I've written some good menus in my time. Bouncing around as much as I did while wearing the whites, I got a lot of practice. Italian menus, French menus, tasting menus and complex, multi-course event menus inspired by things as ridiculous as Eastern European liquors and the birthday party of a man who'd made his fortune in flower arrangements. I once wrote an entire menu based on a completely imaginary trip to Strasbourg, which was supposed to evoke the glories of its markets and the rusticity of its cobbled streets — when, in truth, I didn't even know what country Strasbourg was in. I guessed France (correctly, as it turned out), but covered myself in case it was Germany by adding sausages to one of the courses, serving Belgian frites as a starch and offering lots of chicken in heavy sauces, figuring (again correctly) that pretty much everyone ate chicken and that by the time the crowd had gotten into their mains, everyone would be drunk enough that no one would notice if I served enchiladas.
But none of my menus ever came close to the great menus that Craig D'Alessandro writes at San Lorenzo Ristorante (reviewed on page 50), every week assembling a board that is geographically (and culinarily) restrained, yet wide-ranging enough to satisfy any palate. There's just something magical about the way orecchiette alla Bolognese rubs up against the garretto d'agnello, the way the zafferano cream sauce over linguine begs to be paired with a nice glass of cold, summery white wine, a few leaves of salad, then maybe that pollo ruspante with its fried artichokes and potatoes. I'm also sure that, if pressed, D'Alessandro could probably find Italy, Emilia Romana and, in particular, Bologna on a map.
Speaking of maps, I caught up with Tony Pasquini just days before this past weekend's opening of Pasquini's Pizzeria at 2400 West 32nd Avenue, right across the street from Duo in the Highland neighborhood (with another 1,500 square feet for future expansion).
San Lorenzo Ristorante
For more than twenty years, Pasquini has had Broadway covered with his original Pasquini's Pizzeria at 1310 South Broadway, which is expanding this summer. He has another outlet in Louisville (in the former Colacci's, just down the street from the Blue Parrot) and a franchised operation at 1336 East 17th Avenue, where the operators offer live entertainment as well as the standard Pasquini's menu. That menu is an expansive, all-encompassing, something-for-everyone board — completely the opposite of D'Alessandro's self-possessed restraint — with everything from homemade lasagna and spaghetti with meatballs to fourteen calzones, hot subs, cold subs, focaccia sandwiches, six bruschettas and pizzas in just about any configuration imaginable.
Since the new northwest Denver location comes with new neighbors, Pasquini hopes to feature a longer, better (and more expensive) wine list there. He also wants to do specials — pastas, maybe, beyond the twelve already being done on Broadway, or new eight- and ten-inch pizzettas.
Any future expansions of his empire? "One at a time, man," Pasquini told me. "It took us twenty years to find this place. We're in no hurry."
Leftovers: What could be the two best patios in town are just down the street from the newest Pasquini's, in the building on Boulder Street occupied by Lola and Vita. But while Lola's patio is often packed (and has a better view of the city — provided you're willing to overlook the construction site across the street), with a nice indoor/outdoor, beach-bar kind of vibe when the weather is nice, the chairs snugged up against the backside of Vita's indoor bar are often empty.
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But Vita will up the ante next month when it completes its rooftop deck — complete with a dozen dining tables, a scattering of cocktail tables, menu service, a full bar and an unobscured view. For now. With any luck, Vita's deck will set off some kind of "who's got the better view" pissing match with Lola. First, Lola had that great outdoor bar/patio. Now Vita will have the rooftop deck. Next, Lola will build a tower high enough for diners not afraid of heights to see the city laid out before them and spill their drinks down on the heads of those on Vita's deck. Vita will respond by having tables suspended from balloons, then Lola will offer free helicopter rides with the purchase of a pitcher of margs...
What's in a name? Right across the street from Fruition, the Best New Restaurant in the Best of Denver 2007, is another new joint, Thai Thai Hibachi (1312 East Sixth Avenue) — but the hibachi is "temporarily closed," according to a sign posted there. The grill is open, as is the sushi bar — just no hibachi, because the owner can't find a hibachi cook to run the station. Denver has a glut of sushi cooks, plenty of grill men, a profusion of guys ready to step in and run through the border-tripping Asian menu — but we're apparently desperately short of trained hibachi chefs.
"Everything's still good," said the person who answered the phone when I called and asked what was up with the non-existent hibachi. "Most people come in at night and don't want hibachi, anyway." And that, I believe, is what's called putting a good spin on a bad situation. I asked if maybe they'd thought of changing the name — Thai Thai Sushi, perhaps? Thai Thai Curry? The Place Across the Street From Fruition? — but he said no, that no one was thinking about that at all.
So any unemployed hibachi cooks who are reading this, you know what to do. Stop by the Place Across the Street From Fruition and fill out an application.