The test of Colorado: A number of people have called to complain about the twelfth annual Taste of Colorado, held at Civic Center Park over the Labor Day weekend. Some think the group that sponsors the event, the Downtown Denver Partnership, was greedy in selling nine food tickets for $5--which essentially means people paid fifty cents for the privilege of buying tickets--and some think the food was overpriced. As to the first charge, well, I guess if you don't think Eddie Money, Jefferson Starship and the Guess Who are worth some spare change (I don't, but then, I'm a food critic, not a music one), then there's always the argument that this is one of the best-run food-oriented fairs around (even restaurateurs applaud the way the thing is handled). I also thought the booths charged appropriately for the amount of food they served. Unfortunately, people want tastings, which most restaurants find difficult to portion. "And people are never happy, anyway," says one restaurateur who participated. "When we tried serving small portions for fifty cents, people said, `Is that all we get?'" He, like other participants, is complaining that sales were down from last year, sometimes by as much as $20,000, even though the DDP estimates attendance at 350,000, the same as in 1994. Everyone blames the heat for the shortfall, even though not even beer sold well.
Wise cracking: Reading the local magazine 5280 always makes me feel like I've just consumed a literary hors d'oeuvre and am still waiting for the main course to come along, but this month's issue actually contains something I can sink my teeth into--the third annual restaurant roundup compiled by KTLK restaurant talk-show host Thom Wise, which includes a list of the top ten restaurant pet peeves. My number eleven: Servers who ask every five minutes if you're "still working on that," with a tone that implies you're either doing something to the food besides eating it or you're a big pig who can't stand to let the plate go until you've scraped off every morsel.
In the selection of "Restaurants That Need a Kick in the Butt," I'd have to agree with Wise's assessment of Carmine's on Penn, which he says treats its customers "badly." I'd say haughtily is more like it. The Carmine's crew that raised such an unprofessional ruckus and staged a food fight at the opening of rival Mama Mia's had better get its act together. Wise's prophetic "Who Will Close First?" roster is pretty much on the money, too. Stars, at 1860 Blake Street, is a silly place that serves incredibly boring food. Vino Vino, at 700 East 17th Avenue, just hasn't found its niche; I've heard from lots of people who've been there once and never went back. But I think its next-door neighbor, Cliff Young's, has staying power: There aren't that many places offering exceptional service these days, especially since the overabundance of restaurants in Denver has infected waitstaffers with the attitude that, hey, if they don't like working there, they can always go somewhere else. And I may be going out on a limb, but contrary to Wise's prognostications, I'm willing to bet that Cafe Iguana's menu changes work well enough that the restaurant hangs in there.
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Wise also offers a what's in/what's out chart. Included in the "out" crowd is "Westword `Best Of' ads"--but somebody apparently forgot to tell 5280's advertisers, who were touting their Best Of awards all over the magazine.