever. The menu also seems to confuse the singular pizza with the plural pizze, but for a change I can’t get worked up about that—the referents themselves are too appealing to bother, especially paired with fun, lesser known wines by the glass like comeback-making Lambrusco & Puglian Tormaresca “Neprica.”

Now how about an Ardi Rizal pizza with smoked lardo?

Lala's Wine Bar + Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Dish of the 6-Day Week: Miticana de Oveja, Lala’s Wine Bar & Pizzeria

***Because last week ran 8 days; click here to see why.***

Word to Lala’s Wine Bar & Pizzeria: you’ve got a rarely updated cheese blog; I’ve got some unanswered cheese questions. Here’s a golden opportunity for you to fill in some blanks.

Because there’s not a lot of info out there, at least that I can find in English, on miticana de oveja; as this blogger points out, what little there is seems to confuse goat’s milk & sheep’s milk, but if sheep were goats, they’d be called, um, goats.

In any case, I’d never heard of this Spanish sheep’s cheese log before last night, when I ordered Lala’s Insalata Susina to go (we had some basketball that needed watching back home). Though it was underdressed, much of it being totally dry, I could tell that evenly drizzled with olive oil & lemon juice it would be terrific—arugula, dried plums & toasted pumpkin seeds making for a nifty combination full of chew & crunch, its bitter & tart notes a refreshing backdrop for the complex slices of cheese.

As you can see, it’s composed of rings—a rind; a gooey yellow circle where the mold has penetrated; & a fresh core where it hasn’t yet. While the interior has some of the crumbly tang of feta, the middle is rich & buttery, but nicely edged with the bitterness of the exterior. Wonderful stuff. It’s also available as part of a platter of salumi & formaggio or even à la carte—give it a try any which way.