Q: Does anyone in town do a good cioppino?
A: The California origins of this Italian-inspired fish stew are murkier than the San Francisco Bay. The late Craig Claiborne of the New York Times suggested the name came from an Italian colloquialism that means "chopped fine"; another explanation involves an early practice along Fishermans Wharf, where locals would beg for scraps. Instead of yelling "chip in, chip in," when they spotted the craft fishermen, most of whom were Italian, theyd switch to "chip-in-o," and the fishermen would toss their little throwaway fish into the beggars pots. Its highly unlikely, but still a fun story.
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Wherever the fish dish got started, a trio of excellent versions landed in Denver. Caninos Trattoria (2390 South Downing Street, 303-778-1994) brews a cioppino thats salty at first taste but becomes more and more addictive with each bite of shrimp, scallops and mussels, all swimming in a basil-primed broth that includes the flavor of fresh baby clams. At Santinos (1939 Blake Street, 303-298-1939), the focus is more on the seafood, which includes sea bass, calamari and clam strips, and the broth is spicier, red pepper-rich and brandy-spiked. And at Jax Fish House (1539 17th Street, 303-292-5767; and 928 Pearl Street in Boulder, 303-444-1811), the addition of crab legs adds a sweet element to the concentrated base, which includes cooked-down tomatoes and red wine.