Critic's choice: Restaurant roulette continues as Bill St. John, the food guru for Microsoft's Denver Sidewalk (www.denver.sidewalk.com), gets a second home at 5280, the almost-monthly magazine that's had a hole to fill since perpetually cheerful Channel 4 reporter Greg Moody moved to the Rocky Mountain News to fill the spot St. John vacated more than year ago.
You got all that?
St. John won't be giving 5280 fresh meat; instead, the magazine will reprint reviews that have already appeared on Sidewalk--or are about to show up there. "We'll be doing four or five reviews each issue instead of the one or two that the magazine was doing," says St. John. 5280 publisher/editor Dan Brogan initially had approached Microsoft about using St. John last summer but went with Moody instead because "Microsoft was still way too restrictive in what they were going to let us do," says Brogan. "Now they've relaxed a bit and are more willing to share."
According to St. John, several other "secret" partnerships between the magazine and Microsoft are in the works, but that's all he'll say. For the magazine, though, the major benefit is obvious--5280 will be able to link to Sidewalk's restaurant listings, on which Microsoft has spent considerable time and effort. For St. John, the benefit is that his name--and his words--are once again available for all to see.
"We want to play up the 'back in print' thing," Brogan says. "It's not like he's been gone, really, but then again, it sort of is." Even St. John admits that it's sometimes been tough out in cyberspace, where no one can hear you scream. Or rave. "Yeah, I run into people who say that they're sorry they don't get to see me anymore," he says. "There are still a lot of people who don't have computers, and even the ones who do don't use them the way we, of course, would like them to. So, yeah, I'm happy to be in print again."
It will also be nice to see 5280 grow a set of cojones and start printing some negative reviews rather than always being so nice. Before this, the magazine's policy had been to print only positive reviews; Brogan explains that they felt it didn't make sense to use their limited space to review places they didn't want people to go to. "Now we can have a wider variety of restaurants and comments, because Bill writes shorter in Sidewalk than the space we have available," Brogan says. "At some point, we're going to have to revisit this, because more people will be on computers, and they'll be seeing the reviews first on Microsoft and second on us, which won't be good. But I think we're a couple of years from that."
Elsewhere in the food-writing arena, Jay Fox, who writes the "No More Mr. Nice Guy" food column in the Colorado Statesman, recently wrote a letter to the editor of the News (which did not get printed, by the way). "Thank you for hiring Greg Moody," the letter reads. "Now I'm not the worst food writer in town."
The Denver Post just added another writer to the ranks. Bill Husted has added a weekly restaurant gossip column, "Dish," to his three-column-a-week load. Since he and Norm Clarke, the News's dueling man-about-town columnists, apparently think sighting a celebrity in a restaurant is the stuff of which Pulitzer prizes are made, the move seems a natural. Particularly since Diane Gould, the Post's part-time critic who replaced John Kessler (formerly of Westword, to continue the incestuous cycle), isn't interested in supplying restaurant news. (Neither is Moody; Thom Wise, the former 5280 restaurant critic who left for a job as News theater reviewer and then wound up filling in after St. John left until Moody was hired, continues to write that paper's restaurant tidbits.)
Denver lost another longtime food writer early this month. After she retired in 1993 (and was replaced by Kessler), Helen Dollaghan Vogel, the Post's food editor since 1958, continued to write a food column--usually answering recipe requests--until she became ill this winter. In an era when journalists flit from paper to paper, forty years at one paper would seem to warrant more than an obit and a column, if you ask me. In fact, the News's obituary was longer than the Post's.
In other news: El Azteca at 1780 South Buckley Road in Aurora is adding mariachi shows on Friday nights starting September 11. Entrees that night will cost $2 more, but the price includes either the 7 p.m. or the 9 p.m. performance. "We were going to do a cover charge, but we knew people would say they didn't want to hear the band, they just wanted to eat," says owner Sergio Hernandez. "But these guys are so good, we think people won't mind paying the extra couple of bucks." By the way, contrary to what I reported in my July 9 review ("To Havana and Have Not"), Hernandez is not Cuban; his wife is. And the Thursday-night Cuban specials they've been offering at this, their second El Azteca, have been so successful that the couple is thinking of expanding them to Monday nights, too.
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The countdown to the millennium has begun in many circles, including the pricey one inhabited by Moët & Chandon, the 255-year-old producer of champagnes (and that old boy Dom Perignon). Moët was in town last week to kick off its 500-day millennium countdown and unveil its special vintage champagne for New Year's 1999; naturally, it held the event at the Brown Palace, which has turned a holiday champagne cascade into a longstanding tradition. The company gave away watches that were preset to start counting down the seconds until 2000 (Paris time), and Ellyngton's did a heck of a job with the food.
Prior to the event, I took my daughters to high tea in the hotel's lobby. This is the stuff of childhood dreams--and parental nightmares. The first thing my four-year-old did was hoist the teacup above her head so that I could clearly see the "Royal Doulton" emblem printed on the bottom. "Mommy, is this plastic?" she asked. We made it all the way through the meal--which, for $33, included three pots of tea and several plates of scones, smoked-salmon-covered tea sandwiches, Devonshire cream, jam and six small wedges of pastry, as well as a Kir royale that I wound up needing very badly--without a mishap. Until the very end, that is, when my other daughter decided to toss her tea over her shoulder onto a loveseat that probably cost more than my house. The staff was quite good-natured about it; later, when I asked if they'd gotten the stain out, they asked, "What stain?"