I don't know what it is. Maybe the warm weather. Maybe the economy. Maybe the fact that it's pretty easy to impersonate a guy who works anonymously. But in the past few weeks, there's been yet another rash of Jason Sheehan imposters acting naughty in my name.
First came reports of a phony critic hunkering down at the Village Inn out in Ken- Caryl Ranch, not claiming to be me in particular (since she was of the female persuasion, that would have been tough -- though I am rather pretty), but insisting that she worked for me and had been sent forth to eat French dip sandwiches for a review in this section.
There are many problems with her story, not the least of which is that I don't send anyone out to do any eating for me -- because then what the hell would I do all day? And even if I did send out minions, I would never send them in search of French dip sandwiches, because I couldn't care less about French dip sandwiches, and if ever a circumstance should arise where I was desperately in need of one, it just so happens that I already have someone here at Bite Me World HQ whose expertise on the matter I trust implicitly. (For the record, my source tells me the best are to be had at the Cherry Creek Grill.) Further, even if I were to someday find it imperative to have a mouth in the field tasting French dip sandwiches, this person would not be visiting a Village Inn, would not reveal her mission to the restaurant's staff, and would certainly not drop my name. And above all, what this person really, really wouldn't do would be to leave a review, written on a napkin, with the hostess.
But this one did.
After I chatted on the phone with Terry Beals, the manager of this particular Village Inn, and convinced him that he'd been duped, he was kind enough to pass along the imaginary critic's French dip magnum opus. Bon appétit.
"Wait staff excellent, observant and poliet [sic]. Knew when to ask if I needed something. Offered assistance on dessert when asked. [Followed in the original text by a smiley face -- an underutilized critical device if ever there was one, which I will now be adopting in place of the semicolon.] Meal very good. Meat tender and tasty. French fries good and hot and crisp. Sauce succlent [sic] and savory, wonderfully taste. Dipped fries in it to get all. Even drank some of it. Wonderfull!!! Hostess very poor. Poor attitude. No smile on greeting. Left counter patrone [sic] waiting almost ten minutes before returning. Not at counter very often. Never smiling. I would not have this person in my restaurant or want to be greeted by this person entering to eat. My waiter was very good with everyone I saw as was the rest of the staff."
Forget the triple exclamation points. The alliteration alone makes this a masterpiece: "tender and tasty," "sauce succlent and savory." And the mental image of a girl sneaking sips of au jus from the bowl when no one's looking -- just like my grandma sneaking nips from her flask during church -- really brings the whole thing together. You'll be glad to know that this anonymous author will be taking over the post of chief critic at the New York Times next year, as soon as Frank Bruni tires of it, and she plans to replace the venerable Times star system with smiley faces. Her first piece already has a title: "Succlent and savory sandwichers!!!"
I can't wait.
Then a couple of weeks ago, Diana Katopodis -- co-owner of Diana's Greek Market & Deli, at 1035 Lincoln Street -- got a call from yet another irate asshole, this one actually claiming to be me and demanding to speak "with the gray-haired man behind the counter." The man in question was Diana's husband, who wasn't there at the time, which she told the fake me. She then politely (or "polietly," as the case may be) asked for the caller's phone number -- which he refused to give -- and asked if there was anything she could do to help him.
He said no, Katopodis remembers, "but he did go on and say he was writing a column about the restaurant this week and that it wasn't going to be good."
That's the irritating thing: These impostors always threaten to write columns, but with the exception of the French dip girl, they never do. If they ever actually came through, maybe I could get a vacation one of these weeks.
Rioja was recently visited by an alleged sibling, and fake critics have hornswoggled pizza joints in my name, demanded free sandwiches for their imaginary wives, even pretended to be my wife when the imposter is genitally challenged and can't pull off being me in person. Phonies have been spotted doing everything from weaseling free drinks out of bartenders to trying to get comp lunches from the former Pinnacle Club, all the while loudly declaring my name.
But these guys are never me, okay? Because while I will always identify myself -- and give a number -- if I'm contacting a restaurateur over the phone, I will never identify myself when I'm visiting a dining establishment on duty. So for all you waiters, bartenders, chefs and owners out there, here's what I suggest: The next time you have some gap-toothed, drunken dipshit in your dining room claiming to be me and demanding anything on the house? Punch him in the head. Don't explain yourself. Don't say anything. Just deck the sumbitch, and consider yourself a champion of truth in journalism.
Leftovers: Speaking of the Pinnacle Club -- the site of one of the best recurring sightings of a fake me (Bite Me, July 31, 2003) -- the place high atop the Qwest Tower at 555 17th Street is up and running again. And now it's open to the public.
"Actually, it's funny you called," said Douglas Kennis, the club's new manager, when I reached him last Thursday. "We're starting our new tapas menu and cocktails tonight."
The old Pinnacle Club was among the last of Denver's members-only, private dining clubs -- a steel-and-glass bastion raised 38 stories off the ground, a lofty perch from which this town's captains of industry could gaze down upon all the little people and eat their Cobb salads in the sort of moneyed tranquility that only the truly rich truly know.
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The club succumbed to a flood of creditors this past January, and in March, the nearby Grand Hyatt Denver took the place over, lock, stock and barrel, getting everything from the space itself to the name to the kitchen to the views, and then -- in an admirably populist move -- dumped all the secret-handshake membership nonsense and opened the joint up to the rest of us rabble.
The kitchen has been doing weekday lunch for about two months now, and last week kicked off dinner service with a board of fare that's alternately been described as a "tapas menu," a "small plates menu" and a "tasting menu," depending on who you talk to. But whatever they're calling it, I get the feeling it's a very early draft, and I'll be curious to see how the cuisine shapes up over the coming months. In the meantime, things are definitely looking up.
Sadly, Famous Philly Cheesesteak is down for the count, The space at 890 South Monaco Parkway is dark, and I am in mourning. Famous's cooks were fast, the kitchen was generous, and while it may not have been the best cheesesteak in town, it was damn good. I'm going to miss the place.