Mouthing Off

Bested of Denver: The calls continue to come in regarding this year's Best of Denver.

Not surprisingly, the three main topics callers want to discuss concern the three biggest upsets: Mori (2019 Market Street) losing Best Japanese to Domo (1365 Osage Street), Damascus (2276 South Colorado Boulevard) taking Best Middle Eastern away from Jerusalem (1890 East Evans Avenue), and Tay Do (2350 South Chambers Road) doing in New Saigon (630 South Federal Boulevard) for Best Vietnamese. In all three cases, one restaurant had dominated each category for years. "How could you not give the Best of Westword award to Mori?" asked Jill Wingate, who added that she's been to Japan and has never found anything in Denver better than Mori.

Well, Wingate didn't leave a number, and she didn't mention the date of her last visit to Mori. I'd stopped by about two weeks before the issue came out--the restaurant is conveniently close to our office--and although I have not yet been to Japan, I have eaten at Mori dozens of times, and I'm here to tell you that both quality and consistency seem to have gone downhill lately, especially where the sushi is concerned. During my unbelievably lackluster meal there last month, not only did the seafood taste off, but the bento box lunch seemed to have been assembled by my toddler--stuff had been tossed in that haphazardly.

As for the Damascus and Tay Do upsets, they came down to a matter of atmosphere. When two restaurants offer comparably top-notch food, something like service can make all the difference. And in the cases of both Jerusalem and New Saigon, I'd finally gotten so sick of the slothlike, inattentive and sometimes downright rude staffers that I started to think about how food is served in those countries, and how important dining is to those cultures--and both Damascus and Tay Do seemed to be much more in line with my meals at the homes of Middle Eastern and Vietnamese friends. In fact, the owners of both spots--Mahmoud Kassir at Damascus and Van Vo at Tay Do--are in their restaurants all the time and are among the most welcoming and conscientious restaurateurs I've ever encountered.

And then there are the complaints about the categories themselves. "Why do you always have to put in such stupid awards like 'Best Goat'?" asked one caller. "You didn't even have a Best Hotdog award." Nor did we have a Best Cheesesteak award, despite requests from several establishments (all of which serve the item in question) that we include that category. The answer is simple: There's only so much space in both the issue and our stomachs, and we try to go with topics that are fun, new and entertaining.

Wine, not whine: Speaking of entertaining, wine dinners continue to be hot, with many Denver-area restaurants adding them to their repertoires. On Thursday, July 30, Bruno's Italian Bistro at 2223 South Monaco Parkway is hosting Gary Guglielmo from Guglielmo Winery at 6:30 p.m. The cost is $45 per person and includes five courses paired with five Guglielmo wines; call 757-4500 quick to get in on it. On August 5, Full Moon Grill at 2525 Arapahoe Road in Boulder will present a "Taste of Provence" at 6:30 p.m., with $50 netting a five-course meal with wines, including the 1996 Chateau Fortia Chateauneuf du Pape. Call 938-8800 for reservations. A few weeks after that, The Swan at the Inverness Hotel & Golf Club (200 Inverness Drive) will continue its "Last Affordable Luxuries" series, which involves monthly wine dinners, through November. The next one is August 24 and features Willamette Valley; the cost is $75 per person. Call 799-5800 for more information.

More free advertising: Taj Mahal at 777 East 17th Avenue now has Seasons catering company putting on breakfast at the Indian restaurant from 7 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday, with veggie pancakes, yogurt dips and fruit smoothies; call 863-8212. And the Wellshire Inn at 3333 South Colorado Boulevard is doing a special prix-fixe dinner on Sundays through August. For $69.50 per couple, diners get three courses and wine, with choices such as smoked beef tenderloin and grilled halibut; call 759-3333 for more info.

Happy birthday to Vesta Dipping Grill (1822 Blake Street), which celebrated a year in business--and good riddance to those trippy chairs--last week. PanAsia Fusion (1175 Walnut Street in Boulder) has two months to go before it hits the one-year mark, but it's already added a new executive chef, Daniel Wendell, most recently executive chef at Sacks Cafe in Anchorage. Another relative newcomer, Palamino (1515 Arapahoe Street), kicks off its new summer bar menu from 5-8 p.m. July 30. And the venerable McCormick's Fish House & Bar (1659 Wazee) has also gotten into the summer swim with a new outdoor seating area (too bad the happy-hour food special doesn't extend out-of-doors).

Anyone who appreciates good food--indoors or out--should head over to this year's SOS Taste of the Nation fundraiser that benefits people who find it hard to come by a leftover slice of bread in the garbage can, let alone smoked beef tenderloin. The event is this Sunday, August 2, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Coors Field, and the $45 entrance fee (it's $50 at the gate) buys participants food from 65 restaurants and wines from 50 wineries. Call 297-0408 for tickets.

By the way, I hear Coors Field sells some swell hotdogs.



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