Best Of :: Food & Drink
When we need to retune our tastebuds, when we crave bright, dominant flavors unmuddied by excess, we go to Thai Basil II. Here we can sample the simple pleasures of Asian cuisines -- hot curries, sweet lime, peppery-sweet basil, vegetables cooked fast and served fresh without all the taste leached out of them. Thai is a cuisine best tasted in the juxtaposition between one flavor and its neighbor, and the best trick in Thai Basil's repertoire is the cooks' ability to keep flavors distinct while still making each plate taste like a full, wedded whole. The curries are the best example of this skill, with sweet and heat and sour and bitter ingredients all coming together into seamless aggregates of their parts.
We all remember our first underage drink, and for a lot of us, it was probably cadged from an understanding (or careless) bartender at a Chinese restaurant. At Twin Dragon -- where we're sure they carefully check every ID -- you can get a fresh taste of those illicit thrills as an adult. The specialty-drink menu features Fog Cutters, Zombies and rum-heavy Scorpion bowls, but most important, it has Mai Tais -- all syrupy-sweet with fruit juice, garnished with neon-red cherries and limp orange slices, and liberally dosed with the hard stuff. Second only to a cold Tsing Tao, nothing cuts the burn of good General Tso's Chicken like a Mai Tai, that classic of the cocktail set. And in keeping with tradition, Twin Dragon still serves this tiki-bar special in its only proper vessel: a big, chipped ceramic pineapple.
Yes, Mao is the hippest, slickest, South Beach-iest joint to debut on the Denver restaurant scene in a long time. Yes, they spent some godawful huge wad of cash on the trippy, color-changing ceiling and fiber-optic bar top. Yes, there are flat-screen TVs in the can, and, yes, that very well might be your neighbor/landlord/congressman in the corner booth getting busy with that pretty young thing who isn't his wife. But amid all the high-end decor, the weirdest, oddest, most jarring juxtaposition has to be the giant, lovingly rendered portrait of Joe Pantoliano dominating the back wall. Sure, we loved him in The Sopranos. And we agree that he's probably one of the most underappreciated character actors working today. But why it seemed like a good idea to put a huge picture of him striding along, hands in his pockets, trademark slouch hat turned backward on his head, in a restaurant dedicated to the happy memories of a murderous communist revolutionary is beyond us. Still, it looks nice, and if Joey Pants should ever come through town, we're sure he'll appreciate it, too.
Remember all that Freedom Toast crap last year? All that screeching on AM radio about how patriotic Americans ought to pitch out their French cheese, pour their French wine into the gutter and abstain from all French kissing until the Frogs stopped thinking for themselves and, like Tony Blair, just blindly agreed with everything our president said? Yeah, that was some freaky, flag-waving shit that went down -- and leave it to Robert Tournier, owner of Le Central, to turn it all to his advantage. At the height of the mock crisis, Tournier decided to hold an essay contest, with prizes (most of them involving free dinners at Le Central) for the entries that best expressed a love of all things French, and more prizes (mostly consisting of French wine and chocolate and free dinners at Le Central) for those that best typified an American's loathing for the French. Well, big surprise: Tournier's business increased by more than 10 percent during the controversy.
Kabul Kabob, an unassuming little joint tucked away in a strip mall, does everything flawlessly, without ever appearing to try too hard. The kitchen specializes in a cuisine that's east of the Middle East, north of northern India, flavored by the trickle-down influence of all the cultures that surround Afghanistan on the map; the menu reads like a history lesson taught in flavor, with tastes and spices and preparations mingling in every dish. From the casual service, to the space -- all regal gold and purple -- to the unpretentious atmosphere, this is a restaurant you want to come back to again and again, if only because on every visit you're tempted to eat three of everything. And since the place is incredibly inexpensive, you could easily do just that.