After a little snooping, I found a few places besides Ocean City Restaurant (see review, page 69) where the adventurous chow hound can go for an authentic taste of China. Pavilion (3333 South Tamarac Drive) has a secret, second menu that features Chinese vegetables, squid, pork butt and all those other unusual cuts of meat that average Chinese restaurant owners believe the average American consumer simply isn't ready for. And you know what? They're probably right. Most people seem to like sweet-and-sour chicken that tastes like cardboard dipped in candy-apple coating, and if they didn't, it wouldn't be available on every menu at every Chinese place on every street corner in the country.
As soon as they walk in the door, Asian customers are generally handed Pavilion's "other" menu, but if you're not -- Asian, that is -- and you're looking for something a little more daring than the conventional lo mein and dumplings, make sure you ask for the second menu.
The popular Imperial Chinese Seafood Restaurant (431 South Broadway) doesn't have a second menu, allegedly, but if you're looking for both the food and the experience of dining Chinese-style, manager Tom Chiu says the Imperial can hook you up. With three or four days' notice, the restaurant will arrange a traditional Chinese feast for your group of ten or more, including crab and shark's-fin soup, whole Dungeness crab, fried duck with ginger and other specialties of the house.
Don't ask for the "other menu" at Little Ollie's (2364 East Third Avenue), another perennial fave, because Tai Ping "Charlie" Huang is already serving Chinese food as authentic (and easy on the oil) as he can make it. With his kitchen staffed by guys specializing in Mandarin, Hunan and Cantonese cuisine, there's no need for a special, secret menu because there's no effort being made to "Americanize" the food in the first place. The kitchen at Ollie's is also given a fairly long leash in terms of creating dishes and pleasing customers. "Ask for it, and they can make it," advises one staffer.
Little Ollie's got its start in Aspen, where Huang opened Asie about four months ago; he's now gearing up for Mao, which will debut in Cherry Creek around the beginning of the year. Asie is a hundred-seat spot featuring contemporary Chinese cookery (which is slightly different from the more traditional fare served at Ollie's) aimed at the après-ski crowd, and Mao will be Huang's entrance into the high-end French-Asian fusion market given a boost last month with Opal (100 East Ninth Avenue). John Ye, a partner of Huang's at Little Ollie's, recently opened his own place, Little Holly's (2223 West Wildcat Reserve Parkway in Highlands Ranch). The names are suspiciously similar, but the restaurants are not -- and Huang has no involvement in Little Holly's. He's too busy building his own kingdom.
The All-Kevin Taylor News Service: Speaking of people who are busy building empires, it's Kevin Taylor week here at Bite Me World Headquarters, with a lot of dish on one of Denver's busiest chefs. First, some changes in staff at his namesake, Restaurant Kevin Taylor (1106 14th Street in the Hotel Teatro), where Cynthia Meyers (formerly of Little Nell's in Aspen) will be coming on board as the new sommelier, and Imre Kausz (of the Denver Wine Connection, most recently, and himself a second-level master sommelier) will be taking over the post of general manager. Next, Dandelion (1011 Walnut Street in Boulder) is going through some reorganization as well: Curtiss Martinez (formerly of Bistro Jou Jou, also in Hotel Teatro) is stepping in as GM, and there's a new, chile-and-avocado-intensive menu featuring lots of fresh fish and Mexican influences. (Sound familiar? It's getting so you can't swing a dead cat in this town without hitting a "Latin-influenced, new-American bistro featuring fresh fish and the flavors of Old Mexico.") Dandelion is also instituting a late-night happy hour from 9:30 p.m. to midnight, Thursday through Saturday, and giving a try to the "Bottomless Wine Glass" prixe fixe promotion currently pumping new life into another Taylor restaurant, Nicois (815 17th Street). Finally, Nicois general manager Tom Voskuil is joining the Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group as a managing partner.
Leftovers: It pained a lot of people when the once-proud Punch Bowl (2052 Stout Street) decided to jump on the burrito bandwagon and change its name to the Punch Bowl Baja Bistro. For decades before that switch, the Punch Bowl was a place where you could go for a burger, a glass of whiskey and some good company -- not where you went looking for a shrimp taco. And now the Punch Bowl est morte. (Restaurateurs, take note: Someday, this fad of classy Mex-American will go the way of pet rocks and thalidomide. Then where you gonna be?)
The bar's been bought by Chris Horner of The Grand (538 East 17th Avenue) and Stas Szafranski, who are closing it down for a month or so, then reopening it as the Stout Pub. "Over the years, the place kind of lost its luster, you know?" says Horner. "So we're just doing some cleaning. Lots of cleaning." They're also restoring some of the wood and adding lights to a place that was always dark and dingy -- but leaving the painted murals on the seat backs of the booths alone.
As for the pub's menu, "Well, this ain't gonna be no bistro, that's for sure," Horner says. "Lots of juicy burgers in baskets and beers on tap. That's what it's going to be." And, with any luck, not a jalapeño popper in sight...
Baldoria Deli Cafe opened in mid-September at 10101 East Hampden Avenue. It had started as a private chef service, then expanded into catering small events and cocktail parties, so this is the first time the rest of us -- those who neither have our own chef nor get invited to many cocktail parties -- can get a taste of Baldoria's cooking. The daily menu will include pasta specials, grilled panini, gourmet wraps, a corporate lunch program and (here's the part that's big news for me) homemade dessert cannoli. I'll report back on how many I was able to eat before making myself sick.
A new cafe called Aquarela will be moving into the space just vacated by Thai of Cherry Creek (3000 East Third Avenue), bringing chef Jenival Santos to Denver all the way from the Maksoud Plaza Hotel in Brazil. Santos has worked with such notables as Jean-Louis Paladin and specializes in French and Brazilian fusion haute cuisine. While I think you all know by now how I feel about anyone using the word "fusion" these days, at least this sounds like an interesting combination. The former Benvenuto's Italian Grill (4243 South Buckley Road in Aurora) will reopen its doors early this month as Cardella's Italian Steakhouse. The space is being refurbished even as I type, and other changes include the addition of Chaz Robinson (formerly of Marlowe's and Maggiano's) in the kitchen.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.