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Bite Me

Brain Drain

As an American, your odds of dying from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease -- a variation of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow -- are roughly one in a million. Odds of dying in a car accident? One in 242, according to the National Safety Council. Odds of dying by falling "out of or through a building or other structure": one in 7,075. Odds of death by "foreign body entering through skin or natural orifice": one in 99,446.

So here's the deal: going from statistics gathered by the NSC for the year 2000, you're as likely to die from contracting human BSE as you are to die from riding at night on a train that, due to a freak lightning strike, is derailed, causing a fire that "melts or otherwise ignites" your pajamas, forcing you to leap from the car to put out the flames, resulting in you landing in a nest of poisonous snakes that bite you while you're ultimately crushed to death by a non-venomous reptile. The only listing the NSC offers for a means of expiration less likely than death by bovine spongiform encephalopathy is dying while the occupant of a streetcar: odds, one in 3,580,052.

Which means I feel pretty safe sitting here at my desk eating a nice, fat cow-brain taco from El Taco de México. I'm much more likely to die choking on the thing (one in 4,812) than I am from the slow, degenerate spongifying of my gray matter by the aberrant prions that some neurologists now think are the killer link between mad-cow disease and human BSE. I'm way more likely to snuff it just by walking down the street tonight (odds of dying as a pedestrian struck by any motorized conveyance: one in 610).

But just to be on the safe side, my editor (who, for solidarity's sake, ate a bit of brain along with me) and I have placed ourselves under constant monitoring, informing friends, family and co-workers to be on the lookout for early signs of Creutzfeldt-Jakob, which include:

Dementia.

Slurred speech.

Loss of balance and basic motor skills.

Weakened muscles.

Behavioral disturbances.

Of course, since I washed down my cow-noggin taco with some commemorative shooters of Sauza tequila and intend to keep drinking until I'm sure any errant prions (and a good share of my otherwise healthy brain cells) are totally dead, I don't know how accurate any diagnosis of my condition might be. Regardless, we here at Bite Me HQ will be keeping you updated as the weeks go by. Should I come out of this fine -- brain un-gooified by BSE in any of its attendant forms -- that's good news for the beef industry, the Colorado Beef Council, the Western Dairy Council and all you carnivores out there. Going with the odds, I'm going to hazard a guess and say that absolutely nothing unfortunate is going to happen in the area of my cerebrum, but should any of you see me out somewhere behaving oddly -- which is to say, more oddly than normal -- be sure to check my back pocket before calling in the Centers for Disease Control. I will be carrying around a hip flask full of medicinal Porfidio Plata for the duration of this crisis, just for safety's sake.

I trust El Taco de México explicitly, and it's never done me wrong. (In fact, this brain taco was much, much better than the one I described in "The Brains of the Operation," my September 26, 2002, review of the place.) But I trust the antiseptic properties of tequila even more.

Leftovers:A few blocks from Jack-n-Grill, whose expanded dining area and bar debuted last week, Cappuccino Cafehas put out the welcome mat at 2758 Speer Boulevard. It's got your standard cappuccinos, your lattes and your sissy watered-down americanos, but it also offers a few high-end specialty drinks for twitchy fiends just itching for a new caffeine fix. Try the Ralphaccino for a choco-hazelnut-espresso buzz, or be like me and go for the Razzle Dazzle (not to be confused with the martini of the same name served at Dazzle and reviewed in this issue's Drink of the Week). Sure, you might feel like a dork ordering it, but the raspberry cinnamon espresso with steamed milk will get you where you're going quickly, and -- like eating a bag of Skittles for breakfast -- the raspberry syrup counts as one of your daily servings of fruit.

Cappuccino Cafe also serves soups, salads and about a dozen sandwiches, as well as an ever-changing spread of desserts and pastries. And for all the homeless geeks and corporate road warriors in the crowd, it's also offering free Internet access all day, every day except Sunday. Just imagine how fast you'll be able to find that online porn with a couple jolts of joe in ya.

Meanwhile, over at 1618 East 17th Avenue, Philip Collier has opened A La Tomate, a cafe and tarterie specializing in old-school tomato pie. What's that, you ask? According to Collier, you take a crisp, flaky crust -- something halfway between a French pâte à choux and your standard pizza dough -- and top it with two kinds of cheese, fresh fines herbs and a layer of fresh tomatoes, then bake and voilà! Tarte à la tomate, just like grandmère used to make.

Well, almost. The tomato-pie recipe I'm used to is more complex and involves painting down the uncooked crust with powerful Dijon mustard and layering tomatoes both above and below a quiche-like center with Gruyère, chèvre, Emmentaler and sometimes brie in an egg-and-cream base kicked up with garden herbs. The pie is then baked, cooled, cut and served as a great one-handed lunch.

Still, cooking is all about innovation, and A La Tomate's version sounds good, too, with très haute add-ons available including prosciutto, Black Forest ham, roasted eggplant, shrimp, roasted portobello and -- what else? -- brie. The restaurant is also serving a spread of chausson (think French calzone), including one stuffed with fruit -- apples, cinnamon and raisins -- that sounds delicious. A medley of salads and sandwiches (both panini-style and the regular, un-squished variety), coffee from Allegro, and homemade pastries that range from simple oatmeal-raisin cookies to chocolate-mousse tartes, scones and croissants round out the board of fare.

L'Opera held its grand opening on January 9. The new ristorante Italiano takes over the space at 12100 East 39th Avenue in Aurora, which lasted only a few months as the Bull and Bear Tavern and Steakhouse; before that, it was the Aurora Broker.

There's lots of action in Boulder, where the Boulder Cheese Company is now open at 1731 15th Street, next door to the Cream Puffery. This is the place whose floor-sealant fumes trashed everything in the Puff's inventory the night before my review of the Cuban cafe hit the stands ("Do You Believe in Magic?" November 6). But everything has been very nice and neighborly ever since. Cheese Company owner Saxon Brown has assembled a roster of about a hundred cheeses from all corners of the globe and offers tastings for a steady flow of customers. "She's been open since just before Thanksgiving, and she's been rockin'," says Lourdes Sanchez, co-owner of the Puff. "She's great, and we even invited her to one of our cafe parties last month."

See? It pays to be a good neighbor.

John's Restaurant has new owners -- after almost thirty years. John Bizzarro, John's namesake and a Boulder fine-dining pioneer, has turned over his archetypal "romantic little restaurant" to chef Corey Buck and Ashley Maxwell. I spoke with Bizzarro's wife, Nancy, last week, and she assures me that the new chef/owners will be "augmenting John's, not changing it. The menu will still focus on the fine food of France, Spain, Italy and America. They'll be expanding the menu and range, but many of John's mainstays -- the things we just could never get rid of -- will be remaining on the menu." That means shrimp Nancy and filet mignon with Stilton-ale sauce will still be available to those generations of Boulder diners who grew up with John's.

And John himself isn't really going anywhere. "John will still be a fixture here," Nancy says. "Honestly, I don't know what else he would do. He loves cooking. He's certainly not tired of cooking. He just needed to turn all the details of running a restaurant over to someone else."

It's good news that John's sticking around, because while chef Buck and Maxwell, his sister, aren't rookies in the restaurant game (Buck spent several years on the line at the Flagstaff House, and Maxwell was with the Peppercorn), John Bizzarro is probably the closest thing Boulder has to a true master. He's been cooking for 45 years, and in all that time has been at only two restaurants -- working first with his mentor, Raymondo Laudisio, and then on his own at John's. He's seen every trend that's ripped through the American dining scene over the past half-century, weathered every storm, ridden safely through every boom and bust and, along the way, picked up three stars in the Mobil Guide, a six-year run of nods from Zagat, and won the incredibly prestigious maître rotisseur from the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs society in 2001.

So here's a fond Bite Me farewell for John. We're sad to see you go, but glad you're not going far.

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