The evening Westword's Best of Denver issue came out, my husband and I stopped at Carmine's on Penn--which had just been named Best Italian--and were amused to overhear owner Larry Herz chatting with a table of twenty or so diners sitting right next to us. They were talking The diners wanted to know if Herz had ever met me. "I have no idea what she looks like," he said, as my husband and I tried to look nonchalant. (It's sort of like being at your own funeral.) Herz then proceeded to field questions about me, the Best Of issue and other restaurant critics about town. Ever the diplomat, he wisely avoided saying anything too incriminating.

A wine merchant I sat next to at Moondance a few weeks later could take lessons from Herz. Moondance is a new piano bar/restaurant along eatery-heavy Market Street; the food is pleasing, the atmosphere comfortable--and the tables along the back wall rather close together. Not that it mattered to this woman, because her name-dropping even had people at the bar, which was clear across the room, turning around to stare. It seems that she is great friends with just about everyone who's anyone in town--although she wouldn't be if any of them heard what she told a woman she was obviously just getting to know, not to mention everyone in the restaurant.

Which includes her intimate knowledge of the following: One well-known restaurateur can't keep a wife or carry on a relationship (but they're such good friends that he gave her a very generous wedding gift); a highly regarded female manager lost her job because the owner "just can't respect women"; and one of the most successful restaurant owners around can't pay his bills because of a drug problem. She had no compunction about naming names--but I do. In addition, all of the food writers and restaurant critics in town (except me, whom she's never met) are her "good friends" and will publicize "anything" for her. Her companion nodded and took in everything, but she refused to be drawn into a discussion bashing Pat "Gabby Gourmet" Miller. "I don't know her that well," she said, glancing around.

Even such tantalizing tidbits couldn't divert my attention from Moondance's food, though. I started with the porcini and chicken soup ($1.95/cup). The mushroom flavor was so strong that I forgot about the chicken halfway through; little bits of bacon provided the soup's true undertones. The Monte Cristo ($5.95) was an exquisite version of the sandwich, with quality honey-cured ham, smoky turkey breast and Swiss cheese tucked between slices of bread dipped in egg, then fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Although the menu mentioned that the kitchen's own aioli sauce would be served alongside, I received a ramekin of honey, which got the job done. The side of sugar snap peas, seemingly just picked and ever-so-lightly sauteed in butter with the merest hint of garlic, made the fat sandwich a good deal.

The gossip, on the other hand, was free.
Not free: The Rocky Mountain Beer Festival, August 20-21 in Copper Mountain. But you can sample all beers (including the winners of the home-brewing competition) and attend all seminars for just $15.

A side of beef: Of course, it was Boulder's New York Deli immortalized on Mork and Mindy and soon to open an outlet in the Tivoli. My apologies.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner