Mouthing Off

Best place to spend half a day doing lunch: In my never-ending Best of Denver quest, last week a friend and I stopped by Willie G's Seafood Restaurant, at 1585 Lawrence Street. We'd eaten Willie's excellent clam chowder on a previous visit, and I wanted to know if it was still as good--maybe the best.

Glad I checked. Not only was the chowder nowhere near as tasty, but a meal that should have occupied about 45 minutes instead lasted an hour and a half. We started with a dozen bluepoint oysters on the half-shell ($13.99), which took a good half-hour to arrive (we thought that perhaps our server had flown to Long Island to fetch them from the bay). The oysters were wonderful, though, even if fourteen bucks is a bit above the average price in this town (Jax Fish House, at 1539 17th Street, for instance, serves sixteen oysters for $11.50; McCormick's, at 1659 Wazee Street, does a dozen bluepoints for $9.50). Being avid oyster eaters, we polished them off in just a few minutes and then waited for our next course, the chowder ($4.99) and a spinach salad ($5.99). And waited, and then waited some more, while our waiter repeatedly walked past our table with this look on his face that seemed to say, "I know I've seen you somewhere before, but I can't place it."

Finally, just as we were about to tell him to forget it, he brought our meal. "You wouldn't think it would take that long to make a soup and salad, would you?" he asked. No, indeedy. And neither the soup nor the salad was worth waiting for. The chowder was a bowl of blandness, with only a few of the clams we'd expected; the salad was even more lackluster, a thrown-together mix of spinach, thinly sliced red onions, canned mandarin oranges, sliced button mushrooms and a bacon-flavored dressing. Now, how hard is that?

Put that idea in the round file: This spring, while researching problem bars over at the Department of Excise and Licenses, I encountered a problem of my own--a lag time in gaining access to the files. Lately it seems there's been so much demand to look at liquor licenses--which are considered public information--that department employees couldn't remove confidential police reports from the files fast enough. And handing over the files with that info included would violate Colorado law, according to department director Beth McCann. "You have to get those through the police department," she explains. To try to catch up, for about a month Excise and Licenses was requiring everyone--reporters included--to fill out a form requesting files and then wait up to a week for their requests to be honored. "We came up with that because our employees were spending all that time pulling files, and we had to go through every one of them to get out all the police reports," McCann says. "Some of those files have hundreds of documents in them, and they're in chronological order, so it was taking forever to pull them."

But so many people, including yours truly, complained about the policy--mainly because deadlines just don't allow for a week's lag to get information--that the department has now gone back to a modified version of its former system, in which anyone can go look at a file anytime. "We've started going through all the files to pull the police reports and create a separate folder that will be with the original file but separate," McCann says. "But it's going to take a while to do all of them." So, she adds, they'd still appreciate some notice whenever possible.

What's happenin': A Michigan-based restaurant "concept" has announced plans to "introduce Denver diners to the concept of 'interactive dining,'" but I'm not sure the company's done its market research. BD's Mongolian Barbeque is scheduled to open this September at 1620 Wazee Street (former home of the Dugout)--just a block away from Lim's Chinese Kitchen, at 1539 Blake Street. Lim's has been doing Mongolian barbecue--in which diners pick out piles of meat and vegetables and then wait while their meal is grilled before their eyes--for years, and there's also Genghis Khan Mongolian Barbecue, in the food court on the mall at 1600 Champa Street.

One cuisine we'll never have enough of is Caribbean, so I'm delighted that after a few months' closure for "renovations," Cat Island Caribbean Cafe, at 2334 Welton Street, is now open Friday and Saturday evenings from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. The owner, who prefers to go only by the name "Jonesy," says Cat Island will serve a limited menu during those hours; the woman on the answering-machine message asks everyone to come by for a "unique party experience."

Another unique party experience is starting up again at Thia's Cafe, the Greek restaurant at 6495 East Evans Avenue. For several years, chef/owner Jimmy Lemonidis had been throwing a bash, complete with music and ouzo, on Saturday nights. But last fall he stopped because, as Lemonidis puts it, "people got tired of the same bands and wall-to-wall customers." To keep the concept from getting stale this time around, Thia's will host a party on the last Saturday of each month only. The premise is still the same, though: a loud, rowdy good time with good Greek food.

Hop on Pop: Enter your fly-fishing father (or hubby) in the "Strangest Item He Refuses to Throw Away" contest sponsored by El Rancho restaurant (29260 U.S. Highway 40, El Rancho exit) and The Flyfisher Ltd. (120 Madison Street). Kids or spouses are asked to write a brief essay about a bizarre or hideous thing that Dad just can't part with. The best response nets a free meal at El Rancho on Father's Day, June 21, for the immediate family, as well as free fly-fishing lessons for the patriarch. Call 526-0661 for more information.

In other news from outside of town, the new chef at Gold Lake Mountain Resort's Alice's restaurant and Karel's Bad Tavern (3371 Gold Lake Road in Ward) sounds interesting. Ron Pickarski is a former Franciscan friar who started out cooking for his brethren. In 1982 he was the first vegetarian chef to be certified executive by the American Culinary Federation; he's also written two vegetarian cookbooks. But at Alice's, his menu features wild game and fresh fish along with veggie items. And if you've never escaped to Gold Lake, check it out: rustic cabins next to a lake, all surrounded by wilderness, with plenty of outdoor activities and a hot tub. Call 1-800-450-3544 for more information.

Local boys do good: Congrats to Tabernash Brewing Co., named in this month's issue of Food & Wine as one of "America's 20 Best Breweries." I agree. This is the time of year when a cold bottle of Tabernash's light Weiss beer goes down mighty well with a burger off the grill.



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