Thursday, December 18, 2008

This Little Piggy Went to Market, This Little Piggy...

This is what the menudo con pata (Pork Knuckles) at El Farolito looks like:

Wonderful menudo, perfectly cooked tripe, just the right spice, and knuckles that are chewy were they're supposed to be and tender were they're supposed to be. Perfect!

This is what Gio Heo in Broth (Pork Knuckles) looks like at Da Lat Vietnamese Restaurant:

Beautiful broth! Amazing flavor with flakes of garlic and green onions. But the knuckles were too hard. Maybe I'm just not used to working so hard to get into these babies, I'm not sure. I'll take more broth though! (Plus at $3, I'll probably try them again; just to check, you know?)

El Farolito Mexican Restaurant
1593 Peoria Street
Aurora, CO 80010
(303) 367-2739

Da Lat Vietnamese Restaurant
940 S Federal Blvd.
Denver, CO 80219
(303) 935-4141

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sparrow Cafe Gone, Left Us "Bones"

Bjork's corner in Denver is getting a new tenant. The corner cafe (7th and Grant) that was the Sparrow Cafe and 7th Ave Coffee before, is being re-imagined as "Bones". Chef Frank Bonnano, owner of the adjoining Luca d'Italia and Mizuna, as well as Osteria Marco in Larimer Square, is bringing new life to this little gem. More info: here at the DDP blog.

We can only hope that the curious Bjork mural on the wall doesn't go away. It's been here for several years now; anyone know who's behind this neighborhood icon and why?

Monday, October 6, 2008

There's Gold in Them Hills!

After 9 years in Denver, we figured it was about time we headed up to the mountains to see the changing colors. Seemed like alot of fuss to us, after all it's not like we live in Vermont. But after hearing story after story about how beautiful the trees are, and the fact that it'll soon be over, we blocked out last Saturday and decided we'd check it out.

Finding out where to go to see the mythical Rocky Mountain gold was easy. Between advice from co-workers and the US Forest Service Fall Color Report, we decided that we'd head up Hwy 285 west of Morrison through Bailey and up to Guanella Pass.

Initial research on the important issue of food, however, was most frustrating. We couldn't find much on the interwebs about how people in those upper elevations go about feeding themselves. Berries and bark? Did we have to prepare to kill something? Ah, these city folk were a bit worried. The best we could find were rumours of a monstrous "hot dog in the hills" and perhaps collecting larvae off the bottom of rocks in the streams! A general survey of friends around the office revealed a lacuna of infinite proportions. The "mountain man" of the office had already headed for the hills on Friday and could not be reached for comment. He'd probably advise taking up our own food anyway, boring!

Fortunately, I work with a fellow foodie and a walking Colorado directory assistance. He pointed me in the direction of a place in Bailey for breakfast, the Cutthroat Cafe. A call to the Shawnee Post Office put me through to Joe, who offered Sweet Fanny Adams as a dinner possibility. Your tip of the day: For dots on the map that aren't well represented on the web, you might consider the USPS as a resource to find a place to eat. So we were set. Just in case, we packed sandwiches, some trail mix, water and fruit.

A lovely drive (1 hour) along Hwy 285 from downtown Denver took us to bustlin' Bailey, Colorado. First order of business, breakfast. The Cutthroat Cafe is at 157 Main Street in Bailey (303-816-5099). But in Bailey, you don't need no stinkin' addresses! It's the little place next to the Bailey Country Store. They are open everyday from 5am to 7pm. Ten tables and a short bar is all the room in this little place, so there will be a line for breakfast. We put our name on the list and walked over to the aforementioned Country Store to pick up some snacks. Outside the store they were grilling-up some brats, probably trying to entice all the waiting customers. Inside, it had most anything you could get at Safeway, however, they had only one or two of each item. It was quite interesting plus they had great homemade Banana Bread, yum!

We headed back to the Cutthroat for breakfast. The place makes you feel like you stepped into some one's home and all the family is in. Lot's of locals, although I think "local" is a relative term up there; and lot's of tourists, but all are welcome and made to feel at home. Service is very fast and friendly. We went for breakfast and that's what we got. One "Reel Deal", one half-order "Reel Deal" and a short-stack of pancakes. The Reel Deal is: Ham, Bacon, Sausage (yes all, not "or"), two eggs, toast, and hash browns. Hearty? Oh yeah! If I'm going to be hiking at over 10,000 feet, I don't mind a little extra fuel. Quit laughing! The fact of the matter is, I'm a sucker for breakfast even at sea-level. The pancakes at the Cutthroat Cafe ROCK! They are so fluffy and delish, you got to go up there just to try them.

Before I forget, oh how could I even consider it, let me tell you about that "hot dog". It does exist, it is huge, it draws crowds and I didn't bother trying one. I was strongly advised by a co-worker to avoid eating one at all cost. So I didn't. For the curious, Coney Island Hot Dogs is at 10 Old Stagecoach Road, just west of Bailey. Here it is:

While you might not be interested in getting a hot dog here, there is another reason to pull off the road at the Old Stagecoach junction. Tucked just to the right of the "boardwalk" is a little shop called "Bake Me I'm Yours" (303-838-7858). This little baked goods shop is wonderful; muffins, cookies, breads, pies, cupcakes.... All freshly made on site; if you are in the Bailey area, you must check this place out!

Driving out of Bailey, you continue along a pleasant valley. It's the north fork of the South Platte. Little farms and beautiful scenery abound on this drive. The hills above the valley were flecked with patches of gold amongst the sea of green, gorgeous! A fifteen minute drive from Bailey will get you to Grant. This cute crossroads is where Geneva Rd./Guanella Pass Rd. veers off the highway to the north. Even here, we found a cute general store/Post Office and a roadside barbecue stand. Still thoroughly stuffed from breakfast we reluctantly passed on the BBQ.

Up the road we went, eager to walk amongst the beautiful gilded trees. "Willow's whiten, aspens quiver, little breezes dusk and shiver", wrote Tennyson. He could have been waking with us in the Rockies when he wrote those words. As we drove up, up, up, we could not stop marveling at the beauty around us. The road follows Geneva Creek and from time to time there are areas where you can park, cross the creek and catch a trail. Only about a mile from the junction the amazing colors convinced us that it was time to get out and hike it.

The colors were intense and all around, it was amazing! Any little breeze would bring down a shower of golden rain. The trail was covered in some areas with a carpet of gold coin-like leaves. The creek even seemed to run as if it carried a treasure of Spanish gold. It was interesting following the trail through a deep pine forest and then instantly come out into an Aspen stand. The change from one color to the other was an experience not easily forgotten.

As the day progressed the weather started cooling down and it started sprinkling a bit. We decided to head back to the car and drive up to Guanella Pass before the weather really changed. Sure enough as we got to the summit, thankfully on a well-paved road, we encountered our first snow of the season. A strong cold wind and blowing snow made it difficult to appreciate the view from the top, but it was exciting to see the quickly changing weather that Colorado is know for. We scurried back down the mountain to warmer climes and calmer weather. On the way down we were rewarded with beautiful views:

We were also amazed to find a high meadow filled with horses and cows. How do they get through the winter up there? I assume they must move them to another pasture at some point. But for the time being, they seemed to be enjoying the grass and the meandering creek that flowed through their little piece of paradise.

We tried another trail up there, but it wasn't as successful. We ended up in somebody's yard. Ok, it wasn't an "official trail" but it looked like it went right into an amazing bunch of trees that we wanted to see, so we headed that way. Then, we had to turn around, never quite making it to our goal, but at least we didn't get lost!

We continued down the mountain, frequently stopping and walking around particularly beautiful vistas or clearings where the creek leaped over boulders or through the trees. Not being serious hikers, this route we took was just perfect. It has a good mix of high-altitude trails and river-side easy trails. The scenery everywhere is beautiful and accessible. The season is winding down, but I would highly recommend this drive.

By the way, on the road back, we did stop at Sweet Fanny Adams (57922 Hwy 285, Bailey, CO 80421; 303-832-6697) to check out the dinner situation. It was just after 4 pm but they were closed. A friendly lady saw us drive up and came out to welcome us and let us know that they would be open at 5pm. There would be live music at 7pm and we were welcome to come back. We still wanted to stop by Evergreen, so we decided to keep going. I have heard good things about their live music on the weekends and will have to try again next year.

Our last stop of the day was Evergreen Lake. On the way we saw this group of beautiful Elk. It was a fitting end to a great day in the mountains. We got to "discover" new areas that we want to go back to and really continue growing in appreciation of the beauty around us. Also, you'll be happy to know that the food situation is not as dire as I expected. No need to pull out the rifle (the Elk will thank you) just bring a little cash and your sense of exploration. You'll have a grand time in those golden mountains!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Best Sushi Poll

Go to "Urban Brain in Denver" to vote for your favorite sushi place in town: VOTE HERE

I've got a hankering for sushi, some I'm looking forward to what the results are!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pizzicato Denver

Pizzicato Gourmet Pizza
The corner of 13th and Pennsylvania is the new location of the first Colorado outpost of Oregon-based Pizzicato. After Chipotle exited the Penn Garage building, we were left wondering what would happen to this great spot; we couldn't be happier!

They make a beautiful, hand-tossed, thin crust pizza. Brushed with olive oil and garlic, these pies are just right. Their selection of high-quality toppings are creative, to say the least. For the vegetarians, your choices are quite amazing. Case-in-point, the "Wild Mushroom": Shitake, Portobello, Oyster, Crimini, other seasonal mushrooms, Chevre, roasted peppers, red onions, thyme, Mozzeralla, roasted garlic and olive oil. Wow! $21 for a large pizza of this caliber, I'd say that's worth it.

A friend and I had the "Molto Carne" and were very impressed by the crust and the freshness of the ingredients. Other friends from the neighborhood have raved about the Hummus Plate ($7.50); great selection of marinated Italian tomatoes, Feta, pepperoncini, flat bread, hummus, and olives.

Check out this great addition to the Capitol Hill neighborhood. You can eat in, take-out, and they'll even "half-bake" it for you, so that you can finish baking at home. Their hours are: Sunday thru Thursday 11am - 9pm; Friday/Saturday 11am - 10pm.

1300 Pennsylvania St.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Inside the DNC Denver: The Food

So there's not much going on in the way of interesting food at the Pepsi Center for the DNC. The media tents surrounding the Pepsi Center are poorly served when it comes to food. This stand on the left is serving carnival style food; hot dogs, corn dogs, hamburgers, etc. With Elitch (closed) in the background it made for a somewhat festively-noir scene. Most of the tents had a media lounge where light food and drinks were served. Bloomberg had their own catering and the poor folks from the Wall Street Journal took what they could.

Some were able to secure passes to the CNN Grill (aka Brooklyn's). There you could nosh with Wolf Blitzer and enjoy some comped meals. Alas, I was not among the select, and had to take the picture from outside. It seems everyone was getting in on the credentials/barriers action. From the parties in LoDo to the panhandlers on the Mall.

Monday, August 18, 2008

D Bar

Yeah, it's that good.

Imagine that Tiffany's made dessert and you'd have a good idea of what to expect at the D Bar. From the robin-egg-blue decor to the jewel like quality of their desserts, D Bar lives up to the hype. The sophisticated veneer that might deter some, quickly vanishes as you are seated (if you can get a seat) and begin interacting with the staff here. The waitstaff is very smitten with their establishment and they try to out-do each other in their level of excitement and wonder; it's quite refreshing.

The menu has quite an amazing assortment of sweets, but don't forget the pastry case. It has another dozen or so desserts that aren't on the menu.

Our selections?
  • Lemon meringue tart
  • Raspberry cream tart
  • 3-layer chocolate cake
  • The Strawberry Dessert
  • Vanilla and Chocolate malts
  • Coffees (Allegro)
  • Tea

What were they all like? I haven't had such a beautiful and delicious selection of desserts anywhere else. 'Nuff said.

D Bar Desserts
1475 E 17th Ave
Denver, CO 80218
(303) 861-4710

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I said "Pork Belly!"

I know, I've already written about the Lure Lounge before; it's just that I don't understand why you aren't listening to me! Maybe my previous posts left you thinking this was an over-priced, sleek lounge where you go only when you have a hot date with das Modell. Well, we know that's not happening, so let me try again, appealing to your greed and need for comfort food.

Last night we headed over after work for the Lure Lounge's mind-blowing happy hour. I've mentioned this before, but let me give you the calorie count as well as the dollar count. Here you go:

$5 drink specials, including: wine, wells, and special drinks.
$3 appetizers, or 4 apps for $10 - hello! McFly!

Our order:
Gin and Tonic (well): $5.00
Lure Limeade (vodka, lime, sweet/tart): $5.00
Seared Scallops with Bacon Vinaigrette/Tomato Chutney: $2.50
Duck Confit Dumplings: $2.50
BBQ'd Pork Belly: $2.50
Truffle and Bacon Mac n' Cheese: $2.50
Grand Total: $20.00

I've had an itch for mac n' cheese for a while now and had heard that the Lure had great stuff. But I could not believe how rich and creamy the Lure's mac n' cheese is. Perfect blend of cheeses with bacon, yum. The pork belly is like the best thing you've ever tasted. Maybe if they made some kind of pate out of pork ribs meat mixed with bacon mixed with prosciutto they could replicate this. Regardless, it's just plain evil how good this is. And tell me, where else are you going to get mac n' cheese and bbq'd pork belly for $5? Served to you? In real plates? At a real table? Need I go on?

The quality of the food and service was amazing as always. Joe at the bar is friendly and makes you feel right at home. You'd expect an after-work crush of hungry foodies, didn't happen. Very laid back vibe, with attentive service. Remember kiddies, these items go for $9 to $12 on their regular menu, ergo you need to go to happy hour and taste what you've been missing.

Happy Hour: 4 - 7 pm Monday thru Saturday

P.S. Please don't forget about Sunday nights at the Lure Lounge. Soulful reggae with DJ Yahru and $3 Red Stripes will have you back in tune with yourself and your brothers and sisters, ready for a new week.

Sunday: Reggae/Dubstep
Featuring: DJ Yahru
7 - Midnight

More info on the Lure Lounge:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Bay Area - East

We took a little trip this weekend to the East Bay area in California. We do this trip about twice a year for a conference so we've been scoping out the restaurant scene. Here are a couple of local favorites:

Salang Pass
Fremont, between San Jose and Oakland, has the largest concentration of Afghans in the US. A drive down Fremont Avenue will make this very clear. De Afghanan Kabob House, Afghan Food Market, Afghan Village, Ariana's Kabob House, and the Little Kabul Market are some of the business that bring a taste of Central Asia to the East Bay. A place that we go back to again and again is Salang Pass. This comfy little restaurant in Fremont is well worth a visit.
The dinning room has your average chairs and tables; as well as a raised platform with cushions an low tables for a more intimate meal. It's easy to see why broad Middle-Eastern type skirts and robes are so appropriate for this type of seating. Try watching a woman in heals and a business suit try to navigate the low cushion seats! (Sorry darling!)
Even when very busy, as it is on the weekends, service is prompt and friendly. A salata (don't get excited, just a salad, folks) is brought out along with naan (thicker than Indian naan).
We were looking for a light dinner, so we split an appetizer and an entree. The mantoo was wonderful. Mantoo are Afghani dumplings steamed, stuffed with beef, onions, and seasonings, topped with ground beef, split peas and a yogurt sauce. Just enough sauce to mop up with the naan. We also ordered the Combination plate of kabobs: two kabobs with rice and grilled tomato. Our selections were the Teka and the Chicken kabob. The Teka is grilled marinated beef. Why we chose the chicken, I'll never know. I never order chicken because it is always dry and tasteless at most kebob places. But here, to my surprise it was amazingly tender and juicy, wow! Get the chicken kebob, you won't regret it.
If you are in the Bay Area and are curious about Afghan Cuisine, don't miss the Newark-Fremont area.

Salang Pass
37462 Fremont Blvd
Fremont, CA, 94536

Pho 99 Vietnamese
If you have an itch for Pho while on this side of town, check out Pho 99. Pretty standard selection of pho, nothing earth-shattering but solid Vietnamese fare. Service is usually prompt and accurate. This visit was an exception, as the waitress forgot my entree. When the manager found out she did get it out right-away. It was worth the wait, great grilled pork over rice and fresh cucumber, cilantro, and mint. I've had fried chicken, grilled beef and pork, steamed dishes and always been happy with my orders. Oh, and if you like fried egg rolls filled with minced pork, this is the place kids!

Pho 99
34400 Fremont Blvd
Fremont, CA 94555
510. 792.6234‎

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's Amiable

photo: The Lure Lounge

I was reminded of the greatness of this place last Sunday night. It's a beautiful place to chill out with a perfect drink and some soothing tunes. The Lure Lounge is also a great place for a late-night snack other than your usual lounge/bar grease bombs (your tummy will thank you)!Sunday is the day to visit; with a brunch menu that is particularly appealing, as well as DJ Yahru spinning after 10pm, The Lure Lounge in LoDo looks like the place to recharge before the onslaught of Monday morn.

Sunday Brunch: 11am to 3pm
Happy Hour: 4pm to 7pm (Mon-Sat)

The Lure Lounge
1434 Blake St.
Denver, CO 80202

More info on The Lure Lounge: The Calorie Count-The Lure Lounge

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Aix-en-la cité de Denver

Driving around after work. Don't want to eat at home. Don't want to hit the Great Wall or City Grill for take out. Where to go? We try to think of all those places we simply "must remember to come here". Dang, why don't we write them down, keep them in the car. Would be too easy, don't we all love driving around trying to remember where we could go?
Then all of a sudden inspiration hits: Aix! This little gem on 17th between Pearl and Washington has always called to us, but been overshadowed by the old-favorites-on-17th: Steuben's and the Avenue Grill. This time, the lure of Happy Hour overcame the emptiness of pocket book. (No, I don't carry a pocket book!) Tuesday through Friday, $5 wil get you one of five drinks or five appetizers. We went for the Ahi Tuna Tartar: Avocado Relish, White Truffle Oil, Chives. Wow, that was yummy! So buttery and smooth, I'm definately getting this again. Two glasses of wine and some bread, it was a perfect little happy hour.

"Mission accomplished!" exclaimed the Aix Happy Hour as we proceded to continue ordering food and drinks, no longer from the happy hour menu. Drats! Sneaky snakes, they put more enticing options, knowing that we could not refuse! So we also ordered:

Escargot ‘En Croute’ with Manila Clams: Garlic-Herb Butter Sauce

The Provencal Platter: Prosciutto, Buffalo Carpaccio, Olives, Red Pepper Tapenade, and Cornichons

Lamb Ravioli: Divine!

Long story short: Our $15 happy hour turned into an $80 dinner (wine, food, tip & tax). But, it was SO worth it! We'd do it again.

We should'ave called it a night, but what about dessert? We had a card from Panzano's for one of their amazing Tiramisu's so we had to head over to the Monaco for sweets and coffee. One slice of Tiramisu (espresso soaked champagne biscuits layered with amaretto and mascarpone) and one order of Tres Torti (mini-cupcakes with different butter cream frostings) rounded out the evening nicely.

Moral: Just like going grocery shopping while hungry is BAD, it's worse when you go restaurant shopping on an empty stomach. But, it's Oh-So-Fun!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Deluxe at Last!

Friday was our night to be inspired! The Denver Art Museum is always an interesting place to check out on a Friday evening, and as their excellent exhibit Inspiring Impressionism is winding down, we went with a sense of urgency. If you haven't inspected this show, you have until Sunday the 25th of this month to check it out. Then it's off to Seattle. If you hesitate to go because Impressionism isn't your favorite period, you should re-look at the title: Inspiring Impressionism; in other words, it's something of a comparison between the old-masters' work and the art they inspired. In addition to wonderful pieces like Manet's "Still Life with a Salmon", (above) you'll see a good selection of earlier works by El Greco, Titian, Velazquez and Botticelli, among others. Definitely not a show to miss.

As Manet shows us, art and food often go hand-in-hand. After viewing the exhibit we were ready for a little something to eat. Initially we were thinking coffee and dessert, but Novo Coffee across from the museum was already closed. So we headed off with no location in mind. A place that has always captured our imagination, but never our business is Deluxe. Every time we drive down Broadway and see their charming sign, it reminds us that despite being at the top of our list, we never seem to remember to go there. Now, Friday night on Broadway is not the best time to drop-in to this popular, little restaurant and hope for much more than a look of disbelief when you repeat that "no, in fact, we don't have reservations." Fortunately, there was a little table in the back, just perfect for our tete-a-tete. The room is small, loud, and utterly charming. Warm, gold walls with dark-wood furniture and frames, set an inviting yet convivial mood. From where we were sitting we had a great view of the retro dining room and part of the minuscule kitchen. The two-man team was rocking-and-rolling to get the food out and feed the packed dining room. They also cook-up small plates for the companion-lounge next door Delite.

After studying the menu, we decided that we had to change our focus and try a couple of small plates and order some drinks. I had an excellent Southsider (Sapphire Bombay Gin, Lime, Mint, Soda, garnished with Lemon Grass), M had a Mint Julep, both drinks were amazing. We ordered the Monsoon Dumplings and Halibut Ceviche. The dumplings were wonderfully flavorful, stuffed with ground chicken, ginger, garlic, and a mildly-spicy sauce. The Halibut Ceviche was beautifully classic. Just fish, tomato, onion and served with tostadas. Yum, it's summer and we have to make some ceviche, soon!

We still needed our dessert and a Banana's Foster that was on the menu, then off, then back on, was what we decided on. We didn't get table side flambe, but in a place so small that was a good thing. Served with ice-cream, it was really good. Not our perfect dessert, but definitely a nice way to top-off an wonderful evening of food and art.

30 S. Broadway
Denver, CO 80209

Friday, May 16, 2008

Benny's Basics

Last night, comfort food at Benny's:

1) 1/2 Litre margarita on the rocks;
2) Side of carne asada;
3) Side of chicharrones;
4) 2 Orders of corn tortillas;
5) Side of guacamole.

Perfect recipe for two weary souls (or soles, oh my feet)!

Benny's Restaurante y Tequila Bar
301 E. 7th Ave.
Denver, CO 80203

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Meals with a Baby

7 months old; that's how old my niece is. Last week I had the time of my life hanging around with a baby! I also got to see what eating out is like from a parent's point of view. "Wow" is all I can muster. Kid eats a steady diet of milk and mush, suburban parents: about the same. Just kiddin'! Getting out of their exurban town to Portland isn't as easy as it used to be for my brother and his wife; they were happy to get beyond Applebees and Burger King. So here is the count, kids:

Lunch at Patzcuaro's: my first foray with the happy family. Baby just off the plane, not too happy! The food was great, however. Tacos de carnitas, cabeza, and asada were stellar and impressed my family. Best of all? The beautiful hand-made tortillas. If you haven't been to this great taqueria in Highland's, get there for some tacos, tortas, or milanesa.

You never know what will impress out-of-towners, but try this: rent a movie, chill a few beers, and call Great Wall for some chinese delivery. If you want to scare your guests, take them to 440 Colfax on Friday night to order take-out from Great Wall! We opted for the kid-friendly delivery and enjoyed some amazing Beef Lo-Mein, Sweet and Sour Pork, Mu Goo Gai Pan, Fried Shrimp, and Cashew Chicken. This is New York style, generous portions, fast service. If you haven't tried to get around town with a baby, trust me, parents will appreciate this family style, down-home dinning. (Look darling, they have a buzzer-intercom, just like on Seinfeld!)

Wednesday night was game night. Rockies versus the Cubs. What did that mean for us: brats and kebabs on the grill. My brother picked up some nice shrimp and veggies at Wild Oats (no, It's not Whole Foods until the sign changes!) and undid the goodness of it all with some Johnsonville brats from Safeway. Oh well, they were good. And what did the baby have? You guessed it: milk and mush. We tried to give her doughnuts from Lamar's and coffee earlier in the day, but she broke out in a rash. Oops!

Probably one of the best meals we had when my family was visiting was at New Saigon on Federal Blvd. Our first visit there about a month ago had been great. We enjoyed some amazing Pho and were intrigued by the extensive menu. After a couple hours at the Butterfly Pavilion with the baby, we decided that Vietnamese was in order (no, I have no idea what the connection is, just forget it). My brother and I were hungry for beef: he had the Bo 5 Mon (beef prepared 5 ways); I had the Bo Luc Lac (sauteed beef in a pepper soy sauce). These were amazing, tender and so flavorful. The Bo 5 Mon we figured, would be a great appetizer for a 4-6 people. My brother's wife had a rice noodle bowl topped with shrimp and grilled pork, she loved it. My wife has been in search of the perfect wonton soup bowl all her life. She will try it at almost any restaurant just to see if it approaches the Holy Grail of Wonton that she had somewhere in Portland, she really doesn't even know where. This one almost did it. And that's all I'll say about New Saigon's food, because that should say it all. Oh, and from a kids POV, our waiter rocked! He knew just how to make our little one as happy as can be; which is great, when your stuck eating milk and mush.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

James Beard Foundation Awards

Every year, the James Beard Foundation puts together the year's most prestigious foodie fest awards.

From the website: Deemed “the Oscars of the food world,” by Time magazine, The James Beard Foundation Awards are the country’s most coveted honor for chefs; food and beverage professionals; broadcast media, journalists, and authors working on food; and restaurant architects and designers.

This year it will be in June, click here for the full list of nominees.

A few nominees that I found particularly interesting:

James Beard Foundation Books Awards : WRITING ON FOOD
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
by Barbara Kingsolver
(HarperCollins Publishers)

This has got to be one of my favorite books. Mind you, I haven't finished it yet. I almost feel like I want to read it season-by-season. I read up-to the spring section, and I'm afraid to go further until spring progresses. I guess it's a vicarious pleasure.

James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards : RESTAURANT REVIEWS
Jason Sheehan
"Lost and Found", "Holiday", "After Dark"
I love reading Jason Sheehan's reviews every week. He doesn't just give you the dope on the latest restaurant or newest chefs in town, he actually helps you understand what's going on in the crazy microcosm that is the Denver restaurant scene. And he reminds us that there is a wider world out there, and how it relates to our local planet. Congrats!

Bobby Stuckey
Boulder, CO

Ryan Hardy
Aspen, CO

Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson
Boulder, CO

Monday, March 31, 2008

Закуски. . .Russian Appetizers

Curious about how a typical Russian dinner party gets going? Yeah, OK you know about the vodka. How about some сало (sala), aka bacon without the red stripes, just the fat? A little slice of that on some dark rye bread, a little salt and a pickle, you are ready!

I would say the picture on the left is a bit more typical for the people I break bread with: a bottle of cognac, some котлеты (kat-lyeti) which are meat patties, sliced cheese, sliced sausage and rye bread. That's a good start. Take a look at this Закуски (za-koos-ki) Link at English Russia for some fascinating pics from Russia. Besides the aforementioned items, you'll also notice in the pictures lots of: green onions & garlic, parsley, boiled potatoes, caviar, smoked fish, green onions & garlic, tomatoes, green onions & garlic, smoked meats, cheeses, green onions & garlic, oh and lest I forget green onions & garlic.

If you lost all of your money gambling ("I mean, the market was our of everything, honey!") Just don't forget the vodka and the cigs!

Adieu Quiche Factory

Goodness to Go at 1712 6th Ave is saying goodbye. From April 1st to the 25th they will be holding a wrap-up sale. Check it out, from their newsletter:

Beginning April 1st all of the quiche, fruit pies, pot pies, crustless pies and tarts will be on sale until they are gone, but no later than April 25th, our last day. There will be many other food items on sale--so really it's everything on sale!
We are offering substantial discounts on barbecue sauces, jams, chutney, demi glace, cooking stocks, and much, much more. In fact everything and we mean everything down to the bare walls even including décor and shelving is on sale. All equipment, fixtures, vehicles, food and food products not used, art work, computers, freezers and tons more will be available for sale at reasonable prices. The sale locationswill be at the kitchen--1176 S. Cherokee St. Denver and at Goodness To Go 1712 E. 6th Ave. Denver.
Please feel free to call the store at 303-377-6500 or the kitchen at 303-289-4393for any additional questions or information.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Todavia Comiendo

Had family in town this week, needless to say there was plenty of food to be had. Quick recap:

SHE made a new recipe called Riesling Chicken, awesome! You know the two main ingredients, but the it also had potatoes, carrots, and lots o'leeks. Yeah, so many leeks it made the Titanic's leakage sound trite.

Had to hit the DAM for some high-brow cultcha, ran across the street to Pint's Pub for a round of Wimpy's (aka burgers). We usually like the Banger's and Mash but thought it a bit much for lunch. If you like gravy and you like swiss cheese, you know you do, then try the Salisbury Wimpy. All that plus sauteed mushrooms, yum.

On our way back from Red Rocks, we decided to stop at one of Denver's greatest restaurants: J J Chinese Seafood. Wasn't sure how the menu would strike my family. We grew up on small town Chinese-American cuisine, this would be a little different. Well, I didn't order the chicken feet. I ordered an easy sampler for them: Fried bread, Barbecue pork, dumplings, Shredded duck with enoki mushrooms, Pepper beef with noodles, and tea. Nice, no? It was great, inexpensive and my dad thought the arroz blanco was great.

SHE had another home-made hit; Shredded Pork with Peaches. A classic recipe my wife makes into sloppy sandwiches and burritos. Very impressive.

We went out into Saturday night's snow with friends. They wanted to go to T-Wa Inn on Federal. All around a very nice place with friendly service. I'm not a big fan of the food. I must say that the broth in my Won-Ton soup was terrific; the actual won-tons, nuh, as usual, too thick.

I have a lot of catching up to do on previous restaurant experiences, I haven't forgotten and will continue to fill in the blanks of my gastronomic life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Black and White Soul

it's raining rain
it's raining snow,
tell me where you wanna go. -"Speedbumps", Luna

A small black knot of life, huddled together, one umbrella. The delicate lace of the snowy, young, branches draw them away from us. Who are they? Where are they going? Afternoon Tea, Ladies' Lunch? I wish I was there, then. I’d love to experience that day. The smells, tastes, colors, warmth and sensations of that black-and-white, coming to life.

The sun is actually shining today, melting the last few patches of dirty white snow, I hate it! “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” I don’t feel like winter should be over yet, I have so much more baking and cooking that I want to do. I have an herb garden to plan. I have books to read. Fires to sit in front of. Teas to taste. A snowy winter life to live. I can’t be cast out into this lukewarm weather!

My crisis is not existential, it is weather related.

Monday, February 11, 2008

If at First You Don’t Succeed...

After surviving a stressful week, Friday night came upon us with the injunction to “go out, eat something comfy, and relax.” After a bit of brainstorming, this guy and his doll decide that 75 cent PBR’s and some perfectly fried cod are the answer.

So out the door we go heading down Broadway to GB Fish & Chips. After a few short minutes the beautiful Union Jack looms large in front of us, but wait, what! From whence cometh this mass of SUVs and Mini-vans that now populate the whole of GB’s parking lot? Happy hour at our favorite booze and batter bastion had turned into Union Jack’s Jolly Jamboree! Not a seat to be had in the house, rug-rats throwing darts at the floor, future anonymous alcoholics filling their bottles with PBR. As my vision began to blur and my head to spin, my wife pulled me out of that place just in time to prevent a total, non-alcohol induced black-out. Whew, back in the fresh air of Broadway, filling my lungs with sweet diesel fumes. Ok, let’s try something else.

Light-bulb, bling! La Praviana is just a few blocks further down Broadway. If you haven’t gone to La Praviana, boy, you are missing out. It’s this great little Salvadorian restaurant that makes the greatest pupusas in Denver. Pupusas are corn masa filled with either black beans and cheese or cheese and chicharron or lorroco flowers with cheese, well, you get the picture. They look like pancakes and are served with a curtido topping. This is chopped cabbage, carrots and jalapeno in vinegar. Truly good, a pile of these pupusas are, they are. Oh yes, they are! As we expectantly approach the ramshackle building that is La Praviana, we find that all our thoughts should have been in the past tense. No pupusas, no lorroco, no Negra Modelo, no Pan con Pavo, NO La Praviana. All gone, closed-up, shuttered, just like our enthusiasm for an easy, comforting meal.

But I’m not ready to give-in; I will have a relaxing meal. “Isn’t there this little Chinese-American restaurant just a little further down Broadway?” I ask, trying to stay positive and cheery over the deafening roar of our empty stomachs and the audibly black thoughts that are pulsing from our hell-bent-on-murdering minds. Not a good suggestion, apparently I’m not the only one that is having second thoughts of finding sustenance on Broadway tonight.

Then out of the blackness, she says, “What about JJ’s?”

Oh, J.J.’s how I take you for granted! A place so wonderful, it feels like having dinner at home. Except we usually can’t understand the staff, and we don’t make hot-pot at home. (Although, our neighbors downstairs are always smoking it!) JJ Chinese Seafood Restaurant at 2500 W. Alameda is the place to go for traditional Chinese food from Guangdong province. We drove up to an empty parking lot. The way our night was going, we immediately start wondering, "are they closed?" "JJ’s is always hopping." "What's wrong?" We are relieved as we walk in and see that everything is a as it should be, we’re just earlier than most. We settle in with our pot of tea and quickly decide on our old favorites: half a Peking duck, beef with black mushrooms and an order of fried-bread. As you walk into JJ’s you immediately see what they are known for. The large tanks full of eels, ling cod, lobsters, crabs, and a motley assortment of other denizens of the deep, scream seafood! When a guest orders fish or lobster, one of the cooks comes out with a big bucket containing the fresh aquarium catch and lets the guest O.K. the selection.

But I just wanted some crispy little duck, tucked into a mini-bun with hoison sauce. Nothing exotic, just delicious. JJ cooks up duck in many amazing ways. Try the shredded duck with enoki mushrooms, divine. I hear the Duck with XO sauce is also spectacular.

JJ’s hasn’t disappointed us yet. Since the staff’s English is limited, you won’t get a very good description of what you will be eating, if you want to be adventurous, but you’ll be alright. Last time we were there, we ended up with a selection of cold plates. Special House Chicken, for instance is a plate of cooked and de-boned chicken that is then refrigerated. The beef and soy sauce appetizer is also cold. Very tender thinly sliced beef, with a nice sauce. Both different, but good. Unless you wanted a hot meal.

As we finished our meal, sipping our tea, dipping our fried-bread into a little dish of condensed milk, and watching the crowd around us delight in their food, we couldn’t help but smile. Yeah, that was good. What got off to a rocky start, paid off in the end. “If at first you don’t succeed, fry, fry a hen...or duck."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Comida Callejera?

Just this week, the corner in front of my office was graced with a new addition. If you walk by the corner of 15th and Market, you'll find "Fidel" a Cuban-food street cart. For most readers of this blog, it is no surprise that I am not shy about trying street food (see Biker Jim's, Mixiote). A cornerstone of Mexican culture IS comida callejera, street food. Not having time to go down and personally check-out the food at "Fidel's", I asked a co-worker if he knew what they were serving or if he had tried it himself. Oops! The expression on his face told me that I might as well have asked if he was in the habit of licking fire-hydrants. "You don't like Cuban food?", I asked, innocently. "It's not that, I just don't like street food."

Too Shocking! I know that the stands out there vary from good to unspeakable, but I would never consider writing-off a whole style of food. Would you? Ok, that's NOT a rhetorical question. I'm curious to know what you all think of street food. Check out the POLL: "DENVER STREET FOOD" on the right column and let me know what you think. If you have favorites or reasons while you'll never have a street-taco again, comment below.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Warmth on a Cold Day

We woke up this morning to a beautiful blanket of snow. Well, most people around here are getting quite tired of it, but I still love it. One of the comfort foods I enjoy when it snows is Pho. When we're up for the drive to Federal Blvd., the home of Denver's best Vietnamese joints, we head over to Pho 79. It's a bit harder to get out there for lunch, however, so we are happy to have Parallel 17 close at hand. Just outside of downtown at 17th and Franklin is one of the coolest little spots, with GREAT Pho! Yup, I used both caps and an exclamation mark in that last sentence. Parallel 17's Pho deserves it.

If you don't know Pho, (pronounced "fuh", according to the folks at the Parallel) it is a Vietnamese noodle soup with herbs and vegetables. An excellent New York Times article, from serveral years ago, described it as the "national breakfast of Vietnam." In the places that specialize in Pho, the steaming hot beef broth and rice vermicelli is served with any one (or more) of a myriad of protein choices. There is beef tenderloin, tripe, tendon, brisket, meatballs; also some serve chicken or shrimp selections. This beautiful bowl is presented with a plate of fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, mint), limes, chiles, bean sprouts and sauces (hoison, sriracha hot sauce, etc). Then you go at it, creating your own flavor combinations. A Vietnamese profesor mentioned in the NYTimes article that "pho could be taken to mean ''your own bowl.'' While most other foods are served communally, soup, he said, is a rarity among Vietnamese dishes in that it is created individually for the individual." So don't be afraid to try mixing it up.

If you ARE a Pho-natic (so much better that a Pho-Nazi, sorry), you might wonder at Parallel 17's Pho potential. First of all, you say, "it's in Uptown"; strike one. Second, it is a beautiful little corner storefront; too, clean to infuse the broth with the appropriate depth; strike two. Third, the music and general vibe of the place is more Soho than Saigon; and your out! But hold on a minute "ump", give this place a chance. Let me explain my criteria for good Pho. It's simple, the broth has to be great. Deep and rich, lots of beef bones cooking for a long time.

Parallel 17 has it.

Monday thru Friday, Pho is what's for lunch (11:30 - 2:30) at Parallel 17. My favorite is the beef "carpaccio" pho plus oxtail. This "carpaccio" is very tender, rare, thinly sliced beef that cooks-up to a medium-well in your boiling broth. Yum, got's to try it! Grab your chops and slurp up those noodles, don't be afraid to splash around. I seem to ruin a good shirt everytime I have Pho, but it's worth it. You'll sweat a bit, or alot if you spice up your bowl. On a cold winter day, isn't that a what you need? Let the Russians have their banya and the hipsters can have their Yoga, I'll sweat it out in my Pho at Parallel 17!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Not Quite "Le Cordon Bleu"

One of the joys of travel is experiencing new foods. For those of you that enjoy cooking as well as eating, taking cooking courses abroad is something you should check out. As more and more of us are moving beyond tacos and nachos, the number of opportunities to experience and learn to cook is growing. The Slow Food movement is finding a receptive audience in Mexico today and many are taking a closer look at la Cocina Regional.

The grand dame of Mexican cooking, of course, is Diana Kennedy in Michoacan. Her books are full of wonderful recipes she's picked-up all over Mexico. Classes with the Julia Child of Mexican cuisine are a bit hard to get into and aren't cheap. Another option in Guadalajara is worth a look. Check out Mexico Cook!'s write up of Xilonen.

For the time being, until your next trip to Mexico, try the Mixiote recipe below.

Mixiote ....say "me-SHOW-tay"

A recent favorite dish of mine has been Mixiote. It is a dish that is common in the areas around Mexico City but hasn't made much of an impact up here. It is similar to barbacoa, often made with borrego (young lamb) or beef cooked in a mixiote, the outter layer of a maguey leaf (penca).
I never thought I'd be able to re-create the great mixiotes I've tasted, but then I started doing some research. I spoke with my tamaleros* who are from el Estado de Mexico and he gave me the run-down on how they make them. "Es MUY facil" he kept telling me. They usually make them for special occasions but he encouraged me to try. Found some recipes and played around a bit with the salsa and got this:

Mixiote de Carne (serves 8)
3 oz (about a dozen) dried guajillo or New Mexico chiles, cleaned and seeded;
14 oz can of chicken broth;
2 oz Achiote Rojo;
5 large garlic cloves, chopped;
1/2 cup of white vinegar;
6 lbs. beef short ribs, (3 inch pieces);
1 lb. package of banana leaves (thawed if frozen);
8 bay leaves.

Bring broth and 2 cups of water to a boil; add dried chile and remove from heat. Let soak for about 10 minutes, uncovered. Put chiles and 1-1/2 cups of soaking liquid in blender, add achiote, garlic, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of salt. Blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Let sauce cool to room temp.
Sprinkle meat with 2 teaspoons of salt, then add to sauce in a large bowl and combine. Marinate, chilled at least 8 hours.
(Next day, or later on)
Cut banana leaves into 11 inch squares (you need 8 squares). Heat them on the "comal" (griddle) lightly on both sides (they'll get a little shiny). Also cut 8 pieces of foil into 12 inch squares. Put a leaf on each piece of foil and evenly divide the marinated meat and sauce amongst the leaves. Add a bay leaf to each packet. Fold the leaf around the meat and sauce, (two sides in, then top and bottom) then fold the foil tightly around the packet. Arrange the packets, seam side up, in a roasting pan. Add about 1/8 of an inch of water to pan and put in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven.
Bake for 3 to 3 1/2 hours until meat is VERY tender. *Important* You will need to add water every 15-20 minutes as it evaporates, don't let pan get dry.
Serve with white rice. You can serve in leaf (don't eat it, duh!)

I've made this recipe twice for my family. The first time for my tia when she came to visit us here in Denver and the second time for my family in Oregon. They are from Chihuahua and had not tasted a Mixiote before. However, they loved it! If you would like to try a this before you make it, I'd encourage you to go to Los Carboncitos (3757 Pecos Street; 303-458-0880)on Sundays. They make them in foil packets, but the sauce and meat is really good. This will give you a good idea of what you are shooting for and give you a boost of confidence when your results are SO much better. Post a comment if you have success or questions.

*If you're looking for some good tamales for lunch while you are downtown, go to the corner of 17th and Blake. You can't miss the rainbow umbrella under which you will find some great Mexican street food. If I ever remember to bring my camera, I'll post some pix and a real review.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mas Cafe?

After our trip to Mexico, and the dismay/glimmer of hope we experienced in regards to the native coffee situation, I was impelled to write the post Hay Café, o Solo Nescafé? If coffee interests you, especially the Mexican stuff and you want to know more about why Nescafe became so prevalent, check out this post in the Mex Files.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bringin' Home the Yams

I've been mulling over how to live by the slightly stupid or incredibly inspired words of Michael Pollan, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants". We tend to get into a rut of eating only certain fruits and vegetables, most of which aren't organic, local, or even in season. I've gone from being vegan to making most wolves look like Bessy the Cow. Why of why? As most things, it is the result of bad planning. So, we've decided to give Door to Door Organics a spin. Simple concept. You tell them how often to come around, they bring organic and often local produce to your door. They'll tell you what they are including this week, you have a couple of days to ask for substitutions. So here is what the first shipment looked like, it was the "bitty box":
Total list, for $22, delivered to my office downtown:
  • 2 Kiwi
  • 3 Yams
  • 6 Yellow Onions
  • 7 Roma Tomatoes
  • 5 Tangerines
  • 1 Mango
  • 5 Bananas
  • 3 Pears
  • 4 Navel Oranges

Good deal? We are not sure yet. Quality is good, if a little on the green-side. One benefit is already apparent to me, it's making us try new things. I've never had to use Yams. We looked up recipes and came up with a great Moroccan-style chicken with yams and squash. Wonderful, we'll do it again. So for the time being we will continue to use Door to Door Organics and look forward to the interesting things they surreptitiously slip in.

Have you used them, what do you think?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ewww! Yumm! Ewww! Yumm!

I'm not sure what to think of these repellent delights. I trust the benignly-nefarious blogger that penned this post was not suffering paint intoxication. So, um, here it is: Scotch Eggs. (Is this a scotch tape reference, or a recommended libation avant-ouefs?)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Biker Jim's Wild 'Dogs!

At the corner of 16th and Arapahoe, across from the D&F Clocktower is one of the best places for lunch in Denver. Ask any of the walking white collars or parking ticket givers and they'll tell you that Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs has to be the best lunch cart on the 16th Street Mall. Word has definitely gotten out, even Food and Wine editor Dana Cowen has referred to Biker Jim's as an "amazing street cart with superb reindeer sausage". In fact the reindeer is my favorite, especially with grilled onions and a shot of cream cheese. Yeah, that's right, cream cheese straight out of the caulking gun. So good! Jim has a variety of interesting choices. Of course, if you just want a dog, he has Hebrew Nationals. But check out the selections: Alaska Reindeer; Elk Jalapeno Cheddar; Southwest Buffalo; Wild Boar; German Veal; Louisiana Red Hot. Wednesday is a special day, Jim breaks out the Pheasant as well other rare and interesting links. Don't miss it!

The dogs run $4, and a buck-and-a-half more for pop and chips. He makes excellent cheesecake, so stay out of the Cheesecake Factory! If you want more than a slice, you can pre-order a whole cake. As his site points out, he makes boozy cakes, fruity cakes, or just the best Vanilla NY Cheesecake around. Drop by or email him for more info.

He's out there Monday thru Friday from around 11am to 3pm. Check out his fun blog to find out about menu changes, what the crazies on the Mall are doing, and if he'll be braving the latest snowstorm or not.

Friday, January 4, 2008

What's a Chef to Think?

The NRA, no not that one, I mean the National Restaurant Association, just released a survey of food trends. Check out What's Hot, What's Not to find what ingredients, techniques and ethnic foods are on their way up or out.

Pop Quiz: Which is Hotter...

1) Bite-sized desserts or Dessert Wines?

2) Sake or Microdistilled/artisanal liquors?

3) Flatbreads or Focaccia?

4) Pomegranates or Mango?

5) Braising or Poaching?