Life's a bowl of cherries: A couple of things occurred to me while I was judging food at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival over the Fourth of July weekend: The event is as professionally run and well organized as any I've experienced, and there's a lot of overpriced crap out there, artwise. Thank heavens the food didn't follow suit.
The restaurant staffers exhibited in-credible dedication--it was 95 degrees everywhere but over the ovens and grills, where it was about 120. But that didn't stop my favorite barbecue joint, The Links at City Park, from pouring on the heat and winning first place for food (just the week before, it won two Best Of awards). Colorado Chefs de Cuisine was designated best booth for its very patriotic stand. Denver Buffalo Company took second for booth and third for food; Caesar's Salad was second in food; and Paul's Place took third for booth. If I had gone back for seconds, though, I would have headed straight to Pour La France!, whose strawberry shortcake was positively evil (although the minuscule-shrimp-on-shredded-lettuce cocktail was pretty lame, guys) and to Grand Central Station, which served up a comforting potato knish. Oh, and a stop by J. Beatty for another lamb quesadilla.
Just desserts: Over the past year, I've been to very few restaurants that didn't offer their own versions of flourless chocolate cake. Why is this dessert suddenly so popular? Hey, even Bon Appetit printed a recipe for the stuff about nine years ago (I know, because I cut it out and made it for relatives until they, and I, got sick of it). I have a guess as to why it's a hit with chefs: Basically made from chocolate in some form and lots of butter and eggs, the dense one-layer cake is almost idiot-proof, draws raves from people who don't get out much and haven't seen it before, and has a food cost of about $5 and garners $4 each for its twelve or so pieces (because it's such a rich concoction, the kitchen can carve more--and smaller--pieces than it would from most cakes). You do the math. But what I really hate about this overdone dessert--usually termed something like "chocolate death" or "chocolate decadence"--is that everyone feels the need to float it on top of a sickeningly sweet "coulis," most often something that tastes like melted-down strawberry or raspberry pie filling. It's time to move on.
Speaking of which, I recently sampled a Grand Marnier cheesecake ($12 per cake) from Marc's Cheesecake. Sent by the owners after my recent comment that I've never been happy with the liqueur's handling in desserts, the cheesecake was delicious in all ways but one: There still wasn't enough Grand Marnier flavor, even if it was better than just about anything else I've tried (except for some truffles from Belgium). The only way to satisfy my craving may be to partially freeze a bottle of the stuff and just spoon that out for dessert.
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