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Pearl Bucks

A little competition never hurt anyone.

Just up the street from their Black Pearl restaurant (see review) Sean Huggard and Steve Whited will soon have a new neighbor. Lola is scheduled to depart its spot at 1469 South Pearl Street on February 28 (with a closing bash on February 27); by the end of March, it should be back in business at the old Olinger Mortuary building, at 1575 Boulder Street. And sometime in May, BB's on Pearlwill open in Lola's current home (which earlier housed Micole, and Greensbefore that).

Technically, Paul Blakley -- who already owns the eighteen-month-old BB's Bistro & Bar in Parker -- gets the space as of March 1, but he's planning a massive remodel that involves removing the bar and turning the Lola galley into a showcase kitchen sealed behind glass. He also hopes to put a martini-and-piano bar in the second-floor space that Lola never used, but there have been complications with licensing and the neighborhood association. In fact, when I talked with him last week, he was fresh from an appeals hearing but seemed confident that things will ultimately go his way.

Whether or not he can expand upstairs, Blakley says the new restaurant will offer "casual fine dining" with a menu that's "progressive American" (just another name for New American, really, although heavier on the "American," lighter on the "New"), featuring such dishes as crab-and-lobster-stuffed chicken breasts, pork tenderloin with a chile/hoisin marinade, and steaks of the Monterey/Oscar/au poivre varieties. Although that lineup sounds like it might overlap a bit with Black Pearl's menu, at least it won't duplicate what's already offered next door at the Pearl Street Grill, or just down the block at Sushi Den.

Just past Black Pearl, the space at 1551 South Pearl that had held La Ti Da -- an unusual coffee and dessert bar-slash-yarn and knitting supply store -- is being taken over by a crepe restaurant. Although there's no name above the door yet, there's a lot of construction going on inside and a menu stuck in the window listing dozens of crepes, both sweet and savory, some sandwiches, a couple hot entrees and bakery goods. This location -- a little house with a big front room, a kitchen in the back and a nice wrap-around patio -- seems just about perfect for a crepe place. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of it.

Old American: Hot salmon with watermelon and cinnamon aioli, mussel jellies, gazpacho gelées, yuzu pudding with spearmint granité, flights of salt and sea scallop popcorn -- far be it from me to knock the genius of today's New American astronauts of cuisine. Who but Grant Achatz (formerly of the French Laundry, now at Alinea in Chicago) could've come up with something like bacon on a swing? The mussel jellies are his, too. And as for the braniacs behind those other dishes, if you know food, you'll know the names, and if you want to eat the food, be prepared to drop somewhere in the range of $200 per person.

New American -- essentially Alice Waters's California cuisine, plus ultra, as strained through the fine sieve of the French Laundry -- tries to reinvent classics of American cuisine by way of molecular gastronomy, ironic subtext and an artistic eye for plating. It twists and tortures foods into the culinary equivalent of Chinese foot-binding or Victorian corsetry, then serves it to a public that's supposed to appreciate it on so many deep and meaningful levels that the dogma tends to weigh heavier than the food itself. A New American PB&J can be (and is) served on a spike, as a soup, on wheat crackers milled by vestal virgins in an inaccessible Italian nunnery, as a puff of tapioca maltodextrin-derived peanut-butter powder paired with flash-frozen Concord grape sorbet.

But when I get home at night -- tired and stinking of gin and cigarettes -- and settle onto my couch to watch the Food Network or maybe a little Adult Swim, I am not reaching for my high-intensity, narrow-beam laser and bag of corn-starch pellets to make popcorn à la Homaro Cantu (of Moto in Chicago). No, I want popcorn made from popped corn and a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich made of peanut butter and jelly smashed between two slices of white bread. While some miracles of cutting-edge New American cuisine do seem interesting (the ahi tuna PB&J "sandwich" made by chef Mike Long at Opus a couple years back still stands as one of my defining moments in the New American revolution, and I would love to try Alinea's crème brûlée --a powdered custard contained within a bite-sized ball of caramelized sugar), I'm still out there pulling for places that simply make the classics as best they know how, rather than try to improve on them through a heavy-handed application of technology.

Places like the Old-Fashioned Italian Deli in Littleton, which brought Sahlen's dogs and Weber mustard to Denver -- all the way from the frozen shores of the Great Lakes. Like the Castle Cafewith its fried chicken. Like Chapter One with its barbecue. Like Steuben's, a spot at 17th Avenue and Pearl Street that isn't even open yet but has been going through regular Tuesday tastings of menu items since forever in anticipation of the eventual rollout.

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