What with all the yuletide schmoozing, snacks have just been smacking me around, cramming themselves down my throat until I hit the floor weeping with my eyes crossed. You know all those nutritional experts that tell you one way to maintain your weight during the holidays is by actually socializing in social situations—nursing drinks or alternating them with sparkling water, curbing hunger beforehand with an apple, etc., the better to focus on your friends & colleagues? Clearly they don’t have the right friends & colleagues. Mine, god bless them every one, are hellbent peer-pressurers & enablers. Bad influence is what friends are for.

Take Mo, to whose adorably looped, dogged generosity I owe one of the only $19 glasses of wine I’ll ever knock back, this Scholium Project Gardens of Babylon Petit Sirah 2006.

TAGwine

By all accounts this is a huge red, yet to my tastes the biggest thing about it was the size of the glass; I just didn’t find the profile particularly distinctive, which makes me wonder if it’d have been better just to get the bottle & give the whole thing time to open.

I had pretty much the same reaction to 2 of the 3 starters we shared: that there wasn’t much pop for the price; for all the painstaking attention to detail, a central piece of the big picture seemed to be missing.

For instance, wonderfully unctuous as the $15 porchetta di testa was, it wasn’t much else. Perhaps it’s meant to be utterly mild, sprinkled with the bit of sea salt you see on the right—but doesn’t the art of the charcutier inhere partly in expert seasoning? Instead of achieving balance with the superb cube of mouth-filling queso azul de Valdéon & slices of winter-spiced, wine-poached pear, its flavor just disappeared by comparison.

TAGporkhead

And as for the surf-n-turf roll, TAGroll

while the $14 tag (I know the place gets its name from the chef’s monogram, but the deeper you reach into your pockets the more you begin to wonder) would make sense if the lobster & Kobe beef (Kobe-style American Wagyu, I assume, although, strangely, the menu references both Kobe & Wagyu in the descriptions of various dishes, raising the question of whether they’re using the terms interchangeably or actually sourcing Kobe from Japan as well as domestically) really registered, but they didn’t, especially; I believe there was a little mayo mixed in, & of course the maki is served with ginger & wasabi & soy sauce, & ultimately you’d have to do an on-the-spot side-by-side comparison of a roll with cheaper ingredients, I think, to really detect a difference, which means may just be a matter of conspicuous consumption rather than worthwhile indulgence.

The French onion dumplings, however, were all they’ve been cracked up to be, a neat twist on the crouton served in the soupe classique,

TAGdumplings
luscious with veal aspic as well as the almost translucent onions & gruyère.

Love the loft-esque vibe of the place, bathrooms down the rabbit hole notwithstanding, & I arrived in Denver in 2007 just in time to get a load of all Troy Guard was capable of at the erstwhile Nine75, so I’m not deterred at all by the thought of dropping some $$$ on a full meal here. But I think I’ll switch to cocktails—the list is great gobs of fun, dotted with the still-a-bit-insiderly likes of Punt e Mes & Lillet Rouge as well as such inventive stuff as housemade coconut soda & orchid-guava liqueur—&, say, meatloaf on my next visit.

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Speaking of humbler fare—the fact that I’m not spit-flyingly gaga over Sputnik’s repertoire doesn’t mean I don’t gladly gobble down the goods given the chance every now & drunken then.

I’m far from the 1st glutton in town to get a charge out of the Benny Mac in particular, & I’ll hardly be the last. You’ll know us by our chest-thumping belches. Which may be as much from the booze that surely led us to order the sandwich as the sandwich itself.

Sputnikmacsandwich

For no apparent reason other than because he (I think my word choice isn’t sexist in this case) could, I guess someone back there in the kitchen decided one late night to throw some chicken nuggets with their barbecue sauce together with some leftover mac-n-cheese & bacon, then hide the whole mess in a hoagie roll, because if he ate it out of a bowl, everyone could see what depths he’d sunk to. Basically they shouldn’t be allowed to even sell this before midnight. Anyone who would eat this for lunch has got bigger problems than eructation. That, I suppose, is a compliment.

Damned if I don’t dig their tortilla chips too, heavy but fresh-tasting.

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As is not the case with TAG, 3 dishes (plus a couple of bloodies) at Braun’s Bar & Grill are plenty for a girl to get the goofy picture. I mean, look at this.

Braunssalad
Why it’s called a Cattleman’s Salad when it should obviously be called an Indian Chief’s Salad is beyond me. As is the salad itself. Combining mixed greens with peas, shredded cheddar, candied walnuts, & hacked-up cuke with storebought croutons in a blue cheese-balsamic dressing, it’s totally ill-conceived. Then again, so am I. I had to appreciate the effort at inventiveness.

Karla Sutra’s grilled cheese tasted as it looks, like you could’ve rustled up the Kraft singles, white bread & Ore-Ida fries from your own damn fridge.

Braunsgrilledcheese

I didn’t try the Constant Watcher’s pork sopaipilla, with braised pork, jack & green chile,

Braunssopaipilla
but he shrugged when I asked him how it was, & a look at the seemingly starch-thickened green chile & dried-out beans told me anything else I needed to know. Had I wanted to inquire further, though, I’d have had to wave down our waitress a few tables over, where she was finishing her own lunch. There’s a reason you don’t see this much: because it’s awkward. Interrupting her meal for the sake of our own would have felt wrong. So we didn’t. But I won’t interrupt her with a return trip either.

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