Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

delite at the end of the tunnel

“They made me come ask you why you’re taking pictures,” said our table model (not to denigrate her skills as a server, which were as polished as her tall shiny boots), sheepishness darkening her tall shiny face until I wanted to mop her brow with a lace hanky & coo “there, there, now.”

“Oh, I always take pictures of my food!” I chirped—which, after all, is true. The fact that it wasn’t really an answer to the question didn’t seem to bother her, & off she went to report to whomever they were. I can’t blame them (unlike them)—at least 1 picture-taking customer in their recent past turned out to be a flaming bitcheroo. Wonder what her problem was. It couldn’t’ve been discomfort, since the space is great, sliding back & forth along a spectrum from sleek to almost louche, surf to urban, mod to pomo—with perfectly capable service to match. It couldn’t’ve been the crowd, since there isn’t any at the preternaturally happy hour when delite opens & she, apparently—like me—opts for a headstart on the sink into oblivion. Couldn’t, on that note, have been the drinks, because they’re drinks. Could it have been the food?

IMO, yes & no. Yes, because the menu, which overlaps with Deluxe’s as it is, has barely budged since delite debuted nearly a year ago; this kitchen is entirely too talented to settle for same-old to such an extent, as I argued then when my craving for novelty drove me out of its bed—okay, booth—& into the arms—okay, booth—of Beatrice & Woodsley, which opened the same week. No, because same-old is still same-solid. Rarely is a hair—eww, okay, garlic chip or parsley flake—out of place among this crew.

And there were, after all, 1 or 2 new-to-me tidbits—the deviled eggs with pesto & bacon, for instance.

Deliteeggs

I might have mashed a little extra pesto directly into the yolk, myself, for maximum pestoxic shock. Still, my gang & I popped them all into our mouths like unborn–chicken gumdrops. Gallus-gallus gobstoppers.

Even savory-M&M-er, however, were the spicy edamame—stir-fried, I suppose, to just the right bite with chili & garlic, & maybe a little sesame oil? Maybe a touch of sugar as well as salt? Whatever, pop, pop, pop.

Deliteedamame

The open-face steamed pork buns

Deliteporkbuns

didn’t cut my own personal mustard, i.e. Chinese hot, because I was—admittedly not reading the menu closely, so perhaps erroneously—all giddy to go for more traditional char siu bao, which are closed up to keep the meat juices in. Admirable as delite’s more elegant twist is, elegance doesn’t drip down your chin.

As for the menu’s aforementioned overabundance of signatures, you’d think there were only so many times in this life you can eat smoked-salmon potato skins

Deliteskins2

& potato chips with truffle aioli & blue cheese.

Delitechips3

But, you know, you can learn something new every day, even at novelty-resistant delite. I learned that if there’s one thing it’s impossible to maintain disdain for once it’s before you, it’s potatoes, nineteenth-century famines notwithstanding. Potatoes & babies, maybe, satirical responses to 19th-century famines also not withstanding.

“Try not to have a good time—this is supposed to be educational”: Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill

Being a member of the “ironic generation” (see!), I was over
Peanuts before puberty,
except for that Christmas special where they go
berserk
.

But I guess ol’ Charlie Brown & the gang were pretty quick
with the dark repartee—which in fact sounds downright prescient
in the context of a trip to his

CB4

namesake watering hole
, where, to quote
Sally Brown , “I think I’ve discovered the
meaning of life—you just hang around until you get used to it.”

Ah, so true! “Around,” after all, happens in this case to be

CB3
a worn old piano lounge in a
legendary hotel
-turned-borderline-halfway-house,

the kind of place you
go & you stand on your own, & you leave on your own,
& you go home
to bed only to “lie awake & ask, ‘Where
have I gone wrong?’ [And] then a voice says to [you], ‘This is
going to take more than one night.'” (I just quoted Morrissey
& the Blockhead himself in the same sentence. Brilliant! My
work is practically done here.)

But in between going & leaving, you down your

CBwine
2-for-1 (or 4-for-2, or 6-for-3) happy hour specials, which they
deliver at the same time,

staring up at

CB1 CB2
the wacky bric-a-brac lining the shelves above the bar

& thinking, per
Linus—with whom you share a security
blanket, only yours is liquid, which means the thumbsucking’s
only a matter of time—”I love mankind, it’s people I can’t
stand.”

What I love, in short, is this place, with its split-level,
dim-lit coziness, its insane singalongs, its brass-studded maroon
vinyl armchairs straight out of the forcibly hearty Continental
franchises of my childhood—Steak & Ale,
der Dutchman. And oh, the things you’ll learn here—hence the
title quote from
Meet_lucy_big —although the chances you’ll have
repressed most of them by morning aren’t small.

In fact, I’ll leave it to the saucy gents over at Denver Six Shooter to
annihilate your innocence in that particular fashion. I’ll do it
in my usual way, via all the gory details of my killer gluttony.

Thus, lesson #1 & only: The food here truly isn’t bad. I
mean, it’s junk, but it’s the kind of junk that makes you do that
dance, the 1 I linked to in the first sentence—which,
coincidentally, is exactly the kind of dance that the music that
Charlie Brown’s pianist, much like
Schroder , plays calls for.

Because fried calamari is right next to it on the menu (sprawling
like it’s drunk, by the way, with whole sections for pizza,
Greek, Mexican, Liechtensteinian—or not, okay—& so on), it
never occurred to me the Mediterranean calamari might also be
fried; I assumed it would come sauteed or grilled or something.
Which only goes to show I’ve been hanging out in all the very
wrong places
lately. Here Charlie’s is a fave with the
Prison
Talk
habitués & I thought the chef’d be whipping up some
sort of

650.x600.eat.NR? Of course it was fried!

In fact it was so fried the verb it was barely squid the noun. It
was like we had to find the cephalopod needle in every batter
haystack.

CBcalamari

Just about anywhere else, that would have made me do my
Incredible Hulk act, but here, it was just as well, what with all
those crispy nuggets basically serving as chips for a zingy
mixed-in dip of artichoke, capers, tomatoes & feta.

Speaking of dip, the spinach-artichoke dip is just so cute &
country-style. Look, with the Nabisco crackers & the carrot
& celery sticks, it’s almost like homemade.

CBdip

Which isn’t to imply it isn’t. Spinach-artichoke dip is just 1 of
those things with which it’s frankly hard to tell, even for a
goddamn gastronomic genius like me, since it pretty much
precludes the use of superior ingredients. Why would you make
mayo from scratch, grate real parmigiano reggiano, boil &
mince fresh veggies & so on only to waste it all in a
mishmash that, in its very purity, isn’t likely to hold together
half so well as its processed counterpart? And so if the whole
thing’s processed anyway, what’s the big difference whether it’s
thrown together on-site or reheated from a package (again, in
this particular case, as opposed to, say,
this lovely one
)?

But Charlie’s condimentality (not that dips are condiments per
se; in my own private pyramid, they constitute a major food
group) really, seriocomically reveals itself wherever baked
potatoes are involved—

CBchoppedsteak
as with my chopped steak with onions, bacon & of course dear
boiled peas.

Beyond being a bit dry—a little gravy or even A-1 would have
helped; ditto more deeply caramelized onions—the meat was just
fine. Still, it actually proved the sideshow to the main
attraction of the potato, which came with this:

CBcondiments

Those containers are, I believe, pint-sized. A pint is a pound
the world around.* One contains bacon bits, 1 sour cream—&
the third, butter. They gave me a pound of butter for my 1-pound
potato. Sheer gratitude practically brought tears to my eyes.

Meanwhile, the Director polished off his huevos rancheros like he
was confusing eggs, cheese, beans, tortillas, green chile &
are those hashbrowns? with a salad.

CBhuevos

His verdict: “Pretty good, actually”—& since he’s something
of a snob about la
comida,
that amounts to solid praise. To paraphrase
Pigpen160x232, sort of makes you want to treat ol’
Charlie Brown’s with more respect, doesn’t it?

* I know, I know,
not for dry ingredients
.


Charlie Brown's Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

Locanda del Borgo: not your waddling, addled old granny’s Village Inn!

“Rice is great if you’re really hungry and want 2000 of something,” observed the dearly, all-too-prematurely departed Mitch Hedberg, which is kind of how I feel about Restaurant Week: It’s great if you’re cash-strapped & want 3 specific things, including dessert, among severely limited options. As for me—being, as has been especially obvious of late, a true bug-eyed creature of ressentiment, I’m constitutionally incapable of acquiescing to less when I know there’s more, no matter how cash-strapped (hell, cash-stripped) I am. Meaning I almost always end up ordering off the regular menu after all, just because it’s there—although, since I rarely eat dessert, there’s a slight chance I’ll actually save money by skipping the prix fixe in favor of à la carte anyway. Then again, since the odds of getting front-row seats to a whole shitshow of rote cooking & erratic service increase fivefold during RW, why not really save money by just staying home, where I can sulk over amateur cooking and worse service for free, until it’s all over?

In fact, considering I could still taste the bitterness Root Down had smeared all over my mouth 48 hours earlier, I’d have cancelled our reservations at Locanda del Borgo altogether if they hadn’t been for a foursome. But the Director & I had people to meet, promises to keep, & so off we slunk, setting our hopes for the meal only slightly higher than we might have for a club sandwich & a slice of pie at the Village Inn (which, as the Post’s Tucker Shaw noted in his much-nicer-than-not review a year ago, is basically what the name translates as).

For our lowered expectations we were rewarded with a meal surpassing anything the Skillet Experts might crap out. That’s not even a backhanded compliment; the ratio of hits to misses was surprisingly high. Granted, to get to the shining shores of the former we had to wade through the latter, namely

LDBbread

lukewarm, lukedense focaccia

LDBsalad

& a 50 cent Caesar, skimpy & anchoviless, with an 8 buck pricetag.

But the wading was only ankle-deep; the getting got good before we got soaked. In all their velvety cushiness, my ricotta gnocchi with arugula & speck in parmesan cream

LDBgnocchi

oddly but pleasantly enough took me back not to bowls of well-made gnocchi past so much as to my first experience with Korean ddeokbokki. That said, exhibiting the chef’s restraint with rich ingredients (in a phrase, ham & cheese) as it did, the dish nonetheless oozed the essence of Italian cookery, which has everything to do with simplicity & nothing to do with combining every fattening thing you can think of into 1 big Alfredo(grot)esque mess.

The Director’s pappardelle with short rib was also relatively light & elegant;

LDBribpasta

& although I think I ultimately preferred the simultaneously rawer & richer, fusiony version I recently had at South Broadway Grill, personal taste needn’t cloud objective opinion regarding a thoughtfully executed dish. Likewise, being all about bold contrast rather than subtle harmony & thus thinking I’d be bored by our pals’ ricotta & spinach ravioli in sage cream, I didn’t bother snapping a pic—but the bite I took was a lesson in tastebud bias; it was lovely, smooth yet soulful.

The same goes, too, for the slender wedge of chocolate-hazelnut tart we wound up with after said pals decided to split one of the two they’d ordered.

LDBtart

Thickset, smashed with filberts & darkly semisweet, it evoked a streamlined (as opposed to whipped cream-lined) French silk pie.

Though the dining room was busy enough, the staff’s pace was as steady as the low noise level; & though we were the last people to leave at 10:30, our server never rushed us. Sheesh, it may not be your waddling, addled old granny’s Village Inn, but it might be your waddling, addled old Denveater’s.

Locanda Del Borgo on Urbanspoon

Getting sky-high* at Peaks Lounge

A dear old lit professor of mine back at BU, Aaron Fogel, has this poem, “The Man Who Never Heard of Frank Sinatra.” (“Once, just as he was about to hear the name Frank Sinatra / A plane flew overhead.”) If you ask me (& really even if you don’t), it’s about the wonderfully odd knowledge gaps imagination can seep into.

Which doesn’t mean it will. Since, despite a hugely hole-riddled hippocampus, my own capacity for fancy isn’t sufficient—certainly not to have filled in the void created by my ignorance of Peaks Lounge in the Hyatt at 15th & Welton—I’m tickled, kids, to finally be in the know. On the 27th floor, it’s got a panoramic view of downtown & the Rockies only slightly marred by some high-rise construction project (not that you can tell

Gallery_57

from the website photo,

but you know what the outdoors looks like, right?). Since it’s also just a block from the convention center, it’s pretty critic-proof. So the fact that it offers a decent—solid if not wildly intriguing—selection of 20 or so wines by the glass is a fine surprise; the fact that your server (any of a bevy of perky bobbed brunettes, giving you a vaguely awkward glimpse into management’s fantasy life) brings little carafes of snack mix with every drink order—not every round but every drink—is finer; & the fact that, of the smattering of items on the bar menu, the 2 dips we had were delicious is finest of all. So often

Peaksspinachartichokedip

spinach-artichoke dip

is just a repository for pantry gunk, stringy & clumpy by turns, but this 1 was unusually creamy, yet no less tangy, even pungent, for that. Ditto

Peaksgreenchilecorndip

the green chile–corn dip that looks like a deviled-egg sculpture,

which contained just enough of its namesake ingredients to have a distinctive kick, not so much that it might as well have been green-chile stew (on the 1 hand) or creamed corn (on the other) with a mayo problem. Both dips were accompanied by warm, soft grilled flatbread with an almost buttery savor.

At least that’s how I remember them. Seeing as how I was on beverage #5, though, for all I can really tell you, they were like glue & cardboard & we used them to build a replica of the skyline for the general entertainment of the equally addled pharmaceutical reps all around us. Although if that’s the case, surely it speaks all the better of the place?

* I originally had “Getting stiff at Peaks,” but apparently “stiff” as an adjective doesn’t mean “drunk,” it only means “a drunk” as a noun. I learned as much from, get this, a glossary of drunken slang compiled by AA members. Probably on cocktail napkins.

Dear John, It’s Been Real: Elway’s

My principles look good on paper. But money looks better on paper, as do menus. So when it comes to the meat markets of the grande bourgeoisie, I tend to eschew making shows of my ethics in favor of chewing. (Eat the rich, swallow the cost, what’s the diff?) Thus did the Fortune Rookie (whom you may have met here) & I tackle the bar at Elway’s in Cherry Creek recently.

Being lefty, broke & increasingly bitter with age (in no particular order), I’d steeled myself with a sneer for the McCain campaign donors in varying combinations of hair transplants, pleated pants, braided belts & tasseled loafers, & for the honey-blonde haves twice my age who looked half it. But there’s no mechanism on earth that would have allowed me to cope with the load I got of that cross between

Bad_plastic_surgery Axl

Jocelyn Wildenstein & Axl from back in the day

a-mingling in stirrup pants, or that

Cleveland_tn

Cleveland Brown lookalike

taking to the floor for a live piano-&-guitar cover of “Your Mama Don’t Dance, Your Daddy Don’t Rock ‘n’ Roll” with a peanut-in-the-shell of an old lady who in fact did dance but could not have been his mama, unless her obviously Ashkenazi genes were recessive to the vanishing point. Were they on a date? Was she his Miss Daisy? What gives? Has anybody else seen whom I mean there before, or were they figments of the Rookie’s & my joint imagination, starved as it was by the swarm of WASPs who left nothing to it?

Speaking of starvation, you can plan on it at Elway’s so long as you also plan on spending within your means. If you’re willing to shell out the bigger-than-thou bucks, you’ll be repaid with big portions of good, not great, cookery—which is to say you won’t really be repaid, at least not in full. So: close but no Cuban-cigar-such-as-some-pro-embargo-neocon-dining-at-Elway’s-on-any-given-night-might-secretly-enjoy-afterward.

Clearly hand-chopped, sprinkled with julienned radish & finely minced parsley, ringed with capers fried in butter & served with a basket of toast points,

Elwaystartare

my $17 steak tartare

was as gorgeous as it was slightly, hence all the more woefully, oversalted; the fact that the flavor of the beef, exquisite with a touch each of yolk & Dijon, was still palpable just meant I knew all too well what I was missing.

Back in ’99 I’d geekily counted the weeks leading up to the release of Blair Witch Project, only to have an old friend totally ruin the movie for me by saying, “It’s just a bunch of people screaming at sticks.” I was just snatching a forkful of the filling on

Elwaystacos2

the Rookie’s $9 steak taco plate

when she whispered, “Tell me if you taste taco seasoning mix.” I’m not saying Ortega, I’m just saying. Either way, I don’t know if someone thought placing the filling & the tortillas in identical bowls would function as some sort of

Jastrow_objects

optical illusion of size

whereby the diner might think there was enough of the former to stuff the latter, but if so, someone should think again. That there’s a lot of dough per smidgen of meat.

Go figure that our salads therefore put the smackdown on our steakhouse steak.

I didn’t sample the Rookie’s signature chopped salad with cherry tomato, yellow pepper, cuke, red onion, celery, heart of palm, shredded cheddar, housemade green goddess dressing &, by request, mesclun instead of iceberg, but it sure looked like pavement after a parade, & she praised it.

Elwayssignaturesalad

As for my shrimp salad—

Elwaysshrimpsalad

if, at $17.50, it’s the most expensive dish whose main ingredient is lettuce (not having occasion to try this) I’ve ever eaten, I’ll allow that it was practically worth it. Though you can’t tell from the photo, it was loaded with chunks of mighty fine chilled shrimp, along with bacon, eggs, shredded cheddar & chopped tomatoes & onions. I asked our awfully nice & on-the-ball bartender-server—whose name I didn’t catch but whose resemblance to

Patton_Oswalt_large_closeup

comedian Patton Oswalt,

whose Lists of Top 5 Things to Look Forward to in 2009 is really pretty great, I did—to swap its creamy mustard dressing with the green goddess, a childhood fave whose recent comeback (see for instance here) was long overdue. Though one of the milder renditions I’ve encountered, it had enough tang to add oomph to an already reasonably oomphy situation.

Whether I’ll return depends on whether I manage to sell my soul, since that’s pretty much the only scenario in which I can see myself ordering a steak whose sauce costs extra. Then again, acquiring a nice chunk of change for something that’s already on the raggedy black side has lately begun to sound like a pretty nifty trade-off. So maybe that’ll be one center cut with hollandaise, & one tax cut with all the trimmings?

Elway's on Urbanspoon

Mixed Tastes Wine Bar & Bistro (plus inexplicable hijinks at India’s Pearl)

There’s this exchange in DeLillo’s Americana:

“Do you think I’m handsome?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Do you want to know if I think you’re pretty?”

“Okay.”

“I think you just miss,” I said.

Ditto, Tastes. Hit the uptown branch last night with Beth Partin to be moderately charmed & mildly chagrined by turns, for pretty much the same reasons I go back & forth between digging & deriding the Village Cork. Like its fellow wine bar & self-styled bistro, it’s got quaint looks & quietude on its side. It boasts an eclectic, ever-evolving & not-at-all-expensive selection of wines by the glass—although why, amid all the much-appreciated tasting notes, the list omits vintage is beyond me—& affable folks to serve them. My Fleur de Cap pinotage was indeed lighter than a pinot and deeper than a cinsault; I certainly enjoyed pretending I could tell that the Can Blau blend of carignan, grenache & syrah offered hints of cedar, minerals & baking spices; & I especially liked the carménère, which was apparently violet. Or so I wrote down, period, being rather rosy at that point myself.

But as at the Village Cork, the hors d’oeuvres tend to look a little more like afterthoughts in person than they seem on paper.  Take the serrano ham–wrapped, brie-stuffed dates with balsamic “cream”:

Tdates

It’s a minor quibble that the advertised cream is in fact a reduction; it’s a bigger quibble that deglet noors are just like the cockroaches to the grand tarantulas that are medjools. Bigger, richer, moister dates would have struck a greater contrast to the ham & given the cheese a tad more room to assert itself.

Actually, the stand-alone cheese we selected was, but for the generous portion, likewise underwhelming; honestly, I can’t recall what it supposedly was—a Pierre Robert? a Brillat Savarin? one of those named for some French joker at any rate, the description of which read as though it was studded with bits of strawberry, which it was, if by that we agree to mean just accompanied by cranberries instead. It was also a bit on the dry side, enough so that it seemed a lesser imitation of its type, which is probably why I’m forgetting what that type was exactly.

Tcheese

As for the meatballs with Belgian curry sauce & pineapple,

Tmeatballs

they were actually a treat, the curry sauce being unexpectedly almost honey-mustardesque—but, really, Dole tidbits? If fresh pineapple might be too overwhelming—& it might—how about incorporating a little bit of candied pineapple or even pineapple juice into the meatballs themselves? Or, you know, just letting the pineapple idea go altogether? The canned stuff just smacks so hard of dessert with grandma at the nursing home.

Speaking of smacking, however, the duck liver pâté really was, lipwise. Whether or not it was housemade wasn’t clear, but its quality was, on the mild side but creamy & smooth as could be.

Tpate

Never knowing when enough is enough until afterward, I talked poor Beth into joining me to meet the Director for a nightcap in the upstairs lounge at India’s Pearl, which turned into an afterdinner (you know, like an afterparty, only more belly-distending). While the Director had his usual lamb vindaloo—which happened to be especially, wonderfully on fire last night—I opted for the excellent malai kofta,

IPmalaikofta

really just about the most comfortingly rich rendition of fried potato-paneer-nut–raisin-et cetera patties in creamy curry ever.

And believe you me, some comfort was in order under the circumstances that were one-man karaoke night—the one man being our server, who pretty much tended to the 3 of us, namely his entire audience, between Gwen Stefani numbers. Straight out of some would-be Cassavetes, I tell you.

Delicious grave desecration at Zaidy’s

As Steve Martin was a poor black child in a sharecroppers’ shack in The Jerk, so growing up in a nominally Jewish but wholly East Coastish household in the Bible belt—a tiny six-pointed star upon its very buckle

Oklahoma

I didn’t really notice I couldn’t pass for heartland Christian.

Until lunchtime.

That was when my athletic blond friends unwrapped their bolognas on white & bookish dark I pulled out my cream cheese & green olive on rye & felt awful & shy.

Until, until, my grandfolks took me to a kosher deli in my dad’s hometown of Paterson, NJ, where I bit into my 1st half sour & felt suddenly, truly, at home.

Thus does Zaidy’s old carpet appear a personalized welcome mat beneath tables dotted with dishes of these:

Zaidyspickles

The greener 1’s the half sour—crunchier, brighter, more akin to a cuke straight from the garden, sprinkled with salt—the browner 1 a really garlicky dill; every bite of both—along with the occasional forkful of fresh sauerkraut from the bowl—took me back, closer & closer to Jersey circa 1977.

Which isn’t to say I actually got there. Treyf through & through, Mexican here & there, Zaidy’s caters with relish to the customers Denverites are rather than the ones they might morph into elsewhere—as well it should. Since my own loyalty to my people decreases in proportion to their rejection of shellfish, pork & the combination of meat & dairy, I’d just as soon frequent a deli offering bacon-wrapped scallops sprinkled with blue cheese & the tears of my ancestors or whatever.

Being an actual, Iowan-corn-fed goy, the Director would too—as his omelet, Aryan pink & yellow with ham (Black Forest, no less) & swiss, surely indicates.

Zaidysomelette

It surely also indicates how good it was—thick, moist & as chock-full of its goodies as, say, charoset—the preserve served at Passover to symbolize the mortar with which enslaved Jews in Egypt did brickwork—is with chopped walnuts. Oh, the humanity chunks of pork rump reveal.

As for that pile of sliced & pan-fried potatoes, they were just right—just greasy enough, crispy & soft, well seasoned. In fact, they were even better, texturally at least, than my brisket-filled latkes, fluffy to the slight detriment of the ideal crispy brown veneer.

Zaidyslatkes

But the ample strips of beef were nice & juicy &, all mixed up with dollops of the poppy seed–speckled colelsaw, this was the comfort food of the gods—all merciful, none jealous.

Having recently mentioned there are only 2 scenarios in which I find myself ordering dessert, this was the happier one. Stuffed beyond belief (except that of a secular Jew at the altar of a good deli), I got a square of the cheesecake to go—

Zaidyscheesecake

not too sweet despite the thick layer of luscious brown sugar streusel, pineapple-tinged & creamy-fluffy.

Can’t wait to further disturb various burial plots back in Poland by returning for guacamole-topped blintzes.

Zaidy's Deli on Urbanspoon

Is it me under the table, or did Steuben’s just raise the bar?: bacon vodka & other kooky doodads

Having claimed repeatedly (e.g. here, here & most recently in this NYE newsflash here) that a meal at Steuben’s tends to amount to more than the sum of its parts, I’m delighted to report that said sum has itself been increasing rapidly of late. While the emphasis here has always been on merrymaking versus painstaking, the fact that the less seriously Steuben’s takes itself the better is indicative of the level of sheer instinct at work (or play, as the case may be). If that rings awfully dry & stiff, especially coming from someone whose pores are still oozing last night’s booze, it just goes to show you can take the girl out of the academy but you can’t take the academy out of the girl even when you get her loaded on bacon-infused vodka* martinis rimmed with maple sugar.

But you, or at least I, will have a lot of fun trying.

Steubensbaconvodka

If this were foul it would still be phenomenal; while pumped-pork potions aren’t news in the fancy cities, no one in our rougher-&-tumbler(er?) burg has so far as I know dared to give them a go until now. The icing on the cake—a cliché I love when writing about food that isn’t iced cake insofar as it reminds me of that line in Delillo’s Ratner’s Star, “The Rolls Royce is the Cadillac of automobiles”—is that it isn’t foul: while the vodka’s suprisingly suave, giving off a smoky tinge rather than reeking of rendered fat, the hardened rim of maple syrup & granulated sugar is somehow not cloying; I suspect that chilling inhibits the flavor just so.

Compare to the coating on these sugar babies,

Sshushpuppies

**

which, far from inhibited, is balls out, if that’s something sugar can be—while remaining in proportion to the balls it’s on: ultramoist cornbread hush puppies fried to a brown so deep they were almost burnt, lending them, intentionally or not, the slightest bitter edge that only enhanced their salty sweetness.

Speaking of slight bitter edges only enhanced by sweetness, how I love that man of mine, but I’m only just beginning to accept the fact that the Director is, as they say, differently abled when it comes to ordering in restaurants. It’s like he has menu-triggered Tourette’s—involuntarily repeating the name of the same dish over & over whenever he sees it.

In short he got the fried chicken yet again.

Ssfriedchicken

Which isn’t to say that if you wanna be my lover you have to be my dish-switching bitch. Firstly, it was as good as ever—hot & crispy & juicy enough to touch the mashed potatoes (a bit lumpy, but I can take ’em that way), topped with a dense-crumbed biscuit—with the exception of the gravy, as gunky as it looks. Secondly, on that condition even I couldn’t have been with me last night, when I ordered the same Caesar I last had nearly a year ago (I mean, not the exact same; that would be sci-fi) on a hunch that proved true: it had vastly improved since—

S'scaesar

the dressing tangier, the croutons almost certainly housemade, the anchovies not of the cheap salted & tinned variety (which, granted, I also adore) but either actual boquerones or remarkable marinated white facsimiles thereof:

S'sanchovies

Of course, a salad wasn’t all I ordered. You can’t be pairing bacon vodka & fresh lettuce, for crying out loud. You might as well have a chocolate milkshake.

I was about to say, although on 2nd thought seared foie gras & a milkshake might be kinda brilliant, especially if you dunked hunks of the 1 into the other & it was spiked with almond liqueur.

The point is that while searching the menu for something sufficiently trashy I remembered I’d once been briefed by someone sufficiently trashy on Steuben’s “in-the-know menu”: a short-but-sweet selection of dishes available for, but only for, the asking—mostly staff-mealtime riffs on regular menu items, according to our server, who also pointed out that since the kitchen regularly entertains special requests, the whole thing is a charming gimmick more than a jealously guarded secret. For instance, you can gussy up your mac & cheese with just about anything short of jimmies, whipped cream & a maraschino cherry; mixed with green chile, it becomes as soupy & mildly piquant (if you oxymoronically will) down below as it is crunchy & cheesy on top.

Ssmac

**

As had I by the time we left—at once pickled & tickled by Steuben’s anew.

*With which they also make Bloody Marys.
**This, by the way, is a  side orders—$2. Fifty cents a pop. That alone warrants the categorical bump I’ve officially given Steuben’s here.

Such sorrow & then pancakes after it*: The Breakfast King

I suffer unironically from delayed separation anxiety. His absence doesn’t much unsettle me; it’s the moment the Director returns from a business trip (if that’s what you call going to the Cannes Film Festival or the Berlin Film Festival or to Vegas for an industry summit that seems to consist of about 3 discussion panels, 103 cocktail parties & countless goings-on that stay there) that I suddenly start sobbing in my goblet.

Last night, he swept straight from DIA into a holiday party at the Skylark, where I had already commenced with the merrymaking, thanks in part to Our Lady of the Karaoke Set Magic Cyclops, who happened to intone from his pulpit that Mayo Is Good On All Things, & lo, the heavens did part to shine a blinding light on this mayo-&-chocolate-chip-cookie sandwich that the Constant Watcher, aka our friend Petey, thereby assembleth,

Mayocookie

which was gross in contradictory proportion to its halo, not that that stopped us in our fervor from gobbling it nor from further slapping together a chocolate-chip-&-goat-cheese sandwich

Cheesecookie

&, far worse but theoretically far greater with warm, fresh cookies &, I don’t know, some Iberican import, a chocolate-chip-&-ham sandwich.

Hamcookie

So you can see where this is headed: The Breakfast King, as all voyages across the dark waters of one’s own slobber must.

BK

Having argued before that mediocrity has its moments, some of them downright precious, I’ll submit into evidence Exhibit BK, whose triumph is its mere lights-on presence. It sure as hell ain’t the coffee. That I recall clearly, though much else is shrouded in the mists of my meltdown, which began sometime after we placed our order with the caricature of a hash-house waitress

BB1248 who was our actual waitress.

But not quite all else; I hearted my meatloaf enough for a close-up, digging especially through my sobs how it was basically a hamburger patty with the ketchup baked right in;

BKmeatloaf2

ditto the smooth-as-plastic mashed potatoes with the gravy-filled hollow, just like homemade if you live in the Hungry Jack factory, & the slice of Texas toast for ripping & dipping in said gravy:

BKmeatloaf1

But I have not an inkling of an inkling as to what that junk on the right was, nor whether I ate those old folks’ veggies on the left, nor the ways & means by which I gulped down this bowl of blue-cheese dressing with some lettuce sprinkled on bottom,

BKsalad

but apparently I did,

BKsalad2

nor whether the Director’s huevos rancheros was as appealing as it looks with 1 eye open or as nauseating as it looks with the other.

BKhuevos

I only know that in the linoleum glow & hum of strangers past bedtime I cried & ate my glorified TV dinner with relish & cried some more as my darling looked on calmly. Heaven should be thus.

*Dostoevsky’d have been a great habitué of all-night diners, no?

Breakfast King on Urbanspoon

Pi-eyed

The final few days of the Starz Denver Film Festival being
the most whirlwind, we checked into the Hilton Garden Inn downtown last week so
we could decrease the distance between us & the action, aka drunk
point A & drunker point B, blissfully unaware our sweet little secret hideaway was about to be converted into our sweet little convalescent home.

The evening before his seizure, though, the Director was
able to clear his schedule sufficiently to give us some time alone together at Pi
Kitchen + Bar
off the lobby; the evening after his
seizure, his schedule got cleared sufficiently for him, not that that amounted
to us being alone there together so much as together there alone (he’s addled for at least a
day, usually more, following these electrically awry extravaganzas his brain
stages, & is presently unable to retrieve any info about our revisit). I’d noticed the place before but had no cause or inclination to check
it out until then, being naturally wary of any eatery with a name that’s smarter
than I am (e.g. the Boston area’s obscurity-bound Conundrum & Apocrypha)—an
attitude the cool old journeyman bartender who’d surely be played by Tom
Wilkinson
in the movie version validated when I asked,
“Why Pi?”: “Because they gave ungodly amounts of money to some
consultant to come up with it, that’s all I’ve ever heard, & I’ve been here
since Day 1.” Of course, his answer simultaneously neutralized my suspicions too, going to show that the pretentiousness of the name at least hadn’t
rubbed off on the staff, affable and attentive down the line.

That
includes the kitchen crew. Without implying it belongs on any local connoisseur’s
short (or even long) list of must tries, I can safely say Pi has its charms,
namely an air of casual quietude; the sorts of diversionary bartop perks that
point to a familiarity with & forbearance toward the world’s more seasoned &/or lonely flies, including snack mix

Photo 23

& collections of trivia,

Pibooks

whence I learned that a) the US military has created a nearly indestructible
sandwich that stays fresh for 3 years & b) “a fig is technically a fish”—or
so I noted after a few glasses of surprisingly decent, palate-rich yet
wallet-cheap ($25/bottle) Trapiche Oak Cask Pinot Noir, but I’m pretty sure it actually read “a fig is technically a flower,” unless it was an only randomly
fact-checked collection of trivia; &, above all, a menu that suggests its
creators were far more aware of both the limitations & the strengths of hotel
line cooks resigned to feeding a largely accidental clientele resigned in turn
to being fed thereby than were the apparently overcompensated consultants who preceded
them, emphasizing ultra-ease from the standpoints of both execution &
enjoyment.

Over
the course of 2 meals, we polished off this fresh-tasting, tangy
paprika-oil-drizzled hummus with warm, fluffy pita triangles;

Pihummus

the Buffalo Meets Italy, a “prociutto [sic] & buffalo blue cheese panini [sic, unless 2 halves count as 2 wholes],” bubbling over with cheese that resembled nothing I expected & accompanied by the precisely expected set of plastic pick-up sticks that are previously frozen institutional fries, but mesmerizing enough nonetheless with its pile of warm grilled ham that I forgot to gobble 2nd, snap 1st;

Pipanino

this mac & cheese—all the Director could chew with his screwy seized jaw—

Picrabpasta

which contained, albeit not in spades, actual shreds of lump crabmeat amid the actually al dente penne, creamed in actual mascarpone as well as melted fontina;

& this braised pork sandwich,

Piporksandwich2

whose advertised slices of pancetta & green apple (as opposed to unadvertised slice of Swiss-like stuff) I have no recollection of encountering, so unless I’m exhibiting some sort of sympathy amnesia, I’m vouching for their absence even as I realize an inundation of fairly honeyed BBQ sauce may simply have effectively obliterated their physical presence.

Likewise, I’m inclined to chalk the pre-cerebral-shitshow lack of impact these crab egg rolls with cilantro-citrus dipping sauce made on us

Pieggrolls

up to their apparent origins on a conveyor belt in Garden City rather than some earnest wonton wrapper’s work surface at the Garden Inn.

Still, insofar as it showed rather more genuine character than it had a right to, I didn’t mind getting chance 2nds on Pi, nor would I object to someday grabbing 3rds.

Pi Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon