Mouthing Off

Mex and match: The most delicious sight of the week was the solo diner at the Mexico City Lounge (2115 Larimer Street) last Thursday tucking into a plate of greasy, cheesy tacos and reading a copy of The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet.

Will the real El Azteca please stand up? Although three restaurants in the area share the name, they don't all share one owner. The oldest El Azteca, at 1065 Federal Boulevard, has been selling Mexican groceries and homemade burritos and tamales for seventeen years. Two years ago, along came another El Azteca (no relation), a tiny eatery that opened in a former gas station at 3960 South Federal Boulevard. This El Azteca serves excellent rotisserie chicken, killer tortas and some of the most authentic Mexican food in town, and the guys who own it have now opened a second eatery, at 1780 South Buckley Road in Aurora. This one is much bigger than the original (but, technically speaking, not the first) El Azteca, with an expanded menu that includes Cuban white rice and black beans as well as a weekly Cuban special. It also has a liquor license. Owner Sergio Hernandez says he and his partners hope to revamp their first location soon, and when they do, they'll apply for a much-needed liquor license there. Tortas require beer.

Worse than the El Azteca confusion, Hernandez says, is the fact that people mix up those restaurants with Z-Teca, which changed its name last year from Zuma because the owners wanted to go national and someone else owned the rights to Zuma. And, of course, Z-Teca has also been confused with Z-Tejas, the chain place that opened at Park Meadows last year. Sheesh.

Also feeling the bite, now that the Crocodile Cafe of California is opening at Park Meadows, is Croc's Cafe, at 1630 Market Street. Croc's, a homegrown venture, was originally named Crocodile Cafe but had to change five years ago because of the Pasadena-based chain. "We registered the Crocodile name with the state," says Croc's owner Chris Myers. "And then we found out that two weeks before we opened, the California guys had registered theirs nationally." To make things less confusing, Myers says Croc's recently revamped its name again--officially, it's now Croc's Mexican Grill. Myers and his gang have another project going as well: They're restoring Mattie Silks' House of Mirrors, an infamous Victorian brothel located next to their LoDo's Bar & Grill, at 1946 Market Street, to its original turn-of-the-century splendor. They've already pulled the stucco off the front to reveal the sandstone beneath, and they're in the process of refurbishing the inside. "We have some pictures of how it looked then," Myers says. "We're trying to get it back to that as closely as we can." No decision's been made on the type of food they'll serve there, though. "We want to make sure that it fits the location and the style," says Myers.

Quick bites: The phone's been disconnected at Scotty's Bistro (315 Detroit Street), whose menu never really fit the Cherry Creek location, and at Sympatico (25918 Genesee Trail in Genesee Park), where I once ate an awful lunch, so that's no surprise, either. You can also say bye-bye to New York, New York (1050 South Wadsworth Boulevard), Pizzeria Uno (7400 East Hampden) and La Bonne Soupe (1512 Larimer in Writer Square), which likely was a casualty of the chain gang. (The going-gangbusters Cheesecake Factory's only a block away.)

Although soup is cold, Japanese fast food is hot. And so Golden Tempura Bowl, which recently moved from 406 East Colfax Avenue to larger quarters at 341 East Colfax, has changed its name to the hipper Taki's Golden Bowl; owner Brian Takimodo has also added a few sushi items to the menu. Taki's new space is what used to be the Greek Metropolis Cafe; the Capitol Grill, a Greek eatery, has taken over Golden Tempura's old home.

Also alive and well is Brasserie Z (815 17th Street), which has hired a new manager, Lolly Block, who hails from The Pike Street Restaurant in Michigan. And just try to follow this: Doug Fleischmann, who was the general manager at Starfish (300 Fillmore Street) until he went to Strings (1700 Humboldt Street), is back with the Master restaurants--he's now GM and part-owner of Mel's Bar and Grill (235 Fillmore). Returning to Strings is its old and well-loved general manager, Bryan Kaump, who left the restaurant in 1996 after keeping the waitstaff in line for six years. And congrats to Mel and Janie Master, who not only got a new partner but also some great coverage in the February Food & Wine, with Janie's goat cheese souffle on the cover and a nice article by Boulder freelance writer Bruce Schoenfeld inside.

Wild thing: Reader Patti Soffer sent an e-mail to report that she'd eaten at Wild Ginger (399 Littleton Boulevard, Littleton) on my recommendation ("Sugar and Spice," January 15) and would never follow my recommendation again. Soffer says she waited an hour and a half for her entree (which I find hard to believe) and that the soft-shell crabs were "only one bite each" (I've never seen a soft-shell crab that small). Her specific complaints aside, Soffer's e-mail indicates she ate at the restaurant two days after my review came out, which is always a risk. I'd like to end every rave with the words "and please don't go there this weekend." A sudden, unexpected wave of customers can swamp smaller establishments, and from what I've heard, Wild Ginger was packed that night.

By the way, Wild Ginger is owned by the same people who own the estimable Tommy's Oriental (3410 East Colfax Avenue), important information that the manager didn't share with me (or that was lost in translation--our conversation was hampered by a major language barrier). If Tommy's is involved, Wild Ginger should be able to smooth out any rough spots. Give 'em a break, Patti, and try again.

I've also managed to piss off the people at the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, whose public-relations person sent a cranky letter informing me that dry peas and lentils don't appreciate being mocked (Mouthing Off, December 18). "I hope after seeing some of the things that the council does for the Palouse farmers, pea and lentil industry and American consumers, you realize our importance," writes Randy Duckworth. "As you read the enclosed information, this should help you broaden your limited knowledge of the council." Well, Mr. Duckworth, I read it, and I still think National Split Pea Soup Week is silly. I especially like this statement in the annual report: "Anyone who reads newspapers and magazines knows that the media can often be an unsentimental, cynical and condescending group. However, they are not impenetrable." To which I reply, "Anyone who reads the annual report for the Dry Pea & Lentil Council knows that they have no sense of humor." And by the way, Duckworth: You've penetrated my column twice now. You're good.

Meal deals: RosaLinda's Mexican Cafe (2005 West 33rd Avenue) is now offering a $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. The fare includes salsa and chips, green chile, Spanish rice, beans, cactus with red chile, bean tostadas and such specials as ground-meat-and-pasta soups, with cinnamon crisps and rice pudding for dessert. The regular menu is available too, of course. And Jax (1539 17th Street) is making happy hours very happy with $1 tapas available from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays. The quartet of ambitious offerings changes daily, and there's not a sucker in the bunch.

Heart's delight: So you like him/her more than just a box of chocolates but less than a diamond tennis bracelet. How about dinner for Valentine's Day? McCormick's Fish House & Bar (1659 Wazee Street) has a special menu, as does Maverick's (4851 East Virginia in Glendale). Both locations of Tosh's Hacienda (3090 Downing Street and 5071 South Syracuse) will do sweetheart dinners Mexican style, and Alcatraz Brewing Co. (8405 Park Meadows Drive in Littleton) says it offers unpretentious dining along with special V-Day dishes and the rock band Brass Hats. All five of those restaurants are serving their specials both February 13 and 14. Over at the Fourth Story (2955 East First Avenue), chef David Steinmann, formerly of Barolo Grill, is cooking up a five-course love meal on the day itself for $90 per person, which includes five glasses of wine; food only is available as well, at $50 per person.

If you're thinking about a romantic drive, head up to The Fort (19192 Route 8 in Morrison) for what sounds like a dream meal: a glass of Mumm's Cuvee Napa Brut, filet Oscar made from buffalo tenderloins topped with lobster, asparagus and bearnaise, the Fort's famous Negrita dark-chocolate dessert and a milk-chocolate hazelnut kiss to top it off, and that gorgeous view--all for $44.95 per person. Or you can smooch at padiddles on the way to El Rancho (29260 U.S. Hwy 40) for dinner specials or the all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet ($18.95 per person). There's just nothing like a full belly to put you in the mood.

Kidneys' delight: The 16th annual Great Chefs of the West, February 24 at the Marriott City Center Downtown, is a great place to sample fare from dozens of area chefs. A benefit for the National Kidney Foundation of Colorado, the evening costs $75; call 713-1523 for reservations.

I scream: The next two nights, February 25 and 26, will see Tommy Chong in town for a show at the Comedy Works (1226 15th Street). From now until then, Josh & John's Ice Cream (1444 Market Street) is offering Peach & Chong, a very peachy ice cream sure to satisfy even the most persistent of munchies. Every time you buy Peach & Chong, you get a chance to win a gallon of the stuff, an autographed photo, four tickets to the show and maybe even a meeting with the Chongster. Duuuude.



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