By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
Stop giving him pork chops!"
The woman is hissing, eyes flashing, using her mom voice on her husband, one arm thrown protectively over the top of the car seat set beside her on the banquette seat two tables down at Cucina Colore.
"I'm not giving him pork chops. I'm giving him pieces from the sandwich. Little pieces."
3041 E. 3rd Ave.
Denver, CO 80206
Region: Central Denver
Crab and artichoke dip: $10
Pollo e orzo: $13
Margherita pizza: $10
Pork chop: $20
Roasted chicken: $18
"He's a baby. Babies don't eat pork chops."
Says who? I wanted to say.
The husband (a Chad, I thought, or maybe a Lance — right off the pages of the J.Crew summer catalogue in his polo shirt, cargo shorts and expensively disheveled haircut) drops his hands, palms flat on the table, just hard enough to make the silverware clatter. An expression of defiance in defeat. He looks at his wife, then out the window, then at his wife again, and I just know what he's thinking: If I made a break for it right now...
I go back to my pizza — my very authentico, wood-fired, rustic margherita stone-oven pizza in its artfully not-quite-round shape, its artful dearth of toppings. I peel a leaf of whole basil off the rapidly cooling slab of cheese on one slice, transfer it to the one in my hand and bite, teeth cracking through the crust, tasting the centuries of pizza-making technology that have been tossed out in favor of the split wood logs kept in a cradle outside Cucina's back door, the chalky stone block in the oven.
I believe there are moments when, in order for authenticity to work in favor of a dish, that dish should come with a view. If it's a very authentic stick of yakitori — meaning dark-meat chicken, rib meat or inner thigh, slathered with too-sweet sauce and charred on an outdoor grill — I want to eat it under Ginza neon, surrounded by sararimen out getting freaky on a Saturday night, horking up their Sapporo in the gutter. And if it's a very authentico pizza, I want to eat it on a plaza in Rome or in the hills of Torino. It should be delivered by some rude man-child in a starched shirt who looks down my wife's shirt as he sets it on the table, and we ought to be overcharged 30 percent just for being stupid American buffoons dumb enough to come halfway across the world for pizza and a view.
At Cucina Colore, I like the slight tinge of wood smoke that's been absorbed by the mozzarella on my pizza, but the promised San Marzano tomatoes have either been replaced by some less murderously expensive genetic cousin or have come out of a can, because the sauce lacks that meaty sweetness of the fresh, honest article. My white-wine sangria (so Italian...) is full of sugar and so choked with inexpertly cubed chunks of fruit that I have to drink it through a straw, and my view is not of the seven hills of Rome, but of sleek, Creek architecture, super-saturated yellows and golds and shining, polished blond wood.
And Binky and Chad in the corner.
"What? You're angry now?"
I wonder if Chad would trade his pork sandwich for the rest of my pizza. I wonder if he'd giveme his pork sandwich if I caused a distraction, stirred up enough chaos that he could slip to the floor unnoticed and belly-crawl for the door before Binky was any the wiser.
Cucina Colore has been open a long time. Not by the way people measure time elsewhere in the world, but by Cherry Creek time, which is like dog years or wombat years — a different thing altogether. The Momo family started it in 1994, which puts it solidly in the Creek's Precambrian era, an epoch when soccer moms and day-trading dinosaurs in Dockers and wrap-around sunglasses stalked the earth. In this neighborhood, where tastes change season to season, the window for being the hot new thing slams tight after about two months, and places that have had a good, long run can be counted on one hand. So Cucina Colore's thirteen years is significant, bordering on historic. That's damn near forever in Creek time. But what confuses me — boggles my tiny little mind — is how it's lasted this long.
On a return visit, I watch the waiter show off for a window table a few down from mine. "This is the grandfather of North American pinots," he says, arching his back and proudly running his fingers down the list, running through his sommelier spiel, smiling, occasionally leaning in conspiratorially and chatting with the women sitting there.
I'm eating a Caprese salad — brilliantly red tomatoes and thick slices of fresh mozzarella electrified by green basil oil, sparked with a pungent, dark vinaigrette. It's good. Simple, but good. But then, it's hard to screw up a Caprese salad, which is among the purest expressions of Italian cuisine, of the Italian culinary mindset. Freshness, seasonality, two or three or four good flavors, all working in concert.
"Try this. It's so yummy. You have to try this."
Against the banquette, a woman cleverly preserved by deadly, paralytic nerve agents and what sounds like a lifetime pack-a-day Parliament habit stabs a forkful of greens and holds it up to a man I hope is her son, slumped sideways in his chair. He mutters something I can't hear.