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Mouthing Off

Getting the best of them: As usual, there are a few hotly contested awards in this year's Best of Denver issue, which came out last week to cheers and jeers from readers and the restaurant community.

The most controversial item (so far) seems to be my selection of Sonoda's, with its Aurora and downtown Market Street locations, as Best Sushi: People either love or hate Sonoda's. But many of the complaints about this pick had more to do with the funky (some say unappealing) decor of the basement-level LoDo spot than with the quality of the raw deals available at either place.

Another eyebrow-raiser was the choice of Costco (which has three metro locations) for Best Bakery. A better pick, several callers suggested, would have been Campagna (two metro locations and one in Morrison), which does do a few pastries but primarily puts out breads--albeit some excellent ones. Still, even better bread comes out of the ovens at Denver Bread Company, 3200 Irving Street, which earned our Best Bread designation. The Best Bakery category was designed to salute an all-around bakery that puts out cakes, pies, cookies, muffins and other non-bread items, and Costco certainly qualifies on that front. A Costco employee--who should be in line for a raise after this--had called me not long after the 1996 Best of Denver issue to tell me about the "fabulous" bakery she works at; I was skeptical up until my first bite of scratch-baked fresh peach pie. Speaking of scratch-baked, another contender for this division was Scratch Baked, a charming bakery that creates killer apple strudel, at 16400 South Golden Road in Golden.

No one questioned the choice of Brasserie Z (815 17th Street) for Best Burger--maybe no one wants to admit to having eaten something so mundane at such a hip joint--but several readers seemed to think that either Jax Fish House, at 1539 17th Street, or the Cheesecake Factory (which won the Readers' Poll race) should have been named Best New Restaurant, rather than the Z. Indeed, Jax was my second choice--but the day I laud a chain link as the best new thing in this town is the day I move out.

Along those same lines, once again I was amazed at where people are eating. Boston Market--which, by the way, is taking a financial nosedive like a bird shot out of the sky--for Best Roast Chicken? Granted, the one at Aubergine Cafe, 225 East Seventh Avenue, is not your everyday fowl, but even the birds at Safeway have more flavor and don't taste like they were dipped in lard. Taco Bell for Best Taco? You guys are scaring me.

And finally, the question everyone asks: What are the toughest categories to judge? No contest: Happy Hour for Free Food and Children's Menu. Since I have crumb-crunchers, I'm particularly disgusted with the lack of possibilities in the latter area--I can't tell you how many cheap hot dogs, rubbery chicken tenders and overdone hamburgers I've passed over to spend $12.95 on a full-sized entree of real food for my three-year-old. That's why I was delighted with both the choices and the treatment at Bourbon Street Pizzabar & Grill, at 5117 South Yosemite Street in Greenwood Village. Happily, Bourbon Street is opening one in my neck of the woods, near Parker, although at the rate the construction is going, my kids will be in college by the time it's done.

Wine-ing about costs: Hey, here's an early contender for 1998's Best Wine List--Price: Bella Ristorante (1920 Market Street and Park Meadows Mall in Littleton) is making a big deal about its new roster of wines available for just $10 over cost. "LoDo patrons have a new reason to celebrate," said general manager Dan Shipp--or, at least, Bella's press release says he said that. The release adds that Bella's parent company, Boulder Concepts Restaurant Group, made a big splash in San Francisco when it opened ELROYS, offered the $10-over-cost bargain, and sold 7,200 bottles in the first two months. Obviously, they're making money on this deal; they wouldn't do it otherwise. And it only makes sense that people will buy more wine if it's priced reasonably (the typical 300 percent markup is not reasonable). Although Bella's move is unlikely to prompt other LoDo spots to lower their prices, it may make intelligent wine drinkers wonder why they let eateries get away with such highway robbery.

--Wagner

 
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