Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

The 9th Door: Lo, Warm Snacks!

I looked, & it turns out The 9th Door is an anagram for Oh, Hott Dinner! It’s not quite as accurate as it is resonant, though.

It’s not quite accurate first & foremost in a literal sense. A, grazing on tapas isn’t de jure the same as eating dinner, even if it turns out that way de facto. In Spain, of course, tapas are essentially happy hour snacks; it’s just that happy hour starts later & lasts longer than it does in the U.S., as does dinner afterward. (I remember reading somewhere maybe a decade ago that as their nation moved increasingly toward the 9-to-5 workday while their nightlifestyle held steady, Spaniards were becoming a chronically sleep-deprived people. Wouldn’t it be a trip if the whole nation started a supersuave Spanish-style fight club?) B, tapas are as frequently served cold as, if not more often than, they are hot.

It’s also not quite accurate in a figurative sense—at least not in my book, where what’s hott & sexy is what’s quiet & full of private corners for lingering in. I’ve never been here when it wasn’t cramped to the point of SRO & the house music wasn’t pounding.

As for the quality of the food, it runs anywhere from hot to lukewarm—some things are great, others just so-so. I can’t help but suspect The 9th Door’s enormous popularity is to some extent by default, a reflection of its lack of local competition in serving even close to the real thing. (Which, it should be noted, may not be the case much longer; Westword’s Jason Sheehan reported just this week on the soon-to-open tapas bar Ondo’s.)

Take the tostas truchas & the tuna-stuffed fried olives, neither of which lived up to their appetizing promise.

9thDoortrout 9thDoorolives

Without enough of the advertised horseradish, the smoked-trout spread was fairly one-note in its fishiness; the olives, for their part, clearly came from a jar in the supermarket aisle, thereby defeating their own especially evocative-of-groves-by-the-sea purpose.

Grainy polenta was a disappointment, too, all the more stark in contrast to the fatty excellence of the lamb & vibrant “mole verde,” basically pesto, it accompanied.

9thDoorlamb

But the pan-seared scallops—served as a tapa fria, believe it or not, with what I remember a sort of tomato-pancetta relish & sauteed greens—were a delightful surprise, full of nooks & crannies of varying texture & flavor to discover.

9thDoorscallops

And the fat goat-cheese-&-almond-stuffed dates were as delectable as they didn’t look.

9thDoordates

While lending them the veneer of surgical refuse, the skin of serrano ham beat even the hard-to-beat, more typical cummerbund of bacon stuffed dates wear, at once pungent & delicately crackly.

Paired with a few smart glasses of wine, above all the plenty peppery Errazuriz carménère (a long-lost grape of Bordeaux turned Chilean expat that’s quickly becoming a favorite varietal of mine), it all made for a very nice meal—or, as the anagram would have it, an Icy Meal Never. That, I’d say, is a little more accurate than the one we started with.

Hey, ho—let’s go! LoHi SteakBar A-OK on day 2

Okay, technically, B-OK. But to be B-OK on your 2nd day in business is in itself A-OK, eh?

So  like Joey & Johnny & Dee Dee too Mo & L & I got all revved up & ready to go to this brand-spanking already-hot spot in the East Highlands pronto on the strength of the juicy name alone, which covers more ground in 12 letters than any of the world’s La Maison de la Casa Houses ever could, never mind their obscure minimalist postpostmodern equivalents (see, e.g., Root Down, a name you could be forgiven for thinking referred to anything from a BBQ shack to a raw-foods temple). But with “LoHi SteakBar,” you know you’ve got your comfort zone, your upscale twist, your meat, your cocktails. (Plus it’s an anagram for Aloha Brisket.) What more do you need? That’s it & that’s all you need, to quote Steve Martin in The Jerknot one other thing.

Except this potted salmon. LoHipottedsalmon

And this hummus. LoHihummus

If I were down & getting kicked out of LoHi like Navin R. Johnson from his mansion, those would totally be

my ashtray & my paddle game. The-jerk

In light of LoHi’s easygoing, all-American bar & grillesque ways, both struck me as the unlikeliest of delights. The salmon was unusually creamy—less straightforwardly fishy than The Kitchen’s, say, & more like taramosalata. Like postnatal taramosalata (heh). The hummus, meanwhile, we ordered skeptically on the waitress’s rec but were convinced on sight by the gorgeously bubbled, soft & airy flatbread—& on taste by the fresh, light, clean, red-peppery spread itself.

Perhaps erring a little on the side of lightness & cleanness, however, were the gnudi—essentially flourless dumplings with ricotta & spinach—in tomato sauce.

LoHignudi

Appealing as its simplicity was, all that the dish ultimately seemed to lack was a sufficient dash of S&P—just a little more would likely have brought out the full flavor of those basic ingredients.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum was the blue cheese fondue with housemade chips.

LoHichips

As Mo put it, after the first couple of bites something overpowering in it began to wear on the palate—not, I think, the blue cheese itself; maybe dijon? Something sharp & smoky at any rate. The chips were a touch greasy, but impressively thin & satisfyingly crackly.

Full as we were all getting by now, we had to remind ourselves where we were—this wasn’t some Dip & Dumpling Den, this was the SteakBar. If we didn’t eat steak & drink deep we might as well be tasting not this particular Pierian spring.

(Granted, we were already on our 3rd round by this point. It’s probably equally true to say that, deeply drunk as we were all getting, we needed to remind ourselves where we were besides in our cups. Especially Mo with her ginormous—make that vodkanormous—

caviar martini LoHicaviarmartini .)

So both she & L opted for steak frites—the strip steak with bearnaise & the ribeye with shallot sauce respectively.

LoHisteakfrites2

LiHosteakfrites1

Me, I slobbered all over the open-face steak sandwich on plain ol,’ good ol’ meat-&-mushroom-jus-soaked white toast—a terrific midnight snack that just happened to overlap with dinner.

LoHisteaksandwich

And actually it was almost midnight when we polished off our 5th-round—amazing, ultra-light & fresh (apparently chef Sean Kelly’s mantra—but once again, given the place-name, who’d a thunk it?) banana daiquiris, nothing like the near-pudding they used to pour in the era of Rupert Holmes & fern bars—& blitzkrieg bopped our way out the door, agreeing that Kelly & crew really appear to have something here—something, like good steak itself, rare for all its familiarity.

***Update 4/2010: For a more recent review, click here.***

LoHi SteakBar on Urbanspoon

Further proof that Denver’s the flat-out be-all end-all for dive barflies: Gabor’s

I didn’t move to Denver because it’s way up there among the booziest burgs on earth, but I sure do feel at home as a result. Some of the local histories I’ve perused offer all kinds of clues as to how the mile-high city, emphasis on high, got that way. For instance:

  • Arose in the flush of the Gold Rush as a hub for prospectors who tumbled down from the mountains either to piss their newfound fortunes away on wine & women & song & such or to drown their sorrows over their lack thereof.
  • Established its 1st seat of government in a saloon (located in what’s now LoDo).
  • Experienced a late-19th-c. influx of German immigrants who established breweries & opened beer halls in the vicinity—e.g. Adolph Coors.
  • Preceded San Francisco as the Beat HQ; the city-approved Beat Poetry Driving Tour includes stops at My Brother’s Bar & the Colburn Hotel (home to Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill)—hangouts both for Cassady, Kerouac & Ginsberg.
  • Boasts Colfax Ave., once famously referred to in Playboy as “the longest, wickedest street in America,” lined with the more-or-less legendary likes of the Satire Lounge, the Lion’s Lair, PS Lounge, & more, along with (even today, as it supposedly gentrifies) all manner of users, losers & cruisers.

Having already fallen hard for more than my share of hardcore local bars—among them the aforementioned Charlie’s, Lincoln’s Road House, Kinga’s LoungeSkylark Lounge, Sputnik, MeadowlarkCandlelight Tavern, & more—the knowledge that I’ve still got miles of unexplored barritory to go before I pass out, from the Wazee Supper Club downtown to, per L, the Kentucky Inn near Wash Park, just makes me nuts with glee.

That said, from here on out I may never get further than Gabor’s, a little secret the Mad Russian & the Whistler let me in on after we beat it the hell out of Bar Substandard following the glorious Everything Absent or Distorted’s style-cramped set last weekend.

Windowless unless you count a row of these,

Gaborsglass

filled with corny movie memorabilia & other pointers toward a cinematic motif apropos of nothing in particular, e.g. the menu cover,

Gaborsmenu

but otherwise nearly empty & utterly quiet early on a Saturday evening, the place became my cheerfully sadsack new hero from the get-go. The wine was cheapo & the snacks, bad as they were, couldn’t have been better.

That includes the “no joke,” to quote the menu, cordon bleu balls.

Gaborschickenbites

Supposing I don’t even try to hypothesize as to whether they actually contained any chicken or ham or swiss or if the dipping sauce was or wasn’t some sort of herbed honey mustard, & supposing I just leave the oft-meaningless but in this case, I think, very telling adjective “interesting” to do the descriptive work—you’ll know precisely what I mean, yeah?

Despite almost identical appearances, the olive & asiago bites with marinara

Gaborsasiagobites

actually did burst with recognizable salty savor. And as for the Director’s dinner, the sight of a scotch pour as big as his burger, replete with romaine as fresh as Gabor’s aura is faded,

Gaborsburgerscotch

was absolutely one for sore eyes—now happy, nevermore Gaborless eyes.

Gabor's on Urbanspoon

Olivéa in a Nutshell: a little green, but sure to ripen quick!

In a nutshell, Olivéa’s parts don’t quite fit together—yet. The space, though lovely in its warm grays & curvilinear ways, nonetheless strikes me as a bit too sleek, the service too self-consciously suave, for comfort, at least the sort of comfort that the intimate Mediterranean menu—with its slight emphasis (not exclusive, but palpable) on shared nibbles (charcuterie, flatbreads) comprised of relatively humble, hearty ingredients—seems to call for. I wanted the vibe to sprawl a little more, you know? For sunlight to slant in & glasses to clink & laughter to echo a little more.

Admittedly, it’s a tad counterintuitive to insist that the place is too smooth too soon for its own good. After all, would I rather the kinks glared? Besides, as I just implied, if the repertoire leans toward the rustic, it’s not without its elegant elements. Take the blood-orange salad & the bay scallop crudo.

Oliveabloodorangesalad Oliveascallops

The former—just the sort of thing I usually shrug as too spa-by-the-sea—turned out to be terrific, bordering on Moroccan with green olives, pistachios, I think, & a vinaigrette sparkling with cayenne, along with cool shaved fennel & red onion.  The latter, lightly dressed to offset their almost flavorlike fresh-fleshiness, were exquisite enough that my pal K & I polished them off sans the assistance of the accompanying scoops—olive oil–tinged, black pepper–spiked & sesame seed–sprinkled crisps that we munched up only afterward.

Were the water crackers that came with the olives that in turn came with our wine housemade too? They seemed so.

Oliveaolives

But actually, that was the least of the questions I had about the freebie. More pressing were Really? Free or not, four olives for two people? & Huh? Am I supposed to balance the olives atop the crackers? Or did someone forget to finish the tapenade? 

Meanwhile, the biggest of the questions I had all night was Hey, can we talk about the brandade? In private?

Oliveabrandade

I like my salt cod spread like I like my hummus—creamy, with lots of olive oil. While the smack of the morue (or baccalà, or bacalao, or what say you) is of course key, it’s the other ingredients (including, along with the oil, milk & sometimes garlic, potatoes &/or lemon juice) that make brandade brandade; otherwise it’s just fish mush. If this wasn’t quite that, it certainly lacked panache, oomph.

More than compensatory, however, was the smoked trout with fregola & almonds.

Oliveatrout

That there was barely a trace of the advertised mint pesto mattered but a whit in the scheme of trout smoked beautifully—lightly enough to maintain moisture—& the Sardinian semolina pasta that looks like fat couscous but tastes like melted pearls.

As for the flatbread with lamb sausage, roasted eggplant & feta,

Oliveaflatbread

the best thing about it was that touch of sauce with a caponataesque sweet-sour tang; the 2nd best thing was the cushy-crispy crust. And since crust & sauce are pizzalike objects’ bread & butter, I didn’t dwell on toppings that, oddly, weren’t much more than lumpy—somehow the feta didn’t make its salty mark nor the sausage its spicy one—beyond the fact that they made for a bit of a conundrum, since it’s not as though they weren’t in generous supply. Then again, equally perplexing  is how I ended up with the dish in the first place, since the two other flatbreads on the menu—1 with chickpea puree & olives, the other with sliced potato & onions—actually sounded more interesting.

Speaking of not sounding interesting, I hereby pronounce roasted cauliflower gratinée as the new beet salad—way too everywhere all the time. But, while I agreed with K it was a little underbrowned, its sprinkling of capers & herbs lent enough of a nice little twist that I’d still give it the old thumb up.

Oliveacauli

Ditto Olivéa as a whole. Time will tell whether what the other thumb does.

Olivéa on Urbanspoon

The Denver dining equivalent of Mr. Right Now: Washington Park Grille

So before the Celtics blew it against the Magic (really? They’re from Disneyland. Go frolic amid your giant teacups & leave the serious hoops to people from places not conjured by racist sorcerers), the cable-TV-less Director & I would go cruising around town on what were essentially basketball booty calls, our only criteria for hosts being a) flatscreens tuned in to the game & b) relative quiet. In short, we counted out rowdy, suds-soaked sports bars, but that was about it as far as standards went. Which is why, on one night when Pearl Street Grill felt, since we’d just eaten there, like sloppy seconds & Lincoln’s Road House was rockin’ such that we didn’t even bother to go a-knockin,’ we ended up calling upon Washington Park Grille as our Mr. Right Now.

As Mr. Right Nows go, WPG, it turns out, could be a lot worse. It’s not like you’d wake up next to it & see your life as a toothless, wrist-cutting gutter drunk flashing before your eyes. More like you’d find yourself sneaking out of a borderline-posh condo at the crack of dawn, at once cringing all over & half-amused at the memory of toothy cash-flashing & dirty dancing & the sight of something like these crumpled up on the floor.

Boxers

What I’m saying is WPG feels like a good idea at the time, along with getting girl drink drunk on mint-chocolate craptinis (so stupid—so delicious).

WPGchocomintmartini

Not that I’d have hit that particular bottom had I not been sent hurtling down the slippery slope by the even stupider yet much less delicious travesty of my first request, an espresso martini.

WPGespressovodka

Having long ago joined ’em seeing as how I couldn’t beat ’em in the misappropiation of the word “martini” for everything from milkshakes to vichyssoise, just accepting its popular conflation with “mixed drink,” I grew fond of coffee martinis as I knew them back in Boston—mixtures of vodka, espresso (or, in 1 twist I dug, Vietnamese coffee), & coffee (as well as, sometimes, irish cream or chocolate) liqueur.

What the WPG bartender poured me was Van Gogh double espresso vodka, period, shaken with ice so that there were tons of little ice chips floating on top.

Let’s unpack that:

1) with 1 ingredient, not only was it not a martini, it wasn’t even a mixed drink;

2) said ingredient was flavored vodka, which is arguably not vodka at all but a cordial with a vodka base, due to the sugar content (indeed, that’s how some restaurants get away with stocking it under liquor licenses limited to wine, beer & liqueurs); ergo,

3) WPG’s “espresso martini” wasn’t anything even close to the kind.

As for the ice chips, those who argue that they keep martini-like potables cold are ignoring the fact that the latter should pretty much chill themsleves, via spirits & glassware stored at the proper temperature; all ice chips do is dilute the pour.

In other words, to continue the conceit, this would have been 1 waste of a 1-meal stand if the food—a sort of contemporary American–quasi Italian hybrid, to use as many qualifiers as possible to convey its essentially but pleasantly compromised nature—hadn’t gone down easy. But it did, from the quite spicy-sweet mix of toasted walnuts, pecans & slivered almonds

WPGnuts

to the baked brie, spinach & artichoke dip—rather more like a thick stew than a dip, but true to its ingredients, being simple hence pure of flavor.

WPGdip

Even better, however, was the complimentary pesto dip that came with the bread basket, a slightly subtler version of the stuff I went so nutso for at NYC’s Da Gennaro. For all I could really tell it could have come straight from a prepackaged mix, but what the hell—it was kicky, it was free, & it still required more labor than I’m generally wont to undertake.

WPGpestooil

Our bread spread (heh) continued with an order of bruschetta.

WPGbruschetta

Bruschette, to use the underused plural, usually come a few to a plate; what WPG serves really is bruschetta insofar as it arrives in the singular, though a more practicable descriptor might nonetheless be “open-faced sandwich”—for $4, it’s quite a load of handsome rare tenderloin with onions, peppers & the yin-yang tang of gorgonzola butter & balsamic reduction.

Stateside, I rarely order pasta in restaurants, even Italian restaurants—the line between exquisite & insipid is just too startlingly thin. The Director’s 3-cheese lasagna with sausage, spinach & garlic cream was, however, actually worth the bite I swiped, not that the noodles themselves had anything to do with it.

WSGlasagna

By contrast, with hindsight I’d have passed on the gelato-topped white chocolate brioche pudding in caramel sauce, as lacking in distinction as though someone’d just cut a block out of the center of a loaf of Wonder bread, let it stale a little, & then softened it in sugar-water or something.

WPGbreadpudding

Then again, it wouldn’t have been a true booty call if it hadn’t ended on a slightly bitter note. Overall, WPG’s okay enough in its way that I could come around to considering it, if not quite a friend with benefits, at least an acquaintance with minor assets.

Washington Park Grille on Urbanspoon

Lincoln’s Road House: I want you to want me!

On the wrong side of the tracks—by which I mean at the end of Old South Pearl overlooking I-25—is a sign. A sign of hope. An old, sad sign of hope that things still exist outside of viral markets & virtual networks. Things like old, sad signs themselves, depicting bygone heroes in peeling paint.

Lincoln's

Under that sign is a door, & on the other side of & above that door is another sign.

Lincoln's2

Translation from the original blur: PLEASE RESPECT OUR NEIGHBORS AND HELP LINCOLN’S BY REDUCING BIKE NOISE AROUND HERE

To enter Lincoln’s Road House, then, is to cross a threshold from a world where children named for Fortune 500 companies—Berkshire & Barclay & Nokia & such—shoot the shit on their My First iPhones in strollers that could probably total my car in a crosswalk wreck to a world that still turns every which but loose, where bands still have names like the Delta Sonics; the framed snapshots of regulars gone by could in an instant kick the asses even of the framed snapshots of the gnarled old regulars gone by at Billy’s Inn; & the customers of today would never, ever order a split of sparkling wine, whether or not there was one on the drink list, whether or not it was the last drink on the last drink list on earth.

I learned that last bit the embarrassing way.

Not quickly, though. Not, say, when our waitress grabbed the list from me after I placed my order & literally squinted at it for what seemed like a full minute. Long enough for me to get the point—which doesn’t mean I did, because when she asked me if I wanted “another thingie” I said yes. Only then did it occur to me she probably didn’t care much for my kind. You know, the non-Jack-pounding, non-ride-hard-or-die-free-battle-crying, not-from-around-these-parts kind.

But since I’ve decided Lincoln’s nonetheless my kind, I want the staff to want me, so I hope she was at least impressed by my ability to put it away—”it” being, for one thing, the first of 2 variants on French-bread pizza I had last weekend. For the Polish twist, see here; for the Creole take, see

Lincoln'sbruschetta

here.

As three slabs of French bread layered with shrimp in tomato, onion & green pepper sauce & a shredded parm-like substance go, the shrimp creole bruschetta worked for me. So did the grilled Cajun sausage with housemade remoulade & more thick toast.

Lincoln'ssausage2

Cut into little lozenges, the sausage could’ve passed for sweet potato fries—until the first bite, of course, at which point they were all sausage, fatty & spicy & even better dipped into the particularly pungent, mustard-heavy sauce.

The Director’s meatloaf cheeseburger also passed muster, if mainly for novelty’s sake, the patty indeed lounging around in some curious limbo between its two namesakes. I even liked the bun—I’m a fan of thick fillings bursting out of thin skins to turn into a single yummy mess you can eat with a fork.

Lincoln'ssandwich

Which means Lincoln’s pot roast burrito’s next on my to-do list—provided they haven’t posted a new sign since my last visit: “We don’t serve dogs or damn dirty Brut-drinking Denveaters here.”

Aroma Cafe & Grill: Hey, it doesn’t stink at all! To the contrary…

***UPDATE: Aroma Cafe & Grill is CLOSED.***

So wow. Midweek I came down with wine flu, which has been swell, because all I’ve had to do is lie around & moan & stay out of sight of the madding crowds likely in their mask-clad panic to mistake wine flu with swine flu & order in to my heart’s content.

A few months back, I’d dropped in on Aroma Cafe & Grill—successor to Pita Jungle on DU’s little campus corner—only to leave shrugging over a menu that then seemed basic to the point of indifference, all tikka-pita tit-for-tat; now, upon accessing its website via a link in an online guide to halal dining after surfing the Web in a Dayquil daze for who knows how long, I found a short but far sweeter Med-Indian mishmash of a menu promising the kind of spice with the muscle to burrow a tunnel through the mud of sick in my esophagus. Greek skordalia (here called simply “garlic dip”), for instance—in which fresh garlic is mashed with potatoes in olive oil & lemon—sounded like just the phlegm-blaster.

I didn’t know the half of it.

Agarlicdip2

For all its seemingly odd texture—a tad gelatinous, almost like processed yogurt—the mouthfeel was nice & creamy; for all its creaminess, however, the garlic bits were a-bundled like dynamite sticks ignited with the bright flame of fresh lemon juice. It was enough to make me fan my mouth with my hand—& then scoop up all the more with decent pita (take that, Jerusalem), & fan, & scoop, & fan & scoop.

I wish I could say the same for the Chicken 65—not quite correctly described as “Indian-style chicken nuggets”—or rather, I wish I could say less for it. Even with my besnotted palate, the appetizer of cubed chicken in lava with fresh curry leaves was too awesomely spicy for me. I kept trying to eat it, but then my face would dissolve in sweat, & it’s almost impossible to eat without a face.

Achicken65

Almost as spicy was the mutton pepper fry, a “dry preparation of lamb flavored with pepper, dry coconut & cilantro”;

Alamb

indeed a touch dry—the meat itself, that is—it was otherwise terrific: freshly, fully, unexpectedly complexly aromatic.

The lone softie was honey gobi—cauliflower in honey-garlic sauce.

Acauli

Though I expected neither the cauliflower to be breaded nor the sauce to be that jellied, & it might have seemed a little much under other circumstances, it offered welcome shelter from the chilied killers chasing our tastebuds. And, come to think of it, it didn’t seem too much the next day when I snarfed the leftovers.

That wasn’t long before I placed a delivery order for the 2nd night in a row, when the Director had a social obligation that didn’t require my pestilent presence. Still really sick but not so drug-addled, I craved comfort more than exhilaratingly rude awakening. So I went with good old hummus—

Ahummus2

while I like mine much lemonier, the little drops of oil, as they mixed with the sprinkle of paprika, coalesced into a pretty little bow on top—and good old saag paneer, which wasn’t: rather, it was unusually, & pleasingly, spinach-milky, onion-juicy & cumin-perfumed.

Asaag

Intrigued by the sound of a dish I’d never heard of, chicken noorjahani—”dry nuts, raisins, ginger, cilantro & lemon juice stuffed in boneless cumin-flavored chicken”—I got that too. Disappointed as I was in the careless presentation—not least because the order came with a separate container of rice as it was, such that the mound here seemed like cheap filler—

Achicken

the chicken itself was delicious, tandoori-charred yet moist with its crunchy-chewy, tangy-sweet filling.

Achicken2

Googling “noorjahani,” I’ve discovered that Noor Jehan was a gorgeous actress-singer from Pakistan (then British India). So I’m not entirely clear as to whether the recipe’s origins are northern Indian, Pakistani, or what. All I know for sure is I’ve got a lot more to learn about Aroma altogether—as much info as my mouth can transmit to my brain.

Nota bene: Special props go to the guy who took & delivered our orders, since apparently he had to get special permission to deliver beyond the confines of the DU campus—going to prove the website’s claim that “the Customer service [has been] greately Improved” since the change of hands.

Aroma Cafe & Grill on Urbanspoon

Neither worshipping nor throwing stones at the ancient mecca of Jerusalem

Okay, ancient’s stretching it, the place is like 20-something. And mecca’s stretching it, its longevity has everything to do with its puking distance from sloshed DU coeds. And, for that matter, from me. In short, Jersualem’s** only as good as it is close & I am lazy. And since that’s usually, it’s pretty good.

Which isn’t to say that it’s all relative. In absolute terms, what Jerusalem actually is is inconsistent. On the one hand, you’d think they’d have it down to a sumac-&-sesame-spiked science by now. On the other, just because it’s family run—which I’m assuming it is, though no cursory Googling confirms it—doesn’t mean every teenage cousin & the friends he hires give a shit about the just-so syrup drizzle on the knafeh.

Take the hummus.

Jhummus

The texture’s always dreamy, thick & smooth, but at its best it’s got that tang only enough, i.e., a lotta lotta, lemon juice can offer. Otherwise, as was the case with the take-out order above, it’s merely chickpea-&-tahini creamy, without much oomph.

That said, the tahini sauce per se has that slightly bitter kick I really dig, especially for countering the hit of oily juices squirting from the veggie-stuffed grape leaves (which are solid in their simple way; personally, a little ground lamb or some chopped nuts & dried fruit make for my favorite versions—if it’s not obvious I’m all about the bold flavor & texture contrasts by now, I don’t know what it’s obvious I’m all about—but something done right’s something done right any way you chomp it).

Jgrapeleaves

It’s also good for getting the thick crust on the fried kibbeh to kick back, loosen up a little, & show its cumin-scented soft side, all moist ground beef & cracked wheat. (The online menu says something about the inclusion of beef tips—without exactly knowing what it is I’m begging to differ about, I beg to.)

Jkibbeh

It had a harder time getting through to this particular order of falafel,

Jfalafel

which can be dandy but was way too dry & tough this time.

This time, actually—an all-app affair—the dandiest thing was the tabbouleh.

Jtabbouleh

You’d think by now every gun-totin’, money-grubbin’ infidel in the wild West would know that tabbouleh is a parsley salad with bulgur, not a bulgur salad with parsley. But since not everyone seems to—for the record, it is. The proportions here, as well as those of the onions, tomatoes & simple dressing of olive oil & lemon, were just right, making for a refresher course in refreshing courses—a little bitter, a little tart, a little crunchy, a little juicy, etc.

Ultimately my biggest beef was with the pita—room temp, straight from the package. Straight in the package, in fact—they gave us a bag & a half, or something like 10 store-bought pitas for 5 apps. That’s generous, I guess, in a cheap way, but I’d rather have had the opportunity to at least pretend it had left the premises warm (which it occasionally is if you eat in), never mind fluffy & hot from some sort of clay oven.

Whatever. Next time I’m feeling lazy—about an hour from now—I’ll undoubtedly make the 3-minute pilgrimmage once again. By car, of course.

**Unless you love you the rotting silver tones of some incessant ululation, I really urge you to turn the volume down before clicking through to this site.

Jerusalem on Urbanspoon

The Dish Redux: Jonesy’s EatBar

Fan of easygoing neighborhood eateries that I am—your Black Pearls, your Billy’s Inns—I was sorry to see The Dish go. Which means I’m happy to see it come back, with a goofy new name & a shiny new veneer but the same old funky, friendly ways. Stopping in for drinks, pal Beth of Living the Mile-High Life & I got just enough of a taste of the place to confirm a bigger, sloppier bite would be in order ASAP.

Not that a mere nibble of Beth’s “lamby joe” sliders (1 of 6 kinds) wasn’t plenty sloppy, hence the name—with caramelized onions (&, supposedly, bacon & blue cheese, though I didn’t catch any in my 1 mouthful), the shredded lamb leaked its dear juices all over the place. Substituting the buffalo fries for the 3rd slider was a smart move on Beth’s part; while the fries themselves are just fine—crispy enough for not being, I suspect, hand-cut—the goodly drizzle of blue cheese dressing & Frank’s Hot Sauce makes ’em new & keen.

JEBslidersfries

Rumaki blasts back from its Trader Vicsian past—or semi-rumaki, rather; I’d just as soon the kitchen wrapped chicken livers up with the water chestnuts & bacon per the classic recipe, but a dollop of kicky pineapple chutney does a different trick.

JEBrumaki

Note, by the by, the cool mismatched plates, a signature quirk from the Dish days. The owner even held on to some of the oldies, which I still love for looking like a Rorschach test out of a dentist’s nightmares.

Dishdish

A side order of mac-n-cheese charmed for its simplicity: no casu marzu–&-caciocavallo farfalle here, just elbow noodles with cheddar, cream & a wittingly Krafty consistency.

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I’ll be back for Indian-spiced cauliflower, goat cheese sliders with fig mayo, shredded lamb–scallion gnocchi &, really, just about all else.

Jonesy's EatBar on Urbanspoon

Wallowing in the warm mud of meaty grub at the British Bulldog Pub

I’ve got a bulldog fetish that blossomed in a park near Harvard Square a decade or so ago when I saw one, within seconds of sighting a louche-looking Peter Wolf (irrelevant but true), getting attacked by two dalmatians. He stood there helplessly, silently, as they freaked all over him before their owners finally pulled them apart. After giving him a quick checkup & rubdown, the bulldog owner pulled the poor humiliated thing to his feet & they started walking again—until they reached a puddle 3 feet later & he promptly plopped down in an exhausted sprawl, refusing to move until the cool water had licked his wounds a while. His sadness was so human.

Like dear anonymous dog, my pal Joey & I recently plopped down exhausted in a sprawl at the British Bulldog Pub after a grueling morning, refusing to move until food nursed our gaping hunger-sores. But lo, meanwhile, the atmo was like unto a puddle of our own, soothingly shadowy & cool from the muraled wooden booths & wall panels

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to the stained glasswork & copper-tiled ceiling & scattered pubby memorabilia

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to the piped-in alt-80s broody-pop soundtrack—Siouxsie & the Banshees, Depeche Mode, OMD.

But it was the neo-Indo-Anglo menu, where aloo gosht meets fish & chips & peshwari chicken comes en baguette, that offered the funkiest comfort. Check out, for instance, the chappli kebab salad.

BBPsalad

If the addition of avocado, underripe at that, was a little awkward ethnically as well as visually, it also served a purpose—blunting, along with the crisp mixed veggies, the kick those minced beef patties had, just as tamarind sauce did for the even harder kick of the cilantro chutney. If the latter was storebought, & I won’t venture a guess 1 way or the other, it’s a good store.

Speaking of awkward visuals (&/or talk about food porn), those disembodied, barbecued penises in the corner were even more startling in the flesh,

BBPbangers

not least for being a) delicioso—casings crackling with char, porky insides mellow—& b) free, because our server’d heard “bangers” (a side of which is actually $2.50) when I’d said “baked beans.” Of course, once we’d cleared up the misunderstanding, she brought the latter as well,

BBP beans

which were worth the wait—bacon-edged & tangy rather than primarily sweet.

Although Joey could have taken or left her fish sandwich—

BBPfishsandwich

in fact, that’s exactly what she did, eating half & forgoing the rest for tasting more “fishsticky” than freshly batter-fried—she applauded the coleslaw, deeming it lighter & more interestingly seasoned than your average picnic pulp.

In short, like its namesake, it’s an easy charmer. May a place like this never open next door.

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