Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Dish of the Week: Moules Marinières at Brasserie Ten Ten

Something for everyone. Coming from your average middlebrow chain, that’s a suspicious boast whose translation generally amounts to a whole lot of nothing for anyone except those who privilege quantity & convenience over quality. Every last item (they’re not really dishes) on that giant menu, from the hoisin-chicken lettuce wraps & Cajun jambalaya pasta to the potato twisters & taco pizza, was green-lighted in a boardroom after market research showed how it would activate the salivary glands in 2.5 of every 4 Americans & then prefabbed offsite—where it bears little resemblance to the legit creation by which an actual chef somewhere had launched an accidental trend.

But there are indie establishments—run by such actual chefs—that inherently appeal to a wide range of diners. They too are mainly mid-priced neighborhood gathering spots, built on solid tradition rather than the shifting sands of culinary pop culture—such that the unadventurous eater is bound to find something familiar even as the rabid chowhound accepts their “authenticity.” Here in the States, they’re likely to be European/American; even now, when large swaths of the population have grown comfortable with Latin & Asian cuisines, there’s still a subset who won’t go near a taqueria or a pho joint—unless, perhaps, it’s Americanized to the point that then the subset who insists on the real deal won’t go near it. But your classic roadhouses & delis, your picture-perfect trattorias & bistros: those almost all of us can agree on, because they speak an honest language we’ve long since incorporated into our own. (In a few decades, the same may therefore be true of those taquerias & pho joints.)

I’ve quibbled elsewhere about the differences between a brasserie & a bistro (here’s a good cheat sheet); despite the name, Brasserie Ten Ten walks a line between the 2. But that’s irrelevant here; what’s important is that it remains true to the spirit of casual French dining, & in so doing, it welcomes your uncle from Cleveland who insists on meat & potatoes (steak frites!) & your connoisseur pal who knows it’s not bouillabaisse unless it includes rouille. Any creative license taken is in keeping with its setting in worldly yet locavore-minded 21st-century Boulder, just as it would be in France. Meanwhile, the warm, bustling space has a timeless aura; the service is crisp & clean; & the bar puts an equal focus on beer (as a brasserie would), wine (as a bistro would), & spirits (there’s your nod to to the cocktail-crazed time & place).

With the memory of a vibrant pesto-chicken & prosciutto salad I had there nearly 2 years ago (it’s no longer on the menu) still lingering,

I’ve been back twice recently—& the impression that Ten Ten has, after a decade, earned its place on Boulder’s short list remains. That’s not to say everything’s perfect—but everything feels right nonetheless. Check out the charming presentation of the brunchtime Bordeaux Scramble—eggs scrambled with local goat cheese, shiitakes, fines herbes & a beet reduction, then topped with a small arugula salad & a scallion biscuit. The latter didn’t seem to have popped straight out of the oven, being a little too cool & crumbly, & the casserole itself needed a touch more salt, but it was the right idea.

Or consider the kitchen’s sly take on huevos rancheros, also a brunch item, with white-bean purée instead of frijoles refritos & avocado pistou instead of guacamole, plus gruyère &, get this, “porc green chilé”!

A raw bar’s essential to the brasserie theme, & Ten Ten does oysters right, with one of the nicest mignonettes I’ve ever tried, the vinegar mellowed a touch by a slew of herbs.

Though it looked a little slapdash—& my vote would be for thinner crostini, for a better fish-to-bread ratio—a plate of marinated white anchovies proved a fair deal for $2.

But the moules marinières (pictured is a full portion; a half-portion’s also available at happy hour) blew my mind.

Traditionally, the simple broth of this Normandy classic is based on white wine, butter, shallots & parsley, but cream, garlic, other types of onion & thyme aren’t unheard of; all appear here, though crème fraîche replaces whipping cream. The addictive result combined an herbal, floral complexity with unexpected lightness of weight, & the accompanying grilled bread was comme il faut—crusty, chewy & built to sop.

Now, there’s a whole dinner menu I’ve yet to explore—but given Ten Ten’s staying power, I know I’ve got time.

Brasserie Ten Ten on Urbanspoon

Entering the Pie Hole—& Moving On Up(Town)!

Oh Lordy it’s a fact. I moved to Denver from Boston to be with the Director almost exactly 6 years ago; from day 1, we planned to abandon his abode in Platt Park & find ourselves a centrally located love nest. As of yesterday, we finally got our piece of the pie, a stone’s (or pie’s, for that matter) throw from Steuben’s & Ace.

That means a whole new neighborhood to explore inch by inch—or, as is sometimes the case with me in deadline mode, delivery option by delivery option. But first, a word about one of the by-now legion pizzerias lining Broadway south of Speer: Pie Hole.

You bet the name says it all: if the language of pizza is sing-song southern Italian as articulated—at least in the immediate vicinity—by Pizzeria Locale, this is in-your-face American slang. And since, as I’ve noted before, I’m not a Neapolitan purist—loaded baked dough is pretty universal—I dig the sound of both.

Though the menu is strict in 1 sense—you got your à la carte slices & your café-tabletop-sized 19-inchers, & nothing in between—it otherwise plays fast & loose with the genre. Besides marinara, bases range from hummus to Alfredo sauce to, er, “vegan roux”; besides the classics, toppings include pulled pork, cilantro, scallions & mango. The latter appears on a wacky little (well, huge) number called the Munchy Mango, which also features peanut sauce & brown sugar-roasted jalapeños as well as mozzarella.

The Director, miffed at the description, was having none of it—until he grudgingly had some of it. A couple slices in, he caved: “This is actually pretty good.” And it was. Look, nuts, fruit & cheese are a classic combination. Here, the gently sweet, creamy sauce; salty cheese; & slightly underripe, hence tart & meaty, cubes of mango made for vibrant interplay, intensified by the heat of the chiles. Equally important, the crust was decent: relatively thin, crunchy & brown-bubbled along the edges.

That sleeper hit earned me enough goodwill to go for the Hot Wing Pie: housemade hot sauce, pepper jack cheese, chicken & more jalapeños, adding up to an almost Tex-Mex savor. Think flat nachos.

In fact, the only pie that didn’t do much for me was the most traditional (by American standards): the Combo with pepperoni, sausage, black olives, onions, peppers & mushrooms.

On any given day, that’s a sodium bomb, but this was intensely, unexpectedly, inexplicably salty—maybe the marinara was overseasoned?

Still, 2 out of 3 are fine odds for a tiny, nondescript counter joint hemmed in on all sides by bigger, better-known names in pizza. I’ll be back for a hummus slice yet.

Pie Hole on Urbanspoon

Seoul BBQ & Sushi: Thanks, I needed that!

Not a cold slap in the face per the old aftershave ads so much as a genial nudge toward a better outlook, followed by a feast of comforts.

La madre was visiting from Oklahoma, where Korean food is hard to come by, so we wanted to whisk her off to Aurora for a fix; I needed one, too, as life has been one rough stretch of pavement lately. But whisking became dragging as the traffic averaged 6 inches per hour; 40 min. went by before we were in the parking lot of our destination—which, as it turned out, was closed. We’d attempted to hit Beast + Bottle the night before only to find it darkened on a Monday, & wound up with a mad-disappointing alternative (more on that anon); with our bellies growling, our patience thinning, & our guards already up, we made a quickie call to try Seoul BBQ & Sushi—of which I’d long heard praise, but which had always seemed so dauntingly packed.

Sure enough, there was a 10-15 min. for a table—with grill or without, I was told. I put in my name & then realized I hadn’t specified which we preferred, so I returned to ask the hostess for a grilltop; somehow, in a minute flat, the wait had ballooned to 30-40 min. The Director had been looking forward to a meatfest, so I grumbled a bit before acquiesing to whatever came first. Not a moment later, however, she grabbed some menus & led us to a table—with a grill. (Her English was iffy & my Korean is nil, so I chalked it up to miscommunication.) Finally…

Well, almost. Upon noticing that the barbecue platters were for 2 or more people, I’d about had it. Moms doesn’t eat red meat, & I wasn’t in the mood for it, so I found myself growing totally petulant. But lo! The owner must have noticed my sourpuss, because suddenly he was at our side, crowing in wonderful broken English that theirs was the best barbecue in town, & since we were 1st timers, he’d tell the waitress to allow a single order. Relief, gratitude & sheepishness washed over me, followed by a quick buzz thanks to a hefty pour of wine, which I’d describe as “cheap, but in my tummy, where it belongs.” Thus the banquet ensued.

First, the pan chan (or banchan if you prefer): 14 dishes total, which is rather a lot in my experience. Many of them were ubiquitous, including kimchi of various sorts, sliced omelet, steamed broccoli in chili sauce, bean sprouts whole & in starch-jelly cubes, & macaroni salad (yes, that’s oddly typical, perhaps by way of Hawaii); others were less common, like cold marinated eggplant, tiny stir-fried dried shrimp & shredded octopus, disks of fried whitefish & zucchini. Nothing mind-blowing, just all so welcome. Like a basket of warm bread or a bowl of mixed nuts or even the stale cheese puffs they bring you with your aperitivo at any old streetside café in Italy, such freebies are always such a soul-soothing treat, a symbol of the idea that hospitality is more than a transaction, & you are more than a mouth connected to a wallet (or vice versa, for that matter).

As for that fought-for meat:

the Director stuck with the sweet-soy-marinated cow classics, namely thin-sliced bulgogi & galbi, or short ribs. Admittedly, the thing about DIY prep is that you’re not necessarily sure whether any problems stem from the quality of the raw material, the way it was cut, or the way you cooked it. In this case, the bulgogi was mouthwatering, but the ribs were a bit tough.

And let’s say that my naeng myun with chopped raw fish was, oh, homestyle. I’ve had many spare, elegant versions of this ultra-vinegary, beef-broth-based, chilled noodle (usually buckwheat or sweet potato) soup—containing, for instance, sliced Asian pear, dollops of roe, julienned raw veggies, fresh herbs & so on (as well as, often, paper-thin slices of beef). This ginormous bowl was just a hornet’s nest of threads, tons of sweet (& I mean sweet) chili sauce, chunks of ice, fishbones, & I don’t know what all. Carefully done it was not; so far, I thought, Silla was winning 2-0 as far as precision goes. Still, the noodles were, shockingly, the right texture, & the flavors were charmingly neon; I slurped plenty.

Besides, mom’s huge, salted & broiled mackerel filet was simple, flaky, golden, & fine,

& really, everything was simple & fine. Our K-pop-pretty server was cheerfully there when we needed her, & brought cups of sikhye with the bill. Our hunger & crankiness was long gone. The sounds of other satisfied guests swirled around us in the bright-lit dining room. And the ride home would be a calm breeze. Some days you can’t ask for more.

Seoul BBQ on Urbanspoon

House Culture: Shine Restaurant & Gathering Wool

Oops, sorry, “Gathering Space.” Still, the misnomer kinda fits: some of the servers are just as hippy-dippy as you’d expect at a Boulder neo-health-food joint like this one. I hope their utter inability to do more than half a thing at a time isn’t a reflection on the effects of the gluten-free, vegetarian- & vegan-friendly cuisine Shine serves, awash in “house-cultured” this & probiotic that, sprouted this & raw that. They must be skimping on protein intake (though the menu isn’t meatless)—but they could just be high.

Or perhaps they should ease up on the fairy bubbles. While there’s a full bar (where the staff is noticeably more alert, by the way), the emphasis here is on herb-, flower-, & gem-infused elixirs. At one point in my poetry-writing life I was obsessed with the fabled properties of gemstones; ruby, for instance, is said to prevent bleeding & heart failure, while carnelian offers protection from the evil eye. (That of antsy dining guests perhaps excepted.) None of the drinks listed here contains garnet, but see below for more on that…In any case, it stands to “reason” that so-called permission sips might alter your consciousness for better or worse.

Granted, the Firewater my pal Beth tried (pictured below right) didn’t visibly ignite her passions; she seemed pretty normal. But the sip I took was exhilaratingly spicy, with ginger & chile, plus a touch of hibiscus tartness.

On a later visit, I sampled the Reset Button, which bore too much resemblance to milky root beer for my tastes, nor have I managed to access the vaguest hint of ancient wisdom via my intake of quartz. Oh well.

Beth also got the trout-salad melt with smoked gouda, pickled red onions, & sweet potato fries; said salad was a hit—flaky, zippy, bright with diced carrots and celery. I know because a healthy scoop of it also graced what I refuse to call, & don’t know why the chef bothers to call, a Caesar salad; since it’s vegan, the dressing contains no egg or anchovy-based Worcestershire sauce, which are pretty much the key characteristics of a traditional Caesar—along with parmesan & croutons, which this version also doesn’t contain. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, from the thick, creamy, garlicky dressing it does sport to its plentiful sprinkling of fried capers & dried-tomato “chips” (which, again, defy the basic definition) to the dense, almost scone-textured, chia seed-studded gluten-free “focaccia” (pictured below the salad) that’s supposed to accompany it—it was omitted from my order, so I had to wait (& wait, & wait) until our server could get around to bringing it to see whether it helped tie the room together. (It eventually did.)

To be fair, he may have thought I didn’t want it, since I’d also requested a gluten-free house roll (pictured alongside the salad) with yam butter on the side. That too, was dense, with a sort of biscuit-like crumb, & the spread airy yet intense.

Another qualified hit has been the happy-hour snack of beer-battered veggies with blue-cheese dip; though I didn’t find any of the housemade pickles the dish (pictured below right) also supposedly contained, the combo of green beans, zucchini disks & sliced mushrooms was nicely done—hot, juice-dribbly, the reasonably crisp breading not unlike savory funnel cake. I didn’t try the slider, but the vegan cauliflower mashers were fluffy & creamy for lacking dairy, & nicely spiced with just a hint of nutmeg.

And the jackfruit tacos proved fascinating. With the first few bites, I was convinced they’d actually given me chicken; I’d heretofore only tasted ripe dried jackfruit, so I wasn’t aware that when fresh & green it’s strongly reminiscent of eggplant—nor that it shreds like meat, so once liberally coated in taco seasoning, it easily gets a pass atop blue-corn tortillas heaped with greens, tomatoes, scallions & radishes alongside salsa & sour cream. If you like your frijoles soupy, Shine’s refried black beans won’t fly, but I like them in all forms; these had an appealing pan-bottom crunch. And the quinoa was downright impressive, I have to say, for its lime-brightened, grain-by-grain toastiness.

This place gets fairly (in both senses of the word) mixed reviews, but overall I got kind of a kick out of it—which is saying something, since I imagine I represent the opposite of its core audience.

Anyway, here’s a free poem.

Garnet
Used as a bullet, it inflicts a more deadly wound.

Crouched in roof shadow, filling the cylinder.
My pistol is crystal so you can see. Sometimes I pour
wine down the barrel, put the gun in my mouth
and go glug, glug. Pull the trigger,
pull the plug. The bang stuns everyone
who shatters into applause at the gala affair,
it raises the roof.
My dress is gauze, wound dressed in silk,
the night fog curdles like milk
mixed with blood down the alleyway,
a wisp of a sip goes
down my throat. I’m spitting vapor
like a pit viper in a mesh gown,
taking aim. Game. I was born game.

There’s deadly and then there’s
even more deadly, blood spreading
like bad dawn, lead-dull.
Dud if you do, dud if you don’t:
law one of tourniquetiquette.
I spray raw light, shoot up the night.

 

Shine Restaurant & Gathering Space on Urbanspoon

Noshes for the New Year: Going Cheeseless at Pizzeria Locale Denver

At this point we’re closer to the next New Year’s than the last one, but some of us (ahem) are still staggering along in half-assed (or full-assed, as the case may be) resolution mode. Now, you might assume that just as the quick-casual Baker District outpost of Boulder’s celebrated Pizzeria Locale (you know, the Frasca folks’ full-service nod to Napoli’s most legendary creation) caters—unlike the original—to non-Italophiles (read: red-blooded, flag-waving, stubbornly unadventurous eaters) with American-style pies, it’s catering to calorie counters (read: blue-blooded, yoga-mat-carrying, stubbornly unadventurous eaters) with cheeseless pies. But you’d be wrong. After all, Italians sport their own stubborn streak when it comes to culinary traditions, such as the rule that frutti di mare & formaggio don’t go together. Though I happen to disagree with that assessment in general, I’m a big believer in doing as the Romans (or whoevers) do—& I have vivid & fond memories of the pizzas topped with red sauce, chunk tuna, red onions, corn, & capers, but decidedly no cheese, that I spent 1 summer eating in the seaside cafés of Otranto. So I appreciate the fact that Locale holds the dairy while applying the anchovies to its Campagnola pie—as well it should. The combination of those salty little fishies with equally salty chopped green olives & capers, atop a tomato base as intensely tangy-sweet as its color suggests, is pungent enough by far to pique & sustain the palate. (The crusts here, which the state-of-the-art oven finishes in a flash, are rather more uniform & therefore less interesting to me personally than those at the original, but as Mia Farrow says in The Purple Rose of Cairo: “I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything.”)

In fact, I liked it so much that I decided to experiment with my own version 2 nights later: behold the Ruthless with tuna, grilled eggplant, red onion & a drizzle of olive oil (that latter actually the creative contribution of the guy behind the counter—one of 7 or 8 adorable sweethearts who are surely reason #2 if not 1 that the neighborhood’s gaggles of young hotties appear to be congregating here).

Yeah! I nailed it—good stuff. And while shaving off a few hundred calories in the form of fermented-milk product wasn’t even my primary intention, it didn’t suck as a bonus.

Still, if you’re not watching your figure, by all means do as the Director did & go for a white (that is, all-cheese-all-the-time) pizza like the aptly named Bianca—its blanket of fine mozzarella scattered with the most delicately rendered of sausage crumbles & bright, slightly bitter bits of broccolini as well as red-pepper flakes.

Or, what the hell—do as my pal A did & stick with the Supreme: sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, red & green peppers, red onions, you know the Americano drill.

As for the “caponata” salad in the forefront, it’s flavorful enough, though it’s really just a sprinkling over arugula of random ingredients used in Sicily’s namesake specialty (eggplant, zucchini, red peppers, red onions, green olives) rather than the full-fledged stuff, which I’d just as soon hoover by itself (my favorite version also contains tomatoes, capers, pinenuts, & raisins). Those hunks of pizza crust on top, though? Perfetto, just as at the Locale flagship.

Pizzeria Locale on Urbanspoon

An Oddly Charming Detour to The Weber

I’ve said many times that Oceanaire is the only chain restaurant in town I cotton to, but that’s not quite true; I’ll sheepishly confess I don’t mind North, the Cherry Creek link in an Arizona-based franchise that manages to help meet Denver’s sore need for mid-priced modern Italian cuisine. I minded it a bit on Tuesday, however, when my conversation with a bartender went like this: “Will you be showing the Spurs-Heat game?” “Most likely.” (The Director & I sit down.) “Except that those guys over there want to watch the soccer game, & no one else has asked for basketball.” “So you’re showing soccer then?” “Well, it depends on what gets the most requests.” “But at present it’s soccer?” “Yes.” “So—not ’most likely”?” “Right.”

We stood up, headed out, and found ourselves peering into a quiet, unassuming little nook I’d wondered about occasionally in passing: The Weber, on the ground floor of the Inn at Cherry Creek. The menu posted out front looked okay—not widely diverse or wildly inventive, but fine; more importantly, the tiny bar area had a TV that nobody was paying any mind.

Thus commenced a weird but pleasant little meal that evoked the streetside cafés of Europe in myriad amusing ways, particularly with respect to the service provided by a lone waiter named Miko—tall, straight spined, with a courteous yet decidedly unhurried & even slightly deadpan air about him & a thick accent we later learned was Hungarian—& the chef himself, Mike Hendricks, whose signature is printed right on the menu. He’d wander out of the kitchen every so often to chat & catch a bit of the game, whisking me right back to a trattoria in Trieste many years ago, where my companion & I dined on horsemeat in a room that was empty but for the mamma cooking in her slippers in back & her figlio up front, who plied us with grappa every time the team he was cheering for on the tiny TV behind the bar scored a goal.

Speaking of booze, though the small wine list consisted of your most basic stuff, we could hardly complain given the prices—$8 by the glass & $30 by the bottle across the board. And the food was just right for the mood as well. We started with breakfast for dinner: a nicely maple-smoked hunk of salmon accompanied by toasted brioche, crème fraîche, capers, & a fried egg—a strange yet intriguingly hearty substitute for the more-common chopped, cold hard-cooked egg.

Then there was my honking pork chop, not quite juicy but thankfully not dry, & aided on the succulence front by cinnamon-apple chutney; the smashed red-potato dish on the side wasn’t exactly the “gratin” it was described as—no breadcrumbs, the key by most definitions—but it was pretty delicious, layered with onion & loads of melted cheese.

Simiarly, the Director’s “boneless half chicken” seemed to lack body parts, but it was generously portioned nonetheless as well as perfectly browned & juicy indeed, set over a bed of roasted potatoes, red peppers & buttery artichoke hearts.

We left rather charmed by the whole affair, & the next day I received an e-mail about an upcoming 4-course wine dinner: Hendricks will be serving smoked-oyster risotto, wild salmon over roasted rainbow cauliflower & goat cheese, & more paired with pours from the Pacific Northwest—for all of $60. Not too shabby.

Weber Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Michocoán Pico de Gallo at Adelitas Cocina y Cantina (& much more)

After the apparent disaster that was 3 Monkeys Cantina, amid the ongoing disaster (i.e. “construction”) zone that is the Platt Park stretch of S. Broadway, I didn’t have high hopes for its successor, Adelitas Cocina y Cantina. But a look-see last week raised the stakes considerably. Not only was the crowd fairly lively for a late Sunday afternoon, but both bar & kitchen comported themselves with enough integrity & flair to indicate this Michocoán-themed joint might actually have a fighting chance of survival. (Even the handsome scroll of a menu points to attention to detail—& that “mezcalrita” behind it was exquisitely balanced: smoky but not too, sweet but not too.)

Take the pico de gallo made with not vegetables but chile powder-spiked ”seasonal fruit” marinated in orange & lime juices & served alongside warm (yay!) chips. Served in a gigantic goblet, it was a simple affair, composed only of fresh pineapple & mango—but nonetheless impressive, a) because I sure as hell wouldn’t have the patience to dice what must be huge amounts of 2 of the world’s most annoying fruits to prepare & b) because the result was ultra-refreshing, all tart-sweetness highlighted by hints of salt & smoky spice.

I genuinely liked everything else I shoved in my hole, too. Guacamole rarely sucks, but that’s not always to the credit of the chef, some of whom are prone to adding way too much stuff that isn’t avocado—which should entirely dominate, as it does here.

Likewise, my vegetarian enchiladas were all about the intensity of fresh flavor—stuffed with savory, mushroom-studded sauteed spinach & smothered in an appealingly sour, citrusy salsa verde alongside refried beans & nice, fluffy rice. Behind it are pal A’s tamales,

which I didn’t try, nor did I try @Mantonat’s tacos de lengua, but he praised the properly cooked tongue, & his AOK is good enough for me. I did, however, sample the tomatillo salsa on the side, which had a more sweetish-tomatoey cast than I expected from its color—which called to my mind my beloved, Worcestershire-esque Costa Rican Salsa Lizano

as well as the Director’s enchiladas suizas con mole: though not the most brilliantly complex version of the sauce I’ve ever encountered (Tarasco’s is better for sure), it was certainly acceptable, with plenty of that dark ancho savor.

Based on 1 meal, I’d be willing to wager Adelitas could break whatever curse the brujas negras of Denver real estate have placed on this joint.

Adelitas Cocina y Cantina on Urbanspoon

Win Some, Lose Some at Fourteen Seventy-Two

After 2 visits to this Lowcountry-inspired joint on Pearl St., I confess bemusement. Though a Jan. review by Westword’s Gretchen Kurtz sheds some light on the obviously well-meaning but somewhat amateurish operation, one would think that after 9 months in business, it would no longer “feel like it’s in the soft-opening stage.” It still does, starting with the lack of a host stand—you just hang out rather vulnerably in the dining room until someone comes to get you—& the somewhat awkward approach of the admittedly very sweet servers, one of whom explained to me that though soup portions were very large, “they just go right through you,” the other of whom scratched her neck a lot while alluding to the restaurant’s pair of 5-star reviews. On Yelp? Otherwise I can’t fathom.

But it also has its fair share of charms. Occupying an old renovated 2-story with umbrella-lined patios both upstairs & down, all cozy brick & wood on the inside, it’s unusually comfy & relaxing compared to its often headache-inducingly packed neighbors. On the broadly coastal-Southern menu, much appeals & even surprises: gourd soup with brown-butter crema & almonds? bison-lamb meatloaf in vindaloo-style curry with bourbon-&-cinnamon-buttered sweet potatoes? a full-on seafood boil? Sure thing. There are even a couple of wines you don’t generally see outside of enocentric hangs, like a Hungarian Furmint BTG.

Execution is nonetheless erratic, right down to the fact that some of the most potentially disastrous items are actually the most fun. The “roll of Monte Cristo” makes no sense on paper: while egg rolls & their ilk have been receiving the fusion treatment for years—filled to evoke Philly cheesesteaks or burritos, say—I’ve never seen an example that stuffed 3 cuisines into a single wrapper. This one advertises not only its Asian influences, with sesame seeds & wasabi as well as rice paper, but also French (well, sort of—the variation on a croque monsieur that is the namesake Monte Cristo usually still contains Swiss cheese along with the ham, not white cheddar as this does) & Southern in the form of pulled pork & chicken. I mean, that’s ridiculous. But a bunch of meat & cheese mixed together & fried is a bunch of meat & cheese mixed together & fried—finger-licking! (Granted, said wasabi was undetectable in what seemed to be just a glob of mayo alongside some indifferent sweet-chili sauce.)

Curiously, the barbecued pork-&-slaw sandwich pal A got did come loaded with ham & gruyère, making the choice of cheddar in the spring rolls an even bigger mystery (if not one I intend to overthink).

I assume they call this “Lowcountry ceviche” to indicate that it’s not really ceviche; the fish is entirely raw, not marinated in citrus. Why they didn’t therefore just call it “Lowcountry tartare” is beyond me—other than the use of corn, which is indeed traditionally Peruvian. Whatever—though the chunks of tuna & avocado are almost obscenely large, the whole thing comes together lusciously.

Topped with cheddar, the grit cakes needed far more crunch on the outside, but they were good on the inside: slightly creamy, robustly flavored.

Likewise, the patty on the veggie burger I got to go was downright mushy—it needed something in there for structure. But the intensely mushroomy pieces it crumbled into otherwise stood up to the strong savor of feta, roasted red pepper, red onion & green goddess dressing, & smashed potatoes made for a nice change of pace from fries.

I didn’t try Mantonat’s burger, but the serious pile of ground beef & venison, tasso-ham gravy, caramelized onions, gruyère & fried-green tomatoes he got means it’s on my list.

By contrast, the Director’s half-rack of wild-boar spareribs in chipotle-maple sauce were as slapdash as they looked over slaw in the to-go box—overcooked, ketchupy-sweet.

Finally, about that soup: I indeed received what appeared to be nearly a whole batch of Manhattan-style conch chowder. A little heavy on the tomato-soupy flavor at the expense of everything else, & the conch was a tad chewy—though it wasn’t skimped on, & generally speaking the bowl hit the spot as refreshing & nourishing on a roster of dishes that doesn’t make eating light easy.

Overall, one senses that these guys are really trying to do right by their neighbors, & they’ve succeeded in creating an attractive, stress-free environment to hang out in. Just a little more detail orientation & precision in the kitchen could go a long way.

Fourteen Seventy-Two on Urbanspoon

More Noshes for the New Year from Pastavino

Surely it’s possible to have an ultra-fattening meal at this mod Boulder trattoria—but it isn’t easy. Having derived so much pleasure from this lunchtime tuna dish, I’ve since returned to try a number of items, & even the heaviest of them were rendered with a light touch—as is typical in cucina italiana, of course; the heaps of meat-&-cheese-smothered carbs we all grew up with in the States aren’t typically found in chef-owner Fabio Flagiello’s homeland. (Which isn’t to say they’re “inauthentic”; Italian-American food has its own history &, at its best, myriad charms. But that’s another post.)

While white flour’s a no-no on many of today’s diets, those of us whose regimen entails simply trying not to eat like a draft horse all the time are in luck: breads are baked in house (generally about 3 types on any given day), arriving warm with olive oil, balsamic vinegar & red-pepper flakes for dipping. (Also on the table is a trio of sea salts, much appreciated since traditional pane tends to be very low sodium.)

One of these loaves was supposedly flavored with rosemary, the other with black olives; damned if I could really tell whether they were, but fresh bread is fresh bread—staff of life & all.

Admittedly, anything with the word “fried” in it isn’t on anyone’s diet. But Pastavino’s fritto misto—literally “fried mixed”—of calamari, bay scallops, caperberries & a single ricotta-stuffed raviolo is unusually delicate & greaseless, paired with a bright, pure tomato sugo. So if you’re powerless to resist a little splurge, you could do much worse.

Same goes for the gnocchi alle noci e salvia—that is, with walnuts & sage, as well as brown butter, fontina sauce & a sprinkling of ground espresso beans. Though definitely one of the richest pastas on the long menu (there are 15, including 3 daily specials), it too is executed with restraint—gently coated, not drowned, in burro & formaggio. (And if you split it with a pal, as I did—what’s pictured below is a 1/2 portion—you won’t even feel guilty at all.)

Then again, you could hardly do better than with the acqua pazza (“crazy water”), an examplar of cucina povera (“poor cuisine,” ironically among the richest aspects of Italy’s culinary heritage). Pastavino’s version isn’t so impoverished, containing vino bianco as well as mineral water—but it’s highly refined, subtle, even pristine with steamed clams & chunks of sea bass, cherry tomatoes, olives (albeit black ones, not green as advertised), & chopped parsley. Gently delicious.

Ditto the tonno al pistacchio—perfectly cooked pistachio-crusted tuna atop a mixture of balsamic-marinated onions & roasted fennel, alongside a dollop of zingy salsa verde.

Streamlined elegance permeates this place—& your bones as a patron of this place.

Pastavino on Urbanspoon

Bombay Bowl: Take this with a grain of insanity spice

I’m as impatient as I am sloppy, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of the so-called quick-casual genre, mainly because it’s synonymous with franchises, or would-be franchises. I mean, many a fine indie sub shop/pizzeria/taqueria manages to be both quick & casual without tacking on that tacky echo of corporate-speak, code for “1 step up from fast food.”

Though it’s presently a single-unit operation, Bombay Bowl is clearly built for growth as well as speed—which necessarily means it aims to be as many things to as many people as possible. That includes people who put fullness before flavor, convenience before ambiance, familiarity before discovery. Hey, those folks gotta live too—really!—but I don’t generally wanna eat where they’re eating.

Yet on a recent lazy whim, I went ahead & did just that (or close—ordered delivery). And then I did it again. Because guess what? Most of the food tasted good. Was it an uncompromising foray into regional-Indian culinary tradition? Of course not. But were the flavors fresh & distinct, the ingredients well handled? By & large, yes.

Especially the saag bowl, which I got with surprisingly tender cubed beef, extra sauteed veggies, chili-lime chutney & insanity spice. Served over basmati rice, the classic spinach dish brimmed with brightness & nuanced aromatics—except where that chutney spread like wildfire. Man, it’s hot. And I eat phall, so I’m not fooling around. As for the insanity spice, which comes its own little container—as near as I can tell it’s just ground chilies, nothing more. Insane indeed.

Yes, the samosa chaat looks a bit of a mess, but the mixture of chickpea-tomato curry, potato-stuffed samosas, cilantro chutney & raita worked for me, swirlingly robust & more properly textured than you’d guess. Think of it as the savory Indian answer to chopping up your birthday cake into melted ice cream.

I blacked out those backgrounds because my kitchen was a mess, & didn’t even bother to snap a shot of the daal I’d reserved for lunch the next day (here’s one thing you should know about ordering from D-Dish: Bombay Bowl’s prices are so low that a normal order for 2 won’t meet the $20 minimum). The lentils didn’t show quite the same flair (perhaps the extra time in the fridge caused the muddying of their flavors, though I don’t see why it should have), & neither did the tikka masala I got on a later delivery, which unfortunately proved rather watery & bland—but the beef was still done right.

Finally, the so-called naan isn’t anything like the real deal—I’m guessing there’s no tandoori oven on site, eh? Rather, it’s a small, flat oval of something more like pita. It’s fine if not exactly as advertised.

Ultimately, if it’s the total Indian-food package you want, Bombay Bowl isn’t your place. If it’s comfort on the fly, you’ll find it here, at least in spots. That’s enough for me, occasionally.