Mouthing Off

Standing Pat: McCormick's Fish House & Bar, at 1659 Wazee, has established several fine traditions (not counting its oysters) in the dozen years it's been in business here. First there's the $1 Irish coffee offered in the bar whenever it's snowing. The second tradition is a daily event (more on that later). And the third is the annual St. Patrick's Day celebration, which kicks off March 12 when Wazee Street is renamed "Tooley," after the late Dale Tooley, Denver's longtime district attorney. On Sunday, March 15, McCormick's hosts the "Runnin' of the Green," a fun run that begins, and ends, at the restaurant. And, of course, less organized festivities will continue to fill McCormick's through the official St. Patrick's Day, on March 17.

And while it's not exactly the first place that comes to mind when you think Irish, Alcatraz Brewing Co. (8405 Park Meadows Center) will offer what no respectable Irishwoman (that's me) would turn down: free beer. On March 14 from 4 to 5 p.m., the brewpub will hand out pints of its Wild Irish Red ale. Of course, Alcatraz is offering that meal so often (erroneously) associated with Irish people, corned beef and cabbage, along with a more politically correct lamb dish. Corned beef and cabbage is also on the menu at Houlihan's in Tamarac Square (7717 East Hampden Avenue) from March 12 to March 16, along with Irish stew and some goodwill: Festivities include fundraisers for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. And I'm sure there will be corned beef and cabbage on the lunch buffet being offered by the Supreme Court, at 1550 Court Place. The requisite green beer, Jell-O shooters and Irish coffee will also be available.

By the way, how did the Irish get stuck with the impression that such a stinky meal is their national dish? Truth be told, until this century, most Irish people were too poor to eat much beef, and only nobility was known to slaughter cows for their meat. The rest of the country looked at having a cow as being much more beneficial in the long term, for milk and cheese were a major part of their diets, and that's where they got the majority of their fat and protein.

Cabbage by itself has always been an Irish favorite, but usually it's cooked with potatoes (that's colcannon) or pork. Some Irish families do eat corned beef and cabbage on Easter, but for the most part the dish is now considered--in stark contrast with earlier times--to be food for poor people. Anyway, if you must eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day, at least go somewhere where you trust the chef. As the old Irish proverb says, "A fast is better than a bad meal."

Now, back to McCormick's second tradition: the great happy hour (known as "cheap time" to denizens of LoDo), when the bar features a roster of substantial snacks that cost just $1.95 each--as long as you also buy a drink (coffee and water don't count) and order during the correct hours (3-6 p.m. and after 9 p.m. weekdays; 3-6 p.m. and after 10 p.m. on weekends). Although the offerings change monthly--lamb stew is big this month, in honor of St. Pat--there are always plenty of good choices. Like, for instance, the full-sized cheeseburger and fries. Or half a tuna sandwich and homemade chips, or the steamed mussels, or the fried calamari (there's a reason these hours are happy ones).

Perhaps inspired by McCormick's legendary largesse, a few other LoDo spots have introduced their own special deals. At Cucina!Cucina! Italian Cafe in the Ice House (1801 Wynkoop), the happy hours are slightly different (daily from 4-7 p.m. and 10 p.m. until closing), but the price is the same. Just $1.95 snags such taste treats as "assorted Mediterranean spreads" (a scoop each of excellent white-bean hummus, roasted eggplant tapenade and tangy, feta-laden tyrosalata, along with flatbread crisps); chicken tahini skewers (tender, pounded-thin chicken reeking--but in a good way--with garlic); individual pizzas (goat cheese, for example, or BBQ chicken); saganaki (that's a Greek cheese) flamed with ouzo; or Greek mussels (succulent little suckers dolled up with feta and tomatoes). And unlike McCormick's, Cucina!Cucina! also features several drink specials during happy hour, including wine and beer deals as well as such "hand-crafted cocktails" as the BTM: Patron tequila with cranberry juice and a float of Grand Marnier ($3.95, but one should do you).

During its short life a block away in Union Station, TGIFridays aped McCormick's appetizer deal, but not well enough to save the chain operation. Its replacement in the space, Redfish, has its own variation on the happy-hour theme: half off the regular appetizer menu prices when the desired dish is ordered in the bar during the correct hours. Redfish's red beans and rice ($3.95 during non-happy hours) might not seem like a typical after-work choice, but it works for us.

What's going on: A steakhouse might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think "big band," but Maverick's, at 4851 East Virginia Avenue, will present "The SwingTastics" every Friday and Saturday night starting March 6. The SwingTastics comprises five performers and a seven-piece band that will do all the old favorites. There will be two shows each evening, with a special three-course menu for $24.95, and there's a $5 cover charge if you want to stay for the second show. Call 780-0007 for more information.

Quintessential American chef Kevin Taylor isn't who you think of in connection with French cuisine, either, but on March 22, he's offering a six-course dinner at his Brasserie Z (815 17th Street) to benefit the James Beard Foundation. Taylor will be joined by five other chefs from across the U.S., and the $150-per-person admission garners the meal plus wines to go with each course. For reservations, call 293-2322. (Speaking of Taylor, he recently stole excellent chef Juan Martinez from 15 Degrees, at 1965 15th Street in Boulder, to take over the kitchen in Taylor's Dandelion, at 1011 Walnut Street in Boulder.)

Wine and food will be the focus on March 25 at Q's, 2115 13th Street in Boulder, where the Chalone Wine Group will pour several of its wines to match up with five courses, including chef John Platt's rack of lamb and ahi tuna. The cost is $70 per person; call 442-4880. That same evening, Bella Ristorante, at 1920 Market Street, will host a wine dinner at 6:30. Bella matre d' Harry Lordino will conduct a pairing of four Italian wines with food for $49.95 per person; call 297-1608. The next night, March 26, the Bella at Park Meadows Shopping Center will offer antipasti and six wines for $25 per person; call 297-1608.

If the thought of going to a wine dinner uninformed makes you queasy, you might want to check out one of two upcoming series of wine seminars. One will be presented by sommelier Justin Wharry at Tante Louise, 4900 East Colfax Avenue, on March 30 and April 13 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wharry will go through some basics as participants taste a variety of vino and scarf up a few light appetizers from the restaurant's superb chef, Michael Degenhart. The cost is $60 per person for both nights; call 355-4488 for reservations. On April 14, Bill St. John will talk about "The Wines of Italy," and on April 28, "Focus on Bordeaux," from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Denver Downtown, 1750 Welton Street. The first event costs $35 and the second is $40; both feature ten wines and nibbles. To register, call 295-1234.

Not that there's any connection between St. John and a wild boar--actually, quite the contrary, because he's a lively and entertaining seminar-giver--but it does make for a fun transition into the "Wild Side" promotion being done by all three metro locations of Rodizio. In addition to wild boar, Cajun alligator, duck, elk and Jamaican-style venison will be on the menu until March 29. Rodizio was featured in the March issue of Sunset magazine, in an article about Brazilian food, being called one of the up-and-coming food trends this year.



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