Luck o' the Irish: Traditional pub food is infamous for its lesser cuts of meat, greasiness and general simplicity, but that still didn't prepare us for the meal we encountered at Nallen's, an Irish eatery at 1617 California. Not until after we had picked at a batch of freezer-burned fish, a burger that begged to be hit with a hockey stick, and what tasted like a piece of shoe leather masquerading as a steak did the bartender tell us that since the cook hadn't shown up for work, a waiter had prepared our food. And the bartender only gave us that information because I asked him why the steak had come with a pile of sickeningly greasy French fries instead of the promised mashed potatoes. "He doesn't know how to make mashed potatoes," the bartender explained. "He" apparently didn't know what to do with the previously (as in a lifetime ago) steamed vegetables, either, because they had been reheated on the same grill used for the steak until they were absolutely slimy with old grease--which failed to hide that the broccoli tops were dark brown with age.

Forget for a moment that Nallen's was unlucky enough to have a restaurant critic visit on this particular day. The important thing to know is that quite a few other people were there--including my guests, both of whom work for a computer company that services hundreds of Denver businesses, and both of whom were disgusted enough by the meal to threaten to e-mail a warning to each of those clients. All it would have taken was for someone at Nallen's to say to us, "Hey, the cook didn't show up, so you can either take your chances with this guy who thinks food should be sauteed in shortening, or here's a beer on us and we'll catch you next time around." We would gladly have taken the beer and come back another day.

When I called to share my story with Una Nallen, who owns the pub with her husband, John, she said: "Oh, sorry about that. We're doing something different now. We just couldn't get the food to come out the way we wanted, so we brought in the same people who own Ho Ho Chinese. We're calling it `Shanghai meets shamrock.'" So now the three-year-old Nallen's offers a Chinese buffet daily from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., one of those $1-a-scoop deals. The original Ho Ho is still dishing out dollar meals on South Broadway, but Nallen's offers an important variation on the theme. "You can have your Chinese with a Guinness," Nallen says.

Thanks, but no thanks.
A little Italy: Two guys who never stop until they get it right are Peter "The Wolf" Schlicht and Ernesto Spinelli. Their newest venture, Bistro at Marshdale, in Evergreen, promises romantic dining in an 85-year-old log cabin complete with fireplaces and views of Mount Evans. True to Spinelli's style, the menu is billed as international but leans heavily toward the Italian coast.

Down in Morrison, The Fort is sharpening its tomahawks for this year's Spring Rendezvous and Fandango on May 21. The event features mountain-man (and -woman) competitions and lots of nineteenth-century vittles--there's a charge for the food, but admission is free.

Start wine-ing: A mere five bucks gains entrance to the summer wine tastings at Tante Louise. From 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays in June, July and August, several wines will be offered with light hors d'oeuvres. Corky Douglass guarantees that the chef will show up.


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