Mouthing Off

Critic's choice: After eight months of searching for a new restaurant critic, the Rocky Mountain News finally decided on Greg Moody, Channel 4's critic at large and, until recently, the restaurant reviewer for 5280 magazine.

Okay, see if you can follow this: Moody replaced Thom Wise at 5280 last year when Wise left to be the theater writer for the News. Then restaurant critic Bill St. John left the News to do the same gig for Microsoft's Denver Sidewalk, at the same time retaining his restaurant-dude slot at Channel 4. Then I left Westword to replace St. John but changed my mind and returned to Westword. Since then, Wise has been both the theater critic and the restaurant critic for the News. And even though Moody's been hired, Wise won't be returning to his day job just yet--he'll still be writing one food review a month, as well as the restaurant tidbits column. Moody will start out writing three restaurant reviews a month while he continues his critic duties at News partner Channel 4. (Moody has two kids, and everyone wants to see if he can handle the dual workload.)

It seems to me that Channel 4 makes out the best in this deal: Not only will St. John continue to work with the station, but Moody's gig at the News will focus more attention on his TV appearances.

Moody's recognizable TV mug is the major problem I have with this deal, however. It's inevitable that restaurants will know when the News reviewer is dining there, and I don't buy Moody's claims that an eatery can't change the quality of the fish in its walk-in just for him--I know, because I've been on the other side of it. I was in the kitchen at the now-defunct Tango when St. John came to review the place, and like every other restaurant that recognizes an important person in the dining room, the call went out for the food to be prepared "VIP." So St. John's salad, which I made, was VIP, his entree was VIP, and his dessert was VIP. We wound up with a so-so review, but if his meal wasn't perfect even after we'd VIP'd it, imagine what it would have been like if we hadn't. Not to mention the fact that St. John got fawned over, which every critic hates, and so didn't get a true representation of Tango's service.

There's one other problem with Moody's appointment: He simply doesn't know that much about food, as evidenced by his reviews in 5280. Since he portrays himself as the "everyman" critic and says he wants to be like the average Joe when he eats out, he's not going to impress discerning readers who can tell that his descriptions lack authority. It'll be interesting to see how he handles a bad review, too, because 5280's policy has always been that the magazine runs mostly positive critiques; as a result, I've never known him to say much that's negative. But then, I also hear that a lot of people like Greg Moody because he's a really nice guy. (And since he and I been playing phone tag, I'll have to take their word for it.)

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Japon recently pulled out of The Church, at 1160 Lincoln, where staff members from the Japanese restaurant, whose main location is at 1028 South Gaylord Street, had been providing a sushi bar for the nightclub. "It wasn't making any money," says Japon part-owner Miki Hashimoto. A Church spokesperson says all but one of the original sushi staffers remain; the sushi bar is now called Hara. "They aren't using my recipes anymore, though," adds Hashimoto. Meanwhile, Japon just landed Isamu "Sam" Furuichi, who's been doing private functions since closing his tiny Matoi Japanese restaurant in Lakewood. Furuichi is Japon's executive chef, which can only mean that the wonderful food there will get even better. Japon's sushi has always been above average, but with the cooked items, there's been a little room for improvement.

In Denver, there's always been room for Cuban cuisine--but the El Azteca at 1780 South Buckley Road is hoping to correct that lack. A second location of the original El Azteca, at 3960 South Federal Boulevard, this outlet recently introduced Cuban night on Thursdays, complete with a special menu focusing on such delicacies as picadillo, the pork hash with onions, garlic and tomatoes that is used as a bean sauce in Cuba. El Azteca will also do black beans and rice and promises to take requests for cherished Cuban dishes. If Thursday nights take off, according to owner Sergio Hernandez, El Azteca will offer Cuban food on other nights, too. "Who knows?" he adds. "Maybe people here will find out how good Cuban food is and we'll have to open a Cuban restaurant." I'd be all for it.

And I'm all for the new, more comfortable chairs--no one trips over these unless they're really drunk--and new menu at Vesta Dipping Grill (1822 Blake Street). Although the lineup now features fewer skewers, there are still more than twenty sauces to choose from. The snazzy spot also offers acid jazz, live jazz and groove every Thursday at 8 p.m., along with a daily happy hour from 4 to 7 ($4 martinis, $2 micros and a $4 dipping menu) and a special Rockies pre-game outdoor grill with mahi-mahi sandwiches and BBQ corn on the cob.

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