Apocalypse 2006

My meals at Tokyo Joe's -- which I review in the next issue -- were among the least interesting things I found when I braved the wilds of the new Southlands development. The grand-opening festivities were like the Do Lo\ung bridge sequence in

Apocalypse Now

, a crowded, freaked-out mess about which the best that can be said is that no one got hurt too bad.

Like some weird siren's song, the event drew in yuppies, soccer moms, suburbanites and condo-dwellers from miles around. Many of them brought their dogs. Most of them brought their children. All of them were walking around glimmer-blind from all the lights, display windows and shiny new appurtenances of this shopping plaza that seemed to have sprouted overnight.

Frankly, I'm more than a little creeped out by these developments that keep popping up. I don't know if it's their rigid conformity; their catering to a lifestyle fantasy that I find repellent; the fact that the only non-white faces I see there belong to guys wearing name tags, janitor's coveralls or security uniforms; or just the uncomfortable newness of everything -- but they all speak to my deepest sci-fi-nerd, utopian/dystopian disconnect, and I find them both compelling and deeply disturbing at the same time.

During the grand-opening party, there were cover bands playing classic rock and �70s funk covers in the plaza, samples and coupons given away on the street, carriage rides, dancing and -- rather unexpectedly -- fireworks. When I heard the noise, I figured this was the radical environmentalist/anti-establishment class war I'd been promised for so long, and ducked outside to see if I could join the fun.

Unfortunately, it was just a few thousand dollars' worth of low-altitude airburst shells being thrown up to celebrate capitalism's newest victory over nature, space and decency, but still...with the music, the smoke and the smell of gunpowder in the air, the haze drifting over the plaza, the red-and-green illumination rounds going off and uniformed toughs from mall security, store security and the Aurora police trying to herd the crowds away from where the sparks were coming down, I was just waiting for Captain Willard to come duck-walking out of the darkness looking for a commanding officer.

When the fireworks hit, I'd already finished up at Joe's and had gone around the corner to check out another new restaurant: Tali's Bistro, which sits, oddly, inside a glassed-off people aquarium inside the ARTrageous home decor shop. Compared to Tokyo Joe's, Tali's was an embarrassment. Service was maddeningly slow (even though this was the only dining room in the entire place that wasn't full beyond capacity); the walls were hung with art from the store outside, all of it with price tags prominently displayed; and the menu was something someone who knew absolutely nothing about restaurants or cuisine might create if they were handed a bare space and a bunch of money -- a totally random collection of quasi-Italian apps and entrees, pizzas and paninis that showed less inspiration than the Chinese-run, Vietnamese-staffed strip-mall trattorias I remembered from Albuquerque where everything from spaghetti and meatballs to shrimp scampi to egg rolls was cooked in the same wok. It was like a Panera without the class.

In Tali's defense, I believe I heard the owner say they'd just opened that night and that some bugs were still being worked out. But considering that this restaurant is surrounded by the new Tokyo Joe's, as well as an Old Chicago and a McCabe's Irish Pub, with a Chipotle, a European Cafe, a Fat Burger, a Heidi's Brooklyn Deli, a Jamba Juice, Joey's Grill, Mt. Fuji Sushi and about a dozen more operations on the way, I hope the staff gets its act together quick. -- Jason Sheehan

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