Best Gratuitous Use of Joe Pantoliano in an Asian Restaurant

Mao Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar

Yes, Mao is the hippest, slickest, South Beach-iest joint to debut on the Denver restaurant scene in a long time. Yes, they spent some godawful huge wad of cash on the trippy, color-changing ceiling and fiber-optic bar top. Yes, there are flat-screen TVs in the can, and, yes, that very well might be your neighbor/landlord/congressman in the corner booth getting busy with that pretty young thing who isn't his wife. But amid all the high-end decor, the weirdest, oddest, most jarring juxtaposition has to be the giant, lovingly rendered portrait of Joe Pantoliano dominating the back wall. Sure, we loved him in The Sopranos. And we agree that he's probably one of the most underappreciated character actors working today. But why it seemed like a good idea to put a huge picture of him striding along, hands in his pockets, trademark slouch hat turned backward on his head, in a restaurant dedicated to the happy memories of a murderous communist revolutionary is beyond us. Still, it looks nice, and if Joey Pants should ever come through town, we're sure he'll appreciate it, too.
Man does not live by bread alone. In fact, man shouldn't be eating bread at all these days, not if he's on a low-carb diet. Instead, he should do what Denver's fat cats have done for over a decade: stick his big butt down in one of the Palm's cushy booths and dig into a big, no-carb steak. And just in case he has problems deciding whether those bleu-cheese crumbles are going to throw off the count, the Palm has come up with a handy guide to its "favorite low-carb selections" to help eaters stay within Atkins and South Beach diet guidelines. For a set price of $47 or $40 -- hey, you can never be too rich or too thin -- you get a no-carb entree (steaks for the higher-priced spread, seafood and chicken for the lower), a salad (no croutons, of course), a vegetable (half portion) and a low-carb cheesecake that has diners swooning. And think of all those calories you'll work off as you swivel your head trying to see what VIPs have just walked in the door and then start aerobically glad-handing them. Hint: That fellow at the bar having an animated argument with Bill Husted's portrait on the wall is probably, well, Bill Husted.

Best Gratuitous Use of a Political Scandal in a French Restaurant

Le Central

Le Central
Remember all that Freedom Toast crap last year? All that screeching on AM radio about how patriotic Americans ought to pitch out their French cheese, pour their French wine into the gutter and abstain from all French kissing until the Frogs stopped thinking for themselves and, like Tony Blair, just blindly agreed with everything our president said? Yeah, that was some freaky, flag-waving shit that went down -- and leave it to Robert Tournier, owner of Le Central, to turn it all to his advantage. At the height of the mock crisis, Tournier decided to hold an essay contest, with prizes (most of them involving free dinners at Le Central) for the entries that best expressed a love of all things French, and more prizes (mostly consisting of French wine and chocolate and free dinners at Le Central) for those that best typified an American's loathing for the French. Well, big surprise: Tournier's business increased by more than 10 percent during the controversy.
These days, everyone and his brother and their sister are hopping on the low-carb bus, tossing the rice, the tortilla, the pasta, the pastry, the bread and the bun out the window. But Carl's Jr. gives you a little something to hold what's left of your meal -- and your dignity -- together. Its fast-food burger comes neatly wrapped in lettuce, so that you can still experience the carnivorous thrill of eating with your hands, not a fork. Hint: That fellow at the drive-thru next to you is probably Barry Fey.
Palm Restaurant
Man does not live by bread alone. In fact, man shouldn't be eating bread at all these days, not if he's on a low-carb diet. Instead, he should do what Denver's fat cats have done for over a decade: stick his big butt down in one of the Palm's cushy booths and dig into a big, no-carb steak. And just in case he has problems deciding whether those bleu-cheese crumbles are going to throw off the count, the Palm has come up with a handy guide to its "favorite low-carb selections" to help eaters stay within Atkins and South Beach diet guidelines. For a set price of $47 or $40 -- hey, you can never be too rich or too thin -- you get a no-carb entree (steaks for the higher-priced spread, seafood and chicken for the lower), a salad (no croutons, of course), a vegetable (half portion) and a low-carb cheesecake that has diners swooning. And think of all those calories you'll work off as you swivel your head trying to see what VIPs have just walked in the door and then start aerobically glad-handing them. Hint: That fellow at the bar having an animated argument with Bill Husted's portrait on the wall is probably, well, Bill Husted.
Baker Michael Bortz is the very devil that Atkins devotees see when they look over their shoulders. As they lie awake at night, dreaming of chewy sourdough and baguettes hot out of the oven, they hear Bortz's voice whispering, "Go ahead. What could one loaf hurt?" At Paradise Bakery, you walk right into the guts of a working kitchen and order your carbs directly from the guys who've been there since 4 a.m., turning the dough, nursing the starters and babysitting all those racks of warm, fresh goodness. Whether you're dropping in for a couple boules to go with dinner or sneaking in to load up on decadent black-cherry-chocolate miche, it's diet be damned in Paradise.
These days, everyone and his brother and their sister are hopping on the low-carb bus, tossing the rice, the tortilla, the pasta, the pastry, the bread and the bun out the window. But Carl's Jr. gives you a little something to hold what's left of your meal -- and your dignity -- together. Its fast-food burger comes neatly wrapped in lettuce, so that you can still experience the carnivorous thrill of eating with your hands, not a fork. Hint: That fellow at the drive-thru next to you is probably Barry Fey.
Don't let the wedding cakes on display fool you: The Cream Puffery isn't just for special occasions. This bakery, bar and cafe has something to satisfy any sweet tooth, whether you're celebrating a marriage, a divorce decree or just the fact that it's Tuesday. Owner and pâtissire Amy DeWitt has forgotten more about baking and pastry and the hard science of whisks and convection than most people will ever know. Leaving her native Miami three years ago, she brought all of this accumulated knowledge to Boulder, where she and her Cuban-born partner, Lourdes Sanchez, opened the Cream Puffery and started turning out beautiful Key lime pies, rich dulce de leche cakes and the best ropa vieja money can buy. There's no place better for a little taste of Big Havana.
Baker Michael Bortz is the very devil that Atkins devotees see when they look over their shoulders. As they lie awake at night, dreaming of chewy sourdough and baguettes hot out of the oven, they hear Bortz's voice whispering, "Go ahead. What could one loaf hurt?" At Paradise Bakery, you walk right into the guts of a working kitchen and order your carbs directly from the guys who've been there since 4 a.m., turning the dough, nursing the starters and babysitting all those racks of warm, fresh goodness. Whether you're dropping in for a couple boules to go with dinner or sneaking in to load up on decadent black-cherry-chocolate miche, it's diet be damned in Paradise.
What makes Sunflower a winner? It's not only a vegetarian restaurant. Although chef Jon Pell has been immersed in the nuts-and-sprouts scene for more than a decade and his restaurant is known nationwide as a destination for itinerant veggie-heads, this bright, cozy cafe does its thing with no politics attached. And while Sunflower may be fawned over by every meatless, wheatless, smoothie-sucking, twig-and-berry devotee who's ever visited Boulder, this is not a vegetarian restaurant. It's a great goddamn regular restaurant that -- along with everything else it does with talent and dedication -- also serves wonderful vegetarian and full-on vegan fare. All of the food is fresh, not frozen; the produce is organic, the meats drug- and hormone-free. And that's all fine, but what matters most is that Sunflower's veggie cuisine is so good, you'll forget halfway through that it's supposed to be good for you, too.

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