Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Cool stuff in my house (Part 4, giving Divino its usual due)

these plates printed with 3 martians & 1 superhero

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this picture of a shoe by local artist Susan Goldstein

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these glasses printed with wraparound black lace

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this picture of a booty by local artist Judy Anderson

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& this bottle of Cynar (available at Divino), a digestivo made with, but not particularly redolent of, artichoke. Though considered an amaro, or bitter, it’s really a dolce-amaro, sort of molasses’ doppelganger—& refreshing regardless.

Cynar

While sparing you the details, I’ll attest to its ability to blaze wide, long trails straight through everything from polenta con gorgonzola

Cuore-polenta011

to troppo, troppo lardo.

Lardo

Ora questo, amici miei, `e italiano.

Osteria Marco mostly hits the marko

Osteria? Not even closteria. Not in my book, anyway, which is literal & filled with snapshots of snug, humble spots in Orvieto & Agrigento & Trieste; not to my mind, full of memories of the kind of place where you might catch glimpses of a lumpy old mamma in slippers at the stove through the kitchen door, stirring pots & plating your fettine di cavallo arrosto (a horse is a course, of course, of course) while her son il cameriere brings round shots of grappa every time his team scores in the soccer game on the little black-&-white set at the hostess stand. An osteria is not sprawling & sleek & buzzing with lovelies freshly descended from their 400-million square feet of Lodo loft.

Misnomer aside, though, Osteria Marco is a pleasure, sheer & simple. Aided by a bartender who was engaged, savvy & honest—a rare combo, though less rare, it strangely seems to me, among bar staff than among waitstaff—we grazed & grazed & grazed some more, basically laying waste to the fecund field of meat & cheese that is the menu while drinking deep from the red red springs of the Quartino.

Speaking of fields, I sowed the inaugural soil of Denveater with the seeds of a Top 5 list that has since lain fallow from not neglect so much as the lack of crop potential. Until now. OM’s much & rightly ballyhooed burrata’s officially up there with Black Pearl’s calamari, Rioja’s pork belly & Sushi Sasa’s black cod. In fact, it’s the literal cream of the crop, a sort of deliquescent mozzarella. Or the salty marshmallow of cheeses. I’d totally use it for fluffernutters, especially between chargrilled slices of country bread like these.

OMburrata

Gnocco fritto usually evoke nothing so much as mini-sopaipillas; here, they’re more like cheese crackers. In fact, that’s exactly what they’re more like, otherwise known as frico, only solid instead of lacy. See for yourself:

OMfrico

OM’s gnocco fritto

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typical gnocco fritto

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typical frico

Be it another misnomer or not, the result is a fine mouthful—all peppery, cheesy crunch.

As for these utter rose petals of braesola—wine-cured beef—

OMbraesola

their thinness may actually have done their flavor a disservice; to say that braesola is salty by definition is not quite to say that it’s definitively salty. Like good pastrami, it should still register as beef. Still, they’re just so heartbreakingly pretty, no? In fact, forget rose petals, they’re enough like cross-sections of the still-beating heart of a redheaded beauty sacrificed to the gods only seconds before that maybe I wasn’t even supposed to eat it, just eye it in awe.

That said, the mozzarella in carozza was also sliced too thin; as it’s basically a grilled-cheese sandwich, the bread should, IMO, squish a bit, the cheese ooze a bit, beneath its toasted surface. This was nothing but toasted surface, hence rather on the dry side, juiced up mainly by those pickled onions.

OMcarrozza

Not so the exemplary grilled artichoke; tender even at its outermost & glistening with olive oil, it was almost as good as the best carciofi alla giudea I’ve ever had in Rome—which isn’t even a fair comparison, because the latter have the incontestable advantage of being fried.

OMartichokes

The above being a spot-on suggestion from our smart bartender—our smartender (whose name I wish I’d gotten, but keep your eye out for a lanky 20-something bearing a passing resemblance to the guy who played Randal in Clerks)—I asked for his thoughts on dessert, stipulating contradictorily that I didn’t actually want dessert, I wanted more cheese.

He recommended the ricotta, which was indeed as light as it could possibly be & still exist, paired, by his own accord, with a dish of strawberries in syrup—

OMricotta

a sweet touch in every sense of the adjective.

Osteria Marco on Urbanspoon

Hama Hama ding dong: oysters at the Cruise Room

Or, as I’m gonna dub it, the Snooze Tomb. Or maybe Booze Gloom. Granting that the Oxford Hotel’s off-lobby haunt is a dandy old time capsule—with its deep red glow & all those Art Deco trimmings,

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the scalloped banquettes, the bartenders decked out in red jackets & bowties, the rootin’-tootin’ big-band soundtrack, etc. etc., it’s irresistibly Shiningesque,

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so you’ll want to hang all night with Jack & Lloyd & the whole bloody gang in the cloche & stole you were wearing when you died—its affiliation with the adjacent McCormick & Schmick’s is a real buzzkill insofar as it casts a colorless corporate pall over all that crimson cool. The apparent duplication of the seafood chain’s shabby, uninspired list of wines by the glass—while undoubtedly just right for working girls’ night out when 6 pinot grigios & 13 blends of cab-merlot are in order—is a particular letdown in the kind of place where the corks on dusty old bottles of claret or some such vintage thing should constantly be popping. Same goes for the cocktail list—where are the sazeracs, the corpse revivers, the bucks & fizzes & flips? If anybody should be flaunting some mixpertise beyond a knack for making pink drinks pinker, it’s bartenders in bowties, no?

Still, I can’t deny the obvious upside—namely access to McCormick’s oyster roster.

CruiseRoomoysters

My dear Tatamagouches, on the left, were the roughest of the bunch with their salty mini-wallop. The others were squeaky clean; the Hurricane Harbors, on the right, proved mild but meaty, like if someone replaced them with mushroom caps it might be all right, while the Hama Hamas at the bottom were as delicately edged with seafoam-flavored lace as they look, despite their enormanormity. I swiped the biggest shell as a keepsake. Look how long & thin! It’s not just a shell, it’s a Shelley Duvall. (Far be it from me to Overlook one last Shining pun, heh.)

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Hush little baby don’t say a thing, Rodney’s gonna sling you some diamond rings

& if those diamond rings don’t shine, I owe you a half-bottle of wine / But don’t press your luck cause the other half’s mine

That’s my lullaby-slash-guarantee & I’m sticking to it. The onion ring is the banana of bar snacks: its ideal is deceptively simple hence oft-elusive. Just as the 1 is almost always stiff & underripe or mushy & overripe, so the other is slimy or doughy or stringy or stale or any combo thereof 9 times out of 10.

But that 10th time is magic. That’s when the golden breading is crunchy through-&-through & seasoned so you notice; that’s when the onion is thickly sliced yet slick & translucently juicy-sweet. That’s when a multitude spills from a sparkling heap like treasure.

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cf.
Rrings

& at Rodney’s—which is like the Double R Diner of Cherry Creek, complete with its own Log Lady (except she carries a book, but paper comes from trees, so close enough) & the type of waitress who’ll plop down on the stool next to you & tell you a few of her secrets (not backwards like in Cooper’s dream, but still, not far off)—every time’s the 10th time.

Hmm, that’s a metaphysical glitch bordering on Twin Peaks territory in itself. If Rodney’s coffee should ever taste to you black as midnight on a moonless night, I suggest you keep your eye peeled like an ideal banana for this guy

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&, never mind mine, heed the lullaby of the 1-armed man who’s probably in the booth right behind you:

He is Bob
Eager for fun
He wears a smile
Everybody run!

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

Cool stuff in my house (Part 3, with a vigorous nod to East Europe Market)

This lawnmower,

Lawnmower

which I’ve forbidden the Director to use ever again unless he grows a handlebar & wears one of these

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(image unwitting courtesy of this blog)

& one of these;

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these tractor lights we bought in a genuine 5-&-dime in Lansing, Iowa;

Tractorlights

this shrine to St. Genesius, who protects against seizures, which the Director has been known to have, complete with several hospital ID bracelets & 4 foam monitoring electrodes;

Seizure

& these wacky foodstuffs I purchased from among the dairy cases full of nothing but fresh sheep’s-milk cheese, the aisles devoted to imported biscuits & crisps, the others crammed with 1000 kinds of vegetable pickles & spreads (including, I swear, 100 kinds of avjar alone), the sausages behind the counter & all the other Bulgarian specialties at East Europe Market, which apparently not many people besides this guy & I have managed to catch a glimpse of from behind the Hooters at the corner of South Colorado & Arkansas:

Teaporkpate

In addition to the 1st 4 ingredients—pork fat, pork liver &, uh, pork, plus water—this Croatian curio also contains milk, dried onion & salt. Not sure where the tea comes in. Maybe they just tacked that word on there to make “pork” sound more civilized, like “ladies, won’t you please partake of this bobbin-lace head cheese or some string-quartet haggis?”

Lobsterpate

Okay (she squeals with glee), now this one is just too good to be true. For a buck 99, I just got me a can of lobster, whiting, tomalley—you read me, the lobster’s so-called liver (a load of crap, literally, if you ask me; livers aren’t green, unless the lobster’s had a string of especially tough nights)—butter, cream, milk, fish broth, farina (wheatmeal—think gruel), soybean oil, carrots, celery (I so did not see fresh produce coming), reconstituted onions (more like it) &, I shit you not, cognac. It says “chill before serving,” but I’m not sure I can. I’ll have to take a pill first. Heh.

Best of all, check out the bottom of the tin! I don’t even have to open it, I can just set it on the table upside down to impress all my fancy party guests. & then I can put it away til the next shindig! It’s an eternal feast in a 2 oz. package.

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As for this, it seems to be basically a paprika-spiked tomato paste.

Goulashcream

That or some sort of over-the-counter ointment. You know, just to spice up the old personal-hygiene routine.

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.
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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.)
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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.

Flower Wraps under wraps

***UPDATE: Flower Wraps is now CLOSED.***

& thus just 1 more well-timed reminder that we’re all lazy, smug creatures of habit. Morning, slugs!
I’m with you, with the exception of right now. Right now I’m here,
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surrounded on all sides by flowers silk & real, adorable bric-a-brac—cookbooks & notecards, candles & soaps, decorative pillows & picnic baskets—& morning sunlight from the full-length windows. On the sound system is Les Negresses Vertes—a terrific French pop group from the late 1980s I’d forgotten all about until this moment. In my hand is a cute cute cute cup of coffee shaped like a flowerpot.
Meanwhile, everyone else in Platt Park is jockeying for outlet position & yelling into their cells over at Stella’s. It’s like the stock-market floor over there sometimes, only the brokers are coeds cramming for exams instead of buying & selling up a storm, which would at least make for quality eavesdropping.

But Flower Wraps Café & Urban Market is empty.
The guy behind the counter—who doesn’t appear to be co-owner (along with wife Carolyn Kinsella) Val Erpelding, a chef & ice sculptor according to the website—tells me it’s due primarily to the lack of parking (see: lazy), secondarily to the likely misconception that the place is just a flower shop (see: smug creatures of habit). In fact, they serve goodies aplenty—the usual baked goods for breakfast (as well as the less-usual-sounding “trail-mix wrap” with peanut butter, honey, yogurt & sundried cherries); salads & sandwiches for lunch; a limited menu of “twilite” nibbles alongside a selection of wines by the glass or bottle that’s actually pretty good-sized for what’s essentially a coffeehouse—10 or so; & stuffed French toast, quiche & the like for weekend brunch. For snacking, there’s cereal in mini-boxes & treats like apricot-cherry-raisin white-chocolate bark.

Apparently Erpelding & Kinsella also run the brand-new but already bustling Breakfast on Broadway in Englewood; if they do it with half as much quirky charm as they do this place (& the presence on the menu of everything from “risotto-style” oatmeal with candied pecans to a Benedict of the day to liver & onions suggests they do), I’m there.

Beatrice & Woodsley’s pretty little petri dishes

It’s not that he’s a molecular gastronomist or anything; don’t be expecting pistachio sponges with morel jelly & mandarin air. But whoever this Pete List fellow is (Googling his name as it appears, accompanied by the title of exec chef, on Beatrice & Woodsley’s small-plates menu yields only results for some Brooklyn-based beatboxer, whom I’m assuming he isn’t—which reminds me, there’s a documentary I’m excited to see about a guy who went around the world meeting all the other guys that turned up when he Googled his own name), he’s certainly taking enough risks—especially given the eatery’s location smack in the middle of the Baker District, where it’s surrounded on all sides by dives both legit & faux filled with sweet-potato-fry-eating, shot-pounding hipper-than-hipsters (not that I’m not down with shots & fries; au contraire, especially if you’re buying)—to qualify as a low-level, local-class experimenter. And judging from my 1st meal here, he’s clearly got the chops to pull off his mini-taste tests, from crawfish beignets with spicy powdered sugar to cauliflower gratin with shallot cream & pistachio crumbs.

His quirky repertoire is part classic French & part historico-regional American—think rillettes & ratatouille on the one hand, spoonbread & succotash on the other; intriguingly juxtaposed, they’re simultaneously joined in their contemporary reimagination. Take the sweetbreads, my fave of the eve:

Bwsweetbreads

Constituting a bit of a culinary pun in that they were set atop wedges of chestnut-honey cake that soaked up their juices most satisfyingly, the little nuggets were as buttery as could be—that telltale if subtle twinge of iron flavor softened even further, perhaps, by the white-peony tea with which they were seasoned (I can’t say I detected it otherwise).

The vegetable mousses were marvelous as well, a snappy dollop of fresh garbanzo offsetting the almost puddinglike nature of the carrot & parsnip; actually, given their garden sweetness, a sprinkling of sea salt on the matzohesque housemade crackers would have been a bonus.

Bwdips

Touches of pizzazz distinguished even the ubiquitous cheese plate, from hearty black-walnut bread to spiced pear slices & what we were told was mango jam but I’m sure was papaya, unless I’m developing the tropical-fruit equivalent of color blindness. At any rate it was super, like chunky punch.

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Grapeskins from a wine press speckle the cheese in the background.

By the time the braised pork belly arrived, I was pretty much in my cups, as this addled little composition shows.

Bwporkbelly

Come to think of it, though, it’s a fairly accurate image of what I tasted; I gobbled up those cute little potatoes & pickles & sort of forgot about the pork belly, which, as well as I can recall it, was perfectly adequate but didn’t quite reach the crispy-edged, melting-centered benchmark set by Rioja.

Still, the only real disappointment was the stew of cod & cockles. Charming though it appeared,

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the seafood was overwhelmed by too much housemade pancetta; only the brussels sprouts & cubed potatoes could stand up to its saltiness. Somehow I don’t think “sprouts & spuds” would sell as well. Although seeing as how they’ve got the chutzpah to bill a dish of I’m guessing leafy greens as “market growies,” I might humbly suggest it nevertheless.

All in all, I’m rooting loud & hard for this wacky joint.

delite, scoot over. Beatrice & Woodsley, come sit on my lap…

Having alluded off-handedly to Flight of the Conchords’ “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” the other day, I’m hearing those lyrics really resonate this morning:

And when you’re on the street
depending on the street
I bet you are definitely in the top 3
good-looking girls on the street
(depending on the street)

That’s because last night I was at delite (of which more in a forthcoming post), minding my own business (maybe), finding it all perfectly deliteful—emphasis perhaps on the lite. It was the most beautiful room in the room, at any rate.

But then the Mad Russian (whom you may remember being all mad & Russian at Izakaya Den a while back) used a cigarette break to finagle an invite to Beatrice & Woodsley, the just-opened sibling of Mario’s Double Daughter’s Salotto, though it’s still in semi-secret shakedown mode.

& suddenly poor delite, brand-new itself, didn’t even look to be in the top 3. Beatrice & Woodsley just sweeps the whole category.

If there were no such thing as Log-Cabin Goth before, there is now.

Come, slip between the stands of birch,

Bw3

play hide & seek among the drapery clouds,

Bw1

whisper to one another above the silent roar of the chainsaws supporting the log bar,

Bw2

Bw4

linger & feel mysterious a while, even in the bathroom, where the gold bricks are backlit to suggest, I suppose, sunset in an outhouse or something

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& strands of silver beads comprise the ceiling-to-sink faucet, like a small waterfall.

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But you have to find it first.

Bw6

I’ll return later to unpack the food.