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Twelve-Stepping

Here's my prescription for starting the year in fine style.

Thanksgiving is a distant memory, Christmas is done, and the holiday season -- in all its shlocky glitz and sweetness -- is nearly over. All that's left to do is bid a final farewell to the year gone by, to turn our backs on the little victories and larger defeats of 2004 and look ahead with some hope for the year to come.

Is it obvious that the end of the season has gotten me down? Seasonal Affective Disorder, the holiday blahs, just plain Scrooge-ified cussedness, whatever -- it happens every year around this time. Kurt, my shrink (whom I visit only under protest and only informally, like over drinks or slices of pie, and who isn't really a shrink so much as this guy I know who once went to shrink school but gave it all up for a life of debauched leisure as some sort of jet-trash financial analyst), tells me that the coming of the new year reminds me of my own essential mortality and the ticking of time's grand clock and all that crap. I respond by casting rude aspersions on Kurt's academic credentials because, come on, I failed out of Psych 101 in college and can still spout trite pop analysis like that. At which point Kurt goes all Freudian on me, saying it's not really him I'm angry at, but perhaps my father or some other authority figure from my past. And I say that, too, is a load of crap, and that maybe if he'd quit laying down the Dr. Phil trip, I wouldn't be so tempted to punch him in the throat.

But I have learned one thing from my quasi-therapeutic evenings with Kurt: Nothing quells the bitter humors quite so effectively as a good old-fashioned night of high living and alcoholic abandon. Nothing cleans the pipes so well, nothing tidies the karma or realigns the chakras or polishes the synapses so quickly as kicking out the jams once in a while with a couple of good friends and the phone number of the closest cab company written in Sharpie on your forehead.

Am I seriously recommending a night of gluttony and alcohol abuse as a cure for the holiday blues? You bet I am. I know it isn't exactly PC to encourage such behavior in this age of Prozac and celebrity rehab, but too bad. It's a rough world we're living in, and sometimes the retarded-teddy-bear wisdom of the day's talk-show gurus just doesn't cut it. So while in years past I've used this space for plotting fantasy dinner parties catered by some of the city's best and brightest kitchen magicians, this year I've planned the ultimate restaurant crawl for Denver foodies who feel a little put out by the season's rigors. Assuming an unlimited budget, bottomless appetites for food and cocktails, and the availability of a helicopter to ferry us all from place to place, here's my prescription for starting the new year in high style: a twelve-step program for holiday cheer.

The first stop: Bud's Bar, 5453 Manhart Street in Sedalia. We'll meet here to kick off our festivities, because Bud's is a great place for meeting. A place meant for meeting, it could be argued, what with the seasoned, no-nonsense waitstaff, good bar and room out front for either a couple dozen Harleys or one slightly used helicopter. Besides, Bud's has the greatest double cheeseburgers on the planet. Are they better than the tricky, upscale, New American chicken and crab-cake burgers being done at Mirepoix? They are. Better than those gimmicky, $50 Kobe-beef-and-truffle nightmares that were the talk of Manhattan earlier this year? Without a doubt. For decades, Bud's kitchen has made nothing but cheeseburgers, and it's therefore passed beyond the point of simple beef mastery into a realm of Zen perfection accessible only to those who've dedicated their lives to the Way of the Burger.

A couple cold ones and a burger basket at Bud's will keep us fueled while we head for Adega, at 1700 Wynkoop Street. (This is where the chopper comes in; otherwise, we'd spend the night stuck in traffic and wouldn't get that sweet kick of culture shock that comes from rubbing elbows with the biker trade at Bud's one moment, then stepping out into a bar full of LoDo's young and lovely the next.) Here at chef Bryan Moscatello's original outpost of New American swank, we'll play a game called "You Blind It, I Buy It."

Adega has a hot-shit sommelier, Chris Farnum, who (in the name of educating wine boobs like myself) has invented a sort of contest whereby a customer picks a price range of anywhere between thirty and three hundred dollars, and Farnum brings a bottle that fits it. The trick is, this is a blind tasting. You don't know what in the world Farnum will haul out of the cellar, and once the glasses arrive, you have to guess at what you're drinking. But for every characteristic of the bottle you guess right -- grape varietal, region and vintage -- Farnum kicks in a third of the price. Guess 'em all, and the bottle is on the house. Get 'em all wrong (like me), and you're paying the full markup. But with our group pooling cash and collective wine knowledge, we should clean up.

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