Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dinner (sort of) & a Movie 2: Taxidermia & Buckhorn Exchange

The Starz Film Center’s Movies That Missed Us series wraps this Wednesday at 7 with Hungarian filmmaker Gyorgy Palfi’s Taxidermia, a celebration of the comic-grotesque populated by speed-eating champs & starving “wildlife artists,” which I don’t see why I can’t mention in the same breath with Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel or Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.

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Far be it from me, given the theme, to suggest you go anywhere other than Buckhorn Exchange afterward for drinks to take the huge, ragged edge that I assure you’ll be on off, oh-so-gradually relaxing in the relatively mild company of various stuffed parts of buffalo & gazelle, ibex & impala, trout & at least 1 herd of deer.

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Farther it be from me, seeing as how the film features more bodily ejecta per frame than just about any I can (or can stand to) think of besides Slaughtered Vomit Dolls, to suggest ingesta of any sort, especially not these elk tips brutally smothered in some sort of viscous brown salt they call gravy,

BEelk

which are hard enough to stomach when you’re not flashing back to a cinematic climax involving assorted post-Technicolor acts of disembowelment.

Which, come to think of it, makes the Buckhorn Exchange, fast becoming my favorite place to not eat dinner, all the more apropos as recommendations go.

Egeszsegere!

Dinner & a Movie 1: The Isle + Sushi Sasa

Kim ki-Duk’s gorgeously gross The Isle screens tomorrow as part of the Starz Film Center’s Movies That Missed Us series. It’s about some fishermen, & some other things.

Isle
(pic swiped from here)

Go see it, then go here & kick it over some omakase like so. (Except not too like so—omakase at Sasa is a) successive, not simultaneous, and b) way wackier & more wondrous than all this.)

SushiSashimiDXSet

Anyway, mmmm-hmmm. Trust me on this one.

No cheek, no cheese, pure cheer: chicken & waffles at M & D’s

Fond as I am of Second Home—or as I like to call it, My Second Home, & the exhibition kitchen my kitchen, the wall-to-wall wine rack my cellar, & the staff my servants (at least under my breath)—its sibling the Corner Office isn’t centrally located on the floor plan in my heart, too often crossing the threshold between cheeky & cheesy. Get a load of that faux-risque intro to its website & you’ll see what I mean.

It has its yaysayers, though, in part because it serves chicken & waffles. Personally I can’t imagine ordering chicken & waffles in any place where there’s more than a 2% chance the Prada-clad chick next to me will be trying to seduce her Hugo Boss–wearing Seann William Scott–lookalike of a date by sucking on the candy cigarette from her Dean Martini—which also contains vodka, scotch & an olive, yet somehow doesn’t spontaneously combust from the heat of its flaming stupidity—in ways I don’t even want to know are possible in this particular physical universe of ours, much less view with mine own eyes.

Because I only want the best for my chicken & waffles, that Southern revelation I had for the 1st time a decade or so ago at Little Jezebel’s in NYC, where they were served in heartpoundingly heady fashion with both gravy & syrup, & have craved on a regular basis with tears in my faraway eyes ever since. I’ve gobbled up my share of straightforward epitomes & frilly departures, like the last version I had, the Director by my side, at my beloved old neighborhood haunt back in Boston, Neptune Oyster, wherein the waffle was a veritable cube of fluff & the syrup was figgy (perhaps thanks to Artibel fig molasses,

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a Calabrian product whose label boasts what after 8 years or so since I read it for the 1st time remains some of the most gorgeously mangled English I’ve ever come across, recommending as it does that you “find its better utilize in confictionery, in particular like substitutive of the bee honey” or add it “up the greated-ice drink, like sauce up the beffsteak, and irons cooking fruit, for sweet of simple dough, up and other use suggested of the immagination”).

Now I know where my next plate’s coming from, & I couldn’t be more tickled not only that it’s neither the Drone-Filled Cubicle or whatever it’s called nor the likewise much-overrated Big Gross BBQ or whatever it’s called but M & D’s Cafe, with which the Director & I fell in love last night, so much we’d have cheated on each other with M & D, whichever one’s which, given half a chance, especially when Elsie, our waitress, informed us that M & D’ll be frying up chicken & waffles every Sunday beginning with this one.

Having gained 292 1/2 lbs., I checked, overnight thanks to the pile of killer rib tips & battered, peppered fries I plowed through like some sort of meth-addled farmer’s daughter,

Tips&fries

I’ll be there with cowbells on.

delite: delovely, delayed til Wed.

The door was unlocked & there was a guy moving busily behind the bar, so I took it Deluxe’s adjoining lounge was officially open. Deluxe being 1 of my very favorite places in Denver—& lounges being all of my favorite places anywhere—I sauntered in psyched to get a full load of the snazzy surroundings (high ceilings, brick walls, black-&-white pop art) before the bartender could bring me down with the news (which the Westword had already reported, but I didn’t want to believe) that delite won’t open until Wednesday, May 14.

About 100 hours to go before I can get me some steamed pork-bun sliders—char siu bao-meet-mini-burgers, I guess—& some more of those aforepraised potato skins with house-smoked salmon & tarragon cream, then wash ’em down with a fine-sounding Levini: rosemary-&-black-pepper-infused Ketel One garnished with blue cheese–stuffed olives.

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Weary & drooling, I feel like these guys

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as imagined by poet James Tate in “Lewis & Clark Overheard in Conversation”:

then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs

Pajama Baking Company: not YoMama’s baking company. Heh.

First of all, your mama baked cookies from a Nestle mix & scooped DayGlo sherbet from a supermarket carton. She wasn’t assembling big fat babies like these from scratch,
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using fresh-made ice cream like this.
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& she wasn’t not doing that because she was too busy baking golden-brown, buttery brioche
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or apple galettes
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or pecan tarts
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or crusty loaves of country rye or sheets of focaccia, either.
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No. She wasn’t doing it because she didn’t really love you. Not the way the Pajama Baking Company loves you.
So comb your hair, put on a clean shirt for crying out loud, come on in & show some respect.
***Thanks to neighborly blogger Seth Rubin for the heads up.

Pink Pearl (Street)

Funny how red & pink are complements on the color wheel but opposites in the American idiom, where being in the red is bad but being in the pink is good. By funny I guess I mean mildly interesting to language geeks like me. It’s more interesting, though, in light of the goings-on around Platt Park, whose economic health suggests that the ills of the national budget—our government being some bajillion-infinity dollars in the red according to I.O.U.S.A., this totally boggling doc I just saw—aren’t contagious; with 3 new eateries soon to open, Old South Pearl Street appears to be in quite the pink from a consumer’s (in every sense of the word (says the hungry geek)) perspective.

Actually, I’m not sure Seven Cups, located next door to darned friendly wine shop Reserve List, will be serving food; judging by the avidly earnest website, the Tucson-based franchise may be devoted solely to tea.

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logo on the Coming Soon banner

That’s okay; though I’m pretty sure I won’t be hesitating between storefronts myself going “tea? or wine? tea? wine?” I do appreciate the obsessive connoisseurship—as illustrated in another recent doc worth catching, Les Blank’s evocative & stirring (heh! with lemon & honey) All in This Tea—surrounding tea culture in all its ancient artistry, & I’ll look forward to learning more about the leaf.

A couple of blocks away, Pajama Baking Company—market, bakery, creamery & sibling of nearby Gaia—looks this close to opening its doors (which I don’t believe are actually the picture of health; probably my camera just got all excited & flushed):

Pbc

Still another block north, this sign is making promises it had better keep, since the Indian pickings are pretty slim in these parts. Hmm, I bet this little joint, right here in Denver, really will be the pride & joy of a whole subcontinent!

Along, of course, with that two-faced baby.

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Grading the Taste Test at The Lab at Belmar: big fat red A-

Pal Joey Porcelli turned me on to this lecture series, subtitled Random Encounters in the History & Science of Food, at the “part art museum, part public forum” that is the small but extremely cool & refreshingly eager-to-engage Lab at Belmar. Each two-part lecture provides an in-depth intro to a specific ingredient—honey, for instance, or salt—& includes a tasting thereof.

I sat in on “Mushrooms: A Farmer, an Anthropologist & a Mushroom Dinner.” Hey…you know what they could’ve done is seat us on mushrooms, fairy-style, & have butlers in powdered wigs & stockings serve us cakes & hot-cross buns like so—

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man, I should be running this thing!

If I were, I’d make sure there was more to eat. Come to think of it, judging by the portion sizes, maybe they thought fairies actually would be in heavy attendance. Me being the heavy attender, I’d rather have paid extra for a full meal than a pittance ($20) for a trifle. Hence the minus on the A. But otherwise, this really was a fascinating foray into fungi; come fall when the series starts up again, I’ll be sitting front & center.

As gorgeous images like this filled the screen beside the lectern

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above the real thing arrayed in radiant display on a buffet table,

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UC Santa Cruz professor of anthropology Melissa Caldwell took us on a vicarious tour of the forests of Russia, where we foraged for the “peasant meat” that feeds as well what Caldwell calls Russia’s “bionational ideology,” grounded in the belief that Russian soil is supremely pure (Chernobyl notwithstanding; actually, considering the “radiation-eating fungus” scientists have found growing on the walls of the damaged reactor there, maybe Chernobyl’s miraculous proof).

Then we got some soup, which I promptly knocked over & was promptly brought more, which I promptly gobbled up before getting this sweet shot of my empty cup atop my stain:

Labsoup

Deeply earthy (that’s sublithospheric to you geophysicists!), spiked with sour cream & garnished with 2 long, tall croutons of black bread, it was the kind of soup that stirs vaguely atavistic sensations in the sipper, ancestral memories of biting into boiled potatoes with dirty hands in the twilight after working in the fields since frosty dawn. In a nice way.

Following a brief greeting by guest chef Matt Selby—of Vesta Dipping Grill & good old Steuben’s—the second speaker, James Hammond of Fort Collins–based Hazel Dell Mushrooms, launched his schtick by assuring us that “Colorado is a terrible place to grow mushrooms” (too intemperate, too dry, too windy). He was pretty much a font of frisky fungal 1-liners after that—likening, for instance, the lion’s mane mushroom

Lionsmane

to “a tasty tennis ball or polar bear testicle”; recounting how people used to drink their urine for a secondary high after eating the potentially deadly hallucinogen known as amanita muscaria;

Amanita_muscaria
Bonus factoid!: “Amanita muscaria” is also the title of a pretty old Shelleyan Orphan tune.

& generally peppering his chronicle of experiences cultivating shiitakes, pink oysters (which “have a watermelon smell”), much-prized matsutakes, clamshells (which taste of “enoki on steroids”) & more with yuks like “there are old mushrooms hunters & there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters.”

Amid (deserved) applause for Caldwell & Hammond, servers made the rounds with this:

Labsalad

Atop those dandelion greens—pretty punchy in themselves—were slices of hand-cured lamb loin (think lamb prosciutto) & lightly pickled cuke as well as roasted black & king mushrooms; the dressing amounted to a smart, tangy take on Ameritacky ketchup-based Russian dressing, for which Selby relied on crushed tomatoes, smoked paprika & vodka.

Beside it, a pavé—basically a cube of savory bread pudding—zinged (zung?) with both truffles & morels, plus a dollop of osetra-sprinkled crème fraîche. (The crispy beet chips listed on the menu were nowhere in sight; too bad, as I bet the touch of sweetness would’ve been crowning.)

In short I left slightly hungry but highly stimulated. There are worse ways to go.

Antique Row on the down low: Bistro One, Urban Pantry

Woohoo! Not one but two Coming Soon signs on storefronts along my little stretch of South Broadway. Bistro One promises to be a “contemporary bistro, inspired by traditional Parisian brasseries, that celebrates American cuisine”—which, granted, is sort of like a director promising to make an English period drama, inspired by neo-noir, that celebrates the Hollywood rom-com. But the menu doesn’t sound so muddled; in fact, escargots in potato cups with tarragon aioli & parmesan-crusted pork chops with white bean, bacon & tomato salad sound pretty well-thought-out to me.

Then again, I have a thing against menu misspellings. A big thing. Think of the biggest thing you can think of. It’s bigger. To me they signal ignorance, inauthenticity, carelessness or any combination of the 3. So here’s hoping the folks behind Bistro One who are supposedly so well-versed in French cuisine will do a multilingual spell-check before they open to keep me from gnashing my teeth on “ganash” (it’s ganache), from asking them in which region of France “Beef Bourgeon” originated (because, uh, you see, the adjectival form for Burgundy is Bourguignon; or perhaps it’s supposed to be “Beef Bourgeois,” seeing as how it comes with a “House Maid,” apparently named Pappardelle?), or, OMG, from begging them to please leave the “pared accouchements” off my cheese plate—if I wanted to eat peeled childbirth I’d go to the Cheesecake Factory.

On a happier snacking note, I spoke with the proprietor of Divino’s next-door neighbor, Urban Pantry, who plans to stock the shelves with “Indian crunchies, Greek/Mediterranean dips, cheeses and pâtés, Italian dried sausages, nuts, olives from all over, Japanese wasabi peas and other dried Asian snacks, Indian chutneys, smoked fish, sauces, spice rubs, great mustards—I have a soft spot for mustard—crackers, chips, salsas, oils, vinegars and so on.”

My whole body is a soft spot for mustard, so I’m psyched.