While the rest of the country stupidly worries about Arabs guarding our ports, I've uncovered the surreptitious Hawaiian invasion of the American West.
While Hawaiians are a large people not known for their stealth, they are actually quite cunning and capable of a subtlety rivaled only by the Belgians -- those beer-making, French-fry-inventing tricksters of the Old World. You see, for a long time now, the Hawaiian people have been harboring a serious grudge against those of us in the Continental 48. It harks back to the forced abdication of Queen Liliuokalani in the 1890s and the annexation of Hawaii by the United States, owing to a critical shortfall in the strategic American poi reserve. According to popular legend, Hawaii didn't become a state until 1959 because President Grover Cleveland lost the application paperwork during a poker game with Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison. Truth is, Hawaii was misplaced until about December 1941, when the Japanese stumbled upon it on their way to bomb San Bernardino.
For many years, the Hawaiians have been content with quarantining the occasional cruise ship and overcharging tourists for Doritos as a way of exacting their subtle revenge. Historically, their sole attempts at infiltration took the form of tiki bars, Don Ho and that dashboard stick-on hula girl -- a symbol of American citizens assimilated into the Hawaiian gestalt, implanted, as it were, with dreams of one day throwing off the shackles of American consumerism and fleeing to the Big Island, where they would wear nothing but grass and coconut shells and spend their retirement savings on psychoactive rum drinks and overpriced Doritos.
But with the advent of retro-pop culture and tiki bars that seemed to cater to nothing but disaffected, scooter-riding twenty-somethings who barely had the money for drinks and could never have afforded the airfare to Hawaii, a new plan was required.
Today the descendants of Liliuokalani have their eyes on outright conquest. And this time, they're using the ultimate weapon: food. Lots of food. Lots of food for so little money that even that kid with the multiple facial piercings and hipster haircut who works at the copy shop down the street can afford it. In the past year or so, Aurora seems to have become a sort of ground zero for the Hawaiian scheme to penetrate the American consciousness -- and we here at Bite Me World Headquarters have been keeping a careful eye on developments.
The subtle invasion began with the opening of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue deep in the heart of one of Aurora's commercial meccas, the Aurora City Place strip mall. Here, surrounded by Jamba Juices and Fat Burgers, big-box retailers and little stores where you can buy a scrapbooking grandmother if you don't already have one of your own, L&L staked out its territory by offering ginormous plates of fried chicken and barbecue for prices so low that I originally thought it was a front for a mob-run, back-room sumo-wrestling enterprise. But I was wrong. L&L -- which is actually a franchise operation out of Honolulu that began expanding into the mainland markets in the 1980s -- does some fantastic grub at unbelievably cheap prices, all as a way of spreading its transformative aloha vibes far and wide. According to the company website, L&L averages a new opening somewhere in the world once a week, and BMWHQ's projections have L&L reaching its goal of absolute Hawaiian domination of the western states sometime around next week.
Then, on January 2, the Palm Tree Grill opened at 12203 East Iliff Avenue. Owner Taka Asami -- a former surfer and sushi roller at Sushi Boy in Los Angeles who learned to cook at his father's ski lodge in Japan -- got most of his recipes from an uncle who now lives in Hawaii, and decided to bring them to Aurora because of its high percentage of Asian residents. The Palm Tree features a menu similar to L&L's and serves it up in a dining room decorated with surf boards, sunsets and beach scenes.
I stopped in last week looking to quell a barbecue hankering and found the grub generously presented and well put together. The sliced rib was a little tough (okay, a lot tough), but the shredded beef was excellent. The chicken katsu was great if you like dark meat, decent if you're not a fan. But the musubi was fabulous -- a fat slab of Spam lashed onto a ball of sushi rice by a fat ribbon of nori. For dessert, there was Lappert's Ice Cream, a super-premium brand shipped in from Hawaii, with nearly every flavor involving some form of coconut, Kona coffee and/or macadamia nuts in such concentration that you are powerless to resist. After a sample cup, I couldn't blink for two hours.
That's it for now. But we here at BMWHQ will be ever-vigilant, waiting for the day the descendants of the mighty Polynesian kings come looking for a little payback. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but it will be soon. In the meantime, aloha and goodnight.
Leftovers: Meanwhile, far away in New York City, Nine75 chef Troy Guard (a former associate of that dread Hawaiian mastermind Roy Yamaguchi) did not burn down the brand-new kitchen recently installed at the James Beard House. On February 22, Guard cooked a dinner there that was well attended by the Manhattan foodie elite -- so very well attended, in fact, that on the 21st, the waiting list for last-minute cancellations was forty deep and many members of the traveling food press were turned away, forced to slum it at Per Se, Babo and Morimoto.
But CNN, Travel & Leisure, the Wall Street Journal, Nation's Restaurant News, the Associated Press and Epicurious all made it through the door, along with a hundred-odd pros and civilians who were well fed and entertained by Guard (with Blake Edmunds from Nine75 standing sous). Leigh Sullivan -- chief spin-mistress for the Sullivan Restaurant Group, which owns Nine75, Emogene and the building that used to be Mao but is now scheduled to reopen as Ocean sometime in April -- had promised to steal me one of the Beard House's new Vera Wang sconces so I could mount it like a trophy above my desk, but she has yet to come through.
The Beard dinner itself -- while very cool and certainly a mark of honor for Guard -- isn't big news, since so many of Denver's best and brightest have cooked there recently. But a real scoop was buried in one of the names on the guest list: Geoff Smith of Dining Out magazine and one of the partners -- along with Josh Dinar, Jeff Sufkin and Geoff McFarlane -- who just effected the takeover of the disastrous Luna Hotel at 1612 Wazee Street and are in the process of turning Flow Lounge into Jet. Come to find out, Smith (if that is his real name...) made the trip because the boys are in the market for a proven comer to work with them on their new project. They're after someone who can write menus, get a kitchen up and running, wrangle a crew and take on a space that has already swallowed at least three different restaurants. So, is Guard their guy?
"No checks have been exchanged, there are no signatures, only talking," says Sullivan (who should know, seeing as she's married to Guard). But how much talking?
"Some talking," she replies.
I have it from a good source that one of the Jet partners working the bar floor two weekends ago was doing a whole lot of talking, saying the deal was already as good as done...
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.