Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Ballad of the Bar Bite: a photo roundup of way decent recent eats from The Celtic, Churchill Bar, Lincoln’s Roadhouse, Charlie Brown’s, Osteria Marco & Black Pearl

Let’s skip the chitchat & just dig right in, yeah?

Celticfries

Green chile cheese fries at The
Celtic
.

Churchill'snuts

Complimentary bar snacks at the Brown Palace’s Churchill
Bar

whereby even the nut mixes are classy (pronounced “KLAH-say!”)—full of smoked &
spiced & honey-dipped nuggets—& the olives are always
stuffed with something nifty, from blue cheese to anchovies.
(Granted, you get what you don’t pay for via what you do—wines
by the glass start, IIRC, at $12—but that includes exquisitely
pro service.)

Lincolnsbeansandrice

Just-right red beans & rice with Andouille sausage at
Lincoln’s Roadhouse

which, by the by, come with a side salad—all the choices of
dressings for which, I was disbelievingly delighted to discover,
are housemade—for a grand total of half the price of the cheapest
glass of wine at Churchill.

CBskins1

The Italian potato skins with mozzarella, meat ragù &
marinara at Charlie Brown’s

CBskins2

which don’t taste half so gory as whichever close-up from
Videodrome
they may recall halfway through.

OMmussels

Mussels steamed with sausage, fennel & tomatoes at Osteria
Marco

which were perfectly adequate, if hardly among OM’s greatest
hits—although if you tossed the token mussels & reserved the
jus, that brilliant grilled ciabatta with a big bowl of broth
just might crack the top 10.

BPfriedoysters

Ancho chili–fried oysters with basil remoulade & fried capers
at Black Pearl with comrade in corruption L

which were juicy & meaty, wholly robust & just the sort
of gutsy thing BP pulls off so beautifully 19 times out of 20.

Anise in Chains: a drinkdown between Osteria Marco & Paris on the Platte

In a bar in Prague at the turn of the millennium, I had my very 1st taste of the historically notorious distillate of wormwood & anise that is absinthe. Served neat, 1 glass went down like 3. Two felt like 6. On the 3rd glass you went to see your mother & that just felt like 1, but then you came back & it seemed like 3 spilling over into 4 (Wait, really? She’s quoting The Jerk *again*?) So, in short, intoxication exponential. And as for that 1st step I took afterward—a doozy.

Naturally, a couple years back when absinthe finally became legal in the States, we were all hot to lounge around in our velvet waistcoats making like Baudelaire (ah, sweet poison mixed by angels; bitter cup / Of life and death my heart has drunken up!) & getting mesmerized by

the flame of an absinthe dripParisabsinthe

It’s a classic prep meant to cut any bitterness. Here’s why it fails: it dilutes the alcohol, thereby leaving the bitterest taste of all. So while the bartender at the delusionally named Paris on the Platte did the absinthe drip I ordered there recently right, with the flaming sugar cube on the spoon & the side carafe of H2O & whatnot, drinking it was literally a matter of going through fire & water just to get a minor buzz.

Compare that to the tower of power that was

P&JatOMthe pitcher of Charteuse Siero I shared at Osteria Marco with my dear old pal P & his lovely lady J. Oh, & a 3-foot doll. Long story.

Containing no hard liquor—only housemade moracello (to backform an Italian word from the bar’s own ear-grater, “blackberrycello”), Chartreuse, ginger beer & muddled mint with a splash of prosecco—the concoction is nonetheless part of a complete mindfuck the way
Booberry
was part of a complete breakfast when I was a kid (only supplemented by lots of wine in lieu of of toast & a grapefruit half). Like absinthe, Chartreuse is suffused with a) anise flavor & b) mystery, made as it is & has been for centuries in a French Alpine monastery

Chartreuse_france

only two of whose monks know the complete recipe at any given time (Bert Hardy pic too fantastic not to swipe from here at Time.com, eh?).

At 40 proof, it’s also a spell stronger than your average liqueur. And I’d never have thought that its licorice edge could blend so smoothly into something as darkly fruity as blackberry cordial—much less that the two together could mingle with sprightly mint, ginger & sparkling white with such electrifying results, as if at a soiree infiltrated by the smartest, slinkiest international spies in Monte Carlo. But so they can. The word “elixir” fits. Better still, so does “steal”—the whole dang pitcher clocks in at under $30.

The immoral of the story: it’s amazing how the flavor of anise, distinct & even sharp as it is, can go with the flow. Coffee & nut flavors pair especially well, for instance, whether you toss a few coffee beans into your Sambuca & light it aflame or mix pastis with coffee, Frangelico, almond syrup & whipped cream to recreate Sel de la Terre’s unforgettable café moresque (a hot twist on the classic Mauresque). Absinthe, for its part, is really no different; fear not to free it from the fetters of water, the results of the recipe being far less romantic than the ritual.

And in the wake of our rendezvous with Chartreuse Siero—followed by a tryst with OM’s amazing blood-orangecello (i.e. aranciasanguignacello—yes!)—we know from romantic recipes.

P&JatOM2 P&dollatOM

Back-to-back meh: Blue Moon & Twin Dragon

***
“One sits and beats an old tin can, lard pail…one beats and beats for that which one believes,” says Wallace Stevens in “The Man on the Dump.” But sometimes one beats too hard, too fast, causing pain for herself & others. I wrote a blogpost the other day that (lest you arrived here in search of it) I have since taken down for that reason.

Enough said, besides I’m truly sorry to those I hurt.
***

What with the new kitty, I’m less inclined to budge from the couch than ever, so the Director & I have been ordering in a lot lately, including once from (make that “in a”) Blue Moon Asian Cuisine & Sushi. In keeping with the space it’s made in—that low-rent chalet on S. Colorado—the food’s pretty utilitarian. By the same token, of course, it’s also a sight cheaper than most (with a majority of items costing less than, for instance, their Sushi Den counterparts by a buck or more).

The Dynamite was Dynamite. Which isn’t the same as being dynamite. ‘Twas what ’twas.

BlueMoondynamite


By & large the maki was quite all right. Keep in mind that, while I know a thing or two about about a fish or 2, I’m no aficionado—not like Chowhound regular cgfan, whose fascinating thread (which links to photos & videos) on a day in the kitchen with his favorite itamae can be found here.


Therefore, I’m all too glad to snarf the stuff the snobs (sympathetically enough, really) sniff at. Hey, we all have our issues, as both the aforelinked & this Chow thread attest; mine just happens to be with bastardized Italian rather than Japanese. Besides, I ordered uni too, but the hostess called back to say the kitchen was out (a claim of which I’m slightly suspicious. Not to be a snob myself, but are Blue Moon habitués really that into echinoderms? Acquired tastes like [at least here in the US] sea urchin tend to develop only with investments of time & money—the very things places like Blue Moon aim to help you save.)


So I was happily stuck with my tricked-out rolls. Ignoring the Director’s basic nigiri from 12 to 2 o’clock (see, time really is of the essence at Blue Moon!), going clockwise from about 3, we got unagi (eel w/ avo) maki; east maki w/ shrimp, egg & avo; salmon skin maki; & spicy scallop maki. At the center top is sunshine maki stuffed with salmon, avo & pickled burdock & covered with tuna & tobiko; below that is Manhattan maki filled with spicy crab (maybe actual crab, since it’s one of the pricier rolls & since the menu specifies kani elsewhere?) & layered with tuna, salmon & avo. Nothing wrong with a one; all was just fine—the scallop being especially fine, bursting with meat & not especially gloppy, while the sunshine roll’s heavy dusting of flying fish roe was nice & messy.


BlueMoonsushi


The takeout menu for Twin Dragon boasted its past Best Ofs; though none were recent, a leaf-through pointed to a curio or two—5-flavor pork loin, honey roast pork, creamy walnut chicken (shrimp being the more usual version). And these

TDwrappedchicken TDwrappedchicken2

paper- {sic] wrapped chicken.<
/span>


They were basically chicken meatballs, boomerang-shaped, scallion-spiked &, I’d swear, lightly egg-dipped, then browned to a turn.


The rest of the order, though, took a turn for the worse. I knew I was taking the name “crispy, tangy pork” too literally, but I couldn’t help but hope against hope that it wasn’t actually just a euphemism for “doughy, sweet & sour pork.” It was. Still, the addition of what I guess was some sort of seaweed, almost mushroomy in flavor, was a nice touch.


TDcrispypork


Similarly, “sesame egg noodle salad” was just overcooked sesame noodles with undercooked veggies & none of the advertised citrus-soy dressing.


TDnoodlesalad


Plan on moving an inch again any moment now, so more reports on the big bad world of eats out there soon.

Blue Moon Asian Cuisine & Sushi on Urbanspoon

Twin Dragon on Urbanspoon

Tidbits: top 5 cutie pies (Tres Jolie, Flower Wraps, Izakaya Den, Go Fish, Divino)

Kicking it on our back porch for the first time this year (I searched for 10 minutes for some sort of cloth I could spread atop the winter filth covering our patio tabletop before it dawned on me I could just clean it), watching the squirrels watching me out of the corners of their shiny little eyes & waiting happily for happy hour, I’m finally getting all soft & sweet on springtime. And it occurs to me that I’ve been eating accordingly—suddenly my usually bold palate resembles a palette of pastels.

Take this little frosted lemon-blueberry shortbread popper from the adorable albeit accent-graveless home boutique & café Tres Jolie on Littleton’s Main Street (all twinkly & tinkly & filled with everything no one needs & nothing everyone does, like

TJ2 TJ1
bright stained glass & chandelieresque sconces & ceramic mushrooms,

where else would it be?), so complexly flavored for its size:

TJshortbread

Or Flower Wraps’ sesame-crusted ahi tuna lettuce wrap—ditto, if at $7 also rather elaborately priced for its size:

FWsalmonlettucewraps

Equally pink & green is Izakaya Den’s lean, clean take on that New Orleanian great, oysters Rockefeller—here fresh & funky with a green apple & pancetta julienne:

IDoysters

Pinker & greener still is Go Fish’s “symphony”—layered spicy salmon, yellowtail & tuna tartare wrapped in avocado & topped with tobiko: a smooth, cool, now-creamy-now-salty blooming flower of fish.

GoFishtower2 GoFishtower
too pretty to eat too pretty not to

And to wash it all down, this Provençal syrah-grenache-cinsault blend, all of $11 at Divino IIRC—as rosy to the nose as to the eye & tasting of still-ripening strawberries.

Divinorose Divinorose2

Oh, you think  a bottle of wine can’t be a cutie pie? Think again.

Hey waiter, there’s booze in my soup: Bistro Vendôme–Pearl Street Grill spoondown

No ideas but in things, famously said William Carlos Williams. For instance, the idea of beer really means nothing to me unless it’s in something, like a bowl. Or a wheelbarrow, sure, but also a bowl.

Slurped clean a couple such bowls recently, both specials worth keeping an eye peeled for. Beer-cheese soup was the batch du jour a little while back at ever-cheery, usually better-than-it-has-to-be neighborhood watering hole Pearl Street Grill; & though it looks a bit like debtor’s prison porridge, unironic doily notwithstanding,

PSGbeercheesesoup

it was actually quite pleasing—not nearly as thick as I’d have guessed & surprisingly subtle too, thanks to the use of what I think was swiss rather than the typical cheddar, which can have a way of suggesting that the kitchen’s just repurposed the queso dip.

Not that we didn’t wind up dunking our chips in the cup—but they too had a little class: hand-cut, fried-to-order sweet potato chips.

PSGchips3

***

I  also got a taste of Champagne—the region, that is—via pêche lambic soup with chaource mousse, toasted brioche & pesto at Bistro Vendôme, where they’re now on the last leg of the Stinky Cheese Tour de France on which this soup was a pit stop.

BVsoup3

It’s a sight prettier than the near-gruel above it, to be sure—to its own detriment, perhaps, since it discourages the diner from mixing it all up & really getting its juices flowing, its sparks a-flying. Indeed the soup itself was so very fruity it bordered on dessert (not, mind you, that fruit soups aren’t just peachy, plummy, downright dreamy after a filling main course)—but once it made contact with that sort of nut-milky melting cheese & that zingy herb drizzle, it transformed itself into something altogether multidimensional & suave.

So long as I was eating my drinks, I couldn’t not get the mousse de foie au Calvados (apple brandy) too.

BVmousse

Topped with a thin layer of apple-parsley gelée & garnished with oven-dried (& then cooked down? not sure) grapes, it had about as delicate a flavor as pulverized liver has a right to.

Speaking of pulverized livers, it’s happy hour; ciao for now.

The rarified & the deep-fried: Venue & Mead St. Station

Lévi-Strauss’s theory of
the raw & the cooked
always did get me hot. In an
admitted squeeze of a nutshell, the dichotomy maps onto a
spectrum from the natural/primitive to the
cultural/advanced—even, to some extent, from the world of the
hunter-gatherer to the world of the consumer, & thus from
direct to mediated experience with, ultimately, life &
death—that man negotiates. It can & has been argued, however,
that at the hypercivilized end of the spectrum, there’s a
tendency to return to the raw as a luxury rather than a
necessity. Speaking strictly of food, just think of delicacies
like steak tartare, oysters, & sushi—or for that matter of
the raw food movement as a whole (which, let’s face it, has no
room for the poor, who aren’t generally in the market for
rosehips & milk thistle).

None of which has much to do with a Friday night spent in the
Highlands, except insofar as going from Venue to Mead St. Station
felt like entering a time warp of American dining culture, from
intense engagement with to carefree release from things as they
are.

Venue is
boutique to the core—tiny (hence exclusive by default), spare if
not stark, &, I swear, seemingly quiet while actually
resounding: everyone’s using their inside voices, but everyone is
also practically on each other’s laps, & so are their
conversations. It’s like being in an
Orson Welles flick
. You have to really
listento
your companions as well as your server, whose explanations of
what you’re eating are so precise you can taste it beforehand.

Venuebread&cheese

Fine, fresh, chewy country bread from the Denver Bread Company
came with a lovely, sort of whipped blackcurrant beurre du jour, which if I’d been
alone in my knickers on an Oriental rug in a slant of golden
sunlight or something I’d have hand-dipped everything else into,
specifically

Venuecheese

these cheeses from St. Kilian’s down the
block

Venuecharcuterie

& this weekly changing assortment of charcuterie.

The latter consisted, from bottom to top, of salami, prosciutto
di San Daniele & chorizo (as well as cornichons & frisee
with pickled onions), the former, from left to right, of a
Spanish blue, an aged goat cheese & a morbier, plus spiced
walnuts, slivers of apple & a spoonful of plumped dried
blackcurrants. All was in mint condition—the prosciutto
especially superb, tender & pungent; ditto the goat cheese
with its subtle tang.

The presentation alone was suave enough that if we hadn’t had to
vacate the table pronto for a reservation I’d have been inclined
to sample some actual cooking—despite the fact that the menu
frankly really doesn’t do it for me; it’s a consummately tasteful
affair, mainly meat & threes (or so), Euro-inflected &
elegantly simple so as to showcase ingredients as such:
yellowfoot chanterelles, white sweet potatoes, rainbow chard.
Admirable as all that is, insofar as my own tastes tend toward
the restlessly bold & messy, I was ultimately just as happy
to wind up snarfing nachos amid the undeceptively rowdy crowd a
few doors down at garishly homey bar & grill Mead St. Station.

Meadnachos

Sure, a few of the chips were charred through; granted, there was
nothing remotely poblano-tinged about the sour cream; true, the
avocado in the avocado pico de gallo was negligible (though the
black beans, corn & scallions happily ran rampant). The
important thing was that, what with loads of surprisingly juicy
carnitas & 2 kinds of cheese (cheddar & Mexican farmer’s
cheese), I could pick up the politely measured pace I’d had to
set at Venue, consuming sundry animal products with the sweet,
sweet mindlessness that increases in proportion to portion size.

The Director’s poutine wasn’t, not technically, above all because
the Québécois
classic
requires fresh-made cheese curds, usually cheddar or
white. Not that blistered wedge-cut fries covered with melted
fontina are a mistake in themselves—on the contrary, which makes
the fact that the gravy was thin & witheringly salty all the
more a shame.

Meadpoutine

I didn’t try my first pal’s cheeseburger

Meadburger

or my second pal’s veggie burger or my third pal’s buffalo wings,

Meadwings

but the fact that their hands are actually in the pictures in
strained gestures of patience toward my shutterbuggery bodes well
enough.

Comparing apples & crappy oranges: Dong Khanh Saigon Bowl v. Jason’s Thai Bistro

I don’t know if that’s as wholly fair as it is kinda funny, but
the point is this: just because you can’t compare Vietnamese
cuisine & Thai cuisine per se doesn’t mean you can’t mention
a prime Vietnamese joint & a middling Thai, er, bistro in the
same sentence. See, I just did.

And having happened to sample the repertoire of both
Dong Khanh Saigon Bowl
(in the Far East Center at Federal
& Alameda) & Jason’s
Thai Bistro
near DU on the same day, I couldn’t not be struck
by the culinary pride & generosity of spirit of the one in
light of the overall dumbed-down corners-cutting of the other.

My pal Larry (he’s the photographer whose stellar portfolio of
the pickles & pumelos & plucky or puckered faces of their
vendors in marketplaces around the world
I’ve referenced
before) & I spent a hyperleisurely lunch the other day
picking over the pile of tidbits & morsels & fry candy
that is Dong Khanh’s all-of-$18 signature appetizer platter the
other day—

SBapps

shrimp cakes & egg rolls & half a softshell crab on top,
grilled chicken & pork strips & cold rice noodles on
bottom, lettuce & basil & sliced cukes & shredded
carrots & daikon & peanuts, all for wrapping in rice
paper disks softened in warm water like so

SBricepaperdip

(the tricks: be quick before they get sticky on you, & keep
the mix of fillings to a minimum sizewise so they’ll hold) to
form your own fat cigars of goodness graciousness, which you dip
in the classic Vietnamese sauce, sweetish nuoc cham (think duck sauce with
class), before chomping away.

SBsauce

We also split goi tom
thit
& got this gorgeously crisp & kicky
concoction of cold sliced roast pork & plump shrimp, sprouts
& mint & sliced chilies & more basil & peanuts
drizzled in a dressing not unlike nuoc cham, but lighter &
more than a bit spicy.

SBsalad

Dim-lit styrofoam aside, how could the Director’s & my
take-out trash from Jason’s not pale in comparison to what
remained as fresh & vivid in my memory as it was on the
plate?

Mind you, I’m all for rifling through trash upon occasion—who
doesn’t get down with a gloppy gallon of sweet & sour pork or
fettuccine Alfredo or chile con queso now & then?—but, to
paraphrase Stephen King, who once said of his writing something
like, “Sure, it’s salami, but it’s good salami,” if I ask nicely
for soppressata you’d better not toss me Oscar Mayer.

And if I order crab—not krab, crab—& avocado salad, you’d
better not serve me a bunch of lettuce with a smattering of
shredded processed whitefish on top.

JTsalad

And if I order fried tofu, I want crunchy golden-brown chunks of
soybean curd, not marshmallows or cotton balls.

JTtofu

And if I order plain old steamed veggies with beef, chicken,
shrimp & scallops, I’d better not get plain old steamed
veggies with beef, chicken & shrimp. (No photo necessary, I
presume.)

To end on a positive note, though, I will give it up for the snap
pea–studded signature rolls with beef, unexpectedly stirfried
with onions until caramelized & juicy, accompanied by a
peanut sauce that actually was, as opposed to just melted peanut
butter.


JTrolls

Now that’s more like it. I mean, not like it—Dong Khanh—but adequate in &
of itself.

Saigon Bowl on Urbanspoon

Stellar eclipse: Super Star v. King’s Land

Of the few groups a flag-flying misfit like me finds herself belonging to, aesthetic minorities make up the majority. I’m oddly far fonder of lesser prizes—of modestly showcased semiprecious gems rather than their spotlit, velvet-swathed precious counterparts, speaking both literally

Pakistan-peridot3 >  Diamond-ring

& figuratively; for instance, I’ll take Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later over either of his more celebrated smashes, Trainspotting Slumdog Millionaire—neither of which boasts zombies going from zero to 60 in hilariously terrifying, gore-splattered seconds—or the extended remix of “Rain” over not only all the rest of Madonna’s A-sides combined but also, say, Radiohead’s entire oeuvre (how’s that for waving the contrarian banner?).

Likewise, I realize I’m among a select local lot (joined, I might add, by the Director &, I hear, Boulder Weekly dining critic Clay Fong) who officially if incrementally prefers King’s Land to Super Star.

Mind you, it’s partly a matter of vibe; in my experience, to contradict the above remark about gems (very well, then, I contradict, containing multitudes for better or worse, especially post–dot hearts), dim sum’s the stuff of gaudy, echoing faux-temples where the cartpushers have room to swoop around Busby Berkeley–style

28dvd.2.300

Warner Bros., in case they care

rather than holes in walls where what should be hustling & bustling is bumping & grinding. Thus bumped & ground on a recent trip to Super Star (kindly invited by CulinaryColorado’s Claire Walter, who rates the rivals roughly equally; to cast judgment once & for all, I propose a tiebreaking double-header—back-to-back, cross-parking-lot dim sum. Who’s with me?), I myself had less room to swoon over the best of the bunch—including the jiaozi (steamed pouchlike dumplings), their pork filling visibly juicy;

Porkdumplings

Dumplingfilling

these pan-fried, shrimp-filled chive dumplings (as they were identified for me in this Chowhound thread, much to my eventual acceptance but initial surprise, since the chive dumplings I was most familiar with & keen on, from Boston Thai fixture Brown Sugar, were only & entirely filled with minced chives, whereas the green shreds in these were relatively large—suggestive of the leek version that is listed on Super Star’s menu rather than of any chive version that isn’t; perhaps it’s a question of translation &/or semantics?);

Greenshrimpdumplings

this special order (scored by Claire’s other guests & new pals—fellow bloggers & “world residents,” in her words, Dimitri & Audre) of snails sauteed with green peppers, celery & onions—each poked-out gastropod pure umami on a toothpick;

Snails

these clams, essentially snails redux;

Clams

this eggplant dish, full stop. Though logicosyntactially I should really keep this sentence going until I’ve covered all my faves, aestheticoemotionally (to use the least aesthetic, indeed most annoying word I may ever have lazily coined) I must here pause to opine, as an above-all-else Italophile, that no one does eggplant like the Chinese (well, except maybe the Japanese, Turks, Indians &, as long as I’m at it, the Italians). Here thick slices were pan-fried & fitted with an oval of what, according to the menu, was shrimp. If it wasn’t in fact minced whitefish of some sort, I’ll eat my hat, & probably insist afterward it tasted like whitefish. But either way it was moist & flaky & crumb-coated atop world’s sweetest nightshade, seeping oil from every fleshy pore. What more could you ask for, besides a ream of blotting paper?;

Stuffedeggplant

this Goldilocksian congee—the 1 dish I’d deem hands-down superior to King’s Land’s, being just right—neither too thin nor too thick, recognizably ricey rather than generically glutinous, & clam-dappled;

Congee

this super-chunky seafood noodle soup with firm-fleshed whitefish, gailan & red peppers in your typical (but therefore fine-by-me) egg-drop-type broth;

Noodles

& this perfectly fried rice bedecked with bits of egg, peanuts & greens.

Friedrice

Less best were the char siu bao—

Porkbuns1

like some sort of freak hybrid between barbecued pork buns & jelly donuts due to overly sweetened filling;

Porkbun2

these whole fried shrimp, greasier & heavier than King’s Land’s;

Shrimp

yet more shrimp dumplings, also made with a somewhat heavy hand;

Shrimpdumplings

this cheung fun, or steamed rice noodles wrapped around yet more shrimp—neither here nor there as oral sensations go (IMHO, that is, though I learned a thing or 2 about them I could appreciate via this other Chowhound thread);

Shrimpcheungfun

the ubiquitous fried taro cake, no better or worse than the competition’s;

Turnipcake

this ho-hum, prefrozenesque crab-stick roll

Krabroll

& really?-more-shrimp? roll;

Shrimprolls

this gailan, stir-fried nicely but sided by that offputting black pudding—practically half a bottle’s worth of oyster sauce;

Bokchoy

these underfried sesame balls;

Sesamebals

& that milquetoast of all Chinese sweets: coconut jello cubes, here studded with seemingly raw red beans (compare to these, which as cubes of milquetoast go actually look appealing).

Cocojello

At the opposite end of the gelatinous spectrum, however, I confess to getting quite a kick out of these cubes of congealed blood (to use this CulinaryColorado commenter’s term), I’m guessing from a pig; tasting like you’re simultaneously licking an aluminum pole & biting through the freshly spilled bowels of a moonlight sacrifice, they put those indescribably obscene Jello commercials in a whole new, much more fun light.

Bloodsausage

In (dim) sum—though I enjoyed & stuffed myself as silly as ever—thus far I’d rather be living off the Land than swinging on that particular Star. Take me up on the proposed rematch, though, & all bets are off (or, for that matter, on).

***Thanks to ninelives, gini, a l i c e & yumyum—Boston Chowhounds & pals all—for your assistance in itemization!

Dining in, dreaming out: Pasquini’s, Go Fish, Buenos Aires Grill, El Taco de Mexico, Los Carboncitos, Domo

As the final deadline of the massive freelance work project I’ve mentioned nears, leaving the house is not an option. Neither is cooking. (Hell, neither is showering, much to the dismay of the Director but to my own secret funky delight.)

So we’ve been ordering in a lot. I didn’t even bother taking pictures of either the chef’s salad or the calzone we recently got from Pasquini’s, knowing at a glance that neither would amount to much except from a calorie-counting standpoint. The menu describes a calzone as being “like a pizza folded over.” No “like” about it. This one spanned the width of the pizza box it came in. Actually, given the toughness of the dough & the blandness of the ingredients—sauce, sausage, & cheese all barely registering as such—”like a pizza box folded over” would be more to the point.

That said, Pasquini’s delivers wine by the bottle—cheaply, & I mean cheaply (most are $12-$14). Antiquated as my old hometown of Boston’s liquor laws are, I’ve never heard of such a thing. Oh, West, how wild you are. Oh, little not-so-now-that’s-Italian pizza franchise, how awesome you are in all your mediocrity.

Speaking of mediocrity, I’m fully aware Go Fish fits the definition. The Director and I dined there a couple of times shortly after it opened and couldn’t fathom returning, what with Sushi Den around the corner & Sushi Sasa around, period. Nor have we. But we have ordered take-out a few times in the past few weeks, & I can’t bring myself to knock it. A, the folks behind the bar have been nothing but kind to the Director, plying him with complimentary shots of ginger sake while he waited. B, they offer a few riceless rolls; since rice is one of those things that tends to launch me on a roll—a taste triggers a craving that isn’t fulfilled until I’ve eaten a whole pot’s worth, straight therefrom, with salt & butter—I try to avoid it when under the sort of stress & duress I’m under now, lacking the strength to resist its ricey wiles.

GoFishsushi2

Wrapped in cucumber, the filling is sort of like spicy tuna, only mild, mixed with salmon & poked with avocado. It’s basically a chunky fish cream. Cucumber-encircled chunky fish cream. I’ll take it.

The temptation to rely on the laziness of strangers & skimp on take-out portions is 1 the majority of restaurateurs seem to yield to; not so Go Fish. An appetizer of grilled jumbo calamari rings reminds me of Madonna’s arms circa 1983.

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That could be because it has the same basic texture as a stack of those old rubber bangles. But the squid flavor’s all there—that flavor I love, the slipperiness of pink turning white—with a drizzle rather than a drenching of teriyakiesque sauce.

Still, I can hardly write the word “grill” without yearning for the moment when I can once again step over the threshold of the door before me & into the light of, say, Buenos Aires Grill, where the provoleta a la cazadora—provolone with mushrooms, scallions & tomato—is like a giant grilled cheese sandwich you dropped on the floor, so you just eat it right off the linoleum there in the kitchen, scooping up the filling with the bread, because it’s too good to toss…in fact better this way, the exception that proves—or maybe the refutation of—the 5-second rule.

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Or behind the bars of, oh, El Taco de Mexico, where that tugboat of a twice-stuffed burrito—its hull laden with a chile relleno as well as beans & rice—steams on through the purest of green chiles, porkless & just this side of brothy.

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Or in the colorful if liquorless confines of Los Carboncitos, amid posters advertising the sort of local boxing tourney you just know devolves into a parking-lot free-for-all, where the foot-long huaraches evoke oval sopes or even Turkish pides—unless you get
the Cubano: festooned out the wazoo with beef, ham, cotija, tomato, red onion,
jalapeno, avocado, and “Mexican sausage” I’ll swear up & down is chopped hot dog,
it’s comparable to nada.

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Or even, as it cools & darkens through the fall, in the rock garden of Domo—a place I consider largely overrated but for the jars of pit viper wine lining the kitchen window

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& the battara yaki, a sort of shrimp frittata smothered in Domo’s sweet-sour “original sauce” & mayo & bonito flakes & I don’t know what all.

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Help me…

DNSpree: The Corner Office, Harry’s

Is there such a thing as accidental stalking? Logged onto Westword’s F&D blog, Cafe Society, this blurry & screechingly bright morning to discover Jason Sheehan must’ve been blogging away mere feet from where the Director & I were getting sloppy over at the bar of The Corner Office. (I don’t think he was either of the 2 gorgeous Asian chicks I remember sitting in the private area temporarily & without a hint of irony designated the

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but you never know. Maybe he was both of them at once.) If this were the first instance of blogging about the same place either just before or just after him, I wouldn’t mention it, but it’s not—not by far. It kinda freaks me out & makes me feel as though I need for one part of my apparently split & scheming personality to slap a restraining order on the other part’s ass before Westword’s lawyers do.

Anyway. We went to the woods because we wished to live deliberately, by which I mean we went downtown because we wished to get blotto while gawking at the sideshow freaks both on the streets & on the tube. & we started at the Second Chance Saloon, by which I mean the Office, because the more snark-patties I hurl at a place 1 day, the more I regret my bitch-chimpiness the next & resolve to give it yet another shot.

It could be argued that my timing was totally unreasonable—that no place should be judged by its performance in a globally televised shitshow. I get it but doubt it. If anything, every downtown venue, representing by extension every Denver venue & Denver itself, had better be freshly scrubbed & polished this week—every recipe, every greeting, every everything down pat. So the fact that the Corner Office is offering a special DNC-themed menu is neither here nor there. Whatever you’re serving, whenever, perfect it or forget it.

The menu is, to be sure, cheeky in ways that are both characteristic and, in small amounts, charming (Economic Prosperitini excluded. I guess I don’t believe in hell but I do believe in an everlasting bar crawl wherein every conspicuous snifter comes with a bottomless chaser of devil puke).

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I opted for a cocktail only on the regular drink menu—which I was inadvertently initially handed & therefore perversely more interested in—& our bartender, remarkably calm & kind at the eye of the chaos, obliged: the Paper Shredder, a tingly-all-over combo of bourbon, ginger ale & fresh ginger.

But the slew of small plates we ordered mostly made me wish the kitchen would put a wad of cash where its cheek is. Having just given Steuben’s props for its savvy appropriation of meth-lab chic, I’ve got to knock the Corner Office’s clunkier efforts. If the words “Cheez Whiz” were set in quotation marks to indicate they actually referred to some sort of artisanal cheddar fondue, I’d probably have been secretly salivating even as I made an elaborate show of rolling my eyes—but they’re not. That goo really accompanies this undersalted, underwarmed pretzel, such that the whole thing tastes like spitballs formed from the very paper it must’ve sounded cute on to somebody.

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As the pretzel went, so went the barely thawed tater tots haphazardly scattered alongside a mini-burger with chili that, far from honoring this piquant historic moment of ours, captured Reaganomics in a bite—just a trickle-down of tomato product.

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& as the chili went, so went the bland salsa on the sope—singular rather than plural as advertised: in its absence, you realize just how important a good hot salsa is for delineating the blurred silhouette of all those other dollops, at least at their own least carefully seasoned.

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It wasn’t all bad, though. In fact, my expectation was proportionally inverse to the execution: the south-of-the-heartland concession-stand snacks that should’ve been the kitchen’s bread-&-butter paled & slumped over next to, 1, crisp spring rolls with wazoo-hot mustard over cabbage dressed in a vivid sesame-ginger vinaigrette

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& 2, this mini–chicken pot pie, whose gravy smacked of chicken stock so you could almost hear it:

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Still, a few bright spots in a dull expanse—sounds more & more like a typical day at the Office.

In need of a change of scenery, namely one with closed captioning (a convention on mute ≠ must-see TV), we hit Harry’s Bar in the Magnolia Hotel—neither resembling its Venetian namesake nor really finishing the atomic-era aura it starts,

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but then, a bar that doesn’t try very hard to do much of anything but be there is really my kind of bar.

Which is why Harry’s perfectly serviceable quesadilla & wings trump the Corner Office’s forays into freezer-aisle-style gourmet fare. To repeat myself ad nauseum, better to surpass low expectations than fall short of higher ones.

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Granted, the company we were keeping contributed something to our contentment. Back in Boston, I’d have had to make the trek to Jamaica Plain, home of much-beloved crumbling pub Doyle’s Cafe, to knock one back with Ted. Here at Harry’s, he never seemed closer.

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On that note,

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