Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

A Dish a Day: Cheddar-Green Chile Potato Skin at Beatrice & Woodsley

The weekday happy-hour (aka Nosh & ‘Tails) menu at Beatrice & Woodsley changes constantly, so if you want a piece of this potato skin, you’d better pop by there, say, tonight between 5 & 6:30pm, cause there are no guarantees it’ll be there by Monday.

As I recall, it was listed as being filled with whipped cheddar or cheddar mousse or something like that, along with green chile. Obviously, it didn’t fit the description. But since it was beautifully done anyway, I didn’t much care. Broiled to a T—golden-crisp outside & fluffy inside—the flesh of the spud itself plays the soothing foil to the really, & I mean really, spicy sauce. If I were you I’d pair it with a beer instead of a cocktail or wine, ’cause you’re gonna need something you can gulp.

Dish of the Week: Huevo Escalfaldo y Chorizo at Ondo’s Spanish Tapas Bar

For the delectable details on this deceptively simple winner (& more), click here.

A Dish a Day: Falafel Sliders at Jonesy’s Eat Bar

In 2011, I resolve to let nothing worth eating slip through the cracks of this here blog. I won’t literally do a dish a day—just on a need-to-know basis. But there’s a lot I want you to know, obviously, or there’d be no blog in the 1st place.

Take the falafel sliders at Jonesy’s Eat Bar. Spiced, fried chickpea (&/or fava) patties (or balls) are one of the world’s greatest street foods; & while they’re in their naturally colorful element stuffed in pita & drizzled with tahini sauce, it seems to me their versatility is underappreciated. I can’t think of a bread/sauce combo they wouldn’t work with: tortillas & salsa, bagels & cream cheese, baguettes & butter…

Here, though the buns are standard issue, what’s on them is vibrant: the crunchy patties, spice-&-herb redolent, are layered between a zingy pineapple chili sauce & a sprinkling of pickled onions.

At brunch, they come with home fries & a side salad for $11; dunno what they come with at dinner—probably nothing since they’re 2 bucks cheaper, & the menu specifies that you can get fries or a salad for extra. Tell you what—you try ’em some evening & let me know.

Snack Smackdown: EDGE, El Diablo, The Corner Office

***As always during the wine-fueled whirlwind that is the Starz Denver Film Festival, my diet is as off-balance as I am: lettuce just doesn’t absorb much alcohol. In honor of closing weekend, a word to wise cinephiles about the glorified junk food you too may find yourself grubbing between screenings—there’s fat-tastic & then there’s just plain flabby. Get to know the difference.***

Missing the Point of EDGE
The new Four Seasons positively gleams, & its mod steakhouse exudes just so much prerecession swank. Frankly, it’s a genre that strikes me as being way past its prime, pun intended; in an era of downsizing on the one hand & ethicureanism on the other, & in an area of town that’s already chockablock with chophouses, the decision to erect yet a temple to conspicuous consumption seems, despite the name, far from cutting-edge but actually rather uninspired. Even the menu graphic is jarringly evocative of a passé aesthetic, one that might have been appropriate when women wore shoulder pads & men took fashion tips from Miami Vice.

That said, the dinner menu shows about as much flair as it can, given the surf & turf conventions the kitchen has to adhere to by definition; I look forward to putting aside my anti-glitz misgivings & giving it an honest whirl. In fact, I already tried to do as much for the bar menu, only to learn that it’s limited after 9pm; the most interesting selections by far—”Rocky Mountain sushi” like spicy bison with salmon & peppered elk with tuna—weren’t available when we were there at 10:30. Far be it from me to suggest, then, that what we wound up with is in any way indicative of the repertoire as a whole.

At least I hope the vegetable spring rolls weren’t.

Heavy on the wrapping, the filling bland, the dipping sauce standard, they had no more finesse than those of your average corner take-out joint.

Luckily, good old truffle-parmesan fries came to their rescue.

The line between a cliché & a neoclassic is thin, but these fries land on the right side of it: skin-on, crisply golden, & judiciously sprinkled with truffle oil, parmesan, parsley & sea salt, they’re accompanied by a nicely lemony aioli.

Still, to reiterate, I’m only recording an initial 1st impression here. To make a judgment call, good or bad, based on 1 visit featuring 2 minor snacks that have nothing to do with the kitchen’s forte would be like reviewing a film based on the performance of Man on the Street #2 & the font used in the credits.

Evilicous El Diablo
In fact, lest the folks at EDGE give a hot damn about my opinion, they should know that I was initally pretty skeptical of El Diablo as well. In a town all fat & happy with hardcore no-habla-inglés taquerias, I wondered, what void could it possibly fill other than that of a dumbed-down, Disneyfied distraction for goofy young gringos? But I figured wrong; as noted in a recent review, the kitchen’s output is as smoky & soulful as, well, hell.

The tacos de barbacoa & tacos de carnitas further proved that the crew in white takes its sweet time preparing meats; both the lamb & the slow-cooked pork were as tender & flavorful as could be.

Even The Director, whose heart belongs to El Taco de Mexico, grudgingly admitted they were well-wrought. Granted, there’s something to be said for a little shredded lettuce & cilantro, even a sliced jalapeño or 2—but nothing fine salsa & a squeeze of lime can’t cover.

The Corner Office: Demoted to Cubicle
In past years, The Corner Office has served as the Denver Film Society’s second home during the festival. This year, what with the opening of The Denver FilmCenter/Colfax, I’d give that nod to Encore (more on which later)—not least because The Corner Office seems to be occupied by the culinary equivalent of bumbling milquetoast Milton as often as it is some dashing, buck-stops-here CEO. (For various mixed reviews click here). Or, for a more obvious parallel with Office Space, I couldn’t help but think of the movie’s drone den & Chili’s clone Chotchkie’s, with its Pizza Shooters, Shrimp Poppers & Extreme Fajitas, upon the arrival of stuffed shishitos rangoon & KFC (Korean fried chicken) wings on our most recent visit.

I know Korean fried chicken; Korean fried chicken is a friend of mine. This, sirs, was no Korean fried chicken, way too thickly breaded in a sickly sweet glop. As for the poppers, despite containing precious little of the advertised crabmeat in the cream cheese filling, they were okay, but no match for, say, Black Pearl’s take on shishitos, showcasing the peppers themselves in all their grassy, smoky glory via a dipping salt with sesame seeds & paprika.

***That’s almost a wrap, kids, though I’ll remind you to get thee to Encore before the weekend’s over.***

A Tale of Three Squidies: Calamari at Elway’s, Encore, Prima

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

So begins Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities; it’s also a pretty apt description of the Starz Denver Film Festival, in which, as you know if you read this blog with any regularity, I am heavily involved via my darling The Director. The fact that I’ve been nursing a brain-oozing flu virus since the fest began last week hasn’t helped me cope with the debauchery that ensues over its 11-day course any more gracefully than usual, & so I’ve found myself at the wrong places at the wrong times, on a time-lapse fried-squid crawl for no particular reason other than all bets are off when night blurs into morning & sobriety is but a distant memory. The results so far:

“Style” is the operative word in Elway’s “Rhode Island–style calamari”;

this is not quite your Italian New Englanders’ recipe. The fact that it doesn’t come with any dipping sauce whatsoever, just a half-lemon for squeezing, is not necessarily a departure from tradition; in Rhode Island it’s served “dry” or just flecked with tomatoes about as often as it’s served with a classic marinara. Though personally I prefer a little something to balance the unavoidable grease—if not marinara, how ’bout some of that spicy avocado-tomatillo dip that’s served in the bar on Sundays, eh? That might be just the thing!—Elway’s rendition displays the simple dual hallmarks of fine calamari fritti: crunchy coating & tender meat. Meanwhile, what is unusual—for Rhode Island or anywhere else—is that the squid is tossed not only with sliced peperoncini (that part’s standard) but also pieces of baby corn & olive tempura, a nifty twist.

Essentially, then, it’s fritto misto, as is the version served at the bar at Prima Ristorante.

If this 1 dish is any indication (& note that I haven’t tried anything else here, so that’s a big if), Prima may be Kevin Taylor’s restaurant, but it’s no Restaurant Kevin Taylor. I forgot my camera that day, so the pic was snapped with my phone, & though the coloring’s off it’s kinda accurate as such—the fried squid, scallops & supposedly shrimp (of which I received maybe 1 or 2) were relatively bland, sorta sickly pink, if you will. The breading was underseasoned & flabby; the tomato sauce also lacked seasoning, not least because the tomatoes themselves didn’t flash with in-season freshness; even the green aioli pulled its punch, although I think it’d have shone brighter on its own in a ramekin rather than in half-hearted drizzles. I found myself picking the scallops out of their boring blond coats. ‘Twas a bummer; I intend to return soon to offer the place a chance at redemption.

After all, Encore has certainly benefited from 2nd chances.

When it opened 2 & 1/2 years ago, I was a huge fan of Black Pearl under then chef-partner Sean Huggard, & couldn’t wait to see what he’d do at his new joint with Steve Whited on Colfax. So initial disappointment came swift & painful. A few months later, however, when I gingerly entered the joint again, all was well; the kinks had been straightened, the flavor done brought.

But that experience was followed by Huggard’s departure from both venues, which hasn’t done Black Pearl any favors—at least IMO, whereby it’s lost its culinary quirkiness to become just another contemporary American hang (it’s worth noting that the ever-trustworthy Tucker Shaw disagrees). I feared the same would be true of Encore, & didn’t return until last week.

That my fear appears unfounded is especially good news now that the Denver Film Society has moved next door to the former Neighborhood FLIX space; I smell a new home away from home. A broader review is forthcoming; for now, let it be known that the kung pao calamari has king pow.

The squid itself comes not in rings & tentacles but largely cylindrical chunks, presumably cut from the flattened body of a large specimen (aka steak). (In that, it resembles Black Pearl’s signature calamari tossed with aged soy, pistachios & scallions,

still 1 of my all-time favorite local dishes, though the portion size has decreased over the years & the price hasn’t.)

Because the pieces are thick, the mild, creamy savor of the meat holds up against the dense breading & the sauce, which actually isn’t very kung pao-like but rather citrusy, à la à l’orange, hopped up on chopped peanuts & cilantro. (Strangely, the daytime menus don’t mention the inclusion of pea shoots, while the dinner menu does; my appetizer came without & didn’t suffer as a result, though I’d be curious to compare.)

Who knows where the festival will take me from here; I’m open to squid-oriented suggestions. Wherever it may be, I can only assume, to return to Dickens’ Tale, that “the time is to come, when wine will be spilled on the street-stones, and the stain of it will be red upon many there.” Happens every year.

Starz Denver Film Festival 33: Denveater’s Dinner & a Movie Picks, Pt. 2—Docs

***Con’t. from Pt. 1. For full descriptions & showtimes of these and so many more, browse yourself silly here. Also check out Denver on a Spit’s fest roundup.***

DOCS

Marwencol
I’m in too much awe of this extraordinary, heart-wrenching documentary about outsider artist Mark Hogancamp to risk doing it injustice. Just visit the website—& then SEE IT.

Pair with: nothing. Who can think about food at a time like this? Stick with a stiff drink alone in your own darkened living room.

01_trip2 credit: Mark Hogancamp

Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
If you’ve never heard of Fishbone, then Fishbone is by rights the coolest band you never heard of. Mixing ska, funk, & hardcore punk, the 6-man band sounded like no one else—& onstage they were flat-out gonzo. Caught every live show I could as a college student in late 1980s/early 1990s LA, & to this day I have a raging crush on the adorably frenetic frontman Angelo. This doc captures their genius (& their related undoing). Watch this video—& then, yes, SEE THE FILM.

Pair with: The ever-zany Sputnik.

SET_angelo_sax Sputnikgreenchilefries
L: Fishbone’s Angelo; R: Sputnik’s green chile fries

Norman Mailer: The American
William S. Burroughs: A Man Within
Both were kaleidoscopic giants of 20th-century American lit; they were also nutballs. This pair of docs relates the comitragic life sagas of the authors of The Naked & the Dead & Naked Lunch, respectively.

Pair with: My Brother’s Bar, in honor of Burroughs’ affiliation with the Beats.

A Good Day to Die
Twenty Days That Shook Tehran
Stirring, not to say jaw-dropping, chronicles of freedom fighting in the US on the one hand, the Middle East on the other. The former covers the heyday of AIM (the American Indian Movement), when Native Americans took to the streets—& overtook historical battlegrounds—for their civil rights; the latter covers the heady countdown to the 2009 presidential election in Iran, when the prodemocracy Green Movement showed we complacent Americans a thing or two about passionate political activism.

Pair with: Crema Coffeehouse. Your thoughts thus provoked, you’re gonna want to go somewhere you can hash out the issues over 1 too many cups of java.

Means-banks-at-wounded-knee AIM leaders Russell Means & Dennis Banks at Wounded Knee, 1973

The People vs. George Lucas
This one’s about freedom fighters of a whole other kind: Star Wars fans who’ve watched their childhood hero, George Lucas, morph into a cartoonish villain—& set out to do something about it. The scope is as epic as the series itself, the mood mostly lighthearted—but the film raises a serious question: to whom does art belong, the artist or the audience?

Pair with: Someplace that’s equally goofball—The Corner Office, perhaps?

Cosplay COchickenandwaffles
L: credit—Jazsmith32;  R: The Corner Office’s chicken & waffles

Starz Denver Film Festival 33: Denveater’s Dinner & a Movie Picks, Pt. 1—Shorts & Narratives

Oh, it’s on, kiddos. The Director & co. are putting on one hell of a swell show this year: I’m as gung-ho as I’ve ever been about the lineup of the Starz Denver Film Festival, now in its 33rd year.

Being the Director’s fair (okay, kinda grungy) lady, I have the rare good fortune to watch a substantial portion of the program right here in our home theater (otherwise known as our tiny, grimy living room). As the program editor, I also have a firm grasp on the remaining films I’m most looking forward to. Below, then, are my annual picks for Dinner & a Movie. For full descriptions & showtimes of these and so many more, browse yourself silly here. Also check out my pal Denver on a Spit’s own roundup.

SHORTS

Black & White & Red All Over
I’ve only seen 3/5 of this package of 5 shorts made by Coloradans, but if those 3 gems are any indication, local filmmakers are collectively on one long, strange trip. Ba Noche dol Fonn Baeo is a giddy spoof on classic Godard, most obviously BreathlessBand of Outsiders, in which the carefree characters are just too cool for words (in fact, they speak an invented Euroesque language). Likewise, The Magnetic Detective is an ultra-charming spoof on gumshoe noir narrated via refrigerator magnets. And The House in Windsor is just creepy as hell.

Pair with: The Squeaky Bean, also staunchly & delightfully oriented toward local producers.

Bandapart SBmoussecake
L: a still from my favorite scene in Band of Outsiders (wait’ll you cf. Ba Noche dol Fonn Baeo); R: peanut butter mousse cake from The Squeaky Bean

NARRATIVES

The Black Panther
Speaking of noir, this here is a sleek black-and-white neo-noir from Mexico that also happens to involve cryogenics & lesbian aliens.

Pair with: El Diablo, equally irreverent & smoky-sultry.

God’s Land
In which the members of a Taiwanese cult descend on a Dallas suburb to await the Rapture. As simultaneously melancholy & funny as it is oddball.

Pair with: Lao Wang Noodle House, whose Taiwanese owners make dumplings to commit suicide in a ritual cult sacrifice—or just die—for.

Godsland-thumb-375xauto-14139 LWNHpotstickers2
R: Lao Wang’s crispy potstickers

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
This one, a big winner at Cannes this year, is even freakier: a magical-realist tale from Thailand about Monkey Ghosts & man-on-catfish sex. Oh, & dying gracefully.

Pair with: TAG. I keep hearing about good Thai around here, but I keep not having any. Meanwhile, Troy Guard’s East-West repertoire is its own form of magical realism. No catfish on the menu, but the coupling of octopus & pork belly is just as awesomely unholy.

Leading Ladies
I spent the first 5 minutes thinking this was going to be a corny, overacted piece of crap. I spent the remaining 97 totally enchanted by an adorably campy, smart, wholly original romantic comedy/musical—which also happens to be Colorado-made.

Pair with: The likewise enchanting version of Colorado campground that is Beatrice & Woodsley.

Mona-in-The-Top-hallway B&Wcheesecake
L: Leading Ladies sweethearts Toni & Mona; R: B&W’s spicy pimiento cheesecake

The Happy Poet
Also an endearing romantic comedy, but in the much lower-key form of “all-organic, mostly vegetarian” mumblecore straight outta Austin. Our underdog hero is a mediocre poet, hapless lunch cart owner, & wouldn’t-be lonely guy. (Aren’t we all?)

Ironically pair with: Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs, duh.

Home_04

We Are the Sea
Because Chantelle Frazier is stunning & so is the Iron & Wine soundtrack.

Pair with: Someplace as dark & lyrically moody as the namesake song. Forest Room 5, perhaps?

Battle of the Bar Bite: Sketch Wine Bar, The Corner Office, Venice Ristorante

Warp-speed wrap-up: Sketch is too expensive for what it is; The Corner Office is what it is, as always; Venice Ristorante is blah.

That’s what I’d say if I had to say everything in a sentence. Good thing I don’t, because Sketch, for its part, deserves a little better: the well-edited wine list above all warrants an oenophile’s look-see, and I’m not just saying that because my instructor at the International Wine Guild compiles it. No, really: with offerings from Brazil (we’ll all be seeing lots more of those soon) & varietals like the Piedmontese white Arneis that are little-known stateside, the possibility that I could be kissing just a tiny bit of ass doesn’t mean the list isn’t truly intriguing.

In keeping with European wine bar tradition, the menu is very small & simple, composed of charcuterie & cheese plates & supplemental garnishes, plus a selection of panini. That’s it & that’s all, & that’s fine. Over the course of a few hours some classmates & I polished off the chorizo de Soria & 6 of 7 cheeses, paired with lavash—the dry kind, a lot like matzoh—& some salted almonds.

Sketchchorizo
Sketchalmonds
Sketchcheese

Including the 3 other unpictured cheeses & another round of lavash, the food totaled $43, which, considering not least the minimum of labor involved & the fact that at most places the price of a cheese plate usually covers accoutrements like bread & nuts, seemed to me rather inflated. Am I wrong? Still, good product is good product, & I’ll be back—especially for another hit of Deviation, a heady rose geranium–infused dessert wine. 

***
When Denver on a Spit told me recently that the chef at The Corner Office is Peruvian, I got curious to see how his heritage was might be shaping the menu. Not so much, is the answer—it’s little different than the last time I was there, but there are a few anticuchos as well as lomo saltado. The appetizer platter comes with beef, chicken & shrimp skewers accompanied by chimichurri, roasted garlic aioli & aji amarillo dip; the bar menu offers the skewers individually, paired with a sauce that looked to me like someone’d mixed the chimichurri with the aioli.

COskewers2

But whatever; the beef had a nice sear & a little kick, & that was good enough for me. 

***
Unlike the snacks from Venice. This portobello cap topped with mozzarella & pesto might have passed muster 

Venicemushroom1

but a woody tomato slice in the center ruined it. Serving unripe tomatoes in late summer is pretty inexcusable.

Venicemushroom2
As is chewy, overcooked calamari from a supposedly Italian kitchen. 

Venicecalamari

Enough said. 

Some Snacks to Tide You Over: Rila Café, BOA on W. 32nd, El Taco de Mexico

I guess it’s been a while since I wrote a full review; I do have other things on my mind besides food & wine, you know. Well, okay, no I don’t, unless you count Rubber, this new French horror flick about, per FirstShowing.net, “an angry killer tire that roams the California desert exploding people’s heads with psychic energy out of revenge.” Woohoo! But that’s neither here nor there; the point is I figured I’d give you a little taste of this & that in the interim.

***
Rila Café is tucked away behind East Europe Market, which in turn sits quietly behind the Hooters on S. Colorado, not even trying to compete with that. It looks like your average sandwich shop, bad lighting, counter service & all. But the menu belies the banal appearance, laden with homestyle Balkan classics—cevapi, sudjukice & cold yogurt soup—plus adorable ESL typos like “cimanon” & “vaggies.”

Whether the actual cooking surpasses the average is not for me to say based on 1 visit. I can say that one didn’t live up to my desperately high expectations.

Take the burek, a meat-filled phyllo-based pastry.

RCburek
RCburek2

It wasn’t bad—flaky, the beef well-spiced—but it wasn’t fresh either, & I don’t care if you’re in the Eastern bloc or on the Western front, there are very few pastries in this world that actually benefit from staleness.

I’ve had far worse salads than this so-called shepherd salad

RCsalad
tossed with red & yellow peppers, onions, eggs, feta, cucumbers & parsley, but the jarred mushroom slices were a bummer, as was the bottled dressing, as was the fact that the promised ham & tomatoes were AWOL.

Still, I can’t get the place out of my head: my hopes remain high for the sausages (hey, do those come with vaggies? And will this little aside get me firewalled as a porn site? Sigh, probably).

***
BOA on W. 32nd is as hard to figure as its awkward name. The space is odd—tiny & much more sleekly upscale than I imagined with its crimson walls & clean lines—leading to a much bigger back patio; by comparison, the staff is odd—young & way casual in dress & manner, they seem to have wandered in from the coffeehouse down the block; & the half-Asian, half-Mexican menu—not, note, the Latin-Asian fusion that made such a splash back in the 1990s (& continues at places like Zengo today), but a Latin-Asian division—is certainly odd, at least without a romantic backstory to make some sense of it, you know, à la Frida Kahlo & Isamu Noguchi.

Then again, maybe it’s me & my perspective that’s odd, because, combing online reviews, I find myself in a tiny minority who didn’t think much of the little I tried, which seemed, indeed, to be running on half power, overly sweet, underly spicy & just not particularly interesting.

Take the cilantro-lime shrimp, which certainly tasted fine because it was fresh & crispy, but not because there was anything cilantro-&-limey about it. The 2 dipping sauces were virtually indistinguishable, your basic sweet chili stuff, emphasis on the sweet, de-emphasis on the chili.
Boashrimp

I thought I wanted a salad until I weighed the options, which also looked a lot alike: greens, chicken or beef, & not much else: the most basic of veggies, plus a condiment or two to make them nominally Mexican.

So I got kung pao tofu, which came with rice, a veggie egg roll, spicy mustard & more sweet chili sauce.

BOakungpaotofu
Again, it was okay—nothing wrong with the technique, but then, it was a stir-fry, which I could’ve made at least as well at home, adding the same Korean hot sauce that came from the jar on the table to provide the only spice the dish had (aside, again, from sugar).

At least the sauce looked about right for the Vietnamese rice noodle bowl, which itself looked about right, which, I realize, isn’t saying much—I’m not reviewing here so much as casually observing.
Boanoodles

Same goes for the chile relleno stuffed with zucchini & Jack, however California-lite, although it was the beans that really caught my eye; soupy & studded with smoked pork, they were the 1 item that had a real-deal air about them.

Boarellenobeans
To reiterate ad nauseum, this is mainly 1st-impression eyeballing on my part—educated, granted, but precisely because I’m educated in reviewing I know when to tell you to take my word for something & when to encourage you to make of my word what you will. Let me put it this way: based on 1 experience, I’d just as soon fulfill my next craving for Asian or Mexican food at a place that concentrates solely on Asian or Mexican food (see, for instance, below). But it takes at least 2 bingetastic visits, & preferably 3 or 4 normal visits, to really get to the truth of a kitchen. For that reason alone, to challenge my own immediate assumptions, I suspect I’ll be back soon.

Boa on W. 32nd on Urbanspoon

***
Conversely, there’s nothing I could say about El Taco de Mexico you don’t already know: for hardcore, no-bull comida cooked by hardcore, no-bull muchachas, this is about as good as it gets. Everything, including this burrito with carnitas & green chile, is just as it should be, every time, no more & no less: generations of home-cooking tradition are palpable in each bite.

ETDMburrito2
But maybe there’s one bright little light I can shed: last time I was there, Karla Sutra & I watched 1 of the women in the kitchen hacking with a giant knife at a giant block, about 2’x2’x1′, wrapped in butcher paper. When she’d sliced through, I saw what it was: lard, pure white lard. Otherwise known as the right stuff in the right place at the right time.

Bar Bite Beatdown June 2010: The Empire Lounge, Katie Mullen’s, Izakaya Den, Hanson’s Grill

When you’re eating for 6—you plus the Celtics’ 1st string—you’ve got your grunt work cut out for you. They’re out there on the court giving it their all (well, sometimes; c’mon, Pierce, get it together!)—the least you can do is give it yours at the bar.

For instance, you can tell LeBron James to suck eggs while doing likewise at The Empire Lounge in Louisville.
Empireeggs

Actually, the rather straightforward deviled eggs & somewhat underroasted cauliflower with raisins & pinenuts were the least of the eats I tried;

Empirecauli

not pictured (because they were part of the spread for a pal’s birthday party, which we briefly ignored to catch the end of the Celtics-Cavs game) are high-quality salumi & cheeses; an excellent grilled thin-crust pizza with buffalo mozz & speck; &, best of all, a salad featuring crispy squid in miso-balsamic vinaigrette—an unexpectedly winning combination.

***
Next up: where better to cheer on the Celtics than at a real Irish pub? Well, Katie Mullen’s ain’t even close, but it sure does play one on TV by piling up the spuds—only 12 of 45 dishes (I counted) don’t include them in some form or fashion (the number goes up if you get a salad with your sandwich instead of fries, but who does that?).

At most Irish pubs, “curry chips” means, essentially, gravy fries; here it means chips & dip. Not a problem in itself; in fact, if they’d been as “fresh & warm” as the menu indicated, the thick-cut & plentiful Bang Go Leor curry chips would’ve scored high. In a slightly staler state, they were still okay, but the best part was the more tangy than “spicy” (again per the menu) curried dip—of which there was far too little to go around; we had to ask for extra.
KMchips

The boxty, meanwhile—essentially an Irish latke—actually was warm & fresh,

KMboxty
filled with an also-not-exactly-traditional mixture of chicken, bacon, tomatoes, “spinach” (it appeared to be lettuce instead) & cheese—Swiss, IIRC?—& accompanied by sour cream sans advertised chives. Despite the minor gaffes, what wasn’t to like? Make it a crêpe, make it a calzone, make it a burrito—all that stuff in a wrapper works for me. It came with a garden salad (below right) whose mustard-horseradish vinaigrette was surprisingly nice & robust; the Director had a Caesar which at least vaguely resembled a Caesar (more on this later).
KMCaesar KMsidesalad

***
Pub grubby as I am, a little something special was in order for Game 1 of the Celtics-Lakers championship series. So we went to Izakaya Den, where a pure, summer-evening-scented, chilled cucumber soup,

IDcucumbersoup
enriched I think with sour rather than (or in addition to) regular cream, was marred only slightly by silky but too-salty gnocchi & a paucity of the promised lobster (I counted 4 tiny chunks).

There was more than enough ankimo—steamed monkfish liver—to compensate, however; a little of the rich, creamy, subtly funky stuff—not iron-y at all—goes a long way. Plus: free shiso leaf! Why more people don’t put those zingy things in salads & such is beyond my feeble comprehension.
IDankimo

This trio of salads refreshed despite the slathering of mayo-based dressing on the green beans, which after all didn’t undermine their crispness, balanced as well by the vegetal cleanness of the marinated daikon & black seaweed.

IDsalads

***
This plate of sliced Polish sausage & smoked gouda chunks with BBQ & honey mustard dipping sauces did not refresh with its vegetal cleanness. Nor was the quality that of Empire’s meats & cheeses. At Hanson’s Grill & Tavern, I’d almost have been disappointed if it were. First of all, you can’t go around dipping good gouda into BBQ sauce; only the supermarket grade suffices. Besides, the spicy sausage was totally enjoyable, studded with as many red pepper flakes as bits of fat.
Hansonssausagegouda

Second of all, you don’t go to Hanson’s for the food anyway (unless it’s the Louisiana Station salad, which really is pretty satisfying). You go for the neighborliness: to yell at the Lakers with the guys at the bar; to eavesdrop on the 2 genuine bimbos in a shrieking fight at the next table; to thank the waitress who gently but firmly informs them they’ve got 1 chance to tone it down. (Note: cursing at the TV—A-okay. Cursing at your frenemy—not okay. Funny how that works.)

That same waitress put up with my annoying special requests all night as well: could I get both the charred tomato & the jalapeño vinaigrettes for my wedge salad? And, um, could I get more bacon & gorgonzola on the side, seeing as how I’ve got like 1 crumble for every 10 bites of iceberg? She brought them willingly, without charging me extra.

Hansonswedge
The Director’s center-cut sirloin was cooked to order, which is about all you can ask from your average under-$20 steak; you could have asked more from the baked potato, however, like “Could you not be warmed over?” as well as of the onion rings, like, “Could you not be from a factory somewhere?”
Hansonssteak

I doubt the distinctly vinegary hot wings involved much personal TLC either, but that didn’t stop them from being plenty juicy & highly flammable.

Hansonswings
The “Caesar” salad, however, required quite a bit of TLC from our overworked bartender, alone upstairs but nonetheless gracious about scrounging up some croutons for me when I pointed out that I’d gotten nothing but dressing-soaked lettuce (I didn’t even bother asking for more of the paltry shreds of store-bought parm).
HansonsCaesar

Well, that’s not quite true: there were fried capers mixed in there, kind of a neat, unconventional touch. Still, when he brought me these little toasted crostini & explained the cooks had been out of croutons, I thought, why didn’t they let him know that when I ordered it? A Caesar without croutons is like the Lakers without Kobe—nothin.’ (Actually, that latter sounds pretty good.)

HansonsFrenchhdip
Factory fries came with the Director’s French dip, too, whose ratio of hoagie to sliced beef was a little high.

Ah well, you win some, you lose some, right? Hey Celtics—that doesn’t apply to you.

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