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MOUTHING OFF

Scene and heard: I didn't get to meet him, but at least Paul Bocuse had the good sense to dine at La Coupole, one of my favorite restaurants, immediately upon arriving in Denver. What did he eat? Normandy veal with a creamy mushroom sauce. What did he say? That he will be introducing a concept foreign to French restaurants at his new brasserie in Lyons, whereby for a fixed price customers can help themselves to a full pan of food brought out to the table--and even ask for more. (I could do serious damage in a place like that.)

I did, however, get to make a few new friends and ingest some wonderful stuff at the recent food-and-wine orgy known as the Taste of Vail. Held primarily at the Westin Resort Vail, this fourth annual weekend-long event featured about sixty wineries and forty Vail-area restaurants. Between seminars and schmoozes, I managed to try some excellent new wines: Trefethen's 1991 Chardonnay, an energetic little number that, with its sweeter fruit flavors, defies the words usually used to describe a Chardonnay (Trefethen's 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon wasn't bad, either); Girard Winery's 1990 Chardonnay (oaky, oaky, oaky); the chewy 1990 Cabernet from Silver Oak Alexander Valley; and a tart 1990 Simi Cabernet. If you're lucky enough to find it, the 1984 Cabernet from Pine Ridge Stag's Leap has rich, velvety tones that will make you long for a mahogany-filled library and overstuffed red-leather chairs.

All of the restaurants knocked themselves out during a massive, overwhelming tasting (although I'd like to see fewer dough-covered offerings). The dish that keeps popping back into my consciousness is the Wildflower's polenta covered with octopus in a toothsome tomato-based sauce. I also had a great meal at the Westin's own Alfredo's, and applaud the kitchen's painstaking chiffonnade treatment of the greens in the spinach salad--what a pleasure not to battle bulky leaves. Alfredo's memorable, pistachio-encrusted salmon ($22) was undercooked just the way I like it and arrived in a pool of sundried-tomato sauce that could inspire poetry. Our other entree, however, suffered from too little liquid: The ravioli stuffed with herbed ricotta ($15.75) was dry on the edges and needed more of the piquant yellow-tomato sauce.

Free advertising: George Hung, who owns Red Pepper Cafe in Aurora, just bought the Parlour, at 846 Broadway; the menu remains the same--except for the addition of prime rib. If it's as good as those Parlour burgers, the prime rib should be a winner...All profits on sales at area Alfalfa's on April 22, Earth Day, will be donated to charity...Little Moscow has closed; the building likely will become another Roma restaurant...The Normandy will host a fourth annual reunion dinner April 26 for diners nostalgic for Pierre Wolfe's former haunt, the Quorum (the building's now occupied by China Cowboy)...Applejack Liquors will hold a tasting of ten Rieslings at the Brown Palace Hotel on April 28; call 233-3331 for details...And the April 26 wine dinner at Tante Louise will focus on whether California Merlots age well. Call 355-4488 for details.

 
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