By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
We can't do this anymore."
"We can. I know we can make this work."
"We can't. This has been a problem for too long."
8101 E. Belleview Ave.
Denver, CO 80237
Region: Southeast Denver
Egg rolls: $2.50
Spring rolls: $4.50
Vietnamese egg rolls: $4.50
Dumplings/pot stickers: $4.95
Shrimp tempura: $6.25
Thai beef salad: $6.95
Half duck: $10.95
Basil combination: $11.95
Hong Kong noodles: $9.25
Korean noodles: $9.25
I sighed. "Look. We're both smart people. We're college-educated grownups."
"Well, one of us is, anyway."
"We can figure this out."
Laura crossed her arms and set her jaw. We were standing in the kitchen not looking at each other, the stovetop, counters and floor around us covered with plastic bags, boxes, Styrofoam takeout containers. She was angry. I was hopeful. Both of us were staring into the open refrigerator, trying to figure out what to do about our leftover situation, which had become untenable.
I reached out to gently, lovingly touch her shoulder. "This is something we can fix, Laura."
She shook me off. "No. We can't. We've been trying to fix this for a long time, and I just don't have the energy anymore."
The problem was, neither of us is very good at math -- geometry in particular, the kind of calculations necessary to make maximum use of twenty cubic feet of space when you're packing in dozens of condiment bottles with different sizes and shapes, half-drunk bottles of prosecco, six varieties of cheese in various stages of terminal decay, sour mix, orange juice cartons (for mimosas) and to-go boxes.
No, the real problem was me.
"Laura, it's not you. It's me, okay? It's my fault."
I collect takeout everywhere. At the end of a good night, I often have more takeout stacked in the front seat of my car than I can carry up the stairs in a single trip. Halves of steaks, soggy french fries, weighty boxes of pasta, bits of this and portions of that. Some of my to-go compulsion is work-related. When I need to know exactly what ingredients were in the ravioli, the salade compose or the yak tournedos, it's a comfort to be able to perform a forensic examination of the dish itself. But mostly I bring home leftovers because I am an insomniac and inveterate middle-of-the-night snacker who, owing to the quirks of his unusual employment, often gets to eat foie gras on the couch in his underpants at 3 a.m. while watching Futurama reruns on Adult Swim.
Yeah, Laura's a lucky woman...
Anyway, this most recent refrigerator battle stemmed from our visit earlier that evening to Blue Ocean Asian Cafe, where the portions were so big and the menu so interesting that we'd ordered enough food for a family of seven, eaten enough for a family of four (Laura held up her end while I took care of the other three people), and wound up with enough containers and bags full of leftovers that we needed to employ a heavy cardboard beer case as a conveyance. And then we had to figure out where to put everything.
"I swear to God, Jay, there's just no way we can keep doing this."
Blue Ocean is the second entry in what owner Ji Gang Li hopes will become a group of inter-related, mixed Asian restaurants offering everything from Thai tom yum goong, udon noodles and bamboo-steamed tofu to sesame chicken, Kung Pao beef, New York-style fried half-chickens and rice noodle bowls originating from a half-dozen Southeast Asian addresses. Li's first restaurant, Blue Bay Asian Cafe, in Green Valley Ranch, serves a similar menu; his third restaurant, which is still in the planning stages, will offer more of the same, though perhaps on a bigger, fancier scale. His is a slow-build scenario flavored with dreams of empire, each opening a stepping stone to the next, and the next.
At Blue Ocean, the tiny storefront entrance belies the larger dining room within, its shape like some kind of shotgun-shack bar repurposed for the lunch and dinner trade and redecorated in Asia moderne -- that kind of Chinatown-lite style that always makes me think of Pier One closeout sales. Though just shy of a year old, the place looks brand-new, looks like the shrink-wrap has just been pulled off the rich upholstery. Maybe that's because it hasn't gotten much use: On three visits, I saw only one other occupied table. Granted, I have a tendency to over-occupy any table, but Blue Ocean seems to make its nut in takeout and delivery, with a brisk trade running in and out the front door at night, leaving the dining room as untouched as a museum display of Asian Dining in the West, circa 2007.
That means there's always going to be a table available for anyone with a yen for marinated, crisp-skinned duck and mu shu pork (described on the menu as a "Chinese taco," which I just love), and the kind of attentive service that only comes at a restaurant where you are the server's sole distraction. The menu is constructed like a triptych of the major Eastern flavors, offering discrete and disparate tastes of each without ever delving too deeply into any one. The first page covers at least half a dozen culinary traditions, and the next pages continue in the same fashion -- offering the greatest hits of Asia, all in one convenient package.