Cafe Society

Mouthing Off

Chile reception: More downhome Mexican food is where the hearth is, but darned if I can tell you much more than that after two visits to La Fogata, at 5670 East Evans. The name translates to "the fireplace," but I'm the one who's hot over a zillion unreturned phone calls from the restaurant's management.

I did manage to get an employee to poll the waitstaff about how long La Fogata has been there, and the consensus is that this eatery has occupied the old home of the Holly Inn for about five years. And that's all I know, other than what I learned myself from eating at La Fogata, a fun, upbeat spot that serves some good Mexican food. I'd go back anytime for two things: the house margarita ($4.50 for a large) and the shrimp cocktail ($6.95 for a small). The drink went down easily, with none of that throat-catching, cheap-mix sweetness, and some magical ingredient had turned it pinkish and gave it a wonderful flavor (cranberry juice seems like a good guess). The shrimp cocktail had an addictive, gazpacho-like base (the waitress told us it was spiced-up V-8) and plenty of solid chilled shrimp.

There were other winners on the menu, too, such as the oddly priced hot flashes ($4.05): cream-cheese-stuffed, breaded-and-fried jalapenos that distinguished themselves from the usual poppers by being freshly made, not frozen. Interestingly, the woman I was eating with has just started experiencing genuine hot flashes, and she said downing those sharp peppers created a comparable sensation.

Another hot dish was the carne asada ($8.95), ribeye that had been grilled with onions until it turned into a caramelized mess, then sliced and sided by too-runny refried beans and decent rice. The dish also came with guacamole salad, an excellent garlic-infused avocado mixture. Not quite as impressive was the mole de pollo arroz frijoles ($5.75), fried chicken strips in a boring mole that lacked the complexity of a sauce that often contains twenty or more ingredients.

But overall, the meal was noteworthy enough to inspire a return trip--for another margarita, another shrimp cocktail and a plate of pork carnitas ($7.95), which, like the margarita, are listed on La Fogata's menu as "favorites." No wonder: The pork had been sparked by lime juice, then browned and roasted until it developed crusty edges and fell apart when nudged with a fork; it was cloaked with La Fogata's fiery green chile. A side of beans and a generous scoop of guacamole helped cool things down.

Now I wish the staff would just warm up to phone inquiries. It wasn't a language barrier, because I got several people on the phone who spoke perfect English. The owner, however, wasn't one of them; later I heard a rumor that she's in the process of opening another La Fogata somewhere on Parker Road. That's all I know about that.

Mouth of the border: My quest for relatively undiscovered Mexican delights in the Denver area was inspired by a recent foray across the border into Puerto Penasco, Mexico, also known as Rocky Point. Fortunately, we were there not to eat elaborate meals but to lie around in the sun. While Denverites can't walk up to a dock and pay a few bucks for several pounds of just-off-the-boat seafood, we can walk into a grocery store and find fresh produce and properly refrigerated eggs and meat, which we had a tough time locating in this little beach town. There were three mercados that offered grocery fare, but that included mounds of half-rotten tomatoes, room-temperature cheeses hardened and molding on the outside, and chopped beef swarming with flies. There were a few great bargains, though, such as beautiful pineapples for 50 cents each, tortillas still moist and steamy from the oven, and delicious bottled salsas for a buck, as well as every kind of fresh and dried chile known to man. As a result, we ate a lot of spicy pineapple salsa and fish burritos.

On the way home through Tucson, we gorged on great Mexican food at El Dorado. From the cheese-and-potato soup and pork-laden, chile-fired posole to the calamari Veracruz (more squid than I've ever seen in one order of anything, anywhere) and killer pepper shrimp (crustaceans coated with a creamy, concentrated pepper sauce), everything was outstanding. When in Tucson, do as we did.

Stars to BARS: When in Greenwood Village, don't even try to buy alcohol if you're under 21. After last year's "sting" by the local police that caught 14 out of 26 restaurants serving to minors, Michael Brody, owner of Bourbon Street Pizzabar & Grill, created the Being an Alcohol-Responsible Server (BARS) program, which is geared toward employees making the commitment to ID anyone under age thirty. Restaurants pay $100 toward materials, and the setup involves volunteers between the ages of 21 and 25 buying drinks at the participating eateries. If the server cards them, the volunteer hands over a $10 gift certificate for food good at all the restaurants, and the server is then eligible for monthly awards such as tickets to sporting events and concerts. If the server doesn't card the youthful customer, the infraction is reported to the restaurant's management.

Coors Brewing Company likes the idea so much, it's jumped on the bandwagon and is donating Rockies tickets and related prizes, and now Douglas County is looking to implement the program, too.