Ending last year with a bang and starting January with a full belly is a portentous way to usher in 2018. Regardless of whatever else is going on in your life or in the world, good food has a way of pushing aside stress and smoothing out rough edges — even if only for a meal or two. Over the weekend, we made our last restaurant meal of 2017 count and then woke up to a new year and sought out something comforting.
Chef Thach Tran was hired as executive chef of Ace Eat Serve (501 East 17th Avenue) a few months ago and has been putting some new touches on the menu while keeping customer favorites intact. On December 30, Tran added an entree for the weekend only: rice pillow noodles with shrimp and scallops in XO sauce. The rice noodles are formed from paper-thin sheets that are rolled tight and then sliced into inch-long pieces, so that each piece offers a light and springy coil for the XO sauce to cling to.
Tran makes his own XO sauce using dried scallops (a rare and expensive commodity), dried shrimp and salted cod, resulting in a rich, powerful coating for the stir-fried ingredients in the dish. Tender shrimp and scallops nestle up with crunchy bites of lotus root, shredded carrots and other veggies for a unique Hong Kong-style dish that fits in perfectly with Ace's pan-Asian mindset.
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No fair highlighting a dish that was only on the menu for two days, you say? Well, 2018 already promises to be a wondrous year; Tran says he hopes to put this one on the everyday menu in the next month or so, along with a few other new recipes he's working on.
Over at the brand-new Smokin Yard's BBQ (900 West First Avenue), the Yard family (which also runs the original Smokin Yard's in Idaho Springs) cranked up the Ole Hickory smoker over the weekend for a soft opening when guests could pay what they wanted for a taste of the menu.
We decided to wait until the moment the place opened in 2018 (at 11 a.m. on the nose) to dig into a couple of sandwiches. The Carolina-style pulled-pork sandwich is mounded with juicy hunks of pork, spicy coleslaw and mustard-based sauce, while the burnt-end sandwich is served unadorned, letting the smoky, black-edged brisket speak for itself. You can reach for one of three barbecue sauces or help yourself to sliced purple onions, pickles and jalapeños to doctor up your lunch, of course, but these meats don't need much of a supporting cast. Oh, and if you're so inclined, there are also complimentary boiled peanuts on the condiment bar — a real Southern treat and something for those who have never ventured into the heart of Dixie to try, at least once.