Ask the Critic: A final question answered

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So the big question last week (and the week before) was what restaurant I should review before saying goodbye to Denver for good. I got a lot of suggestions. Some of them were good. Some of them were ridiculous. In the end, I went with my gut (and the demands of at least a certain percentage of the people) and chose...

Well, I'm not going to tell you just yet. First, I'll dispense with some of the other propositions put forth by faithful readers:

Why don't you do Islamorada/Downtown Aquarium/Root Down or any of the other places you've trashed over the years?

Because that would be cheap and sleazy -- and, even if just for this final moment, I wanted to rise above the tawdry and find something beautiful. Yes, I've got something of a reputation for offering vicious literary beatings to those restaurants that didn't live up to my standards, those that disappointed me, those run by the delusional, the knuckleheaded or the insane, but I never saw myself as a hitman. I was just a kid who loves cooks and loves restaurants and loves telling their stories -- good, bad or horrific. Over the years here, I was surprised more often than I was let down. I found more joy and weirdness in this city than I ever thought I could. And to go out with some final screeching, howling monster of a final review -- all bad words and fire and threats of terrible violence? Well, that would've left a bad taste in my mouth for a city that has fed me and comforted me and thrilled me for the past however-many-years without ever truly letting me down.

Not only that, but a lot of those epically bad reviews? They were momentary things. Mark & Isabella has already shut its doors. The Downtown Aquarium was my Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas--a one-time thing that could never be repeated. Islamorada? Believe it or not, that's my daughter's second-favorite restaurant in the city (behind Dbar Desserts, which she loves the way only a five-year-old can love a restaurant devoted almost entirely to dessert), and while she would've loved to go back to look at all the fish one last time, it wouldn't have felt right to me. And places like Root Down and The Kitchen (which was also mentioned more than once by readers)? I've already had my say about them. I've picked my hill, planted my flag and defended my position against all assaults. It seems only right for me to leave them now to the fresh eyes and palate of whoever gets named as my replacement. Let him (or her) bring their own noise and make their own assessments. I will admit to being damnably curious, but like the rest of you, I guess I'm just going to have to read about them at some later date.

Another frequent suggestion: Do Casa Bonita! For the love of all that is holy, please do Casa Bonita!

I seriously considered this. Seriously enough that I had plans to go on a Saturday afternoon and spend an entire evening rolling around in the sticky weirdness of the place, watching the cliff divers, taunting the mariachis, stuffing myself full of sopapillas, drinking a bucket of Corona and then, ultimately, getting thrown out for sexually harassing whoever was wearing the gorilla costume. I'd acquired the necessary chemicals to make the night truly unforgettable. I'd made peace with the food gods. I was ready to go.

And then, at the last minute, I chickened out. I mean, I've been to Casa Bonita before, but this was just too much pressure. There would be too much hanging on just one night. And to be honest, through all my years here, I've never had to force the strangeness. It always found me of its own foul volition, climbed right up my leg and humped me raw. This just felt like tempting the fates a little bit too much, so I demurred and walked away.

Not only that, but I've got a lot of packing to do. And knowing what that food would do to me, I just couldn't see how spending three days paying for one night of (arguable) fun would be worth it in the long run.

Olive Garden, dude. Olive Garden.

See above. You want to know what its like to eat at Olive Garden, you go there.

More suggestions: Tables, Fruition, Table 6, Frasca, Venue...

All places that I've done (follow the links above to read all about them). All places that I've loved. All places whose memories I will carry with me across miles and years. If and when I manage to sneak in a meal at these places before lighting out for the territories, it will be just for me, for Laura and me, for Laura and Parker and me.

Believe it or not, I do still eat for fun now and then. Much as it might sometimes seem otherwise, I don't write about every single thing that I do. The restaurants listed above (and some others) are the places that have made Denver not just a great place to write about food, but a great place to actually eat. I can never thank them enough for the peace and comfort they've offered me, often just when I needed it most. But if I can find the time for another seat along the windows, another plate of agnolotti or grits or pork belly, it'll be something I do in private, with my notebooks and pens already comfortably packed away.

Mexican food, because there isn't any in Seattle

I don't believe this for one minute. Yes, there's more excellent Mexican food in Denver alone than there probably is in all of the Pacific Northwest, but wherever there are people, there are tacos. I will find them or starve trying. In the meantime, much as I would've loved to get back to Taqueria Patzcuaro or Chili Verde or wherever, none of them seemed quite right.

Barolo Grill

Again, my successor has to have something to do when he/she arrives. And tracking the fifteen-year progression of proper Italian food through the streets of this city might be a good place to start.

Tomorrow, I'll reveal the site of my last supper.

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