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 ├ęclairs 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.