As much as I liked Parisi the restaurant, I loved Parisi the deli even more. Both for the staff working behind the counter and the selection out front, this place is a treasure -- a culinary Avalon almost too good to be true.
"My wife, she calls this 'the road to perdition,'" Parisi's cheesemaker said as he walked me between the cold cases and dry stock, his thick Italian accent coating every word with honey. No doubt spotting the starved, fanatical gleam in my eye (and probably the drool on my collar), he'd stepped out from behind the counter to guide me on a brief tour through the cornucopia.
"This cheese, I made this," he said, pointing. "Just two hours ago. Try it? And these. Potatoes, yes? With a little mascarpone? Add some milk to freshen them. And this. The scaloppine chicken. You need these for lunch. Two pieces. Maybe three, yes?"
Yes. Everywhere he pointed, yes. Plus the sausage and some speck. Frozen veal stock? Why not? You can never have enough veal stock. Good thing I'd brought the Bite Me HQ platinum card.
In retrospect, my Parisi shopping trip was a fine illustration of why I needed to quit doing drugs when I did. I can be talked into trying almost anything. Want to be talked into it, as a matter of fact. And I shouldn't be allowed out of the office without a T-shirt with the words "Poor Impulse Control" scrawled across it in big, bold letters. You know, to clearly label me as the easy mark I am.
On the nights I wasn't feeding the monkey in north Denver, I was stuffing myself elsewhere in town in anticipation of the upcoming Best of Denver 2004 (as if I needed an excuse -- but in case you do, our Readers' Poll is on page 38). I dropped in for a late breakfast at Dozens -- a breakfast bar I usually miss, since it's just down the street from Johnny's Diner, my normal weekend haunt -- and now may have to start alternating my schedule, if only for the fact that Dozens makes its own corned beef hash. The kitchen does it in-house, shredding hash off a salty brisket, frying it up on the flat grill and serving it underneath two eggs over so easy that the yolks are barely cooked. In other words, done perfect. Dozens has killer French toast, too, stuffed with raspberry cream cheese, which got me wondering if there's anyplace in town that serves the stuff Lyons-style, with honey-sweetened summer-squash purée. Know of a spot? Then drop me a line.
My only problem with Dozens was the huge chunks of celery in an otherwise wonderful chicken salad piled thick on a fresh croissant. God, I hate celery. Unless it's in a Bloody Mary or diced for a mirepoix, nothing ruins a good lunch quicker than the Devil's tuber.
And no one ruins Chinese food quite like John Holly. Loosely affiliated with Charlie Huang (whose Little Ollie's got a well-deserved kicking in the January 8 "Remember Yen"), Holly's Highlands Ranch outpost, Little Holly's, is a showcase for everything that's bad and wrong about the Americanization of Asian cuisines. Sticky, goopy, nasty saccharine sauces; quote-unquote shrimp tempura that's actually just a flavorless, finger-long chew toy robed in a mushy fish-fry batter; sweet-and-sour chicken that isn't either; spring rolls that taste like kitchen scraps wrapped in wax paper. Ugh. I had some kind of bastardized shrimp and stringy bok choy stir-fry nightmare with shrimp that the kitchen hadn't even bothered to devein, coated in a pasty, damp egg batter that was so foul my cats wouldn't even eat the leftovers. The place couldn't even do barbecued ribs right, burning them so badly it was like I'd said something mean about the cook's mother. Ollie's is bad, but Holly's is worse. I hate both of these places -- with their copycat menus and cookie-cutter decor -- almost unreservedly.
In order to wash my brain clean of this rotten, faux-Asian taint, I took a spin by Clair de Lune -- where anti-celebrity chef/owner Sean Kelly may be in the running for a Beard Award this year. Early reports from dependable sources put him in the top twenty for "Best Chef Southwest," and I don't wanna jinx nothing (the judges still have to winnow that list down to five nominees) -- but seriously, guys, you could do a lot worse. On top of the fact that Sean is still doing his man-alone, Lord Jim routine in Clair's kitchen -- cooking every plate himself, backed up only by a roundsman and a dishwasher -- he's doing it better, cleaner and more purely than anyone else I know. I've never had a bad plate touched by Sean. What's more, I've never had a single bad element on a plate coming out of this kitchen. The sides are as good as the mains, are as good as the veggies, are as good as the desserts -- every time and without fail.