Bay watch: A few local restaurateurs are eating crow over a recent food column in Westword's sister paper, San Francisco's SF Weekly, which pretty much trashed two of Denver's supposedly finest spots--Zenith and Morton's of Chicago. The name of the writer, restaurant critic Barbara Lane, may also sound familiar to this city's foodies: She was Westword's first food reviewer a dozen years ago.

Lane was in town for a long weekend and went to dinner at Zenith at my suggestion; I was supposed to join her and Denver Post food writer John Kessler (my predecessor at Westword), along with several Westword editors, but an allergic reaction to an antibiotic squelched those plans. Instead, the group went without me, and from what I heard--and what Lane told all of the City by the Bay--the meal was only slightly less excruciating than the reaction I had to the medicine. "A sweet potato tamale had the density of a bowling ball, the chicken was undercooked to the point of being a health hazard, and the duck resembled a salt lick," Lane wrote. Ouch--especially considering that Zenith is fresh off some dazzling treatment from Bon Appetit, in which chef/owner Kevin Taylor was described so lovingly he sounded like a cross between Kevin Costner and Albert Einstein. (And how did they get the stark white dining room to look so warm and yellow?)

Lane was no more thrilled with Morton's, where, she said, "diners are treated to a Wheel of Fortune-type display, wherein the waitress, who looks like she'd rather be anywhere else, holds up Saran-wrapped steaks and chops... Everything is oversized (shades of Sleeper), which adds to the unreal absurdity of the experience. Prices are astronomical..." The only good thing Lane had to say was that the wet-aged porterhouse was "excellent," but she then went on to list three places in San Francisco that were better. I had not been happy with a recent visit to Morton's, either, and my mention of it in a review of Ruth's Chris Steak House caused a panic among Morton's managers, who have since been trying to find out when I visited and what waiter treated me and my female guest like two lepers.

I had another bad meal recently, surprisingly in a place that I had previously enjoyed. During a visit to Pad Thai, at 3333 South Wadsworth in Lakewood, the restaurant's namesake dish ($4.85) had a sour quality and lacked the usually strong peanut flavor in the sauce, and the tom kha gai ($4.95) had exactly one piece of chicken in it. Owner Kim Pannotayan was the only person working the dining room, so service suffered--we spent two hours when we should have spent one--because the place was fairly full. When Pannotayan found out about my complaints, she told several customers, who then called me to plead Pad Thai's case. Nice try, guys--but this time, Pad Thai just wasn't up to par.

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