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The Bite

Barry Fey mouths off.

The Best of Denver 2002 was a resounding success, at least according to concert promoter Barry Fey, who is always quick to offer feedback. "This time I can't find anything wrong with your food picks," says Fey. "What's up with that?"

From steaks to cheesesteaks, Fey has strong opinions on beef -- but he has no beef with the winners I picked in either of those categories. In fact, he's the one who first told me about the killer cheesesteaks at Santoro's Brick Oven Pizzeria (9500 Heritage Hills Circle, Lone Tree), which most people know only as a pizza joint. And he and I have dined together at what remains the town's Best Steakhouse, Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House (8100 East Orchard Road, Greenwood Village).

But I'm the one who told Fey last month of a real find, just down the street from Del Frisco's: Deli Tech (8101 East Belleview Avenue), whose incredible authenticity makes it not just the town's best deli, but my pick for Best New Restaurant. Fey now has a cache of Atkin's Diet Bread sitting behind the Deli Tech counter so that he can have it loaded up with pastrami a few times a week. "It's the real deal," Fey says. "That place is just incredible."

Every year, some of the places I'm about to pick close right before the Best of Denver issue comes out, and I wind up deleting those categories. This year's big loss was Paul's Place in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, a perennial winner for its kids' menu and healthy hot dogs. Owner Al Marcove has announced that after twelve years, he's closing the remaining Paul's in order to spend more time with his grandkids and focus on his catering business, Paul's Catering, which has steadily increased in popularity. A record store, currently located elsewhere in the mall, is expected to take over the space, which means that there won't be much of a food court there anymore. But if you stop by Paul's on Friday, April 12, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., you can pick up a free cheeseburger, order of fries and a drink as Marcove's thanks to the community.

Another place I loved was Cosolo's Italian Market (8000 East Quincy Avenue), which had an award-worthy Tuesday-night spaghetti deal. But, alas, last month Cosolo's phone was disconnected, leaving no forwarding address for where we might ever again find those freshly made noodles and heavenly marinara sauce. And the 601 South Broadway branch of local mini-chain El Ranchito has also given it up. El Ranchito's then-three locations (the outposts at 2200 South Broadway and 92 East Arapahoe Avenue in Littleton remain open) shared the Best Burrito award in the 2001 Best of Denver; this year, the honors went to Benny's Restaurante y Cantina (301 East Seventh Avenue).

But the news isn't all bad. Sean Kelly, whose Biscuit and Aubergine Cafe were both award winners before he shut them, is back in the restaurant game: His tiny new spot, Clair de Lune, is now open at 1313 East Sixth Avenue. Z-Ribs has moved into 2637 West 26th Avenue (one-time award winner La Fabulaabandoned that address last year), and promises American barbecue and Mexican barbacoa, along with baby-back ribs, Italian hot links and chipotle chicken. And the steadily declining Gandhi India's Cuisine (5071 South Syracuse Parkway) -- my most recent meal at the haphazardly prepared lunch buffet was a disappointment -- has changed hands. Now called New Gandhi, it's owned by a group from California whose claim to fame is a "California-style big-lunch buffet," says one New Gandhi employee. But it will be a while before that buffet is introduced here. "Right now, the owners want to keep it the same and make changes gradually," the employee says. "Our first concern is to make this a professionally run restaurant, and then we will change the menu."

Kokoro Japanese Restaurant, which has been bowling us over since 1985 with its inexpensive noodle and rice dishes, now has a fourth location -- at 555 Broadway. The original, at 2390 South Colorado Boulevard, is still open, as is the second site at 5535 Wadsworth Boulevard in Arvada; a third, at 9400 Heritage Hills Circle in Lone Tree, has been going strong since it opened this past December. (Only the Kokoro at 1600 California Street was a no-go; it closed in 2000.)

Kokoro's president and CEO, Mareo Torito, holds the same titles at Red Bird Farms in Englewood, which explains why Kokoro's chicken is so good. The bowls are well-priced, too, which made Kokoro a contender for the Best Dinner Under $5, since most of its regular-sized entrees are priced at about $4. But it was beaten by the multi-location Tokyo Joe's, which got the nod because of its excellent sauces, which are both flavorful and liberally applied -- making for moister, tastier bowls.

The other major difference between Kokoro and Tokyo Joe's is the setting. Compared to Tokyo Joe's clean lines and groovy atmosphere, the first two Kokoro locations look pretty divey. But the two new Kokoros look much better, with granite counters and a sleeker design. The 555 Broadway site also has a patio, and the servers there use newfangled hand-held computers to transmit orders, resulting in faster, more accurate service. You go, Kokoro.

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