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Best Of 2005

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best French-Vietnamese Restaurant
Chez Thuy

Since it moved into this stand-alone strip-mall space in 1993, Chez Thuy has been offering history lessons told in food. It's a casually shabby clearinghouse with menus as thick as a world atlas, each outlining the story of the cuisine of Vietnam, which, in the historical record, reads like a murderous, ill-fated yet oddly fortuitous collision of cultures and a thousand spices. When the French first came to Indochina, they did so with guns, funny hats and an idea of colonial law absolutely antithetical to the Southeast Asian way of life. But their coming also marked one of those strange periods where complementary vectors of food and politics cross, because the French, being French, brought their chef's knives along with their trench knives, which changed Vietnamese cooking forever. The Vietnamese took to French haute cuisine like nobody's business, fusing it with their own already highly developed culinary tradition -- and the rest is delicious history. Chez Thuy's menu reflects the mingling of the French and Vietnamese obsessions with food in the best possible way.

2655 28th St., Boulder, 80301
MAP
303-442-1700
Best Belly
Frasca
Jay Vollmar

For reasons we'll never understand, some people out there are afraid of eating pork belly. Maybe it's the name: The idea of eating anything's belly could be a little disturbing. But still, everyone with a tastebud left in their heads should immediately swallow all prejudices against this noble butcher's cut and get a taste of the wonderful pork-belly entree with smoked bacon, hedgehog mushrooms and apple chutney at Frasca. On a menu filled with nothing but winners by chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, this plate is singularly amazing. The fat cap of each thick slab of pork belly is rendered in the pan, seared crisp just at the end, and then the beautifully tender meat is sliced and fanned over a pale white smear of horseradish sauce for a real treat by a wickedly talented kitchen. So if the civilians out there continue to eschew the potential wonders of pork belly, that's fine with us. Frasca is a busy place, and that just means more belly for us.

Best Belly

For reasons we'll never understand, some people out there are afraid of eating pork belly. Maybe it's the name: The idea of eating anything's belly could be a little disturbing. But still, everyone with a tastebud left in their heads should immediately swallow all prejudices against this noble butcher's cut and get a taste of the wonderful pork-belly entree with smoked bacon, hedgehog mushrooms and apple chutney at Frasca. On a menu filled with nothing but winners by chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, this plate is singularly amazing. The fat cap of each thick slab of pork belly is rendered in the pan, seared crisp just at the end, and then the beautifully tender meat is sliced and fanned over a pale white smear of horseradish sauce for a real treat by a wickedly talented kitchen. So if the civilians out there continue to eschew the potential wonders of pork belly, that's fine with us. Frasca is a busy place, and that just means more belly for us.

Best Buns

Empress Seafood Restaurant is a classic dim sum joint. It's huge, it's entirely impersonal, and almost everything that goes on here happens in a different language. Every dim sum item available -- from dumplings to tripe -- is listed on one long paper menu, and no matter what you think you ordered, it's impossible to reconcile that with what eventually makes its way to the table. The exception to this rule is the char siu bao, pork buns that arrive hot and steaming from the kitchen like giant, puffy white softballs filled with chunky, honey-sweetened barbecued pork. The house makes its bun dough once a day, using yesterday's leftovers as a starter for the new batch, and the result is a light, airy breading, slightly sweet, always soft as eating a cloud. If you're not up for fried pork intestines or chicken feet in black bean sauce, the Empress's buns are a perfect choice for even the least adventurous diner.


Best Buns

Empress Seafood Restaurant is a classic dim sum joint. It's huge, it's entirely impersonal, and almost everything that goes on here happens in a different language. Every dim sum item available -- from dumplings to tripe -- is listed on one long paper menu, and no matter what you think you ordered, it's impossible to reconcile that with what eventually makes its way to the table. The exception to this rule is the char siu bao, pork buns that arrive hot and steaming from the kitchen like giant, puffy white softballs filled with chunky, honey-sweetened barbecued pork. The house makes its bun dough once a day, using yesterday's leftovers as a starter for the new batch, and the result is a light, airy breading, slightly sweet, always soft as eating a cloud. If you're not up for fried pork intestines or chicken feet in black bean sauce, the Empress's buns are a perfect choice for even the least adventurous diner.

Best Legs

Just staying open for more than three decades is an achievement for any restaurant. But staying open and staying relevant? That's a real accomplishment. And that's what Tante Louise -- which opened in the old home of the even more venerable Normandy in 1973 -- has managed to do. In a newly hot restaurant neighborhood in a town where fine-dining houses open and close so quickly that it's hard to keep track of the failures, la grande dame of the white-tablecloth scene has the legs to keep up. Sure, Tante has occasionally stumbled. But owner Corky Douglass has always had a good nose for talent; a solid reputation for training tomorrow's execs and restaurateurs; an understanding that new hands in the galley serve to keep things fresh, often taking even the most staid and traditional kitchens in surprising new directions; and the patience to let his chefs find their own voices. And today, Marlo Hix is speaking loud and clear with her cooking, bringing a little pan-Asian flavor to traditional French fare -- and ensuring that Tante Louise can hold her own, running a marathon in a world full of sprinters.

Best Legs

Just staying open for more than three decades is an achievement for any restaurant. But staying open and staying relevant? That's a real accomplishment. And that's what Tante Louise -- which opened in the old home of the even more venerable Normandy in 1973 -- has managed to do. In a newly hot restaurant neighborhood in a town where fine-dining houses open and close so quickly that it's hard to keep track of the failures, la grande dame of the white-tablecloth scene has the legs to keep up. Sure, Tante has occasionally stumbled. But owner Corky Douglass has always had a good nose for talent; a solid reputation for training tomorrow's execs and restaurateurs; an understanding that new hands in the galley serve to keep things fresh, often taking even the most staid and traditional kitchens in surprising new directions; and the patience to let his chefs find their own voices. And today, Marlo Hix is speaking loud and clear with her cooking, bringing a little pan-Asian flavor to traditional French fare -- and ensuring that Tante Louise can hold her own, running a marathon in a world full of sprinters.

Best Snails

They don't look like snails when they come to the table. They look like something baked inside a pastry shell. And from the first bite, they don't taste like you'd expect snails to taste. They taste more like a forestire of mushrooms, more like some dark fowl's meat -- turkey or duck, or something equally gamey. But snails they are, with three competing sauces painted onto the plate. Le Central's escargots are an excellent introduction to the world of French cuisine, where everything that walks, crawls or slithers is fair game for the pot. And this plate -- listed as feuilleté d'escargots on the menu -- shows just how great snails can taste when a kitchen is operating straight out of the Michelin playbook of haute French cuisine.

Best Snails
Le Central

They don't look like snails when they come to the table. They look like something baked inside a pastry shell. And from the first bite, they don't taste like you'd expect snails to taste. They taste more like a forestire of mushrooms, more like some dark fowl's meat -- turkey or duck, or something equally gamey. But snails they are, with three competing sauces painted onto the plate. Le Central's escargots are an excellent introduction to the world of French cuisine, where everything that walks, crawls or slithers is fair game for the pot. And this plate -- listed as feuilleté d'escargots on the menu -- shows just how great snails can taste when a kitchen is operating straight out of the Michelin playbook of haute French cuisine.

112 E. 8th Ave., Denver, 80203
MAP
303-863-8094
Best Head in the City

When we talk about peasant cuisine these days, the conversations run toward comfort foods with a slightly musty past. No longer do we speak of such offal-centric dishes as French tête de veau or anything involving trotters or English lung pie. These days, peasant foods are more like a Disneyfied version of what we'd like to imagine our forebears having eaten, not so much what they actually did eat. But that's not the case at Taquería Patzcuaro, where the tacos de cabeza are a straight-from-el-rancho original, involving calf cheek meat (never the most attractive cut) that's lightly grilled, then set on fresh corn tortillas with a little pico de gallo, a little shredded lettuce, and nothing else. This is peasant food the way it's supposed to be: something wonderful out of what would normally be waste.

Best Head in the City

When we talk about peasant cuisine these days, the conversations run toward comfort foods with a slightly musty past. No longer do we speak of such offal-centric dishes as French tête de veau or anything involving trotters or English lung pie. These days, peasant foods are more like a Disneyfied version of what we'd like to imagine our forebears having eaten, not so much what they actually did eat. But that's not the case at Taquería Patzcuaro, where the tacos de cabeza are a straight-from-el-rancho original, involving calf cheek meat (never the most attractive cut) that's lightly grilled, then set on fresh corn tortillas with a little pico de gallo, a little shredded lettuce, and nothing else. This is peasant food the way it's supposed to be: something wonderful out of what would normally be waste.

Best Tail in the 'Burbs

When you order oxtail at Caribbean Cuisine Plus, there's no question what you're eating. This is the southernmost edible portion of any animal, and with a little Tinker Toy ingenuity and some toothpicks, the big, rough-cut chunks sitting on your plate could probably be reassembled back into a semblance of a tail without too much difficulty. Served in a smoky, greasy, deeply flavorful black sauce powerful enough to dirty up a whole mountain of white rice, this oxtail is a wonderful example of the benefits of nose-to-tail eating. Spoiled Americans, we've become used to consuming nothing but the best of any animal used for food -- which means we've missed out on the culinary joys of peasant eating. But we'll let the culinary philosophers argue over the societal and spiritual payback of slumming it among the so-called peasant cuisines. If anyone wants our opinion on the matter, we'll be down at Caribbean Cuisine Plus having a couple of meat pies, maybe a little curried goat, and some oxtail over rice.


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Best French-Vietnamese Restaurant: Chez Thuy

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