Spies like us: The New York Times travel section gave Denver the full-page treatment on July 20. But in case you missed it, here's a twenty-word recap: Denver is no longer a cowtown; man, they make a lot of beer here; and don't call the new mayor "Hick." (Why not?)
Author Dyan Zaslowsky, who lives in Denver, also had some kind words for a few local restaurants: namely, Sushi Den (1487 South Pearl Street), Indigo (250 Josephine Street), Adega (1700 Wynkoop Street), the Market (1445 Larimer Street) and Rialto Cafe (934 16th Street).
But the ink was hardly dry on that piece when I got word that Times restaurant critic Eric Asimov had been dropped into the heart of our fair metropolis for a whirlwind tour of this town's best restaurants. Like a teenage girl stalking her favorite Backstreet Boy, I made a few frantic phone calls to find out where he was staying, got a phone number and asked him if he wanted to go grab a beer.
Surprisingly, he did. And thus did the award-winning Times critic sit down with the award-winning critic of this here fish wrap, and we spoke about foodie things for about a half hour before we each had to go and eat Italian food somewhere else. Now, I'm not about to blow the surprise and tell you which places he hit while he was in town, nor will I reveal the location where we met. But I will say this: Asimov was just as surprised as I was to discover the depth and breadth of Denver's culinary scene. He appreciated the creative use of local ingredients and insisted that the Southeast Asian food available in the Rocky Mountain West wasn't just good for here, but great in comparison to anywhere he's been. Denver impressed him the same way it impressed me when I first hit town a year ago, and though he was hopping a flight back to the big city the next morning, he said he honestly wished he could have spent more time here.
So, yes, all you restaurant folks can breathe a bit easier. He's gone, back in New York writing the column that will run sometime soon in the travel section. Of course, I'm still here -- so don't get too comfortable....
Mail bag: The letter from Mark Zahn published in last week's paper that accused me (and fellow Westword scribe Stuart Steers) of being part of the "media titans" conspiracy was a classic. But it was quickly topped by a paranoid screed from one "John Abelard," allegedly responding to my review of Intrigue ("Weird Science," July 17). That's the restaurant Jeff Cleary opened last December at 275 South Logan Street, after closing his much-loved Cafe Bohemia and doing a brief stint at the Pinnacle Club (555 17th Street).
"I am a former employee of the Pinnacle Club," Abelard wrote, "and I know for a fact Jason Sheehan has been hanging out there and is a good friend of Dexter Nash, the general manager who despises Jeff Cleary and has been heard to say in front of employees that he's going to 'fix Jeff good.' I also know for a fact he told Jason that he'd give Jason 'free drinks forever' at the club if Jason would 'trash Jeff's new restaurant,' and that's exactly what he did. That review compromises the integrity of your whole review system and reflects on your entire publication. Who's going to read your reviews, or take your newspaper seriously, if they knew your reviewer is trashing restaurants not on the basis of the restaurant's merits, but simply because he is carrying out a personal vendetta for a friend and is standing to profit from it in the process?"
The truth is, I've never met Dexter Nash -- who had a good laugh when I called him to discuss our alleged friendship. "Look," he said, "I've got too much to do to focus on someone else's business. The sad thing about it is that, politically, that would be so stupid of me to do. I'd rather just earn an honest living and leave the rest of the world alone."
And not only have I never met Nash, I've never been to the Pinnacle Club! While I hear it's nice, if you knew me (and with all the writing I do about myself, you all should know me by now), you'd understand that it's simply not the kind of place where I'd "hang out."
And finally, free drinks for life? Frankly, I'm insulted that anyone would think that I'd whore myself to anyone so cheaply. I'm a fucking restaurant critic, you dolt. Westword's already buying my drinks.
As I said when I made my debut in these pages exactly a year ago, the only reason I'd give a restaurant a bad review would be for serving bad food. And if anything about the place is good -- if it's at least trying -- I'll always mention that, because in the course of my career I have ventured into very few places that were bad, nasty and evil from top to bottom. Good reviews go to the good guys. Bad reviews go to the bad guys. Simple as that. I am not for sale; I don't take bribes; I don't get treated like a king when I go out, because if I'm doing my job right no one knows it's me when I sit down to dine. I'm just a guy with a good nose, an educated palate and a rapidly expanding waistline whose opinions are his livelihood. I'm not part of any plot, cabal or secret society (unless you count my lifetime membership in the Robert Goulet fan club), and -- as yet -- I haven't been asked to join the International Zionist Media Conspiracy, as Zahn suggests -- but I'm still waiting, because I hear they have great dental benefits.
You say it's your birthday: On July 23, Rialto Cafe celebrated five years with a charity bash to benefit Children's Hospital. Executive chef Tim Opiel and crew served shrimp-and-scallop piccata, crab cakes, carved prime rib and peppered ahi sashimi to a crowd of about 500.
Chipotle, the little burrito joint that could, celebrated its tenth birthday on July 13. What Steve Ells started back in 1993 as a single, twenty-seat restaurant at 1644 East Evans Avenue has since ballooned into a massive burrito empire with 260 stores nationwide and McDonald's as a partner. But joining forces with Ronald hasn't hurt Chipotle's product. Chipotle uses high-quality, top-shelf ingredients like Niman Ranch pork for its gigantic burritos and Hass avocados for its guacamole, and it still gives excellent, personalized service at the counter. Next up: adding organically grown beans to the menu.
Solera (5410 East Colfax Avenue) recently marked an important birthday. Partner and primo wine guy Brian Klinginsmith is now the proud father of Alexa Klinginsmith, born July 18. In celebration, Solera offered a free Wednesday Wine Tasting last week with a time-travel twist: While the featured bottles were all California pinots, on the bar was a selection of the best Mad Dog 20/20 two bucks could buy. In explaining the surprise addition of everyone's favorite bum's juice, chef/partner Goose Sorenson shared stories of his younger days, when he and his friends would pack plastic cups full of snow and then add a liberal drizzle of MD for Mad Dog slushes. I told him about the abandoned Wild Irish Rose trailer that sat in a vacant lot not too far from where I grew up, and how my friends and I would sit behind it -- effectively hidden from prying eyes -- and share bottles of Wild I until none of us could see straight and we all smelled like a bowl of rotten grapes and rubbing alcohol. Ah, memories....
And thanks for the memories to George E. Pappas, who passed away this month. He'll go down in history as the true inventor of the big-ass burrito, the overstuffed, trademarked tacorito he introduced in 1960 at the original Holly Inn at the corner of Evans and Holly (less than three miles from where Ells would open his first Chipotle some three decades later).
Births, anniversaries and deaths -- that's the cycle of life, Bite Me-style.
Leftovers: The local dining scene is getting a French twist with Brasserie Ten Ten recently throwing wide its doors (1011 Walnut Street in Boulder) and Brasserie Rouge opening any minute in the former home of Anita's Crab Shack and Cucina Cucina (The Icehouse, 1801 Wynkoop Street). Both are French, both are neighborhood-y, and both join a lineup of new joints that include Eric Roeder's almost-four-month-old Bistro Vendome (1424 Larimer Street) and L'Atelier (1739 Pearl Street in Boulder), the latest effort by Radek Cerny.
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Leigh Jones and Robert Thompson -- who own Rouge, along with B-52 Billiards at 1920 Market Street -- have another plan in the works, too: Atomic Cowboy, a '50s bar-slash-diner concept that will debut at the corner of East Colfax and Adams Street some time after Rouge is up and running.
Broussard's Creole Cafe has taken over the spot once occupied by Maharajah (233 East Colfax), but the family-run Creole restaurant isn't yet open . . .officially. "We had people just coming by and knocking on the doors asking when we were going to be open," says owner Joel Broussard. Wisely, he decided they'd be open whenever people showed up, so Broussard and crew have been serving lunch to a steady stream of walk-in customers for three weeks now, while he gets the staff and space ready for full dinner service. Having a Creole place like this was his father's dream for thirty years, Broussard explains, so he didn't want to rush anything. "Everyone is asking for the real thing," he says. "For dinner, for the live entertainment. But I don't want to do anything until I know the execution is perfect." He's hoping to achieve perfection by July 31 but is making no promises yet.
The space under construction at 1043 Broadway will be opening soon as Luciano's Pizza and Wings. Up in Northglenn, Ristorante Giampietro (11370 Huron) -- the Venetian-style Italian joint that showcases the straight-from-the-old-country skills of chef Giampietro Di Marchi -- is offering bounties to regular customers who refer new customers to the establishment. Here's the deal: You fill out a form, send over a couple of friends and -- Bam! -- gift certificate for you. It's an offer you can't refuse.
Finally, we here at Bite Me HQ have yet to receive anything as impressive as a tacorito recipe, but even so, the first annual Bite Me "I Wanna be a Pantry Cook" recipe contest is coming along nicely. My crack staff of culinary commandos is hard at work sorting through the entries, making sure no one lifted inspiration straight from one of Jacques Pepin's cookbooks, as I used to, and filing them all under "good," "bad" or "Applebee's new appetizer menu." Details of the contest were published in the July 3 issue (and are still available on line); we'll accept recipes for another week or so before we get serious about picking winners.