Mouthing Off

Cream of the crop: Some steak buffs are so eager to get to the meat of the matter that they don't bother with side dishes, but I like something to turn to between beef bites. The creamed spinach at Sullivan's Steakhouse is an ideal break, because it's a little salty and very rich, but not so heavy that you can't finish your steak--and not so light that you feel like you're actually eating a vegetable.

The following recipe calls for kosher salt, and although there's not a real discernible difference between the kosher and iodized salt when they're tasted plain (iodized salt contains preservatives and iodine, both of which are tasteless, but the coarser kosher salt doesn't), kosher does make a difference in the final result. For the deepest flavor, though, go for sea salt, which is made by evaporating seawater. Places like Alfalfa's sell kosher and sea salt in bulk, and it's worth experimenting with both. Put the more exotic salts in groovy bowls or flowerpots next to your stove, and don't be afraid to use them.

No matter what salt you use, though, Sullivan's spinach is so good you might want to have it as the main course with a side of beef.

Sullivan's Spinach
4 pounds fresh spinach
2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces

Rinse and steam spinach. Drain and roughly chop. Place cream in a large saucepan; heat and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes. Add spinach, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes. Add cream cheese. Cook mixture for 15 minutes, stirring often to ensure that the cheese is thoroughly blended and the spinach has an appealing consistency. Serves 4.

Pleased to meat you: My dinner with Barry Fey presented the perfect opportunity to quiz him about a recent sighting at Bobby Rifkin's Pacific Star (1735 Lawrence Street), where Fey was seen sitting at a big, round table with such heavy hitters as attorneys Steve Farber and Norm Brownstein, printer Barry Hirschfeld and dairy mogul Eddie Robinson--as well as a few babes obviously on loan from Rifkin's other joint, the Diamond Cabaret.

Fey allowed that "the salmon was very good," said he left early to go home for the Monday-night lineup on TV and revealed nothing more. Farber would say only that he eats at Pacific Star "regularly." But it turns out that his name--along with those of a few other male movers and shakers--was on the invitation for the supper club's free feed that was extended to a number of Denver bigwigs. A Pacific Star employee says the restaurant has been trying to get "important people from around town to come check the place out" and that the evening was very "tasteful." But the Cabaret cuties were an added amenity not offered when the Star recently hosted a similar dinner for female VIPs.

Of course, The Palm (1201 16th Street) is the steakhouse known for attracting VIPs--and for putting their caricatures up on the wall. But a few who stopped by the Denver restaurant two weeks ago were less than impressed with that night's special: a filet stuffed with lobster and covered with some mysterious brown sauce that was so salty it made the dish inedible (a problem the kitchen was well aware of, it turned out--so why keep offering the special?). And the only thing more raw than the side of brussels sprouts--not exactly everyone's favorite veggie even when cooked correctly--was a pair of bloody lamb chops. At least the server had a sense of humor about the salt-lick special: When he brought the dessert tray around, the centerpiece was a saltshaker. After dinner, this party headed toward the bar to try to drown any extant sorrows, only to be told that it was closing--even though there were plenty of people still drinking and chatting inside. And this before 11 p.m. and after a $200 dinner tab.

Much more congenial was the experience a colleague enjoyed that same Friday at the Washington, D.C., Palm. Seated directly below the cartoon of a toga-wearing Charlton Heston, her table got a perfectly cooked pair of lamb chops and a special of Thai-style soft-shell crab. But the best part of the meal, she reports, was the gratis relish dish--including a giant, just-dilled cucumber--that appears on each table at lunchtime. Denver's Palm doesn't do that, but it is offering a $14.95 business special right now, featuring an assortment of salad/pasta combos designed to help Denver's power lunchers refuel quickly and efficiently.

Pork place: As far as I'm concerned, bacon is as important--if not more so--than beef, and so I was in hog heaven at the Southside Cafe (560 South Broadway) the other morning when I stopped for a breakfast of huevos rancheros ($4.25) and a side of bacon ($3)--which quickly turned into two sides once we bit into the succulent slices. The green on the huevos was good, if thin and light on the chile heat, but the over-easy eggs had been cooked just right, and the homemade hashbrowns had a great crispy roof from the grill. And, oh, that bacon: Cooked crisp, with plenty of melt-in-your-mouth fat and a minimum of grease, these pig parts were better than I've had in far more upscale establishments.

And come to think of it, so was the service. Our gal worked that room faster than a fly at a picnic, and she was friendly, too. When she brought our food, she said she'd be right back with my juice, and she was--and when I asked for ketchup, she came right back with that, too, and she was all over that second order of bacon. The place was full and demanding, and I couldn't help but lament that, even with our overtipping, she'd still be heading home with a tenth of the take that some lazy-butt ignoramus at a $20-a-plate place gets. You go, girl.

I enjoyed good service at Manny's Underground (1836 Blake Street), too. Now occupying the space that once housed The Art of Coffee, Manny's is named after building owner and LoDo fixture Manny Salzman, but it's run by Kristen Del Calzo. I'm not sure if she was the woman who waited on me during a recent lunch, but everyone working there was very friendly--something I've never experienced at the deli down the street, The Laughing Dog (1925 Blake Street)--and the food was quite good. The place offers a full espresso bar, homemade soups and pies, and beer and wine.

My hummus sandwich with cucumber, carrots, sprouts and tomato ($4.75) was generously portioned and filled with fresh ingredients, and my friend's roast beef panini ($6), with havarti and a lively horseradish sauce, was delicious. The breads were wonderful, the coffee was well-made, and the place was cheerful and full of local art. In LoDo's sea of sports bars, Manny's is a nice alternative.

Another one bites the dust: Although the steaks were nothing to write home about (much less write a review about--see "Cattle Call," February 4), I'm sorry that assorted employees of the Trail Dust Steak House will be out of work while they rebuild the original Englewood outlet at 7101 South Clinton, which burned to the ground last month.

But we won't see a resurrection of another Denver institution, now a patch of might-as-well-be scorched earth at the corner of 20th and Larimer streets. The wonderful old Victorian building that housed the awful old Elbow Room bar was demolished earlier this month--and disappearing with it was the original home of La Casa de Manual. Fortunately, Manual Silva managed to salvage the wonderful murals that lined his storefront eatery for two decades, and they now grace his restaurant's new location just eleven blocks up the street, at 3158 Larimer. As for La Casa's original site--it's now a parking lot.

That's progress?



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