Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

This Week on Gorging Global: Pac Merc with the Notorious Andrew Novick

Here’s what you gotta do:

1) check out this week’s post on Pacific Mercantile to bask in the glories of Asian groceries galore. (More on personal Pac Merc faves like lettuce pickled in flour sauce here.)

Love me some quail eggs

Squid guts not so much

2) Revel in words of wisdom from the amazing Andrew Novick, whose name you may recognize if you’re supercool enough to have ever a) seen a Warlock Pinchers show; b) shopped at Gimme Gimme Pillow Toast; c) attended the 2009 exhibition at the erstwhile Lab at Belmar, “The Astounding Problem of Andrew Novick”; &/or d) followed the Peeps trial in Boulder this summer. (If not, you’re about to be.)

3) Leave a comment for a chance to put your stamp on a new type of G.G. post, in which we’ll talk to your, yes your, favorite local chef about his/her go-tos for ethnic eats.

Hop to it!


Dish of the Week & I’m Not Kidding: Gazpacho à la Guadalajara from Whole Foods

WFgazpacho

Here's what's in it: tomato juice, corn, cucumber, avocado, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, cumin, cayenne, sea salt. That's it & that's all. It's a lovely soup: chunky but not too pico de gallo–like, spicy but not merely salsa-esque, deriving a little creaminess from the avocado. Of course I could've made something like it myself, but I didn't have to. 

Dish of the Week: Tomasso Bussola Amarone della Valpolciella Classico 2003 (+ Wine Poem 2)

Yes, another liquid dish. Amarone was the first wine I ever fell in love with; evaluating this one in my International Wine Guild certification class today—as happens every time I get to taste it (which isn’t often since they average $45-$60)—I swooned all over again. Made in the Veneto from grapes dried on straw mats, they’re naturally powerfully redolent of dark fruit; this one (available at Total Beverage)

B131786

was all figs, except where it was mushrooms.

One sip always takes me back to a poem I wrote years ago with Amarone in mind; I think I’ve posted it here before, but what the hell, it conveys my thoughts on Amarone better than I can (“the poem is smarter than you are,” my old pal Matt Rohrer once claimed).

Wine Poem 2

When the last corpse was drained and jarred he took me to wife,
whisking me over the pain threshold and into the honeymoon dungeon.
The hook used to extract the brain doubled as a corkscrew.
The test tubes bubbled over with champagne.
We dabbed our eyes with scar tissue as we played our song

and drank like plunging knife and fork, clashing blade and prong,
and drank like dart and arrow through each lung,
and drank like pharoahs with our hearts removed
to make room for more wine. And then that sound

fell headlong down the stairs.
We felt the shadow spill across the floor above our heads
the way a flashlight washes over treasure,
smearing gleam throughout the tomb.
The still lifes froze and the statues wanted down.

Before the mirror of creation stood reaction with a hood.
It was there reflection lay, stunned, may still lie.
As the darkness stopped before our portraits,
we popped the corks below and drank our brains out.

Some wine you let breathe, some you’ve got to smother.
We kissed deepest when we kept our distance, then we deeper slept.

Dish of the Week: Why, It’s Urchrüter, St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop!

Just yesterday I woohooed this wonderstuff.

SKurchruter1

Today I’m turning around to give it the weekly grand prize, because no other eligible edible I’ve encountered over the past 7 days can compare. In fact, with a couple of modest exceptions, the past 2 weeks have rather lacked in lipsmacking luster: in case you missed it, for the 1st time since launching the series last fall, I awarded no Dish of the Week last week.

Rare as it is that I don’t stuff down something worth shouting about every few days, my feeling was, why give it up for crap just for the sake of continuity? Now, if I doled out medals for mediocrity, last week would’ve been a humdinger. On the bronze podium, McCormick’s stuffed mushrooms with a way-too-high ratio of crumbs to crab & shrimp (although the herbed butter sauce made a decent bread dip).

McCormicksmushrooms
Taking the silver, Hapa Sushi & its cutely named but completely bland Green Eggs & Ham roll

Hapagreeneggs

with quasi-wasabi-flavored tobiko & mushy hamachi.

But the low-grade gold would’ve had to go to Brooklyn’s downright frightening chicken fingers, like the thawed & deep-fried spawn of the Xenomorph, their mechanized alien nature undisguised by the fig leaf of that poor piece of lettuce.

Brooklynstenders

Better luck next week, eh?

One Freaky Cheese: Urchrüter, St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop

I know it looks tame.

KSurchruter2

But Urchrüter is wild, man, wild, like the specimen James Tate captured in flagrante poetico:

The Wild Cheese

A head of cheese raised by wolves
or mushrooms
recently rolled into
the village, it
could neither talk nor
walk upright.

Small snarling boys ran
circles around it;
and just as they began
throwing stones, the Mayor
appeared and dispersed them.

He took the poor ignorant
head of cheese home,
and his wife scrubbed it
all afternoon before
cutting it with a knife
and serving it after dinner.

The guests were delighted
and exclaimed far into the night,
“That certainly was a wild cheese!”

Of course, you know you’re in for a neat-to-eat treat when someone looks you in the eye, hands you a sample & challenges—as did St. Kilian’s guru Hugh O’Neill—”OK, what do you taste?”

I thought hard. I could say what this raw milk Swiss ($25/lb., IIRC) wasn’t: not mild, but not exactly sharp either. Definitely funky, but not stinky. Full, but not downright rich. Despite an herb-rubbed rind, it didn’t smack of any particular herb—but close. It was the flavor of…warmth. I couldn’t say.

“Curry!” he trumpeted. “And maybe a little mustard.”

Bingo. Urchrüter, he went on to explain, is made in the mountains of Switzerland (whether Alps or Jura, I dunno), where the cows apparently graze on flowering curry & mustard plants.  Thus is their milk softly suffused with such aromas.

O’Neill noted that, when heated, it loses a little of that distinctive character to more closely resemble its cousin gruyère. In that case, I’d recommend serving it as is on a cheese plate. Just let it run naked, wild & free.

Product Testing a Go-Go: Lettuce pickled in flour sauce, Pacific Mercantile

Can you imagine?

PMlettuce2

Google apparently can’t either. Various searches yielded no results. As the contents of the $1.55 jar are dark & the list of ingredients no more enlightening,

PMlettuce3

I was left to picture slimy strands of leaf pulp in some sort of old processed roux—& left it in turn to my fellow Chowhounds to make some educated guesses.

Which, god bless them every one, they did, as per usual. One referred me to this Wikipedia entry:

Sweet bean sauce also known as sweet bean paste, sweet soybean paste, sweet flour sauce, or sweet noodle sauce, is a thick, dark brown- or black-colored Chinese sauce made from wheat flour, sugar, salt, mantou, & ground fermented yellow soybeans (that is, what is left of the soybeans after the fermentation of soybeans into soy sauce)…similar to the better known hoisin sauce.

Another hypothesized the lettuce was specifically celtuce, a Chinese variety cultivated less for its leaves than its thick stems.

Finally summoning the balls to pop the lid, then, I expected something like asparagus or broccoli stalks in a sweet bean goo.

PMpickledlettuce2
So far, so accurate, except that it came in slightly jellied chunks rather than recognizable stem shapes.

But the flavor was a surprise—not sweet at all but very salty, this is definitely a pickle, indeed reminiscent of broccoli that’s had all its greenness sucked out by the body snatcher of (essentially) soy sauce. Pickled celtuce is apparently commonly used as a condiment or side dish for congee or soup; now that I’ve tasted it, I can see myself chopping it up finer & adding it in judicious amount along with anchovies to scrambled eggs or to ground beef with some toasted sesame for Asian-flavored burgers. Or putting a few on toothpicks as a vodka garnish.

Mmm, weird, kidney-curdling sodium. Stay tuned.

Happy New Year from Tony’s Market (& Denveater)

In the Denveater-Director household it was a fine lang syne indeed, from the moment we admitted, around 5 o’clock, that all we really wanted to do was cuddle up with a bottle of sparkling wine & a bunch of DVDs. Sustaining us during what turned out to be a marathon viewing of The Wire—preceded by the terrifically biting (& clawing, & backstabbing) Brit political comedy In the Loop, which I highly recommend—was a spread from Tony’s Market, where the highly gracious & extra-helpful service really is unparalleled, to quote the website, although I can’t second the claim for “sizzling ambiance,” which sounds hazardous at best.

In addition to shrimp cocktail & red grapes, we grazed on a couple of noteworthy cheeses & sausage: clockwise from top, Mahon, Taleggio & a mystery cheese to which I’ll return in a moment.

Tonyscheeses
Don’t let the fact that the Mahon isn’t artisanal dissuade you from trying it; I lean toward smaller producers myself, but this is excellent stuff, smooth with a strong hint of mushrooms that made for an interesting match with the porcini & garlic flavored dry-cured pork sausage—so unctuous a couple of slices were enough even for me.

Tonyssausage
Even better, though, was the mystery cheese. Googling the handwritten description on the price sticker, “cow’s milk cheese flavored with saffron & peppercorns,” I get instead numerous results for Piacentinu, an Italian sheep’s milk cheese that sure enough looks just like our wedge. So perhaps it was mislabeled, or perhaps it’s a domestic, bovine version of the Sicilian original; in any case, it starts out hearty & ends up spicy. So may 2010.

Groovy EVOO Marketplace

I don’t care if his name’s Mick Major, which sounds like some British Invasion–era drummer whose lifeless body might have been found in a bathtub in a Mayfair hotel suite. If I know my Italians, & I believe I do, the proprietor of this gorgeous gourmet shop in Lodo is a Michele Maggiore through & through. He’s too gregarious, too generous with & too infectiously enthusiastic about his wares not to have a little sangue del paese vecchio in him.

Which isn’t to say it’s all Italian all the time in here. A veritable modern gallery of oils & balsamic vinegars, the airy space is lined with, to quote the website, some 40 “polished steel canisters named fusti” that are filled with liquid gold (& green & pale yellow & near-black) from around the world—not only the Boot but Greece, France, Australia, Israel, Tunisia,

EVOOMarketplace3 Chile,

& so on.

The majority are fused with subtle but clear flavors—not, note, infused. Again per the website, the difference is in the timing of the process—fusing is part & parcel of, not post, production, & is followed by filtering. (Hence the greater purity relative to, say, those clove-&-sprig-filled gift bottles you get from your Pier 1s.)

EVOOMarketplace1
Cinnamon pear & pomegranate balsamic vinegars

As well-versed about the qualities of his products in person as he is online, Major is also persuasive, proffering sample after sample to prove the savory smarts behind his pairing recs. For instance, he mixed

a bit of EVOOMarketplace2

with roasted walnut oil in 1 of those little tasting cups you see, & I swear I could smell the woodsmoke in the October air & taste the butter lettuce & blue cheese I’d toss with the intense blend. (And yes, rather than using bread as a dipper, you really are better off sipping the stuff straight so you know exactly what you’re getting.)

EVOOMarketplacelimeoil But it was when he combined the white peach vinegar  with the Persian lime olive oil (to the left) that he made  his first of what I know will be many sales. This too  was as evocative as it was flavorful, all green leaves &  pink blossoms. (Perfect over a bowl of Lucky Charms!   Skip the milk.)

Wanting it all by & for itself, I bought the oil to drizzle  on shellfish, blend with lemon juice & just a bit of  garlic for a salad dressing, use as a dip for some sort of  herbed bread.

All I’ve done so far is use it in a vinaigrette on a  pseudo-Greek salad with shrimp, feta, Castelvetrano  olives, peppers, tomatoes, etc.—but it made all the  difference. Perked that sucker right up.

EVOOmarketplacesalad

Though my next purchase will probably be that walnut oil, the 1 after that (I’m fantasizing ahead) has got to be the 18-year aged balsamic (from, ma certo, Modena). Like the author of the way cool local blog Pero Comen Como Locos, I could pour this as a digestivo—it’s that smooth & complexly sweet. (But I’d be just as happy to douse strawberries or olive oil cake in it.)

Kudos to Major, a peach himself, for keeping this lovely store afloat in the economic crisis–tossed waters of downtown. (On that note, don’t set your empties abobbing therein—take them back to the store to get a refill for $1 off.)

It’s a receipt! It’s a gift! It’s trash! It’s a keepsake! I’m so confused! Reserve List’s sneaky cheat sheet

In the words of the much-missed Mitch Hedberg:

“I bought a doughnut, and they gave me a receipt for the doughnut. I don’t need a receipt for the doughnut, man. I’ll just give you the money, and you give me the doughnut. End of transaction. We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this. I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would have to prove that I bought a doughnut. To some skeptical friend: ‘Don’t even act like I didn’t get that doughnut! I got the documentation right here…oh, wait, it’s at home…in the file…under ‘D.’”

I was doing some filing myself the other day when the acronym “BBQ,” as it tends to do, caught my eye.

RLreceipt

So Reserve List receipts double as pairing primers. How above & beyond is that? Is this a trend among wine shops I somehow missed until now?

How spot-on their suggestions are I can’t say first-hand, not having taken them. But given that the southern Spanish Finca de Luzon so far as I recall is indeed big & tall, I’m sure it could stand up to ribs all right. A good cut of beef makes sense for the northeastern Spanish Onix Priorat too, but maybe with lusher seasonings?

Meanwhile, gotta ponder the potential for mischief. Assuming the suggestions are entered into a computerized register, suppose a disgruntled employee were to start hacking away? Or suppose the program itself went haywire? So you’d walk in & buy a dry rosé & your receipt would say: “Gravel & gum wads.” Or you’d pick up a gorgeously bold Amarone & the tip would be “smegma.”

Either way, it’s one of those things that makes a day just a little more fun. Good on ya, Reserve List.

Product testing a go-go-arigato: the seafood counter at Pacific Mercantile

If Pac Merc were a bar I’d be its fly lately, just hanging around looking for suckers I could sweet talk into buying me another round of groceries, waking up ragged the next morning on a sidewalk strewn with empty bags of senbei & boxes of Pocky. Besides the snack attacks I’ve been having (see here & here), I get dizzy around the seafood counter, which is not only way cheaper than most other local supermarkets but also stocked with sea funk the latter should damn well carry but don’t.

Like squid. I don’t bitch much about being landlocked post-Boston, but the overall absence of squid from counters around town gets me down sometimes. What perks me back up is knowing that if I just gotta have it I can always cruise on down to Pac Merc and get some, that, whole & uncleaned, ‘ll kill 2 birds with 1 stone, to use a totally inapt cliché—satisfying not only my cephalopodal cravings but also, 1st things 1st, my taste for gore, squirting out guts as it does with every slash of the knife.

PMsquidguts

Or like the smelt roe below in the middle &, on its right, niboshi, to use the Japanese word (despite the fact that the label reads “arigato,” apropos of nothing immediately apparent) for the dried anchovies I tend to call by the Malay name, ikan bilis,

PMarigato

memories of Boston Chinatown fixture Penang’s asam ikan bilis fried with onions, tamarind, chili & shrimp paste misting mine tummy-sized eyes.

Getting them home, though, mostly what I called them was a bitch to figure out, because I didn’t have any tamarind & so had to make something up. I based the below on a recipe I have for a wonderfully refreshing Mediterranean dish of pan-seared calamari & roasted new potatoes with mint, replacing the squid (which I was saving for a stirfry) with the anchovies & the mint with seaweed, adding browned onions, chili & fish sauce to boot & topping it all with some of the roe.

PMstirfry1

Honestly, it could’ve been worse, but I won’t insult your culintellect with a recipe. Or wait, hell, why not.

Anything

anything

anything

anything

anything

anything

Combine anything with the remaining things. Cook. Serves some people.

Near the seafood counter is a refrigerated case with tiny cartons of quail eggs.

PMquaileggs2

These I just quickly hard-cooked, topped with yet more roe & used as garnish for a variation on my beloved eggplant soup, which I also don’t really recommend unless you’re weird.

PMquailegg

Still, if you think my cooking’s weird, wait’ll you see what one of those pervs preserved in the Husted Collection recommended I do with the rest of the roe. Stay tuned.