Since I just reviewed city-o-city, which opened early this year in the original home of WaterCourse Foods, it seemed an appropriate time to check out what the new WaterCourse has to offer. First things first: The restaurant, which took over the space formerly occupied by the New York on 17th deli, is lovely. Large, bright and airy, with a big dining area and an ample kitchen, these digs are an almost 180-degree reversal from the old, cramped and run-down address on 13th Avenue. There's a bakery case, a blond-wood counter (which also doubles as a bar) and lots of tables bathed in natural light spilling in through the banks of floor-to-ceiling windows. Much like City, O' City, this WaterCourse looks like a place where I'd like to hang out — that is, if there's anything on the menu to eat.
Unfortunately, WaterCourse suffers from the same problem I encountered at City: the ridiculous and counterproductive usage of all manner of fake meat products and preparations that fight against the vegetarian ethos rather than catering to it. Seriously, if you're going to be a vegetarian, you're just going to have to live without Philly cheesesteaks and Reuben sandwiches. Sucks to be you. But for this kitchen to attempt to make a simulacrum out of shaved seitan or portobello mushrooms is like me going out in my back yard and trying to build a working model of the space shuttle out of particle board and pieces from my junked Camry. It doesn't matter how much the thing looks like the space shuttle. It doesn't matter how loudly and fervently I insist that it is the space shuttle. It just ain't the motherfucking space shuttle, and it ain't ever gonna fly.
I decided to try WaterCourse at breakfast, since that's the meal most kind to vegetarians — the one where they can almost convince themselves that they are eating well and heartily. And to give the kitchen an even better chance, I didn't have scrambled tofu and tempeh bacon. I didn't go for the homemade biscuits and gravy. No, I had the breakfast tamales, because I thought that would give the kitchen a reasonable chance at making me something edible that did not feature a pork product. But a tamale isn't a tamale if there's nothing inside it, and what I got was a log of masa speckled with corn kernels and green peas, with scrambled eggs on the side that were dry and overcooked (even if the potatoes were nicely fried).
After a bite, I gave up hope that anyone out there is going to come up with a workable, edible American vegetarian cuisine. Even so, as occasionally good and often disappointing as the WaterCourse/City axis is, right now it's the best full-on vegetarian fare that Denver has to offer. I was just hoping for so much more.