Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

La cocina El Tejado no es through the roof (+ bonus postscript: unhealthy diet tips!)

According to the Rocky Mountain News about 3 years ago,

“an early morning fire gutted El Tejado, a Mexican restaurant at 1410 S. Wadsworth Blvd. When West Metro firefighters arrived, they found smoke and flames pouring through the roof.”

Assuming that that was the precursor to the El Tejado on S. Broadway, one wonders whether they thought their old name—tejado is the Spanish word for roof—was especially fitting postblaze, implying their hot hot hot cooking would just keep blowing the lid off their new digs night after night or something. They don’t need no agua or something.

But the potential for spontaneous combustion due to awesomeness was not obvious the night I dined there recently, despite the heartening fact that the menu’s not totally Americompromised—there are tacos de lengua, there’s machaca (shredded beef) with eggs for breakfast, & quail’s a weekly special. Nor is it that the meal was especially bad—just routine, just indicative of a certain amount of indifference on the kitchen’s part.

Though the ceviche de pescado we started with was 1 of the highlights, it didn’t resemble any ceviche I’d ever seen:

ETceviche

Instead of the goodly chunks of fish &/or shellfish, tomatoes, onions, peppers sweet & hot, cilantro & such I expected, we got a big soup bowl full of what the director likened to pico de gallo mixed with fish flakes. It also contained shredded carrot, traditional in no recipe I know of. (Edit: Make that knew of; see this Chowhound thread for its probable sources.) Nevertheless, I liked it for its combined tang of lime juice, cilantro & onion—pronounced but not insistent to the point of shouting down the mild yet plentiful fish. Plus the accompanying tortillas were nice & thick. I doubt they were homemade, but at least they weren’t badly made.

I can’t say the same for the green chile flooding the Director’s plate of carne adovada. Jeez, it should come with a storm warning.

ETcarneadovada

Basically it was overly thick & underly itself. Long ago I posited the theory that green chile is clam chowder’s cross-country cousin w/r/t what determines the purity or adulteration of any given bowl—namely that it actually contain the ingredient it’s named for rather than a shitload of cornstarch; El Tejado’s cheap trick is Exhibit A. The pork was all right, but why go to the trouble of carefully marinating something if you’re just going to override said marinade with glop?

Essentially Mexican surf & turf, my entree had more going for it—but more going against it too.

ETsurfandturf

Contrary to the menu description, I found no tomato in that heap of cubed sirloin, shrimp, bell peppers, jalapenos & onions—which made me just as glad, given that it might have risen to the top thereof (you know how self-seeking love apples can be flavorwise). I did, however, strike oil in there—greasy as it all was, I suspect it was cooked on the same flat-top used for breakfast. That, too, made me just as glad—soft, slippery & glistening, the onions & peppers covered for the tough bits of steak.

The Spanish rice was fine, though I honestly couldn’t tell you whether it came from a box of old family recipes or just a box. Which says a lot for the brand if the latter’s the case, not so much for l’abuela if the former is. Meanwhile, there’s far less question in my mind as to whether the so-called guacamole was really just a scoop of processed green sour cream  from an institutional vat. Ditto the largely tasteless sludge passing for refried beans.

Before I cross this place off the list entirely, I’ll give its much-hyped mariachi brunch a shot. But the first line of the X has been drawn.

El Tejado on Urbanspoon
***

Lo, the day of reckoning is here. Back in July I vowed to slash some flab & so I have. I also promised an after pic—which I admit doesn’t look that different from the before shot in the link: the waist is smaller, but the pooch is rounder. So maybe the 8 lbs. I dropped were from my bellybutton, I don’t know. Nevertheless:

10:31bellyjpg

How did a gluttonous lush like me pull it off? Primarily by guzzling diet soda & reserving most of my RDA of carbohydrates for booze. Denveater 1; nutritionists 0.

Dinner & a Movie 4: Out of the Past & Patzcuaro’s

Among the myriad badasses of American noir, Robert Mitchum is 1 of the baddest by far—as anyone who’s ever seen the mind-bending creepshow that is The Night of the Hunter (to which countless directors have paid homage ever since it came out in 1955, including Spike Lee, via the “HATE” & “LOVE” tattoos across Radio Raheem’s knuckles in Do the Right Thing) can attest amid shivers of the most delicious kind.

As lover-on-the-lam Jeff Bailey in the Jacques Tourneur classic Out of the Past—playing Tuesday night at 7 for FREE at the Starz Film Center as part of the One Book, Many Films series the Director created in conjunction with the mayor’s One Book, One Denver program—

Out-of-the-past22

Mitchum’s no less compelling than he is in the Charles Laughton one-off but a whole lot sexier (unless you happen to have a thing for murderous pedophiles). The scene in which he first tracks down Jane Greer (as Kathie Moffat—of whom he sneers in response to the claim that no one can be all bad, “she comes the closest”) at a cantina in Acapulco captures the glamour of slumming it in a dusty, crumbling port of call like precious few others.

With its bright lights & wooden booths, Patzcuaro’s evokes a sub shop in Teaneck more than any moody south-of-the-border hideaway. & I can’t say I was wowed by the oft-cited carnitas Michoacan; though seasoned to a turn, they were as dry as though they’d been left out on the very street Kathie walks in from, all louche silhouette in the stucco-lined doorway.

Patzcarnitas

But the refritos were so luscious I’d have knocked ’em back as a tequila chaser; the salsa (not pictured) packed heat like Whit Sterling (the gangster played with relish by Kirk Douglas) himself; the cocktel de camaron was a veritable punchbowl of firm-fleshed shrimp, avocado chunks & not so much cocktail sauce as cocktail soup;

Patzshrimp

& the service was as warm as Jeff is eternally cool.

Mi Casa no es mi casa (Breckenridge)

As you may have gathered from this post, I toodled (like Chaplin, all the way) up to Breckenridge with a pal the other day. Having heard Mi Casa was a local fave, we checked it out.

Girl can’t help it, she’s a total sucker for the whole ¡fiesta-en-la-hacienda! vibe, which this place has got down to una ciencia, door to nook:

MiCasadoor –> MiCasanook

That said, I’m not such a shoulder-padded, headband-wearing, Frosty-the-Snowman-lapel-pin-at-Christmas-pinning, ‘rita-swilling Cathy or Kathie

2519469449_38441fe2b3

(image swiped from this guy’s Flickr set)

that I’d equate the charmingly corny decor (decorn?) with winning comida. On the contrary, don’t we loyal self-styled chowhounds err on the side of equating austerity with authenticity (putting aside the vexed definition of the word)? Then again, don’t we promptly, as even more fiercely determined chowhounds, remind ourselves upon erring to shelve our preconceived notions for the nonce? In short I went & sat & chewed physically & chewed mentally.

Verdict: Eh. Así así.

First of all, speaking of ‘ritas, the house marg didn’t have a thing going for it, being light on the tequila & heavy on a sweet-&-sour mix that wasn’t even close to housemade. It wasn’t even in the same town. The trio of salsas, which was, wasn’t bad—especially, surprisingly enough, the mildest one, which contained a touch of oil that gave it some body to separate it from pico de gallo—though the chips they accompanied were straight from the bag.

You have to pay for the good chips, chimayo-dusted flour-tortilla wedges with a nifty little puff to them,

MiCasachips

which come with the El Favorito de Todos alongside avocado dip—way too creamy for genuine guac, it must’ve been cut with sour cream or something—

MiCasaguac

& the far better but no less crappy (if you get me) pulled duck quesadilla smeared with some sort of creamy-sweet junk that was supposedly the house mango-chile sauce. Hey, I like a sheer mess of gooey-crispy carbs & fat as much as the next guy. Maybe not the guy after that (he’s huge!), but at least the 1 guy.

MiCasaduck

Queso fundido rounded out the combo:

MiCasaqueso

Beneath that sludge of Monterey Jack was actually some pretty decent, slightly spicy, loose-packed crumbled chorizo, all its grease pooled for sopping up with still-warm albeit prepackaged flour tortillas.

Pan-seared trout was fair enough—properly cooked if undercrusted with crushed almonds, pecans & pepitas so that it was tough to distinguish 1 nut crumb from another.

MiCasatrout2

Conversely, the chiles rellenos were overeverything: overbreaded, oversauced, oversmothered & overstuffed with undistinguished queso, which the Anaheims—offering no flavor of their own—basically just sheathed like thankless green condoms.

MiCasachile

The beans compensated slightly, rich & cooked to a soft bite. But black beans don’t apparently replace white bread around here.

The best thing about Aji

is that I was there with Jane & Shena, which meant I could pretend I was having lunch in the jungle. I swung a vine from Denver to the restaurant in Boulder in a loincloth & sneakers, yodeling “Ajiajiajiajiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!”
On an Aji-calibrated scale from solid to middling rather than awesome to cruddy, the second-best thing was something I didn’t order: the chocolate flan, which we agreed seemed less like a custard than a mousse, both denser & more airy—it wasn’t at that in-between stage most custards occupy between the liquid & the solid state, the awkward young adult or maybe the Crispin Glover of desserts, sort of bouncing around from hard-to-identify flavor & texture to hard-to-identify flavor & texture. This, instead, was a swatch of dark-chocolate suede you could confidently purchase a whole bolt of to drape your tummy in & make it look so elegant.
Ajiflan_2
The third- and fourth-best things I didn’t order either—in fact I didn’t even taste them, but I could tell just by looking: Jane’s ground-beef-stuffed & pomegranate-seed-sprinkled poblano with walnut sauce
Ajipoblano
& Shena’s torta piled with braised rib meat, cabbage, & fried potato strings, accompanied by sweet-potato fries:
Ajitorta_2
Wait, somewhere better than the second-best thing was the thing about how Shena went to a poetry reading by a guy with Tourette’s. Suppose he were a master of, say, alliteration? How would you know?
I have to go think about that. To be continued…
***
The fifth-best thing, also known as the second-worst thing, was my posole: it seemed to me a bit thin, a bit soupy, for something that in my experience should be a chunky stew, hominy-heavy & liquid-light—never mind something that supposedly contained not only pork loin but also chorizo & smoked bacon, of which the latter alone really made its presence known:
Ajiposole
The last-best thing was the calamari, which just couldn’t get it together. What did it want to be, fried or sauteed? A bar snack or a salad?
Ajisquid
As with the seaweed salad I suffered at Aji’s sibling Leaf, the general effect was one of not only militant invasion by but mission creep on the part of the overpowering forces of mizuna. Even the pancetta took it lying down:
Ajisquid2
If that pancetta wasn’t raw & uncut, & I don’t at all mean like fine porn but exactly like sad cold pork product, instead of sliced up & pan-fried with the squid, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. & seeing how I was hanging out with the queens of the wild kingdom, how do you know I’m not?

Tamayo Clinic

I totally thought this place was gonna make me sick at first, showing as it does all the signs of hipness as defined by your average aging ad man in tasseled loafers with a constant shaving rash & a fetish for bare feet squishing raw hamburger. Which doesn’t mean he’d be wrong, by the way. One of the bartenders looked like he’d traveled through time to get to Tamayo from his synth gig with Animotion

Animotioncallingitlove153901

and the other looked like she’d just popped in from the set of Rock of Love—all to her credit, actually, as I must say I’m a fan! That Bret Michaels is just a hoot with his 3-word vocabulary,* his multiple blepharoplasties & delusions of, oh, well, grandeur’s probably not the right word for it.

Rock_of_love_group_lg

The bar was lined with guys just in from Olympia ordering margaritas “not too sweet—like me” and then repeating “not too sweet” in case Brandiii or Cloverleaf or whatever her name was didn’t get it & the wall behind it lined with a vivid inlaid mural which is mostly a little faux-primitive (but has nice touches like this).

Tamayocactus_2

But what emerged from the kitchen didn’t make me sick, and some of it made me all better. Let’s look back at the Harley Davidson Shifting Gears Moment, as they called the KO that led to Brian Stann’s upset in the WEC light-heavyweight title fight we were watching just now, making my brain do a 360 inside my cranium.

It wasn’t the guacamole & chips,

Tamayoguac

both of which were good & fresh but hardly superior to any of the other versions I’ve had lately, nor the ensalada mixta, though as a retort to the cliché that is the bistro salad with panko-crusted goat cheese, sundried cranberries, candied pecans & raspberry vinaigrette—Google it, I swear you’ll find a jillion—it was pretty snappy, graced as it was with a disk of masa-wrapped, beer-spiked Chimay cheese, plump cherries braised with ancho chiles & a vinaigrette that gained in aromatic complexity from serrano chiles and hoja santa, a sassafras-like Mexican herb that may or may not cause cancer, like everything else I ingest, touch, look at, smell, hear & am. Granted, it still contained candied pecans.

No, what cured me of the cancer I may or may not already have a recurrence of was this

Tamayolamb

for its medieval sexiness, whole chunks of flesh just slipping off, and for the richness of brussel sprouts cooked with prosciutto. & this mélange of grilled zucchini, eggplant, carrots, mushrooms & supposedly tomatoes, although I don’t remember them, set over a mound of ultra-fluffy mashed potatoes daubed with cream & green onion, in a citrus-adobo broth that may actually have both produced & contained copious drops of my own sweat &, best of all, under a melting dollop of butter just kissed, not even, air-kissed with truffle & habañero.

Tamayoveggies

These dishes were on the winter menu; Blondie May told us the spring menu was about to debut. Next time I’ve got a tumor I guess we’ll have to check in & check it out.

*Nonetheless sufficient for BrainyQuote.com to list him as an eminently quotable authority figure.

Tamayo on Urbanspoon

Pimp My Meal!, Part 3: ¡Holy mole! ¡Hola, Lola!

Two wrongs don’t make a right, Two Mikes Don’t Make a Wright (although they do make for one fantastic fluke of a film, especially Mike Leigh’s diabolical segment), & mixed feelings about two venues in the WTF-were-they-thinkingly-named Big Red F Restaurant GroupJax & Centro (as expressed here)—don’t make for high expectations for a third.

But it turns out that at Lola, which Slim picked for me to try in Part 2 of Pimp My Meal!, the pickings are anything but slim. They’re as gordo as they are guapo; though kudos are therefore undoubtedly due primarily to chef-partner Jamey Fader, as near as I could tell from our prime seats near the open kitchen—whence everything that emerged looked so vibrant, so multihued & multifaceted, as to nearly make the famished Director & me crema our ropa interior—it was sous chef Austin Hall who was running the show yesterday at brunch.

So my sincerest gracias go to him, first for this:

Salsa_trio_2

While I prefer thicker, slightly oilier, salt-dustier chips like the ones I used to get at La Verdad back in Boston,

Laverdadchips
(image swiped from the hopefully laid-back author of Minty Choco Chip)

& while the house salsa was routine, the salsa verde, made with tomatillo & what I suspected & confirmed was of all things green apple, was a sweet-&-sour startler; the one made with charred Fresno chiles & what I suspected but did not confirm were smoked tomatoes was so suave you almost forgot it was spicy, like Javier Bardem playing Dracula.

Thanks are due second for this:

Greenhameggs

Just for kicks, I happen to have read & re-read this well into my retarded 20s:

Images_2

But now, in my insatiable 30s, I’m planning on eating & re-eating Lola’s inspiration therefrom. The open-face omelet that formed the basis for my Green Ham & Eggs had a moist, dense quality that was vaguely reminiscent of a Taiwanese oyster pancake, but instead of shellfish, it was loaded with chunks of chorizo verde—not as spicy as I’d have expected from the noun, but as herb-touched as I expected from the adjective—& topped with a silken layer of queso añejo (aged, queso fresco tastes less like feta & more like, I’d swear, gruyère). Swayed by a slightly puzzling but no less tempting array of all-aquatic add-ons—blue crab, fried oysters, grilled shrimp, lobster, smoked salmon—I asked for the latter & got not sliced lox but shreds of a lightly smoked (presumably in-house?) filet. Though I’d rather have had the crab hollandaise that was supposed to come with the dish but didn’t, perhaps due to an incorrect assumption that I couldn’t be so flummoxed by my own taste for the excessive that I’d want to mix sausage & cheese & crab & salmon all together, it (the salmon) was lovely, mellow as opposed to briny.

Best of all, though, was that hash—the onions caramelized to a crisp; the tangy spangling that was, I believe, browned & crumbled cotija; the whole thing nicely spiced; the cubes of potato themselves fried to melt-in-your-mouth (an adjective I swear to use only when it truly, totally applies, & who’d have thought it might ever apply to the funky spud? but there you have it) perfection.

Thanks third for the Director’s Lola Huevos, an awfully humble name for a dish of lobster enchiladas smothered in some sort of chipotle cream, along with refried beans & the scrambled eggs that get all the credit.

Lolahuevos_2

As huevos go, these are the equivalent of that tattoo of the big-breasted chick whose owner endowed it with actual implants—above & beyond sexed-up.*

*I realize it’s entirely possible that this metaphor is above & beyond sexed-up, especially considering I just heard the guy’s body rejected them. Perhaps this post will do likewise. Still, good stuff. Good coffee too, robust & thick. Oh, & tiny boxes of Chiclets come with the check—a cute-as-hell gesture, the equivalent of a guy making his tattoo of a chick wiggle her hips. I’ll stop now.

Lola on Urbanspoon

Centreh—oh, I mean o

Much ink has been spilled about the mouthful that is the name Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace and its evocation, to those of us once mesmerized in typical freshman fashion by “Kubla Khan,” of the pleasure-dome in which an opium-addled Coleridge fathomed himself feeding on honeydew and drinking the milk of paradise.
Well, I don’t know if it’s all that much ink, really. I only know that I started drafting this post by dropping lots of subject-verb inversions, “lo!” thises and “lo!” thats and then discovered that Sheehan’s Westword review likewise contained an allusion to Coleridge. Or maybe it was a allusion to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Either way, damn you, Sheehan! You’re too smart for my own good.
Of course, the name also evokes that old Smucker’s slogan: with a name like that, Centro’d better refresh. On paper, it definitely does. Grilled tuna with white anchovy chimichurri & braised purple potatoes? Gimme. Black bean soup with chile-charred shrimp & fried bananas? Baby. Fried oyster, chorizo, shrimp, sweet potato & green chile burritos? Come to friggin’ freakin’ mama! (Chef Ian Clark, your name wasn’t David Nevins in a past life, was it? Back in Boston, the former Neptune Oyster chef kicked my mouth’s ass with the wild likes of grilled rainbow trout topped with creamed & fried oysters & a port-pecan reduction; a salad of shredded salt cod & crispy lamb atop parsnip puree; smoked-salmon mousse dotted with roe, kiwano melon cubes & horseradish croutons; & more, more, more…)
So far, though, I wonder if (speaking of) Centro’s menu isn’t just a tad too smart for the kitchen’s own good. On the expectation-fulfillment scale, the lunch I had there recently was próximo pero no cigarro.
Granted, the one item I suspect might disappoint others pleased me deep down inside. “Avocado salsa” is not called guacamole for a reason; it contains big chunks of a/k/a alligator pear, a little onion, tomato & cilantro, very little if any jalapeno, & nada mas. Was the waiter supposed to mash it tableside (says the menu: “mashed to order”)? He didn’t; I didn’t mind. A good, perfectly ripe avocado’s a precious thing; to me, getting a full-frontal load of its creamy, fruity-fresh purity’s a treat in itself.
But a similar approach to a very different sort of mélange was harder to justify. A family-style side of “chorizo & spicy shrimp hash” could have been called “fried potatoes” for a reason; it contained hunks of spuds & casi nada mas—the advertised pieces of sausage & shellfish, as well as of onion & pepper, were few & far between. Topped with fried eggs, it was certainly hearty & nicely spiced (though hardly spicy); but its flavors failed to meld as they would have in a more proper mixture—diced rather than chunked ingredients in better proportion, including those wonderful fried peppers whose purpose was somewhat defeated by their relegation to the role of garnish. If this was an attempt at hash’s deconstruction, it succeeded rather in its destruction—de-hashed hash is just stuff on a plate.
Hash
In all fairness, I do think the chef’s intention was reimagination, obviously far more laudable than would be mere stinginess with the top-billed but less cost-efficient ingredients. My dining companion’s curried butternut squash-and-lobster soup was evidence to that effect, flaunting as it did a fair amount of the good bug.
I’m less sure of his intentions regarding the enfrioladas.
Centrosalmon
They could as easily have called it “wedding cake” for a reason: sounded good, looked gorgeous, tasted…fine. The salmon itself was a lovely, perfectly cooked piece of fish, but unless as a chile-chomper I’ve suddenly tipped the Scoville Scale—which is hardly likely (remember, I’ve been in Boston for the past decade! A lightweight forsooth!)—it hadn’t come anywhere near the habanero that purportedly graced its blackened crust. The refried black beans that coated the corn tortillas beneath as smoothly as ganache lacked salt to an almost shocking degree. So did the tortillas. Rather than a snippet of the salmon’s soulful theme song, each bite was like white noise. Ditto the plantain chips; while soft fried plantains would have meshed with the rest (including the fried egg atop the salmon, a nice squishy touch) beautifully, in their hard whole form they contributed little. (For that matter, a sprinkling of crushed chips might have tied the whole thing together—sweet-salty confetti on the fish & frijole parade).
And yet, and yet…the menu holds such appeal & promise—and has so many champions, from Sheehan to the Boulder Weekly’s gentleman & scholar Clay Fong to the dear old friend I met for lunch there, with whom I had a totally delightful and only slightly tipsy time, enhanced by earnest service—that I still trust I’ll be back.