If some of my last few meals (oh, you know which ones) had been automobiles, they’d have looked like this:
or maybe even this.
It’s high time I had me a hot rod. But what if my usually peachy-keen instincts just lead me to another lemon? I’ve decided perhaps they need a little R&R, & have packed them off to the part of my brain that looks like this for a while—ciao, instincts! Don’t forget to write!:
Meanwhile, I’ve turned to my old pal & fellow food writer MC Slim JB, first introduced here back in January as one of the panelists on my Northeast-Southwest-cuisine-comparing roundtable. Trusting Slim’s impeccable taste as I do, I sent her/him* links to the online menus of some eateries I’ve had my eye on, paired them according to certain similiarities I discern, & challenged him/her/it to customize my next few outings for me.
My fancy-schmancy rationale: that, without any sort of context in which to frame said menus—no knowledge of the chefs behind them or their place on the Denver dining scene; no way to gauge the restaurants’ reputations; no sense of setting on any scale (surrounding neighborhood, interior design/ambiance, crowd)—Slim might maintain his/her/its/their focus on the food itself to discern its pure, clear essence.
Slim’s franker, funnier rationale: “One thing that appeals to me about this is the ridiculousness of judging a restaurant by its online presence and menu copy. You know: I hate that website’s stupid Flash intro and background music; that place is going to suck! Maybe we’ll uncover an inverse relationship between the pretentiousness of the menu’s prose and the tastiness of the food.”
On that note, let’s get ready to resto-rumble!
“An appetizer of deviled eggs with prosciutto, caviar and chervil is a big BUY sign, a humble comfort food presented with a modicum of pizzazz. Some dishes I’m tired of seeing everywhere: duck confit, goat cheese tart, and steamed mussels. In entrees, I love the use of the flatiron cut in the obligatory steak. It’s more flavorful and better textured than the more common onglet/hanger. Sides of bacon ragout and celeraise/potato gratin also sound much more interesting than frites. I’m impressed by two vegetarian entrees, and attractive-looking desserts from a pastry chef who is clearly fond of caramelized sugar.”
“Appetizers look rather more ambitious and expensive here. There’s a less generic quality to the recipes: lamb Reuben sliders with sauerkraut and cornichon aioli sound intriguing despite the tired concept. There’s the ubiquitous beet salad and mussels, again. Entrees seem more straightforward, like a pork rib roast with apple gratin, bacon, and Brussels sprouts; does the chef have Germanic leanings? One dullish-looking veggie pasta entrée and no online dessert menu are annoying: an old but representative menu would be better. The wine list impresses me with its breadth (nice to see more than a token nod to Alsace and Germany), reasonable pricing, and refusal to lean on familiar American mass-market wines.”
“I’d be happy at either of these restaurants. While I like Duo’s menu and prices, I’m attracted by the greater inventiveness and wine focus on display at Table 6. (I can’t tell if Duo even serves wine.) Forced to choose, I think I’d opt for the latter and share several appetizers.”
I’m with Slim on the enough-alreadiness of beet salads & steamed mussels. That said, comparing the former, I could actually go for Duo’s, which contains the smoked trout I’m (to paraphrase Michael Moore’s baseball cap in Roger & Me) always out for, & which suddenly makes me wonder where all the other beet-and-pungent-meat combos are—some salami would be awesome! As for the latter, Duo’s are a snooze, but Table 6’s deviation from the herb-&-Chablis-bathed norm, using dates & spicy butter, evoke for me something of the aphrodisiac. In fact, everything of the aphrodisiac: vulval shape check, fleshy texture check, touches of sweetness & creaminess, oh, check!
For that matter, the thought of long-pepper grits, almond-crusted tater tots, & fried green tomatoes with feta get me pretty hot too. OK, then, Table 6 it is.
“Wow: it’s the Greatest Hits of Upscale American Comfort Food! I like the fact that there’s a lot of them, and that the menu seems designed more for sharing than for the traditional my-app-and-entrée here/your-app-and-entrée there. White truffle-and-cheddar popcorn could be a terrible idea, but I’ll bet it’s actually terrific, and for five bucks I’ll take a flyer on it. If the kitchen can actually execute consistently across this menu, this looks like a near-optimum venue for a) laying down a food base before an evening of premium cocktail imbibing; b) a quick pre-theater bite; c) extended late-night grazing. Nice.”
“Another place that looks like it might encourage tapas-style grazing, but sexier, more French, pricier. The crew I’d bring here might have to be better traveled than the gang I’d bring to Theorie—folks who share my love for thoughtful, mid-priced salumi and cheese plates. The hot-rock dishes seem healthy, appetizing, and fun all at once. The entrees (except for those good-looking pastas) seem less fascinating, but the prices all around seem fair.”
“This is a tough one. I can imagine enjoying both these places enormously, but Thëorie’s menu seems a bit more three-years-ago: sliders, lobster tacos, those damnable moules frites again. Swimclub 32 seems edgier and has more dishes beyond the range of my kitchen skills.”
Bingo, just what I needed: unburdened by the kind of knowledge that makes the knower dumber—Thëorie’s history as a house of ill-but-still-really-boring repute, say, or the fact that the photo on Swimclub 32’s home page is the stinkiest, Freudian-slipperiest attempt to bring sexy back ever—Slim has managed to offer some calm, well-reasoned perspective on the culinary potential of two places whose curiosity has for me up to now been of the perversely morbid (see knowledgably dumber) sort.
Swimclub 32, here I come.
I will, of course, post Pimp My Meal! Part 2 & the results of this little experiment posthaste.
*Slim’s got a super-sly anonymity thing going on.