Noodlin' around: One indicator of an excellent chef is his ability to take simple ingredients and combine them in a way that makes the most of their attributes. At Mattie's House of Mirrors (see review above), one of the most flavorful and well-proportioned dishes is the capellini with four tomatoes, which chef Kip Wotanowicz and his crew tosses with balsamic and goat cheese for a rich, tart finish. It's also one of the least complicated items on Mattie's menu for the home cook, and as long as you use good, ripe tomatoes--yeah, they're tough to find this time of year, but if you hit places like Wild Oats, you might find a few--and a decent brand of balsamic, it'll come out perfect every time.
The basil in this dish is supposed to be chiffo-nade, which means finely sliced or shredded. The easiest way to do this is to stack the basil leaves on top of one another, roll them up from the stem to the point end and slice the roll as thinly as you can. When they're unrolled, you'll have beautiful little shards of basil. Since capellini is such a thin noodle, put it into boiling water immediately after you've prepared all the rest of the ingredients; the total cooking time for the sauce is about four minutes, and ten ounces of capellini will cook in six to eight minutes.
Mattie's Capellini With Four Tomatoes
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red tomato, diced
1 yellow tomato, diced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
3 large basil leaves chiffonade
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chicken stock
10 ounces cooked capellini
1 ounce goat cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
Toss cut tomatoes with basil, garlic and olive oil and salt to taste. Saute mixture in a skillet over medium-high heat until tomatoes just begin to soften. Deglaze with balsamic vinegar and chicken stock, scraping up any bits of tomato that have stuck to the pan. Add cooked capellini and toss, adding black pepper to taste. Top with goat-cheese crumbles and garnish with grated parmesan. Serves four.
United they stand: Mattie's is one of nearly a dozen LoDo restaurants that have banded together to work on some common concerns. Surprisingly, Denver Pavilions, with its popular chain eateries, isn't one of them. "Who cares?" says unofficial group leader Lee Goodfriend, part-owner of Dixons Downtown Grill, at 1610 16th Street. "Why would we try to battle that thing? I think people who truly know quality are going to go to the right places."
Instead, Goodfriend says, she and her fellow restaurateurs are trying to get the city and RTD to pay some attention to the lack of parking and the inadequacy of transportation in and out of LoDo. "We feel that we have so many businesses down here who are putting so much financially into the area and getting nothing in return," adds Goodfriend, who opened Dixons in March 1997 and has been fighting like heck to break even ever since. "There are three main things we're trying to be the squeaky wheel about: One is the unbelievable lack of parking; one is the fact that RTD should extend their 16th Street Mall Ride farther down; and the other is that, while there are plans to make Union Station this big intermodal transportation center, it's not happening nearly fast enough to save us."
The parking issue would be easier to handle if the transportation problems were addressed, she adds. "If Union Station becomes this hub, with trains going out to the airport, the Pepsi Center, Elitch's, the suburbs--well, then, parking wouldn't be such a big deal. I mean, it's insane that they would put this Pepsi Center so close and not put in a system that would make it easy for people to come here and go there. No one wants to park and drive twice."
The Union Station changes could happen in the next year or two--but since the project involves RTD, Goodfriend thinks it will tend toward the latter. "You get the feeling that they would let this drag out for a decade, but I'm hoping the new blood that's coming in on the RTD board in January will move a little faster," she says.
And the RTD board isn't the only thing changing. One of the difficulties Goodfriend and her coalition friends face is the incredible turnover at restaurants. "We start working with someone from a restaurant, and then the next thing I know, he's quit and gone to work for the Rainforest Cafe or something," she says. "This would be a lot easier if the staffs didn't change so quickly."
So far, about a dozen of the thirty or so eateries in LoDo have become supporters of the informal association, which has placed co-op ads, partially underwritten by Coca-Cola, in local newspapers to draw people to the area; the brood also keeps in touch with RTD and local developers in an effort to find out what's being planned.
"This is basically like trying to herd cats, getting all these restaurateurs to work on this," Goodfriend admits. "You know how nuts we all are. But if we can keep on it, I think we'll at least raise enough hell to get noticed. And there is strength in numbers. They have to listen to us about these problems eventually, if we get a big enough group going."
The mural of the story: Dixons is one of the many businesses along the mall featuring holiday window decorations by local artists. Next door, a Tattered Cover window boasts a Tony Ortega assemblage depicting a street scene at the corner of West 33rd Avenue and Tejon Street, complete with a tiny RosaLinda's Mexican Cafe. For more Ortega art, head over to the real RosaLinda's at 2005 West 33rd, where the results of a school project directed by Ortega, including some pieces by the artist himself, hang in one of the dining rooms. These wonderful, colorful works sure beat just another wall covered with pictures of alleged Denver celebrities.
A few true celebrities--although not the sort you'll find up against the wall at Morton's of Chicago (1710 Wynkoop Street)--showed up in person for a final Friday lunch at La Casa de Manuel (2010 Larimer Street), which closed for good Saturday night. Saying adios to the Denver institution were historian Tom Noel, city councilmembers Dennis Gallagher and Hiawatha Davis, and assorted artists, city planners, LoDo denizens and other fans of the green chile the Silva family had served at the site for forty years.
Last month Manuel Silva's month-to-month lease on the storefront was abruptly canceled, giving him only thirty days to get out. Although he hasn't found a new home yet, he's planning to reopen--perhaps even in another Larimer Street storefront. And in the meantime, those great folk-art murals painted more than twenty years ago by Jose Castillo, then a Brown Palace bellman, will go into storage.
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McCormick's Fish House & Bar, at 1659 Wazee, is still wide open for business--but a few days ago, the art vanished from its walls. Particularly notable for its absence was a huge, Victorian-era oil painting of a most attractive satyr surrounded by very naked, appreciative ladies, which gave the popular watering hole the feel of a real Wild West saloon.
Turns out that McCormick's had been paid a visit not by the nudity prudes but by Oxford Hotel owners Dana Crawford and Charles Callaway, who in the early Eighties took a flophouse and restored the Oxford Hotel (1600 17th Street) to its century-old roots as a swank city landmark. Although the paintings actually belong to the hotel, for over a decade they'd hung in McCormick's, which leases its corner space from the Oxford. But they haven't disappeared altogether: Callaway and Crawford have moved the works to the walls of the new hotel banquet area next door--where the grinning satyr makes a stunning introduction to the ballrooms. Similar grins can occasionally be found in the large mirror that now hangs in the painting's former bar-side home.