By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
I'm looking back at the year from a twelfth-floor suite across from Carnegie Hall, on the quiet side of 57th Street. I've got a bellyful of ridiculously overpriced beer, cheeseburgers and Cuban chicken from the Brooklyn Diner, and have just returned from a nice digestive stroll through the Christmas market in Central Park, where I made the mistake of buying (among other things) a traveler of hot apple cider from a couple of frozen Vietnamese women who ladled the steaming gunk from a highly suspect and disgustingly grimy pot being kept warm over a portable butane burner. I've skipped out on dinner at Le Bernardin, but I have a lunch tomorrow at Bar Americain that I can't miss.
For the first time in a long time, I'm honestly and completely in love with New York City. I don't know when it overtook me — whether love bloomed while I was trying to fight my way upstream through the gawping Times Square crowds, or while I was stuck in Broadway traffic with the racist Maltese cabbie who, when he learned I was living in Denver, couldn't stop talking about how much he hated Mexicans and how everyone in Colorado marries their cousins — but I'm finally hooked deep by this city that I'd long ago given up as just one of those places (like New Orleans or Tampa or all of Texas) that I would suffer only out of absolute necessity and gladly flee the minute necessity allowed.
But still, I'm thinking about Denver. And while Laura fights with the hinky TV in the bedroom and we wait for our delivery of knishes and chocolate cake from the deli around the corner, I start remembering the great meals I've had over the past year, the ones that truly define my contentious love for the Mile High City, have the power to make me miss it even when I'm off having a blast somewhere else, and will, at some later point, finally get me into a car, onto the street, through the tunnel and aimed once more toward Denver and home without regret.
If there's a better spot in the country for your car to break down than South Federal Boulevard on a Friday night, I've never broken down there. I'd had a fairly shitty day and intended to console myself with a fat pork torta from Tacos y Salsas. Driving there, I knew something was going terribly wrong with my car (as evidenced by its awful squealing noises), but still muscled it on because I am a single-minded creature when dinner is on the line and will brook no hijinks from man or machine. By the time I'd chugged into the parking lot, I was more than halfway sure that, once killed, the engine was not going to resurrect easily. And after I'd eaten my torta and paid my bill, I discovered I was right. But AAA was running on a two-hour delay, so I went back into Tacos y Salsas, sat down at the carnival-colored counter, ordered tacos and cold beers, and spent the time eating and watching what has to be the fastest open-line crew in Denver assembling gorditas and cleaning buche, smiling like an idiot because all the annoyance of a dead car meant to me was an excuse for a second dinner at one of the best taquerías in a city full of great taquerías. Had my car died at, say, Tacos D.F., I would've been tempted to just walk home. Outside Los Carboncitos, I would've crashed with friends or hitched a lift out of the city. But at Tacos y Salsas, I was stuck. And very happy.
Another night, in a white-out snowstorm, I drove to the British Bulldog and loved it not just because the food was good, but because of all the places to wash up on a snowblind night in Denver, the Bulldog had to be the most unlikely. Indo-Pakistani-British pub cuisine in a million-year-old address. Fried pickles and pakora, Murphy's-over-Bass black-and-tans, Peshawari chicken, fish fries and fried macaroni and cheese. The place was warm, dark, thinly populated by regulars who'd willingly stranded themselves at the bar, and I sat huddling in a booth with a bunch of friends, all of us trying to drink ourselves warm when we should have been hunkered down at home with hot chocolate and John Denver on the hi-fi. Instead, we ordered another round of fried pickles and watched the snow come down.
On other nights, I made other affirmations over food. My first dinner at Oceanaire reinforced my belief that all life's troubles seem small when considered over a steak made of bacon. Chicken and waffles at the Corner Office, Lucky Charms and whiskey at the Corner Office, pretty much anything at the Corner Office (save the carnitas, which don't even begin to compete in this city full of great taquerías) reminded me of the restorative power of behaving badly in public, of drinking too much and eating too much and comporting yourself in questionable ways. And at Centro Latin Kitchen & Drink-ateria in Boulder, I learned that if you choose to drink yourself into a marginal stupor while making loud sport of the gentle hippies grooving to the twenty-minute upright-bass-and-tambourine solo in the front room, it's handy to find a place close by where you can nap. I chose the carpet stockroom of the import store a couple of doors down. Odds are good that if I tried something like that in New York, I'd wake up in the Tombs with my shoes and wallet missing. In Boulder, no one even noticed.