Market watch: Need some fresh foie gras for that traditional Labor Day picnic dish? Marczyk Fine Foods, at 770 East 17th Avenue, has goose liver available and will be stocking Hudson Valley and Sonoma duck lobes by early next week. These are fresh products, folks: If they're in your hands on Wednesday, that means they were in the duck on Monday.
Owner Peter Marczyk tells me that all sorts of new goodies are hitting the shelves of the four-month-old market. He's got beautiful whole red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico, sashimi-grade tuna and wahoo loin from fish that were swimming off Hilo, Hawaii, just two days ago. There are field-ripened grape tomatoes (which means they were actually allowed to grow on the vine like a tomato should -- rather than being picked early, shot up with chemicals and left to ripen in the back of a semi), Rocky Ford melons (which are in midseason right now and wonderfully ripe and juicy) and organic Suncrest peaches. Marczyk's is also carrying locally grown Gala apples that should be in season and in the store by the time this issue hits the stands.
Not sure what you're looking for? Marczyk's runs its own little farmers' market in front of the store every Tuesday and Friday from 3 to 7 p.m.; it showcases some of the products as well as fresh-roasting Colorado-grown chiles. Marczyk's is also the only local retailer for Niman Ranch non-confinement pork and beef, some of the best meat you can buy anywhere. If you don't believe me, stop at the store after 5 p.m. on August 30, when they'll be grilling up burgers made from ground Niman Ranch beef.
Since Marczyk's specializes in offering the best products out there, I asked Pete Marcyzk whether he thought the tuna I'd had at 1515 (see review, above) had been ahi, and while he couldn't venture a guess, he did relate a tale that perfectly elucidates a related point. He calls it his "salmon story," and it goes something like this:
A couple of years ago, Pete was at a wine-tasting dinner with the master blender from Veuve Clicquot and several other big-time wine guys. They were sampling a burgundy, which (as often happens with wine connoisseurs) sparked a debate on microclimatology and whether the grapes grown at one elevation suffered in comparison to those grown fifteen meters higher upslope. These men, with their supremely educated palates, went on and on until interrupted by a waiter coming to take their order. Salmon was being offered as a pairing that night, and Pete -- after listening to these gentlemen argue about minute differentiations in temperature and soil composition -- had the nerve to ask the waiter where the salmon was from. Was it Atlantic salmon or Pacific? Farm-raised or caught in the wild? Where had it been shipped from and how?
All around the table, the wine guys scoffed: "Peter...it's salmon. It comes from the ocean. Just order it!" (If you ever get the chance, ask Pete to tell you this story himself -- he does a great fake-snooty French accent.) And that's when he explained that while they were discussing a difference in taste profiles from grapes grown fifty feet apart, he was talking about a difference of thousands of miles. An Atlantic salmon tastes very different from a Pacific salmon, and both are a world away from the flavor of a farm-raised fish. These differences are important -- at least as significant as a fifteen-meter rise in your vineyard -- and after the Veuve Clicquot crowd thought about this a minute, they agreed that Pete was right. The waiter was dispatched to the kitchen to ask the chef, and -- shamefully -- the chef had no idea. He knew his salmon was farm-raised but hadn't the slightest idea where or how the fish had gotten from the water to his coolers.
My point? A chef should know these things, and so should you, the diner. I'm not saying you need to be obsessive about it -- after all, that's what I'm here for -- but being able to recognize good food is more than just saying "I liked it" or "I didn't." It's about knowing why.
Wine education is prized among the haute-foodie culture, but for some reason, many foodies don't give much thought to where their salmon, steak or prosciutto comes from. Yet regional, seasonal and production differences can have a huge effect on the taste of everything on your plate, and while I don't think I'll ever be able to taste the subtle changes wrought on wine grapes by infinitesimal soil pH variations, I can certainly taste the variance between, say, fresh and frozen fish, and I can tell when a steak has been sitting in a 36-degree cooler for two days.
Would your average diner just gobble down 1515's niçoise salad without giving a second thought to the tuna? Maybe. Is it good enough that the menu just said it was ahi? Not for me. Quality matters in every item on your prep list and on every plate you send out. As chefs, we should have a respect for the products we use -- an understanding that it is our responsibility to offer the best of ourselves and our kitchens -- and as consumers, we should all know enough to be able to demand quality from the kitchens that serve us, or at least be able to recognize its absence.
More national props for a Colorado original: This weekend, the first Buffalo Wing Festival will be held in Buffalo, New York, and Wingman Restaurant (1450 West 104th Avenue in Northglenn, formerly known as Woody's Wings 'n' Things) will be there to uphold Colorado's honor. Why is this a big deal? Go to www.buffalowing.com and click the "restaurants" tab. I'll wait...
See what I mean? Wingman is the only restaurant within hundreds of miles to be invited to this prestigious gathering of deep-fry junkies. Mark Wolfe and crew will be racking up the most frequent-flyer miles of anyone summoned to the contest (hell, the next-closest joint is Buffalo Joe's in Houston, and we all know that Texas doesn't know jack about making a decent chicken wing), and they'll be bringing to Buffalo a custom-blended sauce they've been working on for years.
A word of advice, Mark: I spent a few years in Buffalo, and can tell you from experience that these people take their chicken wings very seriously. For someone in Buffalo to even consider that a restaurant in Colorado might be worthy of participating in such an event is mind-boggling, but if you can make 'em hot and make 'em sweet and make 'em without just dumping a gallon of Frank's Red Hot over a dozen-done-crispy, you've got a good shot at making a name for yourself in the town where the wing was born.
And yes, the chicken wing was invented in Buffalo -- at the Anchor Bar on Main Street, and don't let anyone tell you different, because I (and about a thousand other Anchor Bar loyalists) know someone who was there when it happened. Ever since that fateful night, the chicken wing has been an Upstate New York institution. There's almost no restaurant in Buffalo that doesn't serve them, there's no one in the city without an opinion on whose are best, and at least once a year, there'll be a police report about some street-corner "Whose are hottest?" wing debate gone terribly wrong.
So good luck, Wingman. All of us here at Bite Me World HQ wish you the best, and we'll be anxiously awaiting news on how things turned out when you come home.
Leftovers: Two big foodie events are coming right up. First, A Taste of Colorado takes over Civic Center Park on Labor Day weekend. Admission is free, and while there's more fun scheduled than I could possibly list here, all I really care about anyway is the food. Over fifty Colorado establishments will be putting down tent stakes and firing up the grills, offering gluttons everything from a Big Weiner (courtesy of The Big Weiner), to turkey legs (Trinity Grille), to fried 'gator (Bayou Bob's), to cheesecake on a stick, cotton candy, kettle corn and all those other festival faves guaranteed to turn your children into sugar-fueled little midway demons for the rest of the day.
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Looking for something a little classier? The "Fine Dining Area" (yeah, those cynical quote marks are mine -- I find it hard to believe we're talking French service and bone china plates here) will offer gourmands a chance to sink their teeth into the cuisine of Mark Fischer (Six89, in Carbondale), Sherry Yard (executive pastry chef for Wolfgang Puck's Fine Dining Group) and Richard Sandoval (of MAYA, in NYC, and Tamayo, right here in Denver). There'll be cooking demonstrations, an ice-cream eating contest (though I don't know if the chefs will be participating), and something called Ready, Set, Cook! that sounds like a Denver version of Iron Chef, only without that creepy Japanese guy strutting around in his floor-length cloak.
And don't forget to mark your calendars for the fifteenth annual Uptown Sampler coming on Tuesday, September 17. The double-decker buses will be back this year, hauling foodies to twenty uptown restaurants, including Aix, the Red Room, Randolph's, the Painted Bench, Las Margaritas Cantina and more; all will provide appetizers and samplings of their menus. A "dessert sampler" will be held after the event at the El Jebel Temple (1770 Sherman Street) with pastries and tasties supplied by West City Perk, Full Measure Bakery, Sweet Rockin' Coffee, the Cone Zone and the aforementioned Marczyk's.
While I've heard that this event has had turnout problems in recent years (especially last year, when it was scheduled for September 11), an infusion of new blood, new restaurants and newfound enthusiasm promises to make it a nice little party. Tickets (available at King Soopers locations or at www.uptownonthehill.org) are $20 in advance ($15 if you're only interested in dessert) and $25 the day of the event; a maximum of 600 tickets are being sold this year, so get 'em while they last.