There are a lot of very cool things about living in Denver. The availability of cheap tacos and Mexican Coca-Cola (see my review of El Coyotito #3). The ready access to excellent sushi and cheeseburgers and pho and menudo and kitfo and Chinese dumplings and tandoori -- sometimes all within the same block.
People who live in New York City (and who, in my opinion, sometimes seem rather desperately proud of living in New York City) will often say something like, "Well, sure, I'm paying $2,600 a month for my studio apartment. And yes, it's in a former crackhouse with a view of the methadone clinic, and I have to pay the neighborhood kids fifty bucks a week not to steal my Vespa, and in the summer, the entire neighborhood smells like hot cheese for three months. But where else but New York can you get Thai food at midnight or have a Korean bodega next door to a Vietnamese electronics store with a Russian restaurant on the corner serving pelmeni just like in the Old Country?"
To which I always reply, "Denver, dumbass. And here, you've only got to throw the neighborhood kids a ten-spot to keep them from boosting your scooter."
The Mayananda condo-tel
I like that driving into the city from Aurora in the morning, I can see mountains rising in the distance rather than New Jersey. I like knowing that if ever things go bad-wrong here in town, I can make the Mexican border in about nine hours of hard driving. And while the profusion of restaurants and strange juxtapositions of foods and cuisines give me the biggest multicultural chubby, I'm also impressed by the innovations I find in the West.
Last week, I was standing outside one of my favorite diners, smoking a cigarette and perusing the newspaper, when I came upon the most brilliant real estate come-on I'd ever seen: 24-hour room service in your condo.
Just think about that for a minute. It's late, and just when you've gotten nice and comfortable on the couch, set the bong aside and found a 3 a.m. showing of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla on TV, it occurs to you that you really need a cheeseburger or a shrimp cocktail or maybe some spaghetti. This isn't some fleeting hunger, this is a need. Without a plate of clams casino or a Caesar salad, you're going to die. So what do you do? Well, if you're the kind of guy who can afford $600,000 for a two-bedroom condo in Westminster, you pick up the phone and dial up your snack.
The Myananda community, currently under development next to the Westin Westminster, is a 68-unit condo complex scheduled to break ground this fall. And while I usually couldn't care less about things like $600,000 condos, community-anything or Westminster in general, the ads for this one really caught my eye because...well, because I was watching Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla just the other night when I suddenly had the urge for a fat, juicy cheeseburger delivered to my door by a guy in a red jacket and pillbox hat.
I just had to find out more about this room-service deal, so I called Julie Spencer, director of sales and marketing for the project, and asked what was up.
"It's a condo-tel," she told me, insisting that "condo-tel" wasn't just a word she'd made up on the spot. "Or rather, it's going to be." The Myananda condos (which start in the high $200s and skyrocket up to about $1.9 million) are part of a new concept in residential design where living spaces, retail, dining and hotel properties are all linked together in a kind of Aldous Huxley, Brave New World-style compound where every conceivable need of the residents is provided for without them ever having to leave the comfort of the landscaped grounds. When the project is completed ("Ski season of '07 or '08," Spencer predicted), there will be footpaths leading to the Westminster Promenade, with access to a dozen restaurants, shopping and a Dave & Buster's. And all the services of the Westin Westminster will be available: The hotel will provide housekeeping, concierge and valet service, meeting rooms, dining. And most important -- at least to the people at Inland Pacific Companies, anyway, who are behind the whole Myananda development -- the condos will essentially be built on top of the Rocky Mountain Chopra Center and Spa, the third location of Dr. Deepak Chopra's ayurvedic and holistic wellness center.
"It's going to be an amazing place," Spencer said, explaining that the center will open to the public around the same time the condos do and offer yoga and meditation, a fitness center, wellness classes, lectures and seventeen treatment rooms not just to residents, but to clients from around the county. "It will be an epicenter for new thought."
Yeah, yeah, whatever. So tell me how this room service thing works again?
"Room service will be facilitated through the Westin," Spencer replied. "And because part of wellness is, of course, eating right, we gave Deepak Chopra's cookbook to the chefs at O's Steakhouse to see what they could do."
But I could still get a steak, right? Just a plain steak? No voodoo sauce. No ayurvedic garnish.
"You'll still be able to get steaks," Spencer assured me, laughing. "And anything else you want."
Now if I could just figure out how to get that $600,000...
Chain gang: I could have invested in Chipotle, of course. Come October, McDonald's plans to be fully divested of its interest in Chipotle. Now, I have no idea what that means, burrito-business-wise (except that Chipotle is anticipating picking up a couple million dollars' worth of employee benefits and insurance packages that were previously handled by Mickey D's), but I do know what it means food-wise: Chipotle will no longer be a part of the Evil Empire, and that's a good thing.
The bad news? McDonald's is doing this because the corporation has had such a successful year that it wants to buy back a whole bunch of its own stock. How successful? A 57 percent rise in quarterly profits, according to Reuters. And with the sale of its Chipotle stock giving McDonald's roughly another $800 million to play with -- which it can then use to pick up its own shares tax-free -- that means Ronald McDonald, Mayor McCheese and the Hamburglar all stand to make about...well, a whole freakin' shitload of money.
The folks behind Chipotle, meanwhile, have already made a whole freakin' shitload of money. And now they're actively courting regular joes like you and me to scout new locations for them. Dig this note from Chipotle's website: "Do you know of an available site that might suit Chipotle? After reviewing our criteria below...send us a recommendation. We will answer you with many thanks and send along your suggestion to our real estate folks in your area."
I've suggested a site right across the street from my house, explaining that the only complication is that they'd have to boot out the Wing Stop that's already there. Though I haven't heard back yet, I'm confident the Chipotle black-ops team should be by any day now.
While Chipotle continues to conquer the world, another chain is moving into town. Bandana's Bar-BQ, which opened an outpost at 195 South Union in Lakewood this summer, is a St. Louis-based company founded by the Seitz family, which has four generations of experience. That experience shows in the Southern-style barbecue and in a menu heavy on smoke and short on sides (although the roster does include boiled peanuts and Brunswick stew). I've tried the pulled pork and the ribs, the baked beans and the fries, and if the portions on the combos seemed a bit small (not enough for leftovers, which always makes me a bit nervous), I found everything else at Bandana's in line with my requirements for true barbecue craftsmanship -- though the signs imploring customers to vote for Bandana's as Denver's best barbecue in the next Citysearch poll seemed a little presumptuous.
Still, does Bandana's use real wood? Yes, a proprietary mix of hardwoods that keeps the smokers fired day and night. Is there a line? Yes, a pinkish-purple smoke line that shows how deeply and how long the smoke has penetrated the meat. Most important, are the ribs and pork shoulder cooked dry? Yes again: Bandana's uses only a dry rub while the meats are in the smokers, then offers sauces on the side or in large packets for takeout.
Which means my kitchen now has a drawer full of barbecue sauces (since I didn't need them for leftovers), perfectly preserved and ready for whatever natural (or unnatural) disaster might befall the region. Hey, you have your emergency kits, I have mine.
Leftovers: Colorado may well become an "epicenter for new thought," thanks to the arrival of the Chopra Center and Spa, which will no doubt make us all better people, align our chakras, unbungle our chi and do whatever it is that ayurvedic medicine, cranberry bliss balls and leek chutney (both recipes from the Chopra Center Cookbook) are supposed to do.
But until that happens, we Coloradans can take heart in knowing that we're the least grossly obese state in the nation, according to a report filed last week by Trust for America's Health, an advocacy group. While the fatty-fatty fat-fats over in Mississippi topped the scales this year with 29.5 percent of its adults considered obese, Colorado came out looking lean and mean with just 16.9 percent of our citizens in the danger zone.
But that means 17 percent of this state's population -- nearly one person in every five -- is still suffering from a serious health problem that has the potential to kill. To be considered obese, you need a Body Mass Index higher than thirty -- which is really big. For example, if you're 5'6", you've got to weigh in at almost 200 pounds before you're considered obese. And almost 17 percent of our population is.
I don't know. Maybe those cranberry bliss balls aren't such a bad idea after all.
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Restaurateur Jay Chadrom has brought in some outside help for Aqua, his new fish emporium at 925 Lincoln Street. Adde Bjorklund, who's been more or less out of the scene since the closure of his half-eponymous Bistro Adde Brewster in Cherry Creek a couple years ago, is now handling front-of-the-house and floorman duties.
"He's pretty much overseeing everything," Chadrom says. "You know, I've been trying to partner up with Adde on many occasions." They'd discussed a deal where Bjorklund would handle food at Chadrom's club, Sanctuary, and he even tried to bring Bjorklund aboard at Opal, across the street from Aqua. But nothing came together -- until now.
And Aqua's coming together, too, Chadrom says. The menu (all seafood, all the time), with its quasi-Asian/French inspiration, seems to have hit a nerve. Particularly popular is the $75 "Chef's Muse," a kind of deconstructed plateau de fruits de mer that offers all the best, freshest fish in the kitchen, assembled according to the fleeting inspirations of the cooks and served in successive banzai waves "until somebody says enough," according to Chadrom.
Chi Bistro, which opened at 1066 South Gaylord in July, has already burned through one chef and is on to its second: Dave Richmond, a former instructor at Johnson & Wales and ex of the Stanley Hotel.