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Homecoming

Again the Masters of their doman.

But now it's 2006. The economy is looking better, and restaurants are opening again at a rapid clip. The industry is less mired in the molecular gastronomy and deconstructionist nonsense of years past, less plugged up with dingbats preaching a gospel of absolute organic purchasing and reimagined comfort foodery. And once again, I look like the brain-damaged cousin allowed to sup at the grownups' table only out of strained politeness. This year, John T. Edge, a genius of Southern foodways, writes about the Mississippi Delta steakhouse Lusco'sright ahead of me, and Gopnik follows me with a neat bit of double portraiture, tagging along after the Brit chef Fergus Hendersonand the Frenchman Alain Passard.

The piece after Gopnik's "Two Cooks" is "Southern Exposure," by Todd Kliman (writing for The Washingtonian). And who is Kliman's story about? Our own Bryan Moscatello, formerly of Adega and now cooking at Indigo Landing in Virginia. If you've wondered what became of Moscatello after he fled the mountains for the coast, buy the book. As a matter of fact, even if you don't care about Moscatello, buy the book. This is a good year for food writers, and Best Food Writing contains the best of our best: a sample of Michael Pollan's life-altering book The Omnivore's Dilemma; a long digression on cookbook obsession from Jane Kramer; a chapter from journo-turned-foodie Bill Buford's book Heat(about his experience with Mario Bataliand working the line alongside his guys); a piece by Michael Ruhlmanfrom his new book The Reach of a Chef; and a king-hell dose of old-school, drugs-and-punk-rock Anthony Bourdain called "New Year's Meltdown" that's full of bad words and substance abuse and truth about what the business of being a chef is really like at the bottom.

Also not to be missed is This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women from the National Public Radio project of the same name, also now out in bookstores. And why am I mentioning this? Because in it -- along with short essays on personal beliefs by the likes of Albert Einstein, John McCain, John Updike, Gloria Steinem, Studs Terkel, Colin Powell and William F. Buckley -- is my essay. About barbecue.

Trust me: I'm just as shocked as you are.

Me, me, me...

Leftovers:The casual, Provençal-style Mateo, at 1837 Pearl Street in Boulder, turns five this month. And what is chef/owner Matt Jansendoing to celebrate? Opening a new restaurant, of course. RaDDa(named after the region in Chianti) is scheduled for a January opening at 1265 Alpine Street (also in Boulder) and, not surprisingly, will feature the cuisine of Italy.

Something of a road-tripping cuisine, actually, drawing from the areas around Florence and Chianti, Tuscany and beyond. A Boulder native who cooked everywhere from Boulder's Laudisioto Santa Monica to Vegas before coming back to Colorado to open Mateo in 2001, for four years Jansen spent every autumn in Florence, working the wine harvests during the day and the restaurants at night. (In addition to his killer resumé, Jansen also has a sommelier's certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers in London.) RaDDa will be "a real slice of Florence in a real neighborhood setting," Jansen says, with pizzas from a woodburning oven, entrees off the woodburning grills, house-cured meats and local produce. "Now we're just waiting for that million-dollar opening date."

When it comes, Jansen will be ceding the executive chef's position at Mateo to an equally big-name replacement: Don Gragg, who's already been in the house for a few months, easing his way back into daily service after a stint as a personal chef in the south of France. And just guess where Gragg trained in Denver? That's right -- at Mel's, Starfish and Barolo Grill, as well as at Sacre Bleu (where he held an exec's gig), Kevin Taylor's jou jouand Parisi.

Also in Boulder, Eric Skokan (formerly of Alice's Restaurant at the Gold Lake Resort) just opened Black Cat at 1964 13th Street. And Rumbi Island Grill (not to be confused with Dave Query's Rhumba, in the same town) has joined the lineup at the new Twenty Ninth Street development, giving Boulder its first Hawaiian chain restaurant. Based out of Utah. Offering jerk chicken and "Aloha Mango Chicken Salad."

Closer to home, there's action along one of my favorite restaurant rows -- that stretch of Leetsdale Boulevard/Parker Road running through Glendale. Right on the hip of Leetsdale and Alameda, El Potrero has opened in a nice, high-visibility space. The first thing the owners did was hang a big sign. And the first thing that went on that sign, even before the restaurant's name: "100 tipos de tequila." Nothing like giving the people exactly what they want. Over at 909 South Oneida Street, multiple Best of Denver winner California Bakery (the unusually named Eastern European bakery with the city's best piroshki) has gotten a new name -- maybe. According to a sidewalk sign, the place is now California Pizza Chicken Bakery, though the window signs are still calling it simply California Bakery. In any event, the place still has absolutely nothing to do with California and is the city's best example of the multicultural collision between Eastern European baking, French pastry and good old-fashioned American marketing zeal.

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