By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Welcome to the first round of what will soon be America's all-time favorite question-and-answer game: Ask the Critic. The mailroom here at Bite Me HQ is always deluged with questions about the Denver dining scene and food in general. And while my faithful research staff does its level best to answer each and every one of these queries personally -- even if only with a heartfelt "We don't know" -- I've realized that it would be a public service to share the information with a larger audience. For every person who writes in asking about the proper way to store onions (in a mesh bag, basket or crate placed in a cool, dry place, cured winter onions will keep for 30 to 180 days, according to the National Onion Association) or where to get the best durian smoothie (Isle of Singapore, on University Boulevard), I know there are a hundred of you out there just dying to know the same thing, but too shy to ask.
Here's how the game works: You send in your questions -- questions about anything, as long as there's some link (however tenuous) to the world of food or the Denver/Boulder restaurant scene -- and I answer them. I win when all of the questions have been answered and I can put yet another week's work behind me. And now, let's play...
Q:Where can I eat in Denver that has pretty good food and a view of the mountains? -- Jeanette
A:Surprising as it may seem, Jeanette, your options are rather limited. There's the Pinnacle Club downtown, but it's a members'-only joint. The Denver Dinerhas about three tables where, if you crane your neck just right, you can see the peaks rising over Colfax Avenue. But your best bet for a view is probably the rooftop terrace at Tamayo, on the edge of Larimer Square. Not only is the scenery wonderful, but the food's much better than pretty good, and the happy-hour menu of free botanas (little bites) and $4 margaritas makes that skyline look even grander.
Q: I have an important date coming up and need a real romantic restaurant for dinner. Any suggestions?-- John
A:John, you dirty little monkey. We know exactly what you mean by "important date." You're expecting to get lucky! Well, good for you. There are numerous spots in town where you and the lucky lady, fella or whoever can go to get the pump primed, so to speak. Vesta Dipping Grillis the perennial fave in this category for its dim lights, intimate ambience, cozy seating and entrees meant for sharing. But Vesta is where you eat when you know the evening's horizontal gymnastics are a foregone conclusion. If your date isn't quite as sure of a thing, Cielo and Cuba Cuba are excellent fall-back options. Both places have good food and plenty of atmosphere. More important, both mix drinks that seem custom-made for speeding the panty-removal process. At Cielo, it's the hot-and-cold margarita, at Cuba, the mojito.
Also, John, my wife has a brilliant suggestion for choosing a restaurant on, uh...opening night. She believes a man should take his intended to a joint that somehow expresses his style in the sack. Therefore, all you youngsters should head straight for the drive-thru, because things are going to be quick, messy and not very satisfying, whereas a champion stick-man should opt for someplace like Adega, with a long, slow, complicated, multi-course tasting menu. As for me? The wife thinks we ought to eat at Luca d'Italia, where the portions are small but the service very friendly.
Q: Speaking of your wife, does she only stay with you because she gets to eat for free? -- Lee
A:Nope. She also loves it that I use a newspaper column read by both sets of parents to talk about our sex life. Hi, Mom!
Q:How come you never do any product/ gadget reviews?-- Jenni
A:Couple of reasons. First, PR types send me a lot of new products every month, and if I were to write about all of them, every review would go the same way: suck, suck and more suck. I've got a whole shelf full of bland magic marinades, sticky non-stick cooking sprays, and some of the worst snack ideas ever to come out of a food lab. I mean, come on: Nut Poppers? Don't they have some kind of product-testing apparatus that would tell them that's the worst name ever for something they expect people to put in their mouths? Second, I don't consider myself a gadget kind of guy. A home cook doesn't need any tool more complicated or newfangled than a food processor. And in terms of professional cheffery, I am a total Luddite. While I was cooking, my kit consisted of seven high-quality knives (two chef's knives, one ten-inch, the other six, both Wusthof Grand Prix series; an antique butcher's saber, pedigree unknown; a Joyce Chenutility knife; a Japanese usuba vegetable knife; a mezzaluna rocker that was a gift and went mostly unused; and a bird's-beak paring knife from Global), three old-fashioned spike thermometers, a combo wine knife and corkscrew, a roll of waterproof surgical tape, an emergency pack of smokes, and that's it. No gadgets, no whiz-bang kitchen doodads, no nothin'. I could get by anywhere with what I carried in my roll and whatever equipment was on site.