Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Denveater’s Week in Review, 10/24-10/30: The Photo Essay Continueth

…but not for much longer. If you’ve born with me so far, thank you; just a few weeks until the guidebook is finished & I’m back to blogging! Meanwhile, last week’s highlights:

Guava pastel & Cuban-style coffee at Buchi Café Cubano

Keftedes & dolmades at Axios Estiatorio

Chicken livers in red wine at Pagliacci’s

Pork belly with lentils at À Côté

 

 

Denveater’s Week in Review, 10/17-10/23

Another month, folks, & I’ll be back in action. Until then, a glimpse of the gluttony in which I flounder. This week’s hands-down winners:

Vinh Xuong’s classic bánh mì

The Berkshire’s cheesesteak with sweet potato fries & addictive black-garlic aioli

Tarasco’s stellar tamale de elote

DaLat’s lovely Vietnamese omelet

Dynamite mushroom dynamite at Russell’s Smokehouse

Denveater’s Week in Review 10/10-10/16

Read between the lines; therein lies my epitaph.

Belvedere Restaurant’s sour rye soup with mashed potatoes & boiled egg

Cuba Cuba’s short ribs over fufu with carrot escabeche

Charcoal Restaurant’s grilled salmon with pistachio pesto & feta mousse

Brava! Pizzeria della Strada’s swoony Fun Guy pizza

Tacos y Salsas #3’s tostadas de lengua (brilliant) & chicharrónes

Denveater’s Week in Review, 10/3–10/9

Once again, folks, these are just the highlights.

twelve restaurant’s pork belly over braised cabbage & green chile with chicharrónes 

Chlóe’s Moroccan cigars with peppadew aioli. Color me surprised

1515 Restaurant’s beef carpaccio roll with fried shallots & Dijon cream (pictured left). Color me really surprised

Empanadas from Buenos Aires Pizzeria: blue cheese–onion & tuna-green chile-egg

8 Rivers’ killer festival bread

 

 

 

 

Denveater’s Week in Review, 9/26-10/1

I’m beginning to miss writing actual blogposts. Between deadlines for the guidebook—which you can learn more about here—& those for the Starz Denver Film Festival, I got so slammed that takeout had to suffice. Even so I scored big; they may not look pretty, but this week yielded some of my favorite eats yet.

Chada Thai’s hao moak & curry puffs

Prohibition’s polenta fries with balsamic tomato sauce

Solera’s white-truffle mac & cheese & Thai-style calamari

CoraFaye’s amazing pork necks over rice with all the fixings

Queen of Sheba’s kitfo done the right way—raw & spicy (take that, Arada)

 

 

 

 

Denveater’s Week in Review, 9/19–9/26

Oh, the humanity. These are only the highlights, folks; you should see the outtakes.

Phoencian Kabob’s killer garlic dip with housebaked pita

Bastien’s sugar steak with twice-baked potato

Il Posto’s risotto with finocchino

Bacon-crusted pork chop with applesauce & Sriracha risotto at Satchel’s on 6th

Satchel’s on 6th’s lemon-ricotta gnocchi

Wild Catch’s fish charcuterie

Wild Catch’s pan-roasted grouper over chanterelles, corn, frisée & watercress-leek emulsion

 

 

 

 

 

 

Denveater’s All-New Week in Review

See here, I’m writing a guidebook. Details to follow, but by way of promo pronto, I’ll be posting photos of each week’s highlights, while sparing you close-ups of the downside (this should suffice).

Amira Bakery & Deli’s Lebanese pie with lebni & zaatar

Arada Restaurant’s platter with lamb stew & kitfo

Budapest Bistro’s Indian frybread-like lángos

Bittersweet’s sinus-clearing chorizo over black bean purée

Black Pearl’s duck-confit-stuffed piquillo pepper over cauliflower-studded polenta 

Caffè’s pretzel bread & bombolone in a peekaboo bag

H Burger’s fried jalapeños & apple coleslaw

Devil’s Food Bakery & Cookery’s chocolate–peanut butter Buckeyes

Le Grand’s garlic sausage over lentils

OTOTO Food & Wine’s Wagyu tartare & housemade ricotta

Pizzeria Locale’s stellar cantaloupe-prosecco spritzer

Pizzeria Locale’s tuna–red pepper rolls & insalata ai frutti di mare

Oh yeah, & Pizzeria Locale’s sophisto butterscotch budino

Sugar Bakeshop’s cherry-sprinkle pop tart

Lordy, that’s just the beginning. Enjoy the weekly sneak peek while it lasts, I may be lowered into an untimely grave by forklift before the book hits the shelves.

Taki Sushi, Mecca Grill, & a Sofa Spud

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

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

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

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

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

Still, there was enough I liked about Taki at a disadvantage to want to try it in the presumably more flattering light of an actual visit.
***

Since the ban on takeout/delivery applies only to Japanese food, I’ve been taking advantage of the Director’s falafel fetish to get my fill of Mecca Grill. It’s actually a cute place, humble but colorful & cozy, in its little strip mall on Downing—but see “lazy like that.” I’m also boozy like that; Mecca’s dry, & my house isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taki Sushi on Urbanspoon

Mecca Grill on Urbanspoon

Round Up: Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar, The Red Claw, Kelly Liken & more

Busy, busy, very busy stuffing my face. A few choice tidbits for your vicarious dining pleasure:

Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar. Me, me, I was the lucky Denverite who served as Row 14’s very first guinea pig, sampling a chunk of chef Arik Markus’s highly polished repertoire the weekend before this already white-hot spot opened. Taste the highlights here.

The Red Claw. Get down & dirty amid the array of drinking foods (mon nhau) this Vietnamese-Cajun joint on Federal doles out here, among them a heaven-scented & hell-spiced goat curry:

Watch the adorable Kelly Liken cry over marshmallows here, in my inaugural post as a contributor to the awesome ZesterDaily.

And cap it all off with some superbly crafted grappa from Colorado’s own Peak Spirits here.

Drunk Dining: The Pizza Problem & The Syrian Solution

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” wrote Blake, giving me one good reason to live. “Sucky bread is sucky—you can quote me on that,” said my pal yumyum21 once, & so I have done ever since.

By extension, sucky crust is really, really sucky—a lesson I think I finally learned the hard way with 3 pizzas in a row that ranged from pathetic to merely mediocre.

In theory, I’m not a pizza snob. There’s a time & a place for all kinds of pie, from a classically simple margherita to the most outrageous vehicle for cognac-marinated lobster & champagne-macerated caviar to the greasiest, floppiest takeaway. The latter’s time & place is, of course, a late-night, boozy haze (the kind that might, say, obscure the filth of the cutting board you’re using as a backdrop for the slices you got to go *after* a long session at Lou’s Food Bar).

But in practice, shining examples of the corner-joint ideal are few & far between. Even as I bought the below slices from Famous Pizza, I slurred to myself, Wow, those pepperoni disks look like Shrinky Dinks.

And that’s exactly what they tasted like. Stuck on cheese that tasted in turn like it was shredded with the plastic it came in. Amid sausage crumbles that didn’t taste like anything—how is that even possible? Atop a crust so bland & chewy it was like old gum. The slice on the right was a slight improvement if you disregarded the feta’s weird texture, like dried toothpaste.

That description may be harsh, but not as harsh as the experience of eating it—one I have no intention of repeating. After all, I’ve made the same mistake over & over with Pasquini’s—but this time was the last. Pleased as I was to see a generous sprinkling of whole roasted garlic cloves & toasted pine nuts on my pizzetta, it was undermined by rubber chicken chunks, pallid crust, & inexplicable blandness overall—I actually added salt.

By comparison to the above, combo slices from Joyce’s Famous Pizza were halfway decent. The crust was no less stale, but the pepperoni at least had enough juice to yield droplets of spicy grease, while the cheese, sauce & veggies actually resembled themselves. Not platonic versions of themselves, but themselves nonetheless.

Still, halfway decent isn’t even an eighth-of-the way great. On the scale of true greatness, it wouldn’t register incrementally, especially not after the deduction in points that must occur when the guy behind the counter hawks a loogie into the trashcan right before taking your order. True story.

Which brings me to the fatteh from Ya Hala Grill. If the homely photo doesn’t inspire confidence, that’s because, never having had the dish before, I didn’t know I probably should have mixed it up first for a truer picture.

Middle Eastern fatteh, much like Indian papri chaat, is a mélange of toasted flatbread (here pita) chips & yogurt sauce, along with an array of variable ingredients—in this case chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil & parsley. The result is earthy, smoky, salty & tart; creamy, crunchy & messy—perfect, in short, for boozy grubbing. Before you take that long pizzeria-lined road all the way home, consider this shortcut to edible enlightenment.