Best Of :: Food & Drink
The measure of a great menu is the way it makes you consider the future. How long can I sit here eating before I'm kicked out? How much of this can I try before I burst? And how long before I can afford to come back? At L'Atelier, the answers to those questions are, in order: not long, not enough, and not soon enough. Everything on chef Radek Cerny's wonderland board of fare is an amazing and singular creation -- sometimes derivative, often strange, always delicious. The appetizer list alone, with its sweetbreads, tartares and artistic small bites, is enough to keep you coming back for months. From there, the menu expands outward, covering dozens of dishes from the land and sea, each arriving decked out in myriad sauces, demis, reductions and oils that should make even the most indiscriminate gluttons happy. In all, the menu is a piece of poetry, Cerny's ode to his years spent serving the public, to the friends he's made and the friends he's lost. And at L'Atelier, this poem is being performed nightly for your benefit.
We all remember our first underage drink, and for a lot of us, it was probably cadged from an understanding (or careless) bartender at a Chinese restaurant. At Twin Dragon -- where we're sure they carefully check every ID -- you can get a fresh taste of those illicit thrills as an adult. The specialty-drink menu features Fog Cutters, Zombies and rum-heavy Scorpion bowls, but most important, it has Mai Tais -- all syrupy-sweet with fruit juice, garnished with neon-red cherries and limp orange slices, and liberally dosed with the hard stuff. Second only to a cold Tsing Tao, nothing cuts the burn of good General Tso's Chicken like a Mai Tai, that classic of the cocktail set. And in keeping with tradition, Twin Dragon still serves this tiki-bar special in its only proper vessel: a big, chipped ceramic pineapple.
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.
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.
Kabul Kabob, an unassuming little joint tucked away in a strip mall, does everything flawlessly, without ever appearing to try too hard. The kitchen specializes in a cuisine that's east of the Middle East, north of northern India, flavored by the trickle-down influence of all the cultures that surround Afghanistan on the map; the menu reads like a history lesson taught in flavor, with tastes and spices and preparations mingling in every dish. From the casual service, to the space -- all regal gold and purple -- to the unpretentious atmosphere, this is a restaurant you want to come back to again and again, if only because on every visit you're tempted to eat three of everything. And since the place is incredibly inexpensive, you could easily do just that.
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.
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.