Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Tidbits: Snooze, Beatrice & Woodsley, Jaya, Urban Pantry, East Europe Market

Behold some eats that slipped through the cracks of one relatively recent blogpost or another if not of my meticulous gut:

Snoozebenedict

pulled piglet’s benedict at Snooze

From the neat script logo to the asterisk motif marking the two-tone vinyl, this place sometimes sets my teeth on wink-wink-retro-edge. But what soothes them like a plate full of Anbesol is this: a hot, buttered, darkly crisped but super-chewy English muffin topped with perfectly poached eggs, plump-to-bursting like bellies that you just want to tickle ’til they do, loads of slow-braised pulled pork (one associates pulling with barbecuing, but really, it just means removing the meat from the bone using something other than a knife—hands, a fork, etc.—so it’s in shreds rather than slices), sliced avocado & smoked-cheddar hollandaise that actually tastes like a hollandaise gone wild rather than cheese dip.

BWlamb
lamb loin with Merguez sausage & Marcona almond gazpacho at Beatrice & Woodsley

Let’s pause to eulogize this remarkable combination of morsels, which is no longer with us (though I imagine the milkfed veal loin with herbed veal sausage & roasted cauliflower that took its place on the menu as a variation on the theme). Mighty for its size, it contained thumb-length slices of seared lamb so juicily rare the blood still seemed to be circulating through them; charred crumbles of spicy housemade sausage (true to the Merguez name, I suspect—i.e., made with lamb & beef & harissa-spiked); & all of an ounce of coolly creamy gazpacho (which I likewise presume came by its creaminess the traditional Spanish way, via bread & olive oil).

Jayasquid

sotong goreng at Jaya Asian Grill

Fried calamari, Malaysian-style: tender & light on the breading, heavy on the seasoning, from black pepper & chili pepper to fried bits of garlic & onion. (Conventional wisdom says China’s going to take over the world, but I think it should be Malaysia, because the garlic-&-tamarind-fried anchovies known as ikan bilis, sadly not available at Jaya or anywhere in Denver as far as I know, ALREADY RULE:

IkanBilis )

Cheeseplate5

yet another cheese plate from Urban Pantry

Clockwise from top are Z garlic & basil crackers; Jacquin Valençay—a runny, stinky, ash-coated French goat cheese; a classic aged gouda, nutty & sharply mellow (not an oxymoron in aged gouda’s case); balls-out, pepperoniesque chorizo seco.

Eggplant3

Eggplant4

another jar of malidjano (eggplant dip) from East Europe Market, this one Macedonian and heavier on red peppers than the first one I sampled

As EEM devotes 1 entire aisle to veggie pickles & spreads, I aim to devote at least 1-half of 1 of my 2 hollow legs to same; therefore, more such luscious aerial shots to come.

Tidbits: Arada, Rodney’s, Pints Pub, M & D’s

There’s nothing at Arada that isn’t just a touch more wonderfully pungent than it would be a lesser Ethiopian joint, from the admirably elastic & chewy injera with its that-much-sourer tinge to the vibrant tomato salads to the firm-curded, salty freshness of the fetalike ayib to the smoky spice of the mitmita-laced kitfo, as near-raw as you could hope for (having always had it raw, I’m a little wary of ordering it thus whenever I’m asked how I want it cooked, lest the question indicate that the kitchen doesn’t order a grade of beef one might be inclined to scoop out & ingest straight from the cow) & as juicy as all get-out.

Aradakitfoplatter

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The likelihood that the folks behind Rodney’s went into the resto biz for at least some of the right reasons—because they possessed hospitality to spare, say—is particularly apparent in the phenomenon that is the prime rib special, so tender you wonder if “prime rib” might be black-market slang for “human baby,” & all of a Jackson.

Rprimerib

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Named for the British brand of gravy they’re doused in, the hand-cut, swiss-smothered, curry-spiked Bisto chips at Pints Pub are all the funkier with a few shakes of the greenish, Worcestershire-based sauce on the tables that for me brings to blissful mind Lizano, a tangy Costa Rican condiment I adore but rarely come across stateside.

Pintschips

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Judiciously battered in peppered cornmeal, the fried green tomatoes at M & D’s Cafe actually taste like firm, fresh, unripe & plenty tart tomatoes, not like dough with some seeds stuck in it.

M&Dtomatoes

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Thank you very much, I’m well aware the gado gado I made using Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe—a fairly classic version of the Indonesian salad that contains cauliflower, cucumber, cabbage, carrots, in short basically any vegetable that starts with “c,” bean sprouts, new potatoes, green beans & hard-cooked eggs—would be more appetizing if the homemade peanut sauce didn’t look like something out of the Archie McPhee catalog,

Gado2

which isn’t to say I’d turn up my sniffer at the likes of a little gummy haggis.

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Following Ellyngton’s full on, a taste of Tastes

Coming from Boston, where the best-known restaurant critic for much of the time I lived there frankly didn’t seem to know beans*—literally, as in the sight of them at breakfast struck her as odd & novel in a city whose culinary traditions were transported intact from England—I’m pleased to have relocated to a place whose (I’m presuming) most widely read critic I feel I can trust for his, at least as I read it, intellectual curiosity & generosity, combined with an inherent sense of fairness (the latter being something I was obviously born without. Balance is not my forté, like that Filipino girl whose feet are on backwards. Then again her name is Jingle, so as far as I’m concerned she wins. This has been an awfully long sentence).
So when Shaw gave the Palace Arms a dressing down back in February, I bet myself they’d be straightening up quick.
I don’t know if I won (slash lost) yet, because I haven’t been to the Palace Arms. But I did recently get treated to lunch at Ellyngton’s, & though I didn’t eat the way I’d have eaten if I’d been paying for it—I strive for gluttony only on my own time—my limited experience suggests someone must have gotten up off the laurels they’d been resting on. (I’m assuming here there’s some interaction between the Brown Palace’s kitchens; I could be all wrong.)
The bread in the basket wasn’t warm, but it was varied—there were flour-dusted olive rolls, sourdough rolls, Melba-style toasts & so-thin-as-to-be-semi-transparent sesame seed–sprinkled flatbreads—& the butter, with its pretty pinch of poppy seeds (which I admit I was hoping against all hope & logic was caviar), was nice & softened.
Esbreadbasket
The corn chowder might have been a bit too thick for purists, but it lacked the gloppiness of overly starchy versions, being simply rich & thoroughly studded with bacon, onion & pepper as well as corn kernels.
Escornchowder
This salad, meanwhile, was quite the bite-for-bite sensation: a generous amount of pan-roasted, salmonlike Arctic char, thin strips of jicama, hominy kernels boiled to a nice firm chew, mandarin segments, spiced walnuts, appealingly briny watermelon carpaccio & farm lettuce judiciously dressed in a surprisingly funky, creamy tahini dressing—the flavor combination any given forkful offered was nothing if not vibrant.
Escharsalad
A Cobb’s a Cobb (except when it’s sprinkled with kernels—then it’s corn on the Cobb! heh), but when it’s special-ordered with grilled salmon, it sure cuts a mighty fine figure.
Essalmoncobb_3
On a roll, I met a friend for a glass of wine at Tastes, a new wine bar & bistro on E. 17th (the flagship’s on Tennyson). It’s cute in the usual, vaguely urbane way—exposed brick, exposed ceiling pipes, graffiti-inspired artwork—
Tastes
but the wine list & small-plates menu show some quirky flair. Kudos to the owners for the emphasis on lesser-known varietals like Languedocienne picpoul de pinet, Venetan garganega & German portugeiser as well as the risk they took in attempting to revive throwback nibbles like herring in wine sauce & sweet-&-sour meatballs (curried with pineapple!). Cheeses, pâtés & a smattering of sweet little sandwiches, salads & soups like peanut with chicken & pork chili with white beans & red ale round out what strikes me as a pretty promising repertoire—but it’s nice to know that, should it happen to suck, I can drown my sorrows in this stuff,
Figvodka
of which I’ve partaken but have absolutely no memory beyond toasting an ex with a flaskful on a train from Prague to Venice. Good blacked-out times.
*Which, granted, is only slightly sadder than not knowing franks & beans.
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Rioja’s pork belly & Black Pearl’s chili-fried calamari: pictures!

In lieu of photos to illustrate my debut post compiling my Top 5 fave dishes in Denver thus far (nos. 4 & 5 to come soon—oh the suspense!), please enjoy these fine artist’s renderings by my beau over at La Pistola:

Fresh bacon, Rioja
Chili-fried calamari, Black Pearl
Porkbelly

Squid

Diner does Denver: a Top 5 list-in-progress

What a cyberschmuck, eh? Starting a food blog at the turn of 2008? What sort of exclusive scoops could a jalopy on the information highway like me, just chugging along, possibly deliver? Hey kids, keep your eyes peeled for pomegranates! Whoa, those wacky foams are funky fresh! Check out this chocolate cake—it’s all gooey in the center!

But allow me to explain. Back in Boston, where I worked, steadily enough, as a food writer for several years, blogging struck me as pointless. For one thing, I got paid to share my thoughts on food & drink; why would I bother to repeat myself for free? For a-somewhat-contradictory-nother, I spewed gratis daily as a regular poster on www.chowhound.com; and since the Boston-area board of that David-turned-Goliath of a gastronomic site is so active—the info so thorough and the constant debate so stimulating—it seemed to me I already had a blog, one I just happened to co-author with 10,000 other Beantown eatfreaks.

But now I find myself in Denver, shocked at the lack of info and debate about the local dining scene—especially given how dynamic it is, growing by leaps and bounds and heaps and mounds. We’re atop a working goldmine, y’all! So I humbly hope both to impart the nuggets of wining-and-dining wisdom I’ve dug up since moving here—and to glean from you still more glittering morsels.

On that note, here (in no particular order) are the 3 dishes that, thus far, have rocked my new Rockie-peaked world hardest.

Chili-fried calamari at Black Pearl.
Leaving the East Coast, I bade a sad farewell to superior seafood—only to find it throwing me a surprise party upon my arrival. Turns out it was here just chilling all along! (In hindsight, I should have known better—considering a) our global economy and b) the depletion of native populations due to overfishing, it’s no surprise everyone’s flying their finny supplies in from everywhere; much of the sashimi I now snap up at Sushi Sasa [see below] comes from the same famed market in Tokyo as that I inhaled at Boston’s Uni.)
Anyway, this is not your average fried calamari, breaded and deep-fried beyond recognition, doomed to be drowned in the deluge of spaghetti sauce-slash-salsa-from-the-jar most marinara amounts to. Think rather lightly crusted, spice-dusted, presumably pan-fried slabs of flesh (likely cut from the filets of giant squid?), so meltingly tender that no other ingredient is needed to boost their flavor: their texture is their flavor, as gently salty-sweet as, say, sliced baby’s butt. (I’m guessing.)

Fresh bacon at Rioja.
Is the image of infant tush pushing it? How about little piggie tummy? Ever since the notion of nose-to-tail eating reared its, um, nose-to-tail, ugly but yum, a few years ago, pork belly—essentially bacon at its most pristinely fatty—has been popping up all over even the fancy-pantsiest of menus, not as a finishing touch but as the starting point. With this appetizer, Rioja grants it the respect it turns out to deserve. The porcine equivalent of birthday cake, one thick slice yields the cushiest of layered interiors, quintessentially savory rather than salty—the icing on which is of course its freshly crisped lid. Offsetting its lushness just as ice cream does cake’s is a sort of light curry of fresh chickpeas—which, unlike their dried counterparts, indeed possess something of the off-sweetness of green peas. Kudos to the kitchen for handling something so hearty with such delicacy, showcasing it so subtly, as to reveal the synonymity between the humble and the noble.

Miso black cod at Sushi Sasa.
Why, it’s piscine pork belly. Enough said.

At least, that is, for now. In a future post I’ll compare Sasa’s version to those at other local sushi strongholds; in another I’ll drop top dishes 4 & 5. If you’re reading, many thanks.