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Bite Me

Long story short, I recovered. The tom kha soup at Yummy Yummy Tasty Thai (see review) did no lasting harm; in fact, within a few hours of that dreadful first taste, I'd returned to Pim Fitt's Thai restaurant for another round of fried bananas and another dose of homemade coconut ice cream. Even as takeout (with the ice cream double-packaged and on ice, courtesy of the kitchen), both were divine.

Two days later, I found myself wandering a much different stretch of Colfax Avenue -- in the neighborhood that's home to Mezcal, Atomic Cowboy and that crowd -- and stopped in for a big lunch at Tommy's Thai (3410 East Colfax). Tommy's is at the other end of the spectrum from Yummy Yummy, in terms of both crowds and culinary adventuring. And I enjoyed my meal there a lot less.

There are some things about Tommy's I really like. I like the plates, and the tin mess-kit cups that water comes in. I like the comforting pastels in the dining room, which is painted like a day ward at the booby hatch. The prices are great (nothing over ten bucks), the service quick and friendly, and Tommy's also does catering, which means that if a situation should ever arise when I urgently require, say, 200 vegetable gyoza dumplings, I know just where to go and how much cash to have on hand: $104, plus tax.

But the food was snore city.

Tommy's is a Thai restaurant for people who love the idea of eating out at hip, urban, ethnic eateries, but who are also afraid of accidentally rubbing elbows with any ethnic people not bussing up their plates. In the trade, we've got a name for people like that: We call 'em foodies. And Tommy's -- which also attracts plenty of perfectly normal, well-adjusted neighborhood people out for a harmless plate of pad thai and not looking to get into any nasty socioeconomic slap-fights with a cranky restaurant critic -- is an ideal place to keep them. It caters to a crowd that wants all of its "Oriental" cuisines to taste vaguely similar: a sweet-and-sour chicken not so different from Sriracha beef, and a curried fish Thai-style unrecognizable from a curried fish done Vietnamese. Let these foodies stay at Tommy's, eating their asbestos curries, their bland stir-fry and perfectly straight and sober kra pow "drunken noodles." Let them go where there is no threat, no excitement, no adventure -- where the tiny shu mai are all neat and orderly and exciting as golf balls, and the pad thai a mess of flavors so weak that the most overpowering taste is the chemical back-bite of Styrofoam from the takeout box.

Which, I have to confess, is far, far better than the taste of Yummy Yummy's vegetarian tom kha. But still, when I tried the chicken tom kha at Tommy's, I felt nothing. It was a creamy blank, a coconut goose egg with just a hint of zilch. Next week, I won't remember having eaten it. Next month, I won't remember having gone at all. And I don't go to restaurants for forgettable food.

Look, most days you just want to fill your belly, and I get that. You eat peanut butter and jelly. You eat ramen soup in a cup. You blow through the drive-thru or throw something in the microwave, and don't give eating too much thought. But once in a while, don't you want to be challenged? Don't you want to risk a little for the chance of a big reward? There's something to be said for the adventurous spirit that won't ever be content with one forgettable meal after another after another. Sure, I felt queasy after Yummy Yummy's tom kha, but you know what? I remember that place. I remember everything about it -- where I was sitting, what was on the TV, what was on the walls I stared at while silently praying not to throw up. Before running afoul of that soup, I'd had a half-dozen really great dishes there -- batter-dipped and deep-fried spinach leaves that I've never seen anywhere else, and green curry that tasted like it'd been made by hands that truly understood what green curry was all about. And to experience any one of those half-dozen dishes again for the first time, I would gladly build myself a time machine, fall backward a week and go through it all over, knowing full well what kind of hell was waiting for me at the end.

Was it worth a little temporary discomfort to find something truly extraordinary? Is the destination, with all its hardships, worth the voyage? You bet your boots, cowboy. Let the milksops have their clean and well-lit places. Me, I'll be around the corner, down the alley, across the street eating the roasted field mice, the thumb soup, the fried leaves and curry. And though the happy cowards may have to step over me as I lie puking in the gutter, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Chef update: It didn't take long for John Broening, late of the now-defunct Brasserie Rouge, to choose his new spot. Looks like he's joining up with Udi and Etai Bar-on of Udi's, the bakery, box-lunch and sandwich joint formerly known as Udi the Sandwich Man located -- for now -- at 6860 Broadway.

On the surface, the French chef and the sandwich man may sound like a weird combo, but the Bar-on family has some changes in the works, too. Last week Udi told me that for eighteen months, they'd been looking for just the right chef and just the right space for a real sit-down restaurant that would feature the bread that's already a staple at many of the best houses around town (including Table 6, where I'd been told by servers that the bread was from Denver Bread Company when it's really Udi's finest). The result of all the searching? Udi's Bread Bistro, now going into a space in the Stapleton development at Quebec Street and 29th Avenue, with an opening scheduled for this coming spring.

"We are so pleased," Udi says of Broening, his new corporate chef. "We really think he can take us to a whole new level. It will be a great collaboration."

And what will be they collaborating on? There will be sandwiches at lunch, of course, and a full board at dinner, with Broening overseeing all kitchen operations at the restaurant and, eventually, a second restaurant attached to Udi's new production bakery, which will be opening as soon as things have settled down at the first new Udi's.

"We're just going to try to make great cuisine," Udi explains. "Not French or Italian, but something original. Just original neighborhood cuisine."

Praise cheezus: The food world was abuzz last week with the news that half of a ten-year-old grilled-cheese sandwich had just sold on eBay for $28,000. Why the astronomical price? Because this particular grilled-cheese sandwich just happened to bear a likeness of the Virgin Mary.

The sandwich was originally the property of Diana Duyser, a native of south Florida, who made it for her lunch a decade ago and only noticed the Virgin's likeness after taking a nibble off the corner. She immediately enshrined the rest of the sandwich in a plastic box padded out with cotton balls and left it sitting on her nightstand where it lay in enshrined comfort, doing whatever it is that blessed cheese sandwiches are supposed to do.

Until she decided to sell it.

In interviews, Duyser has claimed that she really believed this cheese sandwich was the embodiment of the Virgin and that having it in her possession brought her many blessings -- including winning a total of $70,000 from the casino near her house. Duyser hasn't yet said what prompted her to put Jesus's mom up for auction last month, but perhaps it's fitting that the online casino GoldenPalace.com ponied up the big green to secure this tasty bit of heaven.

A spokesman for GoldenPalace says the online casino will use the relic to raise money for charity -- by selling Virgin Mary grilled-cheese "The Passion of the Toast" T-shirts and taking the sandwich, and perhaps Duyser, on tour around the world.

After reading all this, I just had to put in a call to Dirk and Wendy Bruley, owners of Chedd's at 1906 Pearl Street, Denver's gourmet grilled-cheese restaurant ("Cheese Whiz," November 20, 2003), to ask if they were thinking about putting any religious sandwiches on their menu.

"Well, maybe we should, you know?" Wendy responded. "I mean, if there's that kind of money in it."

I agreed wholeheartedly and wondered whether one of their sandwich presses could be gimmicked in such a way that they'd have a steady supply of say, Saint Augustine sandwiches (Italian farmhouse cheese and Greek olives on plain white bread), or perhaps a pepper-jack and Tabasco branded with the image of Saint Florian, the patron saint of firefighters. And who wouldn't want to find a vacuum-sealed cheese sandwich, grilled on one side only, with a representation of Saint Lawrence of Rome, the patron saint of restaurateurs, or Saint Vitus, patron saint of (among other things) snake bites, waiting for them under the Christmas tree?

I once received a piece of seared foie gras with black-currant sauce that bore a disturbing resemblance to Abe Vigoda -- Fish on Barney Miller -- in profile. I wonder how much that would've been worth?

Leftovers: 'Tis the season for chefs across the city to just put their heads down and cook. With the holiday season under way, restaurants are busy, and not much dramatic news (openings, closings, gory murder-suicides) is expected until owners get a look at their books come the second week in January and decide whether they can survive until spring.

To take advantage of office parties and other special bookings, the charming Kate's on 35th (3435 Albion Street) has cut back on its already short hours this month. Normally, Kate's does lunches on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, as well as a Sunday brunch and a Friday-night murder-mystery dinner. In December, though, lunch at Kate's is by reservation only, with Sunday brunches running through December 19.

Also on a first-name basis, Mona's (from the people who brought us Emma's on Sixth Avenue) has opened at 2364 15th Street. But Andrews' Pub at 1434 Blake Street is no more. That space is now home to a second location of Bender's Brat Haus (not to be confused with Bender's, the club that took over the old Onyx space on 13th Avenue a few months ago). The original Brat Haus still up and running -- after two decades -- at 15343 East Sixth Avenue in Aurora, and the LoDo branch promises more of the same sausage-celebrating food, in a saloon atmosphere.

Finally, there's a brand-spankin'-new Trapper's Chop House (not to be confused with Chopper's Sports Grill in Cherry Creek or the Denver ChopHouse and its sibling in Boulder) on the top floor of the also brand-spankin'-new Ramada property at E-470 and Parker Road in Parker. This eatery is the suburban love child of partners Mel Biondi, former Parker town councilman Mike May (whom we love because he was the man behind the cork-and-go wine law), and ex-Broncos freight train Terrell Davis, who -- through their work with Western Sky Hospitality Group -- have brought a combination neighborhood steakhouse/ piano bar to Parker's vastly underserved culinary landscape. The menu offers traditional steakhouse fare, along with some nouveau touches. Thanks again to May, there's also a well-composed wine list.

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Tommy's Thai

3410 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80206

303-377-4244

www.tommysthaidenver.com