Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

La cocina El Tejado no es through the roof (+ bonus postscript: unhealthy diet tips!)

According to the Rocky Mountain News about 3 years ago,

“an early morning fire gutted El Tejado, a Mexican restaurant at 1410 S. Wadsworth Blvd. When West Metro firefighters arrived, they found smoke and flames pouring through the roof.”

Assuming that that was the precursor to the El Tejado on S. Broadway, one wonders whether they thought their old name—tejado is the Spanish word for roof—was especially fitting postblaze, implying their hot hot hot cooking would just keep blowing the lid off their new digs night after night or something. They don’t need no agua or something.

But the potential for spontaneous combustion due to awesomeness was not obvious the night I dined there recently, despite the heartening fact that the menu’s not totally Americompromised—there are tacos de lengua, there’s machaca (shredded beef) with eggs for breakfast, & quail’s a weekly special. Nor is it that the meal was especially bad—just routine, just indicative of a certain amount of indifference on the kitchen’s part.

Though the ceviche de pescado we started with was 1 of the highlights, it didn’t resemble any ceviche I’d ever seen:

ETceviche

Instead of the goodly chunks of fish &/or shellfish, tomatoes, onions, peppers sweet & hot, cilantro & such I expected, we got a big soup bowl full of what the director likened to pico de gallo mixed with fish flakes. It also contained shredded carrot, traditional in no recipe I know of. (Edit: Make that knew of; see this Chowhound thread for its probable sources.) Nevertheless, I liked it for its combined tang of lime juice, cilantro & onion—pronounced but not insistent to the point of shouting down the mild yet plentiful fish. Plus the accompanying tortillas were nice & thick. I doubt they were homemade, but at least they weren’t badly made.

I can’t say the same for the green chile flooding the Director’s plate of carne adovada. Jeez, it should come with a storm warning.

ETcarneadovada

Basically it was overly thick & underly itself. Long ago I posited the theory that green chile is clam chowder’s cross-country cousin w/r/t what determines the purity or adulteration of any given bowl—namely that it actually contain the ingredient it’s named for rather than a shitload of cornstarch; El Tejado’s cheap trick is Exhibit A. The pork was all right, but why go to the trouble of carefully marinating something if you’re just going to override said marinade with glop?

Essentially Mexican surf & turf, my entree had more going for it—but more going against it too.

ETsurfandturf

Contrary to the menu description, I found no tomato in that heap of cubed sirloin, shrimp, bell peppers, jalapenos & onions—which made me just as glad, given that it might have risen to the top thereof (you know how self-seeking love apples can be flavorwise). I did, however, strike oil in there—greasy as it all was, I suspect it was cooked on the same flat-top used for breakfast. That, too, made me just as glad—soft, slippery & glistening, the onions & peppers covered for the tough bits of steak.

The Spanish rice was fine, though I honestly couldn’t tell you whether it came from a box of old family recipes or just a box. Which says a lot for the brand if the latter’s the case, not so much for l’abuela if the former is. Meanwhile, there’s far less question in my mind as to whether the so-called guacamole was really just a scoop of processed green sour cream  from an institutional vat. Ditto the largely tasteless sludge passing for refried beans.

Before I cross this place off the list entirely, I’ll give its much-hyped mariachi brunch a shot. But the first line of the X has been drawn.

El Tejado on Urbanspoon
***

Lo, the day of reckoning is here. Back in July I vowed to slash some flab & so I have. I also promised an after pic—which I admit doesn’t look that different from the before shot in the link: the waist is smaller, but the pooch is rounder. So maybe the 8 lbs. I dropped were from my bellybutton, I don’t know. Nevertheless:

10:31bellyjpg

How did a gluttonous lush like me pull it off? Primarily by guzzling diet soda & reserving most of my RDA of carbohydrates for booze. Denveater 1; nutritionists 0.

Brasserie Felix, if you say so

Brasseries have been popping up like, oh, the bistros they often actually are cross-country ever since Balthazar stormed New York back in 1997. Even Boulder’s got the halfway decent Brasserie Ten Ten. So it’s about time Denver had one too.

Which may or may not have anything to do with the opening of Brasserie Felix, rocky enough to seem fatally premature.

It goes without saying that anyone wishing to assess the merits of a given eatery fully and fairly should wait at least a few weeks past day 1—6 to 8’s about right. But first impressions do count. And mine amount to the fact that Brasserie Felix has a long, longue way to go before it’s worthy of either half of its own name. Right now it’s less like a the French equivalent of a brewpub owned by un homme de félicité and more like Chez Whatever.

1st of all, back in 2005, former Post critic Kyle Wagner eloquently explained why Brasserie Rouge was something of a misnomer. What she said; the beer list here is noteworthy only for its lack of noteworthiness. For that matter, the wine list, though reasonably priced (the majority of bottles keep well within the bounds of $20–$40), is unreasonably narrow, comprised largely of Cotes du Rhone, cabs & merlots, virtually devoid of varietal quirks.

Granted, it’s got something of the look down pat—spacious enough to invite beaucoup bustle and clatter, dotted with vintage-style prints and such. Speaking of pats, however, the bread basket was the 1st sign of trouble, containing half a sliced, supermarket-grade baguette & a ramekin full of foil-wrapped butter squares. Quelle crappe!

2nd of all, while the long-lost twin of a Cabaret-era Michael York who served us at the bar was both kind & attentive, he was neither terribly knowledgeable nor apparently aware he wasn’t terribly knowledgeable.

The Director: Can I get the moules frites? 
Michael York: The what? 
The Director points to the moules frites on the menu
Michael York: Got it. Do you want fries with that?

Later he recommended the petits fours, describing them to us lovingly as it became embarrassingly clear he meant profiteroles (oh, j’excuse, profiterolles, as it’s spelled on the menu).

In between, he nonchalantly presented us with a bread plate containing 1 dollop of dijon & another of “careful-it’s-really-really-spicy” harissa dip, which had all the kick of an octogenerian donkey with advanced bone cancer. It was for the kinda dandy but skimpy Merguez sausage platter that we were by then more than halfway through with.

BFsausage
sausage platter the Director’s 1 bite through with

Skimpy & not even kinda dandy was (3rd of all) what, IIRC, the menu called frisée aux lardons. For every duck lardon you spot, you get 1 point. & if you get 1 point, you already win, because I never did find 1 amid the barely dressed greens & the bacon chips & the small croutons made, apparently, from yet another cruddy baguette, going soggy pronto in the yolk of the poached egg.

BFsalad

The broth in this bowl was excellent, heady with mussel liquor, anise liqueur & cream.

BFmussels2

Less excellent were the bivalves themselves, supposedly weighing a pound en masse but rife with empty shells—the Director estimated the loss at about 15%.

I had no beef with the steak tartare, under- if not downright un-seasoned but boasting all the more fresh, clean savor of raw ground cow for that.

BFsteak

Still, at present I’d say felicity’s to be found in far greater measure mere blocks away at Indulge.

The Salad Series: Jordan’s, uh, Bistro & Pub

“Parenthood is a vortex of bad art,” said my friend Ellen the other day when I asked what was it like to have “Elmo’s Potty Time” on endless video loop. You don’t have to be a parent, just an American with a modicum of taste, to know that it’s also got to be a constant barrage of bad food. Drinking middling wine & playing Scrabble at the bar as family after family with teens & tweens & toddlers streamed into Jordan’s Bistro & Pub last night, I imagined in pretty vivid detail that suggesting the place was a mistake. I’d already suspected as much based on the name. Did Jordan—versus, say, Jean-Georges or Kieran or Jean-Georges-Kieran—think “pub & bistro” would serve as an upmarket synonym for “bar & grill” rather than a promise of Guinness & colcannon on the one hand, vin de table & frogs’ legs on the other?

Still, it was close to home, it was quiet & casual enough that a pseudofriendly game of Scrabble wouldn’t be out of place, & it listed on its menu a slew of just the sort of overstuffed salads I was craving. In fact, it listed on its menu a slew of just the sort of overstuffed everything everyone craves at any given time: “Irish nachos” with corned beef, Swiss & horseradish-Dijon; mac-&-cheddar with brie & sundried tomatoes; pizza from a wood-burning oven; & sure enough, the likes of fisherman’s pie & boxty, steak-filled & whiskey-sauced.

Ultimately, the proof that Jordan really means well was in the pudding, in this case hummus (though for all I yet know it may be in the pudding too, black & white, both of which are offered at weekend brunch).

Jhummus

Alongside pita wedges that were not only warm but, I’d swear, cornmeal-dusted (ours is not to wonder why, at least not when it’s our turn, we’re staring down an A, A, E, I, O, T & a blank, & the dinner tab’s riding on the game) was a bowl brimming over with a chunky, peanut-butter-colored substance that I indeed recognized as chickpeas freshly ground with salt. Whether or not you’d accord it the status of hummus depends on whether or not you believe in a world drenched in olive oil & lemon juice &, occasionally, topped with fried ground lamb. I do, so I wouldn’t.

Still, the mere fact that the kitchen crew is even attempting to cook from scratch in a joint that’s not only at the edge of a college campus but part of a statewide franchise—that it’s demonstrating a DIY ethic against all odds—is downright stirring.

& the grilled beef tenderloin salad clinched my, if not undying admiration, certainly hearty non-objection.

Jbeefsalad

A, observe the so-red-it’s-nearly-blue hue of that steak. I asked for it rare, & I got it, which is itself pretty rare in the lower-brow circumstances. B, note the fat, lumpy cloves of roasted garlic, not at all like the old brown fingernails that come from a jar. C, mentally compare that honey-mustard dressing to its bilious & cloying bottled counterpart. Granted, it erred so far on the side of Dijon that they probably should have called it mustard-mustard dressing. Granted, the chopped red onion was not grilled as advertised but raw as a skinned knee. Granted, the gorgonzola was supermarket-grade. But all in all—the which also included cherry tomatoes & roasted bits of red & yellow pepper—my low expectations were certainly surpassed.

Incidentally, this is hardly among the more intriguing offerings; both the goat cheese salad with, apparently, deep-fried eggplant “croutons” in a pomegranate vinaigrette & the almond-studded Cobb have my number—an inspiring feat in itself, since my number’s infinity, which is extremely hard to get on a salad.

The Director, for his part, was delighted with his prettily piped, richly gravied shepherd’s pie,

Jpie

which is fortunate, since he had to pay for it after drawing both the Q & the Z in the last round of the game, poor dear shlimazl.

Wine Poem 2, with notes on Crú A Wine Bar

If there’s one genre that just doesn’t lend itself to franchising, it’s the wine bar; inherent to its appeal is an intimate sense of place, be it a rickety enoteca in some back alley of echoing Perugian stone or a…nother rickety enoteca in a sleepy, sun-slanted Orvietan piazza. (Kinda partial to the Umbrian version, I am. Here’s why:

IMG_0206

they have views like this)

I wasn’t aware Crú was the local link in a mini-chain until I got there. Though the servers themselves were nothing but kind, there was an impersonal feel to the experience as a whole—a vague sense that they were toeing the corporate line when it came to recommendations; a vague sense that bored journeymen, not aspiring champs, populated the kitchen—that made me wish, even among the blooms (but also, then again, the Mile High Sports posters) in the courtyard, I was down in the gloom of Osteria Marco instead, where the bartenders seem generally inclined to rock hard & say what’s what.

Anyway, the crab cakes were too bready, their rémoulade too mustardy.

Crucrabcakes

The potstickers—which, believe it or not, really were lying like earthquake victims beneath the rubble of all those fried wonton shards—

Crupotstickers

were okay, though the soy vinaigrette was poured on a bit thick. $19 for a plate of 3 cheeses seemed crappily high (the price is $16 for a suggested flight of 3; I either missed the fact that it was a la carte to mix & match or the menu didn’t make it entirely clear), especially since 1 of them, a robiola, was sadly lacking—a pale (though actually slightly darker, straw-colored rather than off-white) imitation of the runny, pungent paragons of the Italian mixed-milk cheese. Nice chunk of Cabrales, though. & my glass of Côtes du Rhône was decent, as peppery as ever, reminding me of another old Wine Poem.

**

When the last corpse was drained and jarred he took me to wife,

whisking me over the pain threshold and into the honeymoon dungeon.
The hook used to extract the brain doubled as a corkscrew.
The test tubes bubbled over with champagne.
We dabbed our eyes with scar tissue as we played our song

and drank like plunging knife and fork, clashing blade and prong,
and drank like dart and arrow through each lung,
and drank like pharoahs with our hearts removed
to make room for more wine.    And then the sound

fell headlong down the stairs.
We felt the shadow spill across the floor above our heads
the way a flashlight washes over treasure,
smearing gleam throughout the tomb.
The still lifes froze and the statues wanted down.

Before the mirror of creation stood reaction with a hood.
It was there reflection lay, stunned, may still lie.
As the darkness stopped before our portraits,
we popped the corks below and drank our brains out.

Some wine you let breathe, some you’ve got to smother.
We kissed deepest when we kept our distance, then we deeper slept.

Cru - a Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Mi Casa no es mi casa (Breckenridge)

As you may have gathered from this post, I toodled (like Chaplin, all the way) up to Breckenridge with a pal the other day. Having heard Mi Casa was a local fave, we checked it out.

Girl can’t help it, she’s a total sucker for the whole ¡fiesta-en-la-hacienda! vibe, which this place has got down to una ciencia, door to nook:

MiCasadoor –> MiCasanook

That said, I’m not such a shoulder-padded, headband-wearing, Frosty-the-Snowman-lapel-pin-at-Christmas-pinning, ‘rita-swilling Cathy or Kathie

2519469449_38441fe2b3

(image swiped from this guy’s Flickr set)

that I’d equate the charmingly corny decor (decorn?) with winning comida. On the contrary, don’t we loyal self-styled chowhounds err on the side of equating austerity with authenticity (putting aside the vexed definition of the word)? Then again, don’t we promptly, as even more fiercely determined chowhounds, remind ourselves upon erring to shelve our preconceived notions for the nonce? In short I went & sat & chewed physically & chewed mentally.

Verdict: Eh. Así así.

First of all, speaking of ‘ritas, the house marg didn’t have a thing going for it, being light on the tequila & heavy on a sweet-&-sour mix that wasn’t even close to housemade. It wasn’t even in the same town. The trio of salsas, which was, wasn’t bad—especially, surprisingly enough, the mildest one, which contained a touch of oil that gave it some body to separate it from pico de gallo—though the chips they accompanied were straight from the bag.

You have to pay for the good chips, chimayo-dusted flour-tortilla wedges with a nifty little puff to them,

MiCasachips

which come with the El Favorito de Todos alongside avocado dip—way too creamy for genuine guac, it must’ve been cut with sour cream or something—

MiCasaguac

& the far better but no less crappy (if you get me) pulled duck quesadilla smeared with some sort of creamy-sweet junk that was supposedly the house mango-chile sauce. Hey, I like a sheer mess of gooey-crispy carbs & fat as much as the next guy. Maybe not the guy after that (he’s huge!), but at least the 1 guy.

MiCasaduck

Queso fundido rounded out the combo:

MiCasaqueso

Beneath that sludge of Monterey Jack was actually some pretty decent, slightly spicy, loose-packed crumbled chorizo, all its grease pooled for sopping up with still-warm albeit prepackaged flour tortillas.

Pan-seared trout was fair enough—properly cooked if undercrusted with crushed almonds, pecans & pepitas so that it was tough to distinguish 1 nut crumb from another.

MiCasatrout2

Conversely, the chiles rellenos were overeverything: overbreaded, oversauced, oversmothered & overstuffed with undistinguished queso, which the Anaheims—offering no flavor of their own—basically just sheathed like thankless green condoms.

MiCasachile

The beans compensated slightly, rich & cooked to a soft bite. But black beans don’t apparently replace white bread around here.

Zengo away, come again some other day

Whoever said 3rd time’s a charm just got roundly shushed by the crew at Zengo, who, per the website’s translation of the name, gave as good as they took the 1st couple of times I was there but last night seemed fuzzy on the tacit terms of our little transaction, namely that they would extract from me a fat wad of cash in gracious (key qualifier, that) exchange for such morsels as I would deem nearly, not even necessarily exactly but nearly, worth said fat wad.

Nothing we had was bad; it all just happened to pale in comparison to similar dishes we’d had elsewhere recently. & if there’s one thing Latin-Asian fusion shouldn’t do, it’s pale. What with the chiles & the tropical citrus & the hard-acquired tastes (e.g., huitlacoche, natto), it should err on the side of garishness for sure.

It was mainly a matter of texture throwing flavor for a loop.

So while, for example, these Thai chicken-&-Oaxaca cheese empanadas with mango salsa, set in a pool of what I’d have sworn upon a waterboard studded with nails was peanut sauce despite no mention thereof on the menu (which did, however, reference indetectable poblano rajas), clearly had a lot going on,

Zempanada

the precise nature of that lot wasn’t so sparklingly clear—was in fact denatured by flimsy masa pockets that went soggy quick. It all just squished together like a face about to cry.

Compare to the beef empanadas at Buenos Aires Grill, accompanied by chimichurri that, despite its red color (due I was told to the presence of red-wine vinegar), is green in flavor with herbs (mainly parsley) & garlic & olive oil enough to warrant positive identification without pain of torture:

BAGempanadas

BAGempanadainside

Simplicity itself, these are every bit as crunchy as they are juicy. If they’re not the very picture of structural integrity, I don’t know what is.

I know it’s not this. Here we have seared foie gras with oxtail marmalade & poached mango & some sort of flame-retardant. Maybe they accidentally scorched the corn fritter & had to put it out—which would explain why it failed to make the appearance the menu promised.

Zfoie

The 1st time I had this dish, it was pretty darn exquisite. This time, the lobe was rubbery, the oxtail, even in the form of those tiny nuggets, too chewy. Granting that it’s not terribly fair to compare a whole seared lobe to a pâté, I can only retort that it’s better to excel at a lesser recipe than ruin a loftier one. Table 6 makes a potted foie so smooth you wish you could keep it in your pantry & eat it from the jar with your fingers standing up when you’re glum & insomniac in your underwear:

T6foiebite

cf. Nanni Moretti with the giant jar of Nutella in Bianca:

Bianca nutella

Stuffed with crabmeat, topped with seared salmon & dotted with sesame-chipotle aioli & sesame seeds, this is called the volcano roll. They must’ve left out the word “dormant”—it’s quite an attraction but hardly on the verge of explosion. In the muddle I suspected the crabmeat was not fresh-picked. If it was, it might as well not have been for all I could tell, which is even worse.

Zroll2

The one thing that did rock hard was on the happy-hour* menu, namely the beef taco duo, piled high with richly spiced shredded beef & chunks of avocado. Apparently some aliens picked up the image on their satellites, hence all the excited static. See, we’re not so different after all. Maybe the war of the worlds will end with a fiesta.

Ztaco

If so, it won’t be staffed by Zengo’s waitresses, who don’t seem the type to get all into character & wear sombreros & yell ¡Arriba! & knock back tequila shots with the crowd.

In short, if I’m going to get a complimentary side of sullenness with my beef tacos (see gracious exchange), I’d just as soon be at El Taco de Mexico, where at least I’ll also get beans, rice, & salsa in a molcajete from which smoke practically rises.

ETDMtacos

*Zengo, FYI, calls it “feng shui hour.” Maybe that explains it—I just ordered wrong; instead of cocktails & apps I should have asked for the water & air special.
Except I’d just had that the night before, in my own home, for free.

The dumbest thing I ever heard & its relation to Buckhorn Exchange

This needs prefacing at length with a monologue by Lewis Black, who recalls standing in a line at the movies or something

… when from behind me, a woman of 25 uttered the dumbest thing I’d ever heard in my life … She said, “If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.” I’ll repeat that. I’ll repeat that because that’s the kind of sentence that when you hear it, your brain comes to a screeching halt. And the left hand side of the brain looks at the right hand side and goes, “It’s dark in here, and we may die.” She said, “If it weren’t for my horse”—as in, giddy up, giddy up, let’s go—”I wouldn’t have spent that year in college,” a degree-granting institution. Don’t! Don’t think about that sentence for more than three minutes, or blood’ll shoot out your nose. The American medical profession doesn’t know why we get an aneurysm. It’s when a blood vessel bursts in our head for no apparent reason. There’s a reason. You’re at the mall one day, and somebody over there says the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard and it goes in your ear. So you turn around to see if your friends heard it, ’cause if your friends heard it, and you can talk about what the jackass said, then it’ll be gone. But your friends are over here, pretending they’re gonna buy a cellular phone, and they’re not gonna buy a cellular phone, because they don’t even understand how the rate structure works. So you turn back, to find the person who said it, because if you can ask ’em a question like, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKIN’ ABOUT?!” then it’ll go away. But they’re gone. And now those words are in your head. And those words don’t go away. Cause the way I see it, 7% of our brains functions all the time, because 99% of everything that happens is the same old stuff. We get it. All right. Move on. Get it. Right. But every so often, somethin’ like that happens: “If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.” So your brain goes, “LET’S FIGURE IT OUT! Son of a bitch! I wonder what that’s about!” I wonder, was she riding the horse to school? No, she wouldn’t be riding the horse to school. Maybe it was a polo pony; she had a polo pony scholarship. Maybe she sold the horse and that’s how she … she was betting on the horse! WHAT THE FUCK?!! And then you realize that anybody who went to college would never say anything that stupid in public. And as soon as you have that thought, your eyes close and the next morning they find you dead in your bathroom.

That’s exactly what happened to me, the death on the john & everything, one day some years back in Boston. I was in a crammed cablecar on the B Line, which runs straight through the hell on earth that is Allston/Brighton, crammed as it is in turn with the damned souls of BU & BC coeds—not tortured, mind you, in fact perfectly blithe, in fact soulless, but nonetheless or hence utterly damned—when I heard a girl with a larynx like a squeak toy say this:

“I’ve never tasted an artichoke. I mean, I have, but I haven’t, do you know what I mean?”

I’ve regretted not giving her at least half of what she was (&/or wasn’t) missing by wringing her neck ever since.

Until now. Now that I’ve been to Buckhorn Exchange, I’m really relieved I’m not doing time for choking the life out of the only daughter of a Norwegian shipping magnate or whatever sort of heiress she presumably was to be able to afford tuition at BU or BC. Now that I’ve been to Buckhorn Exchange (BE?), I get her; I hear her; & I can honestly say with her that I’ve had something but not had something. A number of things, in fact—namely alligator, rattlesnake & above all Rocky Mountain oysters.

BEalligator

Says the menu: fried, center-cut alligator tail with seafood cocktail sauce. Says I: if you say so. Practically minced & heavily breaded, it could’ve been leg meat. It could’ve been crocodile leg meat. Hell, it could’ve been ocean perch. Maybe it needed freshwater swamp–critter cocktail sauce to really bring out the flavor.

BErattlesnake

Says the menu: rattlesnake marinated in red chile & lime & served with a chipotle cream cheese. Says the dictionary under the entry for “with”: used as a function word to indicate combination, accompaniment, or addition. Apparently the chef confused it with “under”: in or into a position below or beneath something; or, better yet, in or into a condition of subjection, subordination, or unconsciousness. As in: The rattlesnake was rendered unconscious when it was smothered under a blanket of chipotle cream cheese.

BERMO

Says the menu: Rocky Mountain oysters with horseradish dippin’ sauce. Period. Says I: substitute “Rocky Mountain oysters” with “chicken fingers” or “calamari fritti” or “not even roadkill but bits of the blown-out tire that hit the roadkill.” You’d still get the same thing.

Too bad; covered every inch with the stuffed heads of ibexes & impalas, bucks & buffalo, humming with the sounds of a dead ringer for Sam Elliott in The Big Lebowski on the autoharp,

Images

the place is a kick in the assless chaps. & there is 1 anomaly of a nibble, a gem among the rubble—namely the buffalo sausage with red-chile polenta & what the menu calls “spicy wild-game mustard,” which seems to contain both honey & horseradish, much like my soul. The sausage was rich, firm & pepper-spiked; the polenta was properly creamy; the mustard I could & did eat all by itself, with a spoon.

BEsausage

But overall Exchange appears to be a euphemism for Sellout, Blackmail, or plain old Bum Deal.

Buckhorn Exchange on Urbanspoon

Hornet—Hornot

According to the National Geographic, hornets “chew wood into a papery construction pulp” to construct their hives. No wonder they’re the namesake of this Baker district hang, whose repertoire is likewise built on the culinary equivalent of spitwads.

If that sounds a tad harsh considering I totally admit some items are edible & even, paired with sufficient hooch, enjoyable, hear me out. Compare, for instance, the Hornet to the Cricket.

Hornet-8vs.Field-cricket

Of the latter, one can say it is what it is: a belovedly shabby, grubby, greasy institution. Of the former, one can’t; the menu makes grand gourmet gestures that are as empty as they are random. Drop the pretense, solve the problem. It’s really that simple.

Take the shells & cheese with lobster. Even putting aside the fact that the concept is about as fresh as a croissanwich, you can’t get around the realization that nothing else on the menu contains lobster—as well it shouldn’t, this being a bar full of dead ringers for the Bush twins doing shots & chasers named, probably, for the Bush twins, courtesy of guys in cargo shorts with a condom for every pocket.

So, yeah, the notion that someone’s back there in the kitchen lovingly picking tail & claw meat from the shells of freshly boiled lobsters just to toss it with boxed pasta & serve it up for all of $12 to some schmo whose greatest triumph of the evening is maintaining a 45-degree angle on his stool is not one I’m prepared to swallow.

Or take those homemade potato chips in the background.

Hornet

They’re thick-cut, golden-brown, well-seasoned—nice. Too bad they come with a side of bottled ranch that defeats thejr whole purpose. A chip’s a vehicle for dip; if it’s a hot rod, the dollop atop it had better handle it like a pro. Why pimp the ride if its passenger’s just gonna trash it pronto?

(As for that sundae, never even mind. Its concoction by the toque-topped team of crackerjacks known as Breyer, Hershey & Spunkemeyer—perfectly recognizable from their stints in my own damn kitchen—was just as I expected, & just fine. So long as there’s no bunk about hand-harvested vanilla beans & fifth-generation snickerdoodle recipes, I’m down with paying for someone else to do the scooping & squeezing.)

Hornet on Urbanspoon

delite, demoted to decent

As a big fat fan of Deluxe, I had me some high hopes for delite—above all that it might rectify the one beef I have with the former (the same one I level ad nauseum at Black Pearl): that the menu doesn’t vary enough for regulars. Thought maybe now they’d shake things up a bit—shift some of the old signature nibbles to the lounge menu, make room for some new sensations on the dining-room menu, that sort of thing. Not that—if Deluxe’s kitchen is (as it does appear to be) just too cramped to warrant all manner of simultaneous craziness—there couldn’t be menu overlap, just so long as a few of the shared items changed now & again.
And in all fairness, maybe they will; it’s early yet. But for the nonce, unlike that other Deee-Lite, I actually could ask for another supper dish, another succotash wish.
Everything was fine & dandy, mind you, but nothing was precious—save for these hand-cut potato chips with blue cheese & a drizzle of truffle oil,
Delitechips
but I’d had their likes before, next door. I’m not so jaded as to throw them out of the bed that in this case I guess is my mouth, but I’m not so green as to get all dewy-eyed & grateful to find them there.
I’d also had these potato skins filled with smoked salmon, tarragon cream & a touch of roe before. They were as vibrant as ever too, but again, I don’t go to a new place to have an old experience.
Deliteskins
Fuzzy on film, fuzzy in my affections.
If you don’t count the parmesan-sprinkled flatbread with which a meal at Deluxe begins, this chicken & fennel sausage flatbread was novel, not to mention nice & crunchy, slightly charred, just the way I like it. The toppings were on top. They just didn’t pop out at me in any way shape or form.
Deliteflatbread_2
As for that Levini I was so looking forward to, I guess I thought the vodka would actually be infused with rosemary and black pepper, not just get stuck with it as garnish. Which left the blue-cheese-stuffed olives to do all the heavy lifting flavorwise. Obviously that rosemary stalk’s not going to take much of the load off. (I actually started a thread on Chowhound’s General Topics Board regarding its wilted state: was that a function of alcohol’s toxicity or the weight of the olives, or was the herb just past its prime? Check out the responses here.)
Delitelevini
Said my friend who henceforth shall be known as Fortune Rookie, though at first she wanted to go by her real name in all caps plus social-security number: “I used to have to stuff blue-cheese olives when I was a bartender. It sucked.” Said my friend Petey, making a stuffing motion with left index finger and right fist, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
The decor didn’t much diminish my funk.
Delite
While I still dig the groovy, Shagesque surf-mod artwork I noticed when I first peeped in,* the gray walls I didn’t notice until I was actually settled into a booth gave me the creeps. Which led me to wonder if I was on death row in a past life or something, which only enforced said creeps. At that point the word “bar” starts to echo maddeningly & pretty soon you’re stabbing everybody with forks to make a run for it.
At least Petey’s hoodie helped to brighten the gloom.
Hoodie
To play my own devil’s advocate, I’ll raise the following points:
1. My disappointment in delite is a product of my devotion to Deluxe, which generated expectations of the realization of a concept much higher than either the owners had or my fellow patrons would care for. Bar snacks conceived as anything more than guilty pleasures to soak up alcohol are wasted on the wasted.
2. With economic booms come experimentation. With downturns come comfort.
I won’t argue with the latter; reports of just how awfully tough the biz is these days are rampant. As for the former, however—the world is full of cookie cutters; I was & am still hoping, from folks whose vision & talents I admire, for something hand-shaped, with all the odd bits showing.
A description that, as I’ve said, at present fits Beatrice & Woodsley, not delite, to a calligraphic T.
*Which I guess the Shag Lounge also boasts in spades, but I’m even more agitated by the thought of that place than I am of prison.

EYT: OMG, WTF?

***UPDATE: EYT is now CLOESED.***

The name of this cramped but happy-happy lettuce-colored Riverfront Park café is an acronym, standing for Enjoy Yourself Today. The owners insist on pronouncing it not phonetically, with a long i—like “aight,” only less ghetto—but with a long e, as in eat.
I’m bewildered by the belabored point they’re trying to make, going against not only all rules of English pronunciation but even the exceptions thereto. Why couldn’t they just come up with something that’s less of a syllabic stretch? Why didn’t they just call it EAT and say the letters stand for Enjoy All Things or Enjoy Absolutely Today or Effing Awesome Tidbits or something? It makes me want to walk in there and ask for some Playdough in a can and expect them to know I mean gelato on a cone simply because that’s how I choose to pronounce it.
That said, I probably won’t, because even more than I want to be sassy I want to be full of gelato, a sample taste of which was so far so good (apparently they studied at the famed scuola in Bologna).
Salads are the mainstay, though they ain’t cheap: my variation on the Garbage Salad—a mixture of romaine, bacon, corn, tomato, avocado, pine nuts, sauteed mushrooms, croutons & goat cheese, to which I added chicken while substituting red-wine vinaigrette with (unfortunately eggless but otherwise tasty) Caesar dressing—rang in at over $11.
Eytsalad
Still, it easily met my criteria for a buon’insalata: it was loaded with quality crap and didn’t skimp on the dressing. Unlike sensible sorts, I prefer my salad dressers to err on the side of generosity rather than caution; after all, IMO, lettuce is generally just a cool & crunchy conduit for my favorite creamy condiment (okay, depending on the green, depending on the dressing, to paraphrase a fine Flight of the Conchords tune).
So I’ll be back for some leaves with some meat with some cheese with some crunchy things with some goop on top. And to gawk at chef Tommy Lee (as he’s identified on the website). Who knew he’d moved to Denver to run a salad bar! Guess you can’t expect the expected from the drummer of Mötley Crüe.
Gallerymsg11117029452
Especially when it comes to spelling.