Graze anatomy: I stopped by Cliff Young's on a recent Monday to sample its popular, free happy-hour fare only to find that the restaurant has eliminated any late-afternoon grazing offerings until the end of the summer. "It's just not cost-effective," says bar manager Shelley Sale. "With so many places that have outdoor patios, at this time of year we can't compete." Still hungry for something to snack on, I tried the escargot appetizer ($8.50), one of the holdouts from the old menu that made Cliff's new list for summer. A flaky pastry roof trapped all the wonderful garlicky steam inside with the snails, which had been drenched in Pernod. I'm convinced that if the little gastropods imbibed, Pernod would be their drink of choice--the anise suits them so well.
While I savored this delicious dish, I looked over the new menu. Although Cliff's gets a lot of business from out-of-towners, locals still consider it a special-occasion kind of place, Sale says, and the restaurant is trying to appeal more to the Denver crowd. If so, I have some advice: Lower the prices. Of the eleven entrees on the menu, only three cost less than $24.
Sad hour is more like it: My quest for gratis grub keeps turning up duds, including two recent disappointments--Marina Landing, at 8101 East Belleview, and the Mall Exchange, at 1585 Lawrence. On the evening I visited, Marina Landing offered canned nacho cheese with tortilla chips, two party trays of cubed cheese food and fresh veggies, some limp chicken wings and spicy kielbasa goop. Although a colleague had raved about the free Mexican spread the Mall Exchange often lays out, when I went I encountered watery, previously frozen crab legs that you had to chew the shells from, a strange warm rice mess, dried-out fish chunks and several uninspired salads. Hey, whaddaya want for free? At least the Mall Exchange has a classy atmosphere, and it's your best bet for finding an open outdoor table on a Friday afternoon--prime people-watching time on the Mall.
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'Tis the season: Cliff's isn't the place to offer a summer menu--I've been inundated with seasonal rosters. One place that's changed its menu for good, though, is the Wynkoop Brewing Company--on a recent visit I found the new gazpacho soup ($1.50/cup) a welcome addition to the lineup, with its chilled, chunky vegetables and vinegar bite. I wasn't happy with the updated Koop Krab cakes ($6.50), though. They're so thin that the center dries out from the grilling, and the red bell pepper mayo also contains plenty of red chile peppers, whose heat overwhelms the cakes.
Wine alerts: On June 7 Tante Louise will be pouring seven vintage 1955 wines at a six-course, $120 wine dinner. If you have the thirst--and the bucks--call 355-4488. Wines for Life, which bills itself as "the largest single-day wine, beer and food extravaganza," complete with cooking demonstrations, a wine auction and two dozen restaurant booths, comes to the Holiday Inn East on June 12. Proceeds from this thirteenth annual benefit go to the University of Colorado Cancer Center; for information call 371-3421.