Sunday, December 23, 2007

Chilanga Banda

As much as I like living on Capitol Hill, it has it's disadvantages. On the one hand, we have a great selection of high-end restaurants that serve up amazing food, on the other hand, we have very few ethnic eateries worth mentioning.

There are places in strip-malls in the 'burbs that have the best Mexican, Vietnamese or Chinese food imaginable. But I'm so flojo that I rarely rouse myself to make the "trek". Really, it's not that far, but it feels like another country.

Last weekend we finally had an excuse to be out east and decided that it was "now or never" if we wanted to try a place I'd heard good things about: Tacos D.F. (2020 S. Parker Rd. Denver, CO 80231, 303-671-2986). The beauty of "Mexican" food lies in its diversity. There is just SO much to try. It varies from region to region and city to city. Mexico City (el DF) is it's own universe. 20 million people, from all over the country and the world converge on this ancient city and add their recipes and traditions. Wow, that's a rich broth!

Tacos DF is very different from the places you'll find on Federal. They tend to be predominantly Norteño establishments, mostly from Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila. You'll find a few from Michoacan or Guanajuato, not many. Chilango (from Mexico City) food is harder to find. When you drop into Tacos DF, you'll notice that even the look of the customers is different. Not so many vaqueros around here. Ok enough with the anthropology, the food is amazing. This is a taqueria so nothing fancy: tacos, tortas, quesadillas, sopes and sopas. We had the tacos, sopes, and quesadillas. The tacos de lengua (tongue) were flavorful and tender; tacos de cabeza (beef cheeks) were my favorites, not greasy, perfectly seasoned; tacos de asada (grilled steak with onions and tomato) were good. The tacos are $1.75, served plain, generous amount of meat, on a corn (store bought) tortilla; troca style.

The quesadillas are not your TacoBell variety. These are hand-made elongated corn tortillas, a wee bit o'cheese, your choice of filling, and then cooked on the comal (griddle). I chose the tinga filling, which is chopped chicken, cooked with onions, tomato and some bacon or chorizo. Wow, these are awesome! I had one of these in Morelia a couple months ago and I'm so glad I found a local source.

You'll find that the menus features sopas, basically soups. Pozole, I assume you know about. Consome and Pancita are less common up here. Down south, you can't properly start a meal unless you've had your little bowl of one of these. Consome is a clear lamb broth with garbanzo beans; Pancita is a beef broth, kind of like pho without the other stuff.

Tacos DF is basically a lunch truck with a small dinning room. Don't come for the ambiente, there isn't any. Just come for outstanding food from Mexico City and don't forget a big Styrofoam cup of tepache!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Denver's Best Cubano!

Since I first bit into a Cuban sandwich in New York, 10 years ago, I haven't been able to resist ordering one every time I see it on a menu. Here in Denver, where authentic Cuban cuisine is about as rare as pork for Passover, it is always in a non-Cuban restaurant. This, then makes it all the more surprising when you find a sandwich that is not only good, but actually crosses over into the legendary.

Enter the "South Florida Cuban Sandwich" at Pat's Cheesesteaks in Lodo. In my wife's opinion, this is the "best sandwich ever", I'll agree that it is the best Cuban style sandwich I've ever had. A nice chewy baguette filled with thinly sliced, seasoned roast pork and ham. Swiss cheese, mayo, mustard and pickles complete the perfect package. Oh, and don't forget the onion rings! I know, it's kind of a strange combo, but remember, your buying a Cuban sandwich at a Philly Cheesesteak-serving bar. Some things don't make sense, but when they taste this good, que me importa? Would Che approve? I'm not sure, though I'm sure he'd find the dark, underground location of Pat's a worthy hide-out.




Monday, December 17, 2007

The Calorie Count: Vegetarian Edition

As you may or may not know, I'm a dropout from the Church of Vegan. For four years soy, in all of its myriad forms, was my friend. I still admire anyone who can stick to this regimen, I found it increasingly difficult to manage. Denver produce was neither as fresh nor as inexpensive as it was on the West Coast.

This last week, my wife's nephew dropped in for a week-long visit. The fact that he is a vegetarian was both a challenge and an opportunity. Needless to say we spent quite a bit of time at City 'o City and Watercourse. I love City 'o City, their vegetarian pizzas are some of the best in town, in my opinion. A thin crust with creative toppings always keep us coming back.

Watercourse, on the other hand, has not been my favorite. In the past I've used this blog to explain my dislike of their new space. I haven't changed my opinion on this point, but I must express my joy at rediscovering the great food they serve. The Toulouse for breakfast is one of the most perfect scrambles, I've had. Smoked portabellos, broccoli, artichoke hearts, swiss cheese, and eggs. Served with their wonderfully crisp home-fries, this is about perfect.

Today's lunch consisted of a portabella Reuben sandwich, tomato/coconut curry soup, garden salad, and onion rings. The soup was amazing, just the right spice and a nice creaminess. We can't go to Watercourse without getting the wonderful "milk" shake. Totally vegan but you don't miss the cream at all. As dessert, it is just right!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cakes Made in a Cup!

Longing for the days of the school bakesale? Check out this event downtown: Cupcrazed - Trendy Cupcake Bake Sale for Charity. From 11am to 4pm on Wendesday the 13th, some of the great bakers of Denver (aka "the capitol of high altitude baking) will be baking and selling some fabulous cupcakes in the 1670 Broadway atrium. Proceeds benefit one of the yummiest charities around Share Our Strength!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Oh, What's the Use!!!

So, I've embarked on reading The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. The idea is that he follows four meals from their component parts to his mouth. Simply fascinating! Also very frightening. Read this book and you might end up walking around muttering, "corn, corn, corn".... ad nauseum (ask my wife). The way we have messed with our food sources is quite sad. This first section, on the "industrial food machine" was sad but not surprising. I've entered the second section that talks about "industrial organic", embodied by the Whole Foods model. This is quite discouraging. I'm beginning to understand where the dilemma comes into the picture.

More about that and my further impressions of the book as I move forward. Let me know if you've read it.

New York Times review

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Calorie Count

Ok, I'm sucking at this blogging stuff! I eat and I eat, yet I record virtually nothing; I have beautiful plates set before me and I don't take any pix; I try making new dishes, with great results, but never share a recipe. I'll try harder, I promise!

So, here's a brief run-down of last week:

Chill in the air on Sunday required something warm. Sometimes the drug to fill the prescription is menudo, usually found at La Abeja on Colfax; sometimes it is caldo de res at Patzcuaro's, yum! This Sunday, however, found us slurping noodles at Pho 79 (781 S Federal Blvd. 80219; 303.922.2930). I won't bore you with the details, but I'll say everything by telling you that the broth was amazing. Very hot and rich, go get some!

Tuesday night found us at our usual late-night happy-hour joint: McCormick's Bar at the Oxford. Nothing fancy, but the kitchen is open until 11 and the food is cheap. Sometimes that does the trick...ok, every other Tuesday night.

Wednesday night, we tried a new place: The Lure Lounge. "I'm Too Sexy for This Shirt" lyrics over a Thievery Corp loop! Very cool place, creative wine list, awesome food. The Lure has a new Fall Menu, they've gotten away from full-entrees and entered the realm of "small plates". Well executed and more appropriate, in my opinion for this place. (Seen here: beef carpaccio) But really folks, The Lure is all about the scene. Trying to impress your friends with how "in-the-know" you are? The Lure Lounge!

Besides a root-beer float and a flourless chocolate cake, The Lure didn't have much of a dessert selection. My ever creative and way too indulgent wife, took me to one of our favorite spots in town. Potager (1109 Ogden St. 80218; 303.832.5788) as always was simply delightful. A warm dinning room, even though it was cold inside; friendly knowledgeable staff; amazing food! We had to have more than just dessert, we split an appetizer of lamb meat balls on celery root puree. A little sweetness from a fall fruit chutney, made it an amazing dish. A warm apple crisp with mascarpone fit the bill for the dessert we were looking for. I love the fact that you can get half-orders of entrees as well as half-glasses of the great wines at Potager. You might think it's an expensive place, but this "half" option allows you to sample their every-changing menu; and they don't look down on you for it.

Well that's a basic recap of this week. Not exhaustive, but "confession" always feels good. I'll have to try it again next week!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pasquini's, Another Chance

Pasquini's in Highland is officially on the list folks! I'll be honest with you, for some reason I've always been reluctant to patronize this restaurant. The first time I ate at a Pasquini's was at the original location on Broadway. I had recently moved to Denver and my new friend's, we'll call them "Novis", took me out for pizza. As I recall, I liked it. Nothing earth-shattering, just good, solid pizza. I didn't go back.

Why? Perhaps because I was a veg-head at the time, I wasn't eating pizza with peperoni and sausage. Pizza without, just didn't call to me. Later on my wonderful wife being lactose intolerant didn't help either. I guess pizza was just off the radar.

I don't remember how it was that we first went to Pasquini's Uptown. I seem to recall it having to do with the Deep-Fry Spy's calzone addiction (it passed). Anys, we started picking-up some great apple strudel they had. Never ate there, just picked up the dessert to-go (that too, passed).

Long-story short, we were up in Highland on our lunch break last Monday, when we passed the fancy new Pasquini's (32nd and Zuni). My wife recommended grabbing a slice of pizza for myself. We went inside and couldn't leave. First of all, they have a "2-slices of pizza and a drink" lunch special ($5.99), sold! Choose a couple of toppings, it's yours. My wife was attracted to the great sandwiches. We had every intention of taking our order to go. We just sat at a table to wait, then the manager brings us water. Then, says he doesn't want us to "feel left out" so he brings us a plate of amazing garlic bread sticks! The place was so cozy, warm and friendly, just had to stay.

If you've read this blog before, you know that one of the things that sells me on a restaurant is the ambiance (I hate that word!) of a place. Maybe that was one of the things that didn't do it for me at the other locations. For some reason, pizza places have always been warm, dark wood places. Ski-lodge memories maybe? Angelo's on 6th, for instance, has been my favorite place for pizza in Denver. It's a nice cavern with amazing pizza. But, I have to say Pasquini's got it right on their new location. Great use of an old building, good natural light, nice wood work and character. Oh yeah, the pizza was terrific! Standard sausage, peperoni and black olives. It all seemed so fresh and flavorful, I have to have it again.

I don't know if I'll be drawn to their other locations, but when I have a hankering for a slice or two of pizza, you'll find me at the Highland Pasquini's.

Correction: "anonymous" noted: By the way the lunch special is $4.99 - now that's a "screaming deal" for lunch. The slices are "not stingy" (insert Greta Garbo voice) and they leave you so satisfied that you may skip dinner!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Is This Doable in Colorado?

Check out this link to the Oregon Travel website. They have an event going on in October and November that features the "bounty" of the state. Instead of focusing on just the restaurants, this statewide event sheds light, or a spotlight, on several aspects for the food process. They have events that feature the farmers and vintners; the brewers and bakers; as well as the innkeepers and chefs. Sounds like a good idea. It really takes the partnership of all of these players to create a food culture, not just a restaurant culture.

Oregon truly has a bounty, with the ocean, the cattle ranches, wine country and hops, the fertile Willamette Valley, and the many rivers. I'd like to think that every region, however, can put on a similar event to feature their local harvests. Sure, some states will have a broader selection than others, but I think it could really educate and encourage us all to be more conscious of our food.

A squealing pig, a dense forest, and a dark stinky secret...

no tain't Deliverance! Interested in a new line of work? Check out this article: "For Hire" (it's food related, I promise!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Breakfast for Lunch


Looking for a smart place to get a great breakfast on the weekend? Look no further than your local, neighborhood "food service" provider. Yup, Steuben's provides the service, and it sure is food based.

I'm sure you don't need me to describe the place to you, you've probably been there many a time. For those that haven't, I'll just say, "Holiday Inn, 1978." You get the picture, really, it's a good thing.

But we're here to talk about the breakfast. Steuben's has a surprisingly affordable, and hearty (OMG I said "hearty") selection of morning-food favorites. Your standard Benedict's, steaks (chicken fried and with eggs) pancakes are all happily represented. SFS is about the comfort food and breakfast isn't a let down. My tip: get "The Basic"-2 eggs, hash browns, b'fast meat and toast. Also, you'll be very happy with a stack of pancakes. Our group was unanimous in applauding these light and sweet treats. Split decision on the hash browns; seems one of the order's seasoning was a bit, well, LOUD.
4 people: 4 basics, 1 stack of p'cakes, a side of biscuits n'gravy, coffees all around=$49. Great services, cool place, HIGH chairs. Be careful and you'll enjoy!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Another "Tavern"?

So, Maloney's Tavern is opening tomorrow at 1432 Market St. After an extensive renovation of the old Bara Sushi space, Denver gets the latest incarnation of this chain of taverns. Monday, I had the opportunity to experience LoDo's newest chug-tub. How was it? If I said it was the worst food in recent memory, would you really care? After all the beer you'll undoubtedly drink, I honestly don't think you'll notice that the food is a bit too salty. "Hey Maloney's! Bonneville Salt Flats called, they asked if they could get their salt back!" The fish was over-battered and a wee bit toasted, but how about that beer right?
Service, well it's kind of hard to say. When the guy at the door does everything he can to get you to turn around and leave, you don't know what to expect. Granted it was a trial run, and maybe they were trying to spare us the pain we would encounter inside. For someone that thought Hell's Kitchen was about as real as Hell, well, this was an eye-opener. For the poor souls that waited an hour and-a-half for food, well thanks for coming.
Does, Market St. need another tavern? Nallen's Irish Pub and the Pour House are obviously too far across the street for a properly inebriated individual to safely cross. So, yeah I guess we need another pseudo-tavern in LoDo. Now if they could just get themselves some of those old time Irish Cops, I think the neighborhood could use a few more of those on a Saturday night.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Vile Bodies

They were nearly an hour over luncheon. Course followed course in disconcerting abundance as Colonel Blount ate and ate, turning the leaves of his book and chuckling frequently. They ate hare soup and boiled turbot and stewed sweetbreads and black Bradenham ham with Madeira sauce and roast pheasant and a rum omelette and toasted cheese and fruit. First they drank sherry, then claret, then port. Then Colonel Blount shut his book with a broad sweep of his arm rather as the headmaster of Adam's private school used to shut the Bible after evening prayers, folded his napkin carefully and stuffed it into a massive silver ring, muttered some words of grace and finally stood up saying:
"Well, I don't know about you, but I'm going to have a little nap," and trotted out of the room.

As ruthless as he was in skewering the hypocrisy of the British establishment, Evelyn Waugh loved it. In his book "Vile Bodies" he lovingly fawns over beautiful descriptions of grand feasts that were a way of life in the old country houses of the time. After reading such a description, one might be appalled at such gluttony. But Waugh also gives us a glimpse into the reality of the 1920's aristocratic diet:

Adam and Nina breakfasted alone in the dining room. There was a row of silver plates kept hot by spirit lamps which held an omelette and devilled partridges and kejeri and kidneys and sole and some rolls; there was also a ham and a tongue and some brawn and a dish of pickled herrings.
Nina ate an apple and Adam had some toast.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hay Café, o Solo Nescafé?

A good cup of coffee in Mexico, a tantalizing possibility that rarely becomes a reality. Mexico produces great coffee but ask for a cup in most places in Mexico and you'll get a cup of hot water and a jar of Nescafe! In the past, the best bet was a steaming cup of Cafe de Olla. Pretty good stuff, if you want a dark and sweet treat.

We were, therefore, hoping for the best but expecting the worst when we got to Mexico. Things didn't improve when we arrived in Guadalajara. We quickly understood that Mexico is in the throes of cappuccino mania! Everyone from middle-school kids to dowdy matrons were ordering them like they were manna from heaven. We were reluctant to try, since a good cappuccino is hard to come by anywhere; then we saw that most were made by pressing a button on a Greyhound terminal style machine, eww!

When we got to Guanajuato, we didn't expect to find anything better. Wow, we were wrong. Though it is a smaller city, it has a much more cosmopolitan sense. Why? It could be because of the university in town, as well as the annual influx of foreign (mostly European) tourists that come in every year for the Festival Cervantino. Right off the bat, we found Cafe Conquistador. It is literally a hole in the wall. I took the picture below from the entrance. It is basically the roaster you see above, a stack of bags full of raw beans and a counter where the beans are ground and the drinks made. Their coffee is all organic beans from Coatepec in Veracruz Mexico.


We found the coffee to be an amazing departure from everything we had tasted up until then. Fresh, strong and very drinkable. OMG was it hot, though! I felt like Kramer with a latte down his pants. In fact we noticed almost everywhere in Mexico that the coffee was boiling, not a bad thing. When life is slower and you have time to let it cool a bit, it's great.

Guanajuato is a great walking city, not that you have any other choice. All callejones and narrow stairways. One place we really enjoyed, more for the location and vibe than for the coffee was Santo Cafe. In the picture below, it is up the street on the right, (yes, that is considered a street) than over the "bridge" with the blue umbrellas. The place has good coffee as well as some interesting desserts and appetizers.


One place I have to mention, not so much for the coffee, though I hear it's great, is Cafe El Truco 7. Good food and ambiance, but most importantly, it's a great place to lose any stray dogs that you might have picked up. Of course there's a whole story behind that, but suffice to say that El Truco is central, open late and just a great cafe.

Last in Guanajuato, was Cafe Tal. Now, they have GREAT coffee. Also specializing in coffee of Mexico, they roast their own beans and have a wonderfully pared-down coffeecentric feel. Wonderful little space that you enter on the second floor, (which is at ground level) and walk down the stairs to the first floor. Guanajuato tends to remind you of an M.C.Escher print; all up-and-down but ending up in the same place! People come to Cafe Tal to buy great freshly roasted beans by the kilo or an americano y un cuerno (croissant). The staff is friendly and very accommodating, this is the perfect place to spend some time filling a notebook or penning postales (BTW don't expect your post cards to make it to the US).

Our next city was Morelia. A gorgeous colonial city in Michoacan. Downtown is one beautiful checkerboard, punctuated by baroque churches, plazas, palaces and the university buildings. This is where we stumbled onto what seems to be Mexico's answer to the Starbucks Empire. Finca Santa Veracruz has approximately 50 stores in Mexico, most centered in Mexico City. They manage the entire process from planting and growing on their own finca in Coatepec, Veracruz to roasting and grinding. The cafes are set-up as franchises and strictly controlled. We found the coffee to be MUCH better than most US coffee shops' coffee, though not as flavorful as what we found in Cafe Tal. I think they might have a winner here. Sorry, no pictures of this coffee shop, just the Catedral.

All in all, there is hope for Mexico on the coffee front. People are being exposed to higher quality ingredients and demanding more. There are indications that there is a greater appreciation and pride in the more local coffees. We saw shops featuring coffee from Oaxaca as well as Chiapas and Veracruz. I'm sure next time we go, it will be a lot easier to find great coffee.

Nescafe anyone?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Real Mexican Food?

"After being on vacation and eating all that real Mexican food, I doubt you'll be enjoying mexican food in Denver for a while, right?" -My Brother

"It is hard to pin down experts and restaurateurs as to what happened to Mexican food when it crossed the border." -Joe Drape, A Celebration of Tex-Mex NYTimes 10/24/07


Thus provoked, I enter the fray!

I understand the misconception that real Mexican food is found only in Mexico. Where would you find the most authentic French food? Pretty obvious-France. However, history has complicated matters when it comes to Mexican food. It seems likely the Joe Drape of the NY Times forgot about the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 and establishment in 1836 of the Republic of Texas. Prior to this, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah; as well as parts of Wyoming and Colorado, were part of Mexico. So, Mexican food didn't "cross the border", the border just shifted south. Imagine the northern-half of the United States being invaded by Canadians and all-of-a-sudden, the food prepared there is no longer real American cooking, ludicrous!

Visiting a variety of regions in Mexico, reminded me that there is no monolithic cuisine in Mexico. There is so much beautiful variety. You'll find that the tortillas in Morelia are different than those in Guanajuato; up north you have wheat flour tortillas; and in Guadalajara, forget the tortillas, it's all about the amazing bread. Ceviche in one coastal area like Zihuatanejo is sweet and saucy, while in Nayarit it's a dry, crumbly and tart. How can anyone say that there is one real cuisine? Can a cook in Oaxaca tell the cook in Chihuahua that her beans are not authentic; not Mexican?

Joe Drape's article in the Times is very enjoyable and in the right spirit. He embraces Tex-Mex food as another one of America's great regional cuisines. I choose to see it in a slightly different light. I think that Tex-Mex, New-Mexican, Californian, are just the northernmost regions of historico-culinary Mexico. This region that goes from southern Colorado and Central California, down to Yucatan and Chiapas have traditions and ingredients that are very similar. Through isolation as well as adaptation, these distinct regions developed their own brand of Mexican food. When well prepared, they are all delicious and unique in their own way.

So "don't be hatin'" on the "Mexican" food of the Southwest, try it. Take it in it's historical context, but most importantly, judge the taste on it's own merits. Leave your baggage at the border and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Quel tragique, non?

I like pound cake, I like croissants.
I don't like one-pound croissants.


The croissants at The Market on Larimer Square are so dense, they throw off my rhythm. You can forget the iambic-pentameter! For some light, buttery, croissants, check out Les Delices de Paris (5303 Leetsdale Dr.). It's a good thing they are SO far away from my house, otherwise...

Wanna Tart?

Got the baking bug this weekend and decided that a batch of fruit tarts would be necessary. Dug out this great recipe for the crust, the most important part of a tart. Perfectly flakey and buttery, yum! Filled some with apples cooked in butter, sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon. Filled others with peaches prepared in a similar manner. I also baked a crust blind and made a custard. This I will fill with bananas and cream. Here is a sample:


Butter Pie Crust Dough
1-1/4 cp. All Purpose Flour
1/2 tbl. Sugar
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/2 cp. chilled Unsalted Butter (1/2" cubes)
3 tbl. Ice Water

Mix together dry ingredients. Cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. Add the water and work in until you have moist clumps. Make into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour. Use for your favorite tart.
This makes one 9" tart.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mayonez- It Covers a Mulititude of Sins

Are you trying to make a salad out of canned goods from the Breshnev era? Did you boil your makarony until it was the consistency of wet toilet paper? "Eta nichevo!" (no problem), our Russian-speaking friends would say, "that's why we have mayonez."
No smetana (sour cream) for the borscht or pelmeniy? No dressing for the salat? Break out the mayonez! If you have real klas you won't forget the ketchup! Remember, Russian Dressing is simply French Dressing with; yeah, you guessed it, mayonez.

For some more Soviet food delights, check out this link to Soviet Food Posters. Of course Uncle Joe wouldn't let anyone starve, right?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Your Twinkie* Tip

Wednesday night is "Rib Night" at CityGrille. Succulent baby-backs with fries and so-so-slaw: eight and a quarter.

I swear they put way to much BBQ sauce just to see how messy people can get. Deep Fry Spy, "How did I get sauce on my shoulder?" Delighted, messy faces all around, wet-nap IS included. If you are down Colfax way, check it out. (321 E. Colfax Avenue, park in the back)

*Good 'ole down-home grub: "That boy is like a twinky; brown on the outside, white on the inside."

¿Qué Paso?

Left you hanging, did I? Sorry. I got all worked-up about the state of the restaurant business here in Denver, threw an "Anton Ego"-sized rant, promised a follow-up that would spell death to the posuers and life and eternal fame to the true masters of the art, then fsstt....
As I try to steel myself for this self-imposed battle, Gourmet publishes their list of 100 restaurant, across the country that embody the spirit of local, fresh, organic foods. How many restaurants in our fair city? ONE. Yes, I realize that Gourmet's nod to a restaurant is not the sine qua non of legitimacy. But, they are not far from the mark. More to come in a true Part 2.


The real reason I left you on a limb is that I was in Mexico for two glorious weeks. As you read this, I will be preparing a short travelogue with pictures focusing on our culinary experiences.

Coming soon:
  • Does real coffee exist in Mexico?
  • Can I eat at the mercado without spending the rest of my trip on the can?
  • If all the cooks in the U.S. are from Mexico, who's in the kitchen in Mexico?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

DEN: PDX or LSV?

Glam. Is that what we are trying to do in Denver? Emulating Las Vegas is the last thing this place should be trying to do. Vegas is the Disneyland of the Desert, it has to make it up as it goes. Denver should not follow suit. We have a history here; beautiful inner-city neighborhoods. Yet the move continues to start from scratch in every decommissioned piece of land that becomes available. I know, people want to be close to the city, but don't want the hassle of an older home.

This attitude is infectious and it is reflected in the restaurant scene in Denver. Take for instance Watercourse Foods, a great place to find imaginative vegan and vegetarian cooking. You know what? I hate their new place. My "deep-fry spy" agreed, saying simply "its lost its soul". Now, I don't pretend to know all the details of why they moved, but here's my "consumer POV": the old place on 13th felt right, the new place on 17th feels like a high-school cafeteria staffed with look-alikes. The new Watercourse inhabits a new building with all the bells-and-whistles, I'm sure it is more convenient and easier to maintain than the old store front on 13th. For a little perspective, head over to City o'City, the coffee shop/bar that Watercourse put into their old space and feel the vibe of this place. Unbelieveable! It appears that the Watercourse sprite refused to leave the building! It is attached to their rough edges and chipped walls. I love it!

Yesterday's New York Times article brought home the point to me in a poignant way. Portland, my old stomping grounds, is still pointing the way forward in using it's old neighborhoods as they were meant. Restaurants and markets continue to open up in old store-fronts. Think South Pearl and Highland, but multipled by 10, in a city maybe 3/4 the size of Denver. Do you kids like Marczyk's on 17th? Yet we continue to cheer at the inexorable spread of shiny new Whole Foods? Lip service to seasonal, organic, local?

Denver has such potential and I so want to see it succeed. No, I'm not talking about all that open land in Stapleton or the Platte Valley. However creative the architecture, it all feels so contrived. Just think of all the beautiful old neighborhoods in your part of town. Areas that were the nuclei of little communities, all linked by street cars. Each with their own school, grocery, deli, cleaners. Sure we live in a mondern world with different realities but some cities are taking the best of the past and showing us the beauty of local food and community.

Who in Denver is keeping it real? Tune in next time. . . .

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sweaters and Sugars

Cool weather, love it! Had a nice dose of cold and wet a couple of days ago, it hit the spot. The cool fall mornings also remind me that I need some new duds: sweaters, scarves, hat, etc. Most importantly, however, these days remind me that it is dessert season. Sure, it's nice to have all the fresh fruits of summer, but how about some good ole' refined sugar?

Two things that I can't seem to get out of my mind: rice pudding and eclairs, what a combo!

The first one is an addiction, but at least I know where my dealer lives. The "pusher man" is right around the corner at the India House (1514 Blake St., 80202). You scoff, yes, you do. Admit it! You look down that long, chiseled, razor sharp nose at me, don't you. "Sebas", you say, "how could you waste our time with lowly rice pudding?" But you err, my friends, you know not the pleasures of truly great rice. For as long as man has beat the rice and milked the cow (I'll wait while our guttersnipes catch up!), they have enjoyed a multitude of sweet rice concoctions: kheer, Shir-berinj, arroz con leche, Kao niow dahm. Every culture has one. India House just happens to have Denver's very best Kheer. Sweet, creamy, rice pudding flavored with cardamom and sprinkled with pistachios, yum. If you show up to their lunch buffet and it's all gone, it's because this junkie has already been there.

My second addiction is not full-blown, but that's not for a lack of effort on my part. A reviewer of Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette had the audacity to say: "How many éclairs can one wash down with champagne before that exercise becomes pedantic?" I ask you, where can you find an enraged mob with pikes, pitchforks and other stabby-things in Denver? Wasn't the guillotine outlawed too soon?

I would love the opportunity to test the human limits of alcoholic bubbles and cream stuffed puffs! Alas, I have high standards, and I have not been able to find the proper ingredients for such an undertaking. If I could just hop over to Paris and pick up a box of goodies at Laduree, all would be well. Until I do, the quest for the perfect eclair goes on. Tell me what are the requirements to find such a delight in Denver? A pure heart, a white steed, a bubble of sea-level atmospheric conditions? Can no one make something light and ethereal with a heart of cream in this town? Please help this errant knight find his champagne filled grail with a side of puff!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Las Pampas de Denver

"The original is unfaithful to the translation" Jorge Luis Borges
As in literature, so in cooking, interpretations are always fraught with uncertainty. We often stress so much about getting it just right, that we forget a vital fact: people rarely agree on what "the original" is. Case in point, just what is chimichurri? Who's to say what is the "original" recipe?

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating an "anything goes" attitude. There's nothing I hate more than someone on TV telling me to just "put in as much as you like". If that's the case, I'll make my scrambled eggs out of potatoes! There have to be certain guidelines that help us "translate" the original, right?

Here's a basic example: Vinaigrette is 1 part vinegar (or other acid) 3 parts oil, the seasonings are more subjective. Some times it is even more basic (e.g. scrambled eggs, duh!)

I guess that was all just a long-winded disclaimer for my version of chimichurri. The herb garden is getting a bit out of hand. The oregano and thyme is going crazy so this was a great time to fire up the grill for the last day of summer. This is a pesto style sauce that is used in meat producing regions of South America. It is most often served with grilled flank steak to add a fresh and tangy kick. The key ingredients are parsley, garlic, oil and an acid.

In the recipe below, you'll want to blend in a processor the oil, garlic and vinegar with the herbs. It should be all finely chopped. Heat the butter in a pan, brown it, add the diced ingredients and cook over a medium-high heat.

Chimichurri
1/2 C. Olive Oil
6 Cloves of Garlic
1/4 C. White Wine Vinegar
1/4 C. Cilantro
1/4 C. Parsley
2 Tbls. Fresh Oregano
3 Tbls. Fresh Thyme

3 Tbls. unsalted butter
Salt to taste.

Grill up your flank steak, just salt and pepper please. Serve with the sauce on the side and a glass of nice Argentinian red wine. If the gauchos on your block decide to critique your chimichurri, just remind them of what their compadre Borges had to say, ask them how they'd to it better, and then give them another glass of wine.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

There is a Cod!

Living most of your life on the West Coast will make you take certain things for granted. Your'e never far from a major body of water, thus, finding decent seafood is not hard and not expensive.

Then there's Denver. Studying the map makes it look good: Platte River, Cherry Creek, Highline Canal, Cherry Creek Reservoir, Sloan's Lake. A veritable Water World! Oh and all those Coors commercials we saw back in Oregon, "It's all about the water", yeah right. More like a land of ditches and ponds. If only to have the sun of Colorado and the water of Oregon. "Come Global Warming, Come!"

So, with no chance to jump on a deep-sea fishing boat in Newport and be back home frying my lingcod the same evening, I've been missing the catch. Sure you can find some nice sushi around here or go to Emma's or Vega for some nice halibut (oh, sorry, not anymore), but for the day-to-day fish and chips, sorry. For the love of all that's holy, we've even been in a deep funk because Arby's stopped serving fish sandwiches! I tell you, something's got to give here folks.

Just in the nick of time my "deep-fry spy" calls me up with the dope on a place that has it all, so he says. Great fish and chips, good beer and football. Dang, all the hooligans are going to crowd this joint now (cue: "Before you was famous"). We just had to go check it out. The joy-mobile pulls up and whisks your 'umble servant, his lady and her sister off to the land of ale and vinegar.

You can't miss the Union Jack on the big blue wall of GB Fish and Chips as you drive south on Broadway. Inside you have the requisite flat screens with football on high-rotation; jerseys on the ceiling and picnic tables for the crew (check the website below for who's going to be playing). The place is great, unpretentious and friendly. Place your order and within minutes, golden, crispy, flakey, (no, not some frizzed-out retriever) perfectly-battered-and-deep-fried-COD awaits you at the counter. The menu is elegantly simple; swimmers on top (that would be the battered and fried ones) and some specialties like pasties and bangers. But you know what? It's about the fish, and the fish rocks!

Ok, only if you are not a hooligan or a drunkard of any other stripe are you allowed to read what follows....Choose one: [enter] [sign me out]

They have a happy our with 75-cent PBR. Yeah, liked I'd tell you WHEN happy hour occurs, go find out for yourself!

GB Fish and Chips makes my life here that much better. It should be featured on all of those stupid "tips for out-of-towners". "If you're coming from sea-level: 1) drink plenty of fluid; 2) be careful with your alcohol consumption; 3) wear layers for changing temperatures; 4) don't eat fish out of Cherry Creek, they're all drunk blind; 5) go to GB Fish and Chips."

GB Fish and Chips
1311 S. Broadway
Denver, CO 80210
720-570-5103

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Daily

http://www.gbfishandchips.com/index.html

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Reverie...

My second-class bus pulls into Chapala. Dusty, empty streets; sad, deserted plaza, widows of the siesta. The solitary figure of the man selling chicharrones, assorted fried pork parts. North of the Border mentality screams: Beware! Tourist-guidebook-advice be damned! "Media-kilo de chicharrones, tio" (a pound of chicharrones, my good man). Steaming bits of fried pork fat and meat folded into a brown-paper cone.
The machinery of the tortilleria has grown quiet, but the tortillas are still warm. "No, solamente una docena, por favor." I don't have 10 kids, I just need a few tortillas.

The solitary benches of the plaza and the strumming of a half-hearted improvisation beckon. A cold Coca and my own tacos de chicharron. Yeah, I could get used to this.

If you're not "going for a walk in Mexico" ala Morrisey any time soon, go to Benny's (7th and Grant). This is a neighborhood institution where you can go very wrong, very easily. Or find Chapala. Try this, and then thank me: 1 side of chicharrones; 1 order of corn tortillas; 1 side of guacamole; 1 Dos Equis Amber (this one you'll repeat).

Yeah, I hear the howls of derision from the wanna-be-Mexican-food-puritans. But I challenge you, find me better chicharrones in this Queen City of ours! Always just-fried, perfect balance of fat vs. meat; bien padres!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pourquoi?

I love to eat and I love to write. Yes, precisely in that order.

Second; I have found that the culinary landscape in Denver is exciting, not exhilarating, and should be approached in that manner. Wild paeans are rarely due, yet often showered upon the merely "best of Denver". How "shy-making" I would exclaim, when compared to the world-at-large.

In a totally selfish mode now, I find that awareness in eating is heightened for me when I spend time describing and musing upon the experience.

I invite you to follow along, and comment when you are compelled by my raving or ranting. Sometimes, I will be talking about what I'm cooking, where I've eaten or what I've read. I'll be using this blog to rant like a 16th Street Mall Prophet, yell back at your own risk.