Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

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,

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play hide & seek among the drapery clouds,

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

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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.

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I’ll return later to unpack the food.

Back in Black (Pearl)

It had been a while since we’d stopped in at our neighborhood place, dear as it is to us, mainly because the wine list is all too dear: my 1 major, oft-stated complaint with Black Pearl is that the beverage markups are almost offensively disproportionate to the price of the food. Currently, there’s only 1 bottle of red under $40—Jacuzzi Merlot, for crying out loud. Who’s gonna order that without feeling like this?
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The 2nd-cheapest is about $60. The gouge a bottle of white leaves is slightly shallower; we stuck with prosecco.
Meanwhile, my 1 minor complaint is that the menu doesn’t change often enough to suit us regulars, especially those with tastebuds as restless as mine. (Yours too, if Gray’s Anatomy’s to be believed:
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You’ve got a whole seafloor of throbbing anemones & swaying tentacles lining that mouth of yours! Who knew?)
Much as I crave that chili-fried calamari, those shishito peppers & comme-il-faut moules frites, etc. etc., & much as I respect the integrity behind the implication that less is more when it’s coming from a small kitchen with limited resources, I still think the crew therein has the talent to take a few more risks a little more often. (Ditto Deluxe, by the by.) In all fairness, BP is doing a weekly-changing 3-course prix-fixe these days, but I’ve always found that sort of thing to be geared more toward the change-savers than the change-cravers.
Be all that as it may, we found ourselves swooning as usual over updated versions of our favorite signatures. Given the constancy of the menu from season to season, I’ve got to be that much more impressed by the unassailable soulfulness of the cooking; instead of seeming rote, everything’s done with such care as to seem fresh time & time again.
Last time we had the tuna, it was parsley-crusted and surrounded with lentil-sausage crumbles; now, it’s rolled in sesame seeds & accompanied by tiny crab fritters atop schmears of hollandaise as well as bias-cut asparagus. The fish was seared so perfectly & remained so tender it was a bit of a shock; the hollandaise was stirringly pure. That, in fact, is the collective rare gift of the BOH: its ability to remind me what something’s supposed to taste like.
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That goes for the ribeye sprinkled with breadcrumbs & aged balsamic as well, although I think I prefer the former manner of presentation, in thin, delicate slices.
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Actually, it doesn’t so much go for the smoked-potato hash beneath the beef;
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I didn’t even know you could smoke potatoes (except like this
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& it’s quite the sneaky treat. Like the hash-slinger at the diner was using the grill for an ashtray, in a really good way.
We downed a few oysters as well. I have a growing collection of shells (it’s scattered all over the beaches of the world—maybe you’ve seen it? No, wait, that’s Stephen Wright), as I like to swipe the ones that strike me as particularly stunning from the platter. But sometimes I slow my slurping pace enough to notice how gorgeous the meat itself can be:
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Again, that’s Black Pearl’s forte: showing you clearly what you already know, reintroducing you to what you already love.

Retsina: the fine white mouthwash of wine

Not to rock your philosophico-linguistic world, but the dubiousness of the concept of acquired taste has just begun to dawn on me. Given the personal subjectivity, not to mention cultural relativity, of taste—€”as the ancients put it, de gustibus non est disputandum—€”it seems rather presumptuous to speak of its acquisition as a matter of fact. I mean, looking at it from a literal &/or facetious angle, isn’t everything beyond breast milk an acquired taste? Looking at it from a PC (and I use that acronym without irony here) global angle, who’s to say what’s acquired by whom & when, where or how? If my daddy were a Wellfleet trawler, oyster liquor might well have been virtual mother’s milk. If my momma in China’d dotted my infant gums with 3-penis wine to lull me to sleep, the mere thought of it might not jar me sleepless today. As it is I grew up in big bad Oklahoma, where chicken-fried steak with country gravy is quite enough to turn a young, impressionable stomach hard, bitter & old before its time, believe you me. Especially after 1 too many viewings of the remake of The Fly, namely those scenes of Jeff Goldblum yanking off his face parts with a thwap! in front of the mirror.
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By a similar token, when someone from one ethnocultural background uses the term to refer to an item he/she grew up with in a culinary conversation with someone from a different background, it conceivably amounts to a challenge. When the waitress at Pete’s Central One (whose kind intentions I don’t, mind you, doubt for a second) warned the Director that retsina was an acquired taste, the fact that I myself had long ago acquired it and was urging him to do the same was, however potentially reassuring, irrelevant; it was the insinuation that he as a Scots-blooded cornfed Iowan might not get it that, I think, compelled him to agree to a whole bottle. Especially since the price was no object—20 bucks for this here:
Retsina
Retsina is a white or rosé wine treated with pine resin, following an ancient Greek tradition whereby amphorae were sealed with sap—which, of course, slightly infused the stored wine. While it can smack of household cleaning products, this particular bottle was relatively mellow—simply, smoothly herbal rather than window-crackingly ammoniac.
Which isn’t to say I get it, at least not the way Greeks get it. Likes and dislikes alike are colored by one’s own experiences; drinking it, I can never help but think of a song my own daddy, a Russian-history professor of Ashkenazi descent, used to sing to me when I was little, simply because the word “retsina” sounds like it belongs in there somewhere:
A personal friend of the czar was I
A personal friend of the great Nicolai
We practically slept in the same double bed,
He at the foot and I at the head
Now all that seems distant and all that seems far
From those wonderful nights at the palace of the czar:
When I went shootin’ with Rasputin
Ate farina with czarina
Blintzes with the princess and the czar (hey! hey! hey!)
We were sharing split bananas…
That’s all I remember, but now I’m moving the location to Greece & adding
washed our mouths out with retsina
on the beaches of Aegina,
spit up sand & clams & pine-tree tar (hey, hey, hey)!
See, it’s all relative. Relative & stupid.

If David Letterman had gone to Pete’s Central One instead of hosting the Oscars that year,

“Uma, Oprah; Oprah, Uma” would have been “Yummo! Opa! Opa! Yummo!”

There. That little intro constitutes the only way I could think of to get away with using interjections I loathe—at least as uttered by slackmouthed Food Network lackeys and every metroschmo who ever walks into a Greek eatery, respectively—but which are nonetheless objectively appropriate to describe a place I officially adore. Pete’s Central One is one of the sunniest spots in town—decorwise, attitudewise & above all cuisinewise. Just look how bright & breezy:

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Many customers are literally so into Pete’s that they start to spontaneously merge with the surroundings.

Score 1 for me, who suspected the Director would get a kick out of the place despite his insistence that he didn’t like Greek food because he doesn’t like olives, which seemed to me akin to deciding you don’t like rock&roll because you don’t like air guitar: just because it’s an integral part of the whole doesn’t mean it’s an automatically tangible one. Should you choose to ignore olives & air guitar in context, you can.*

I scored points 2 through 1 zillion just by ordering for us both & letting the offhandedly open-hearted staff, F&BOH, do the rest. When I asked the waitress for a single glass of retsina (of which more in a separate post) to pop the Director’s pine-wine-virginal cherry, she fetched a half-glass as a free sample instead.

Then she brought us the likes of these:

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dip sampler, clockwise from top: taramosalata, skordalia, tyrokafteri

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octopus: looks like I’m off the wagon until someone founds a Denver chapter of Cephalopodophiles Anonymous. We admit we are putty in their tentacles.

As a taramoslutta I was looking most mouthwateringly forward to the blend of bread-thickened blend of salmon roe, lemon juice & olive oil that, at its best, has the rare ability to render “salty” & “juicy” somehow synonymous. It turned out to be the sole disappointment of the evening; skimping on the defining ingredient, it lacked the mojo—the roejo—to pack its characteristic punch. I was roebegone. But then I tasted the tyrokafteri, which translates as “burning cheese” (what’s saganaki, then, chopped liver?), & was pleased as the punch I’d been denied by the taramosalata: the whipped-feta spread was alive & kicking thanks to, of all peppers, jalapeno, per our waitress. When in Colorado, I guess.

The skordalia, I fretted, looked a little dry & grainy, but didn’t taste that way: it tasted like everyone’s favorite leftover, cold mashed potatoes—less garlicky perhaps and more lemony than the standard version for a refreshing change.

Knowing this Pete fellow oversees quite the restaurant empire (his picture’s even on the hot-sauce bottle on the table, sort of the equivalent of ancient imperial coin), I’m still willing to bet he hasn’t got the monetary might to fly in daily shipments of fresh octopus. I’ve got no beef with frozen product provided it’s treated with care, however; here, it is, marinated to tenderness in the classic Greek vinaigrette—wine vinegar & olive oil that would strike me as too light in most contexts but always seems just right for a cuisine from a land that sparkles as cleanly as Greece seems to, at least in the usual views of the white-&-blue Aegean, plus lots of oregano.

After a while, though, I wasn’t sure if I was using the pita as a scoop for the stuff I’d ordered or the stuff I’d ordered as an excuse to put the pita to work as a scoop: thick yet light & fluffy, it was more like a warm, well-made pancake than the quasi-crackers supermarkets sell.

Nor was I sure what other, sturdier sort of scoop I could possibly employ to get the rest of the stuff I ordered down; full as I already was, I was thinking maybe gavage tube.

Especially as the entrees began to arrive—1st the avgolemono, a bit starchy but otherwise good, yolky & lemony & chock-full of chicken & rice:

Petessoup

then the garden salad with feta-&-pepper-speckled vinaigrette, as crisp & ripe as could be:

Petessalad

&, finally, my pastisio & the Director’s moussaka, accompanied by wedges of Texas toast—

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Petesmoussaka

both exemplary as showcases for luscious eggplant, al dente pasta, ground beef & tangy tomato sauce; these were genuine casseroles, not piles of béchamelized mush. (Too bad about those prepackaged mixed veggies, the only cut corner in an otherwise lovingly rounded meal.)

We were making ready to waddle out the door when the manager, I think, came over with shots of ouzo on the house—just the Lethean thing to make us forget we’d just force-fed ourselves like masochistic geese. Which means we’ll be back, quacking for more. But at least we won’t get fleeced (or rather plucked): all this plus a bottle of wine came to a measly $70.

*Unless you watch the ¡awesome! Air Guitar Nation, wherein the music really does start to seem secondary to the sweet & freaky mania it begets.

Pete's Central One on Urbanspoon

delite: delovely, delayed til Wed.

The door was unlocked & there was a guy moving busily behind the bar, so I took it Deluxe’s adjoining lounge was officially open. Deluxe being 1 of my very favorite places in Denver—& lounges being all of my favorite places anywhere—I sauntered in psyched to get a full load of the snazzy surroundings (high ceilings, brick walls, black-&-white pop art) before the bartender could bring me down with the news (which the Westword had already reported, but I didn’t want to believe) that delite won’t open until Wednesday, May 14.

About 100 hours to go before I can get me some steamed pork-bun sliders—char siu bao-meet-mini-burgers, I guess—& some more of those aforepraised potato skins with house-smoked salmon & tarragon cream, then wash ‘em down with a fine-sounding Levini: rosemary-&-black-pepper-infused Ketel One garnished with blue cheese–stuffed olives.

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Weary & drooling, I feel like these guys

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as imagined by poet James Tate in “Lewis & Clark Overheard in Conversation”:

then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs
then we’ll get us some wine and spare ribs

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.
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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.
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Especially when it comes to spelling.

Pajama Baking Company: not YoMama’s baking company. Heh.

First of all, your mama baked cookies from a Nestle mix & scooped DayGlo sherbet from a supermarket carton. She wasn’t assembling big fat babies like these from scratch,
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using fresh-made ice cream like this.
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& she wasn’t not doing that because she was too busy baking golden-brown, buttery brioche
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or apple galettes
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or pecan tarts
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or crusty loaves of country rye or sheets of focaccia, either.
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No. She wasn’t doing it because she didn’t really love you. Not the way the Pajama Baking Company loves you.
So comb your hair, put on a clean shirt for crying out loud, come on in & show some respect.
***Thanks to neighborly blogger Seth Rubin for the heads up.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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—
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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,
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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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Dim Sum Bright Spot: King’s Land

There’s this flick I utterly adore & would never recommend to anyone called Frownland. In a bitter, frankly ill-fitting nutshell: it’s the post-slacker-era American übernebbish’s answer to Haneke’s godforsaken The Piano Teacher, whereby a hopelessly despicable anti-protagonist—if that; some would just say antagonist in the lead—lives a relentlessly miserable life, The End. Somehow, though, Frownland’s funny, if agonizingly so, & moving, if impossibly so.

My point is this: King’s Land’s no Frownland!

If it’s comparable to any other Land, it might be the Land of Dairy Queen (where there must have been a coup, as it’s now called DQtopia—I wonder if strawberry topping ran red through the streets)—except here streams of chili sauce dotted with stuffed-shrimp skiffs replace the hot-fudge rivers bobbing with banana boats, & the soft-serve spires give way to thatched taro huts:

Klspread

Going in a clockwise spiral from top right, we had ourselves a slew of taro puffs; lollipops of fried shrimp ball with sugar-cane sticks; some soupy sort of siu mai; steamed banana-leaf packets stuffed with rice & sausage & such; saucy mushroom slabs; less soupy siu mai; shrimp dumplings; a different type of shrimp dumpling; bone-in pork ribs; more shrimp dumplings; more less-soupy siu mai; & stuffed shrimp that I’m seeing for the 1st time in this picture—damn! Gotta move quick among the crew I was with, I guess. Not pictured is a plate of roast-duck chunks—indeed just ducky—or bowls of congee that, being congee, pretty much looked like this:

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Of course, all that was just the beginning. Someone counted & said we had 31 dishes total, for which we each paid a little over $15. What’s that, 50 cents a pop? Jaw-dropping. Button-popping.

Among the other savory tidbits:

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still more dumplings, these fried & filled with pork

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still more dumplings, these made with spinach

Klturnipcakes

turnip cakes, whose gelatinous texture isn’t for everyone but whose earthy-creamy flavor is

Klsandpshrimp

salt-&-pepper shrimp—perfect, really, lightly crispy & greaseless

As for the sweets:

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yolk-custard tarts & sesame balls—again, crunchy-gooey perfection

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candied-pineapple pastry

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turnovers filled with a crumbly sort of sugared-egg mixture & coconut gelatin cubes

In sum, there’s not much I can say that the photos don’t about the excellence of the dim sum at King’s Land—except to quote Captain Beefheart, from whom the smartie who directed Frownland, Ronald Bronstein, apparently swiped his title: My smile is stuck!

King's Land Chinese Seafood on Urbanspoon

Pink Pearl (Street)

Funny how red & pink are complements on the color wheel but opposites in the American idiom, where being in the red is bad but being in the pink is good. By funny I guess I mean mildly interesting to language geeks like me. It’s more interesting, though, in light of the goings-on around Platt Park, whose economic health suggests that the ills of the national budget—our government being some bajillion-infinity dollars in the red according to I.O.U.S.A., this totally boggling doc I just saw—aren’t contagious; with 3 new eateries soon to open, Old South Pearl Street appears to be in quite the pink from a consumer’s (in every sense of the word (says the hungry geek)) perspective.

Actually, I’m not sure Seven Cups, located next door to darned friendly wine shop Reserve List, will be serving food; judging by the avidly earnest website, the Tucson-based franchise may be devoted solely to tea.

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logo on the Coming Soon banner

That’s okay; though I’m pretty sure I won’t be hesitating between storefronts myself going “tea? or wine? tea? wine?” I do appreciate the obsessive connoisseurship—as illustrated in another recent doc worth catching, Les Blank’s evocative & stirring (heh! with lemon & honey) All in This Tea—surrounding tea culture in all its ancient artistry, & I’ll look forward to learning more about the leaf.

A couple of blocks away, Pajama Baking Company—market, bakery, creamery & sibling of nearby Gaia—looks this close to opening its doors (which I don’t believe are actually the picture of health; probably my camera just got all excited & flushed):

Pbc

Still another block north, this sign is making promises it had better keep, since the Indian pickings are pretty slim in these parts. Hmm, I bet this little joint, right here in Denver, really will be the pride & joy of a whole subcontinent!

Along, of course, with that two-faced baby.

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