Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Taki Sushi, Mecca Grill, & a Sofa Spud

Countless times I’ve admitted to the mistake of delivery sushi—antithetical to the organic, immediate, intimate sushi bar experience, hence unfair to both the purveyor & the consumer thereof. Countless times I’ve ordered it anyway, because I’m lazy like that. But after a recent order from Taki Sushi, the Director finally, officially revoked my sushi-delivery privileges—his nigiri & the California roll we got for free (standard with a purchase over $25, mind you, not something we’d ever actively choose) being, he griped, flaccid & tasteless.

I got luckier; my nigiri—spicy scallop, black tobiko (flying fish roe) & wasabi-infused tobiko—were just fine, tightly rolled, eggs a-popping, shellfish firm yet luscious. (I also appreciated the fact that they could be ordered by the piece rather than by the more common pair.)

But what I really dug, she admits sheepishly, was the Pearl Roll (at bottom).

My excuse for snarfing such an abomination of Japanese tradition: look, it’s summer, & I pine for the days I spent traipsing up & down the Massachusetts shoreline to get my fill of breaded, deep-fried bivalves at seasonal landmarks like The Clam Box. And here they were, crispy breaded oysters whose flavor wasn’t totally lost amid the rice & seaweed topped with salmon & avocado in a more-sweet-than-spicy chili mayo. Pretty good for being so bad.

Granted, 1 glance at the loose rice in the Cali roll above it justifies the Director’s complaints—& I wasn’t too keen on the miso eggplant either. Recipes can vary, & a sauce as thick & sweet as this isn’t necessarily wrong. But it seemed to have just been slopped on top, not broiled with the eggplant to integrate the flavors. So it evoked a sort of eggplant-pudding parfait. Rather disconcerting.

Still, there was enough I liked about Taki at a disadvantage to want to try it in the presumably more flattering light of an actual visit.
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Since the ban on takeout/delivery applies only to Japanese food, I’ve been taking advantage of the Director’s falafel fetish to get my fill of Mecca Grill. It’s actually a cute place, humble but colorful & cozy, in its little strip mall on Downing—but see “lazy like that.” I’m also boozy like that; Mecca’s dry, & my house isn’t.

We’ve ordered 3 King Combos in the past week or so, all of them slightly different—I suspect the kitchen adds whichever meats are at its immediate disposal. We’ve seen chunks of beef, lamb & chicken kebab, chicken shawarma, kofta, &, once, though it’s not even listed as an option, thin coins of the superb, literally melt-in-your-mouth spiced lamb-&-beef sausage otherwise used for sandwiches. To a piece, they’ve been moist & tender—even the chicken!—as well as nicely charred & seasoned.

The vegetarian items haven’t changed: there’s the baba ghanouj I just named Dish of the Week; stuffed grape leaves whose luscious near-gooeyness contrasts with their hyper-lemony tang; tabbouleh with a surprising paprika kick, whether due to its mixture with other items or its own recipe; crunchy, nutty falafel from which the scent of herbs actually wafts; & just-right rice. The uncharacteristically bland hummus isn’t quite up to the rest, & I seriously doubt the claim on the menu that the pita is housemade. But overall the combo rocks.

The same could be said of Mecca Grill in general. The only thing I won’t be ordering again is the fatoush. Though abounding in vividly crisp, ripe veggies, it was also swimming in the oil of a dressing that, given the expert condimenting of everything else, was a disappointment. If it did indeed contain olive rather than vegetable oil, it wasn’t extra or even plain or even born-again virgin, & the advertised flavor of mint went undetected. After a few bites I just picked out all the pita chips before they got soggy & left it at that.

Meanwhile, though they required a bit of knife action (roughage is a bitch), the cabbage rolls—a family recipe, we were told—were wonderfully stuffed with rice & ground lamb cooked in a bit of tomato sauce, redolent of cumin & a touch of cinnamon. So soft & soothingly homey.

You’ll often see the dish below listed as foul moudammas (or some variant spelling thereof); you might also, as here, see the name translated simply as fava beans. Which they are—mature, dried favas that are nothing like the flattish, fresh, green ones you see in their pods at the market in season but rather evoke smoky, meaty pintos.

In any case, the garnish of juicy diced tomatoes & sliced pickle adds a layer of zing to the beans, popping just so in your mouth.

At this point, I’m half-tempted to stop whining about wine & stop in for a feast, washed down with a banana milk “cocktail.”"

Taki Sushi on Urbanspoon

Mecca Grill on Urbanspoon

The Coupon Clippings: Oh, Little India, just wait til you grow big & strong!

Actually, it’s the size of Denver, not the subcontinent, that warrants consideration here—at least in light of the fact that, by default, this enduring metro mini-chain constitutes the biggest fish in our quiet little Indian-restaurant pond. From the standpoint of quality, however, it hardly rises like a beautiful breaching dolphin from the vast & murky stateside sea of batch-cooked curries.

In other words (to keep those metaphors flowing), the banks of this little mile-high fishing hole need broadening. And maybe they’ll get it; now that the far more sophisticated India’s Pearl is circling, smelling blood, maybe joints like Little India will gradually sink (or get swallowed) or swim. But judging by the meal we recently had delivered from the S. Downing branch (using a coupon for 10% off), at present it’s just treading.

Mind you, in so doing it produces a solid example of Indian cuisine as most Americans understand & want it—Punjabi comfort food on a spectrum ranging from moderately authentic to mostly pseudo. Take our pals’ chicken tikka masala, whose origins, while uncertain, are most likely British.

LIchickenmasala

Basically what we’re talking here is chicken in tomato cream sauce. Minus the standard Indian spicing, it could be Italian pollo con sugo di pomodoro alla crema, or French poulet sauce aurore, or 100 other dishes from around the world. For that matter, it could be lamb masala (for which said apparently masalamaniac pals also opted).

LIlambmasala

Because under a foot of sauce, even when we’re talking lamb, we might as well be talking chicken, for all the impact the meat has on flavor.

Ditto the Director’s lamb vindaloo, which, sadly, doesn’t really come tilted at a 45-degree angle.

LIlambvindaloo

But it does come oversauced—or, rather, undermeated. It isn’t a question of ethnic authenticity so much as kitchen generosity; next to this,

P13

for instance, it looks less like lamb vindaloo than just, you know, vindaloo. Tastewise, meanwhile, it was more like vindal, hold the ooh. I mean, it was hot, but not so hot I couldn’t eat it, which is pretty much the defining characteristic of a proper vindaloo as I understand it: something I don’t have the guts in any sense to go through with.

As for my lamb saag,

LIlambsaag

its mildly cumin-smoky creaminess was lovely enough, but again, I simply prefer more lamb & spinach in my lamb & spinach, as opposed to more yogurt (cf.

Saag ).

Finally, the mixed grill turned out to be a mixed bag: the chicken too tough, the fish too dry, the shrimp—while surprising juicy next to the fish—too few, numbering 2. The more abundant seekh kebab, however, was also moist & spiced right.

LImixedgrill

In sum, Little India strikes me as a euphemism for Stunted India. Unless management grows the balls to expand the kitchen’s horizons—&, since they’re doing just fine ball-less, I doubt they will at my lone behest—I’ll stick with India’s Pearl, mature beyond its years (months, rather) in its willingness to offer something (pages of somethings, in fact) different.

Little India on Urbanspoon

The Coupon Clippings: Gee, I hate to be the one to quell The Rebellion, but…

When this new South Broadway pizzeria spread the word that it was leading a fast food revolution, I all but grabbed my musket & set out that instant to join the troops behind their barrier of extra-large pies made with organic ingredients from scratch & piled high. Now that I’ve tried a slice, though, it occurs to me that any eatery that claims it’s “revolting” really is asking for trouble.

Oh, far be it from me to crack down on the people’s uprising; on the contrary, as I’ve said, we out here in the Platt Park area could use a little upending of the status quo. And I’m not saying the pizza actually turned my stomach—just that it ain’t about to break any chains (corporate on the one hand or oppression-forged on the other) or even make Pasquini shake in his glossy black boots.

Take this 3-cheese (mozz, parm, feta) thick-cruster, which I ordered with buffalo, sundried tomato & garlic oil instead of marinara.

Rebellionpizza2

You can tell by looking that what I got instead was fresh tomato; what you can’t tell by looking is that I couldn’t tell by tasting if there was the least drop of garlic oil on there or not. (For a girl who didn’t live down the block from

Reginas_1

the original Pizzeria Regina

in Boston’s North End so long ago that she can’t still see the rivulets of garlic oil running through the crevices of mozz, that’s a bit of a heart-slash-deal breaker.) Meanwhile, even partially melted, the feta was dry; and as for the crust, “big” is not the same as “thick,” nor is “soft” the same as “chewy.” Lacking all finesse, it was pretty much a puff of stale white air.

The thin crust was a little better, but only because it was less noticeable. Then again, even what was noticeable wasn’t really noticeable—not only was the cheese virtually flavorless but the sauce was flat-out bland. Apparently, its blend of herbs & spices is so secret it doesn’t even know it’s there (shhh!).

Rebellionpizza3

OK, look—backing their antiestablishment, up-with-children-&-other-living-things manifesto 100% as I do, & unable to even fathom the sort of yeehaw gumption it must require to open any business, much less a restaurant, right now, I feel like a schmo giving these guys guff. Then again, precisely because they’re talking the galvanizing talk, they’ve got to walk the walk. I’ll give ‘em another try in a couple of months, when perhaps they’ll have gotten the hang of putting the “coup” in “coupon.”