Over the holidays, I received this charming missive from Julie: "I read your December 5 'Smoke Free or Die' with interest, and I agree that legislating a smoke-free policy is terrible for Denver businesses as well as the unfortunate patrons who just want a place to eat, drink and have a good time.... But that's not my beef with you, so to speak. What I'm writing about is all this vegetarian-bashing you do out of the blue, relative to nothing. Yes, I'm one of those. I could tell you how I've never once advised anyone on their diet, let alone been a fanatical busybody. (Why should I possibly care what you put in your mouth? Your body, your consequence.) I could describe the endless shit I've taken for my food preference from meat eaters; the road tripping through entire states that don't sell anything that isn't carcass-laden; the sudden hyper-sensitivity to my need for protein by the entire world and the inquisition as to how I get my protein by same; the incredibly annoying and astonishingly common assumption that my food preference is a judgment of anyone else's food preference, politics, lifestyle, you name it; and, of course, the random name-calling, labeling and ignorant assumptions that people such as yourself display.
"I'll just give you an observation: You seem to have become what you say you hate -- judgmental, humorless and rigid, someone who is suspicious and contemptuous of anyone who's different from you. Someone who believes that you, and no one but you, has the secret to living right. Hey, maybe Smoke-Free Denver has an opening -- they could use a guy like you."
Ouch. For the record, Julie, I don't think I give vegetarians quite the stomping you accuse me of. True, I poke fun at the superior, militant variety who insist they're better than me because of their dedication to this Apollonian ideal of never eating anything with a face, but on the whole, I have no problem with folks like you, for whom veggie-ism is just a choice. As a matter of fact, I respect you for that choice, because, believe it or not, I was one for about two years. Granted, this was back when I was a much younger man, convinced -- in the full-flowering, Pavlovian naiveté of youth -- that such gross public displays of political and social awareness would improve my chances of meeting political, socially aware girls and getting laid...but there it is. I was a vegetarian.
Thankfully, it didn't take. My parents fared better in making the switch, going from a die-hard, suburban, meat-and-potatoes diet to a mostly vegetarian one for health reasons (my father is fighting MS), and they've been at it now for probably five years.
In truth, I have a much bigger problem with people who sanction the wholesale slaughter (and regulations-be-damned rush to massive, bloody murder) of animals by demanding ground beef at 99 cents a pound without ever making the connection between cheap meat and the cow that died to feed them. I loathe the fast-food-nation mentality in which confinement ranching and machine butchery are seen as the only reasonable solution to the problem of satiating the bottomless, gaping maw of consumer need. And while I still believe that we eat cows because cows taste good and that the only reason for a goose to exist is to be a little foie gras factory, I think wasting any part of an animal should be a capital crime.
Any critter we eat gave its life so that we could be fed. The best cooks understand this, and they strive to make meals worthy of the sacrifice. They realize that phoning in a weekly meat order is a lot like calling in a hit to the stockyards. Sure, they say they want eighty pounds of ground beef, twenty pounds of tripe, a whole tenderloin and two top rounds, but what they really mean is "Vinny, go whack me a cow." Good cooks take that responsibility seriously; bad ones end up working at a Carl's Jr. in hell.
And all this, I suppose, is why it's good to be on top of the food chain. Let's face it: If sharks had legs, they'd be running us down in the street and eating us with very little concern for ethics.
(I also sent a personal e-mail to Julie and received this in return: "I just got back to town and was surprised to see you replied, and even more so to read your thoughtful response. I'm sorry I got so belligerent. The day before I read your article, I was 'outed' at work as a vegetarian in this really ridiculous scene that ended with my boss conceding that it's okay -- he's got gay friends, too, and as long as they don't talk about it, he's okay with it. His intention was to sound accepting, but geez." No kidding. Her boss has to be my favorite sitcom-perfect idiot of the year.)
Letter writer Gary also had meaty concerns: "What has happened to this restaurant world in one week? The new Pour House Pub was the first to inform me that they don't do rare burgers. Then I read on the menu at Champps that the least they will cook a burger is medium to medium-well. I can't have a medium burger? Has this been going on for a while?"
Unfortunately, yes. As I note in my review of the Stout Pub (see page 63), I got the same song and dance there, too. In this age of E.coli scares and Listeria nightmares, many restaurants have apparently adopted a secret policy that calls for replacing their burger patties with used hockey pucks. They may not taste quite as good, but dammit, no one ever got food poisoning from a hockey puck.
While there's a part of me (the growling, carnivorous, rare-burger-eating part) that's mad as hell about this, there's another -- the grudging realist -- that understands these places are just trying to protect themselves. We live in a polemic society, Gary, full of people like Caesar Barber, who is suing four of the major fast-food chains for making him fat against his will, and that grandma who made a mint from spilling hot drive-through coffee on herself. Fat, ignorant, litigious and rich: It's the fucking American Dream.
My advice? Buy a nice charcoal grill for the back yard. Failing that, try to ignore the Avs logo under the pickles when you're eating out.
Dispatch from the front lines: Last week, Puebloans for Common Sense in Government -- a group desperately in need of a catchier name -- delivered over 10,000 signatures to the city clerk's office in an attempt to overturn an ordinance passed by Pueblo City Council on December 9 that bans smoking in all public places. That's roughly three times the number of names needed to suspend the measure -- and force the council to decide whether to put the proposal to a public vote or simply toss the ordinance altogether.
Pueblo's city clerk has ten days to verify the signatures, but already the anti-smoking contingent is screaming about Big Tobacco conspiracies and inflated numbers. GASP (Group to Alleviate Smoking Pollution) of Colorado is absolutely convinced that there are secret agents from shadowy branches of the tobacco industry swarming all over Pueblo, swindling and bamboozling the locals into signing their names to petitions. And you know what? They're probably right. Folks on the other side think GASP members are a bunch of nosy, whining Nazis who fall somewhere on the fun spectrum between spore molds and that kid who always wanted to be hall monitor in grade school. And they're probably right, too.
At least in war, there's the Geneva Convention, which lays down certain guidelines to make sure that everyone involved shoots and blows each other up in a dignified, gentlemanly fashion. But this is a grudge match, and no such rules apply.
Fed alert: Older restaurants are boo-hooing all over the place that times are tough -- but Indigo, the six-week-old restaurant that took over the space at 250 Josephine Street that had been Papillon Cafe until suddenly last summer, is doing more covers than owner Larry Herz ever anticipated. He credits Indigo's early success to the innovative dishes pumped out night after night by chef Ian Kleinman and sous chef Ben Alandt. "They're just going crazy back there," Herz says. "They're having a blast."
Alessandro Carollo, chef/owner of Venice (5121 South Yosemite in Greenwood Village), a tiny Italian joint that opened last spring ("Now, That's Italian," July 18), is already planning to expand, and with good reason: People want his food. More people than he can fit in the tiny strip-mall space where rumor has it he's doing six figures a month in a room where most operators would be lucky to pull down half that. So now he's eyeing a second location -- the building at 5946 South Holly Street that was previously home to Swiss Haven and, before that, Uncle Sam's (another Larry Herz venture). Carollo's new place -- also to be called Venice, or possibly Venice II -- will feature the same rustic-Italian menu, "plus maybe 20 percent," he tells me, "with a few more grilled items." The new restaurant will also have a full bar, a lounge with a fireplace and seating for thirty, and a larger dining room, and it should be able to handle private parties of up to 150 diners.
"My plan is to open for three months, to be in the new kitchen for three months, then to alternate," Carollo explains. He'll do one day in the original location, the next in the new place, splitting the duties with Christian Dellefave, who made his bones in kitchens in and around Rome. Carollo's wife, Sara, who expertly handles the front of the house for Venice, will be doing the same juggling act with new general manager Angelo Castelli, most recently of Il Fornaio's Las Vegas location in the New York, New York casino.
Meanwhile, Radek Cerny, who closed Papillon this summer and also bailed out of Radex (Opal seems to be doing just fine in Radex's former home, at 100 East Ninth Avenue), has spent the past few months regrouping. He's no longer hands-on in the kitchen of his one remaining restaurant, Le Chantecler (210 Franklin Street in Niwot), and things there have settled down considerably, with chef de cuisine Dale Lamb working with a new crew and a new sous chef -- Jeff Cruse, just in from Atlanta.
Now Cerny plans to open a new place in Boulder: L'Atelier (the Workshop). While some reports describe the restaurant as a solo operation, with Radek alone in the kitchen (à la Clair de Lune's Sean Kelly, who just got some major press in a New York Times story about one-man kitchens), I've also heard from fairly reliable sources that Cerny's been going around to other joints in town, trying to poach some of his former staffers from their current positions.
Leftovers: The USPCA -- the United States Personal Chef Association -- now has a Rocky Mountain chapter with more than twenty members, all independent business owners who work in a variety of styles. Certified and insured by the USPCA, any one of them will come to your kitchen with all of the necessary tools and ingredients, whip you up some good grub, then slide it in the freezer, ready to be heated and eaten. For more information, call 1-888-854-4851.
The Colorado Restaurant Association held its usual shmooze- and booze-fest on the first day of the new legislative session, giving lawmakers a chance to graze through some prime snacks while Colorado State Senate President John Andrews got to retell that tired old joke about what his wife makes for dinner: reservations.
Also recalling that the CRA honored him with an "Iron Skillet" his first year in the Senate (an award since discontinued by the CRA, after picking winners became too contentious), Andrews promised that the session would be as "restaurant-friendly as possible."
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