By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
Yup, it's that time again: The mailbags here at Bite Me HQ runneth over with letters, faxes, e-mails and the assorted detritus of this strange biz, so before they begin runneth-ing over into the next cubicle, I figured I'd deal with a few of them.
First up, I've been getting complaints regarding Las Brisas (6787 South Clinton Street in Englewood), which recently changed ownership. In a nutshell: The old owner, Jamie Smith, had apparently sold, donated and given away a whole bunch of Las Brisas gift certificates before the place changed hands, and when the new owners, B.A. and Mary Joe Claussen, took over the joint, there was some disagreement about whether the old certs were still valid.
Okay, so "disagreement" might be putting it mildly. According to one pissed-off ex-customer, when she tried to use a gift certificate that she'd bought at a charity event, the new owners "had a fit at the table" and claimed that the former owner had been "giving those things out all over town" -- $5,000 worth, to be exact. Harsh words were exchanged and the gift certificates refused.
6787 S. Clinton St.
Englewood, CO 80112
Region: Southeast Denver Suburbs
But here's the good news: When I called Las Brisas last week to try to get to the bottom of things, manager Derek Cook assured me that all Las Brisas gift certificates -- no matter if they predate the regime change -- are now being accepted. "We apologize for any inconvenience," he concluded.
Next up, this missive from reader Chris Reap, who wonders: "After reading the recent Bite Me articles and other reviews over the past, I am curious how a food writer can be fare [sic]."
Fair, Chris? What do you mean?
"My question stems from how a writer can compare or review two totally different concepts in the same publication." His examples? Kyle Wagnergiving Noodles & Company and Intrigue the same rating after reviewing the restaurants in the Denver Post, or the Rocky Mountain News's John Lehndorfreviewing Adegaone week and ESPN Zone another. Reap goes on to ask how national publications can include small-time local chefs in the same articles as Big Time food guys like Alex Stratta and Alain Ducasse, talks some trash about Denver restaurateurs, then finally comes back to the point: "I'm still curious how a writer approaches and differentiates when doing their reviews."
Simple answer, Chris? I don't. Food is food is food, my friend, and it must be experienced each time for exactly what it is. If I tell you, for example, that the 20th Street Cafe (1123 20th Street) has the best chicken-fried steak I've had in years, that's because I'm comparing it to all the other orders of chicken-fried steak I've slurped down. I'm comparing its gravy to other gravies I've tasted, its crust to other crusts. I'm telling you where on the spectrum of the world's best and worst chicken-fried steaks this particular contender falls.
What I'm not doing is comparing the chicken-fried steak at 20th Street to the tasting menu at Adega (1700 Wynkoop Street) or Ian Kleinman's phyllo-wrapped lobster at Indigo (250 Josephine Street). Adega is a great restaurant -- a great, pricey, New American restaurant with white tablecloths and a killer wine list. 20th Street Cafe is also a great restaurant -- a great, cheap, hole-in-the-wall restaurant, well-steeped in history, with good coffee and the best chicken-fried steak in town.
Westword doesn't use stars or letter grades or pork chops or middle fingers to shorthand my opinions of a place. That would be unfair, I think, because it makes it too easy to simply say, "Oh, well, Nancy Frufru gave The Gilded Truffle only one star, and the next week she gave Joe's House of Meat four stars, so she's an idiot because The Gilded Truffle is obviously a better restaurant."
Fact is, I've been to plenty of multi-starred joints across the country that could have used a little help from the sort of guys who'd work at a place called Joe's House of Meat. The starch in the tablecloths and the shine on the silver will never matter as much to me as what's being done in the kitchen -- what's being done to my dinner, more specifically -- and if you don't believe me, check out this week's review of Aquarela.
As to your concern about comparing local chefs with the big-time chefs on the coasts? There I have to agree with you -- at least for now. Denver is still on its way to becoming a great food town. The talent is here, the dedication and passion are certainly here, but the pool of chefs working in our highest-class kitchens is both shallow and new. These are young guys, most of them. Many are still cutting their teeth on their first or second executive postings and have years to go yet before they can assimilate the knowledge and skill of, say, Ducasse, Jean-Louis Paladin or Thomas Keller. Make no mistake: I think there are guys who have the chance to reach that rarefied inner circle of the truly brilliant, but do we have anyone in town who's there yet? No. If we did, all these conversations about Denver becoming a great food town would be moot. We'd already be one.