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Mouthing Off

Clam up: Here's a truly Italian dish that just made its way onto the menu at Panzano (see review this page), and while I didn't try it in the restaurant, it turned out beautifully at home.

Panzano's Clams With Prosciutto, Leeks, Tomatoes and Sherry
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for drizzling
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
3 medium leeks, cut into small squares
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 pounds clams in the shell, rinsed three times
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
4 ounces prosciutto, cut into small dice
fresh lemon juice to taste
1 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a non-reactive saucepan large enough to hold all of the clams in a single layer, heat olive oil over low heat. Add onion, leeks and garlic; cook slowly until onion is soft but not browned. Add tomatoes and cook briefly until most of the juices are gone. Add clams and sherry; bring to a boil. Cover and steam until clams have opened and the sherry has reduced by two-thirds. Place clams in a single layer in an ovenproof baking dish and set aside. Add parsley and prosciutto to onion mixture and season with lemon juice, a few drops at a time. Cook briefly over low heat and pour over the clams. Top clams with breadcrumbs and drizzle with olive oil. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes. Serves 2-4.

The rest of the Best: Lamonica's Steak and Chop House sounds like it could have an Italian accent. The eatery, at 8770 East Arapahoe in Englewood--it's nestled between Chevy's and Ruby Tuesday, in a building once occupied by a Grisanti's, but Lamonica's is not part of a chain--opened three months ago. While it does serve some pasta dishes, the emphasis is on meat--and the right wines to go with that meat. To that end, Lamonica's even offers a tasting bar, where you can sample any of the forty-plus wines that are on the list (other than a scarce few that are allocated). It's a nice amenity, but you won't want to spend all your time at the bar. Because sitting on your dinner table with the other complimentary breads are the most unbelievable Roquefort strudel rolls imaginable--soft, pungent and unbelievably addictive. Although Lamonica's opened too late to be a candidate in this year's Best Of, those rolls are already strong contenders for 2000. Another late development on the restaurant scene was a second outpost for Common Grounds, the coffee shop at 3484 West 32nd Avenue that's become a northwest Denver institution. Last month it added a spot at 1601 17th Street in LoDo, where it serves up a brew known as Dennis Gallagher and Tom Noel's Oral & Hearty Blend. "We recognize their gift to the city of Denver in keeping alive its oral history with a good dose of hearty laughter," the label says of Gallagher, a Denver city councilman, and Noel, a University of Colorado at Denver history professor (and this year's Best Liquid Asset). "Like a good story, this cup of coffee has good body with crisp, clean flavor and a silky smooth lingering finish."

While I stand by my pick of the Cherry Cricket (2641 East Second Avenue) for Best Chicken Wings, they're not quite as good a deal as they used to be. The price is now $6.95 for a dozen wings, and while the cost has increased, the choices have been reduced--from five varieties to three. Still, the Hot Louisiana, BBQ and Atomic (swathed in a lip-searing, chile-fired sauce) are more than enough for me.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Just across the street from the new Common Grounds, Paul Schutt has disappeared from Jax Fish House (1539 17th). Longtime Jax sous chef Jamey Fader has the head chef job now. A bit further afield, George Mahaffey, who had been credited with making the Restaurant at the Little Nell one of the top places to be seen in a town overrun with places to be seen, is back in Aspen. After leaving the Little Nell last year, Mahaffey was hired by Signature Entertainment, a Connecticut-based group that owns several restaurants he had been overseeing. But a few weeks ago, Mahaffey opened Restaurant Conundrum on Aspen's Main Street with master sommelier Jay Fletcher. Meanwhile, Mahaffey's replacement at the Little Nell, the nationally lauded Keith Luce, who was a Food & Wine Best New Chef and James Beard award winner, recently resigned after only seven months on the job. Former Little Nell sous chef Bryan Moscatello has replaced Luce.

Do you want to be the next Keith Luce? Although the first career program has already begun at the hip new Cook Street cooking school at 1937 Market Street, it's not too late to sign up for the August term. In addition to the more professionally oriented classes, Cook Street offers a series of "classic techniques" seminars and specialty classes featuring local chefs, including one on July 12 with pastry chef Stephan Miller from Mattie's House of Mirrors. Call 303-308-9300 for more information.

Remember, today chefs are not just hot, they're hotties. As the TV Food Network's Heidi Diamond told the New York Times: "Food is so sensual. There's something magic about these people's hands and the way that they caress a knife or handle a naked potato."

This spud's for you.

--Wagner

 
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