Cafe Society

Mouthing Off

Fit to be stir-fried: Although your kitchen isn't equipped with the sort of young, entertaining grillers who keep things cooking at BD's Mongolian Barbeque (reviewed above), it has other stir-fry advantages. You can easily duplicate the ingredients offered at BD's, since they're your basic cut vegetables, sliced meats and chopped herbs. And you can certainly do better by the sauces, which give stir-fries their great flavor.

What follows is my all-purpose stir-fry formula, an amalgam of recipes I've pulled from over the past decade, ever since I got my first wok. (Actually, I don't use a wok anymore; I recently received an enormous paella pan as a gift, which holds the heat really well and has huge sloped sides that keep things from jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.) You can use whatever combination of vegetables you want with this recipe, but the heavier, heartier ones--broccoli, carrots, scallions, asparagus, mushrooms, bell peppers, snap peas, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots--work best with beef. The black bean sauce also goes well with chicken and fish steaks, though.

Both the fermented black beans and the oyster sauce are available at quite a few regular supermarkets; if you can't find them there, any Asian market will have several varieties of each.

Beef Stir-Fry With Black Bean Sauce
3 1/2 tablespoons safflower, peanut or corn oil
1 1/2 pounds filet or top sirloin, cut into 1/2-inch strips about 2-3 inches long

1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 scallions, white and green parts chopped
1 cup snow peas, strings removed
1 cup broccoli flowerets
(or 3-4 cups of any vegetables cut into uniform shapes and sizes)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 dried bird's-eye chile or one fresh hot chile of choice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons fermented black beans,
1 tablespoon rice wine (sherry may be
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2/3 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 2 teaspoons cold water
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Salt to taste

Heat wok or large heavy skillet over high heat; add 2 tablespoons oil and then beef (hot pan, cold oil: food won't stick). Cook, stirring frequently, until meat is brown on all sides but still medium-rare (or to your preference), one to two minutes. Remove meat with slotted spoon and keep warm. Meanwhile, add remaining oil, reduce heat to medium-high and bring oil to nearly smoking. Add vegetables, ginger, chile and garlic (in that order, so the garlic won't get too done) and stir-fry until just softened, three to four minutes. Add black beans and cook another minute. Add rice wine and reduce until liquid is nearly gone, then add the oyster sauce, chicken stock and brown sugar; bring to a boil. Add cornstarch mixture and cook until thick, two to three minutes. Add meat and cilantro, stirring to combine, and cook until everything is evenly heated, about two minutes. Salt to taste. Serves 4.

Don't be fooled by imitations: Over the holidays, those counterfeit perfumes were everywhere--sort of like all those new chain restaurants popping up. You know what I'm talking about: "If you like'll love Stalker." Seems to me the same concept can be applied to restaurants, only in reverse.

For example: If you like BD's Mongolian Barbeque, you'll love Silla, 3005 South Peoria Street in Aurora, an elegant Korean smokeless-barbecue restaurant where you can cook your own foods that have been marinated in finger-lickin'-good sauces. The choice of ingredients isn't as endless as it is at BD's, but the staff actually works at making the recipes taste good.

If you like the Hard Rock Cafe in the Pavilions, you'll love Annie's Cafe, 4012 East Eighth Avenue, where the rock-and-roll memorabilia focuses on the Fifties, the music is all oldies all the time, and the burger is cheaper, better and comes with skin-on, fresh-cut fries. Bonus: No hour-long wait to get in.

If you like Wolfgang Puck Cafe in the Pavilions, you'll love Kevin Taylor, 1106 14th Street, our nationally known guy who finally has a restaurant named after him. I stopped in a few weeks ago for a post-theater bite and checked out Kevin Taylor (the restaurant) and his other eatery in the Teatro Hotel, Jou Jou. Both are much warmer than was Taylor's starkly decorated Zenith American Grill (a space at 1735 Lawrence Street now occupied by Bobby Rifkin's Pacific Star supper club), and the wait at Kevin Taylor is only as long as it takes for them to hang up your coat. With the man himself in the kitchen, dishes such as the fab foie gras get special treatment. Meanwhile, Wolfie's food is, well, the same stuff I've eaten at his other joints.

If you like the Rainforest Cafe in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, you'll love Casa Bonita, 6715 West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood. Hey, if you're willing to eat crappy food just so your kids can be entertained, you might as well go somewhere unique. And you'll save big bucks by avoiding the stuffed-animal market in the Rainforest lobby.

If you like P.F. Chang's (either the LoDo or Park Meadows outlet, or one of over a dozen around the country), you'll love Golden Plate, 7180 East Hampden Avenue, where the food is actually Chinese and the service is impeccable. No young thangs in floor-length skirts with combat boots among the diners, but there are some lovely fish tanks.

If you like the Cheesecake Factory in the Tabor Center, you'll love Uncle Sam's, 5946 South Holly in Englewood, where the dishes cost about the same but arrive in portions large enough to serve at least two people. You may have leftovers, but they'll be things you want to eat again later, like juicy fried chicken. Kids are very welcome--and they'll be much better behaved, since they won't have waited two hours for that drumstick.

If you like Z'Tejas Grill (assorted locations around town), you'll love Cafe Evangeline, 30 South Broadway, which doesn't try to be Cajun/Mexican/Southwestern but instead recognizes that it's solidly Cajun and bowls you over with its gumbo.

If you like Maggiano's Little Italy in the Pavilion's, you'll love Santino's, 1939 Blake Street. Chef/ owner Sonny Rando is back in the kitchen again (someone else was cooking when I dined there for my November 19, 1998, review, "Red Alert"). When I snuck in with a group of gals celebrating a baby shower last week, I slurped down every last drop of the old-fashioned scungilli.

Yum! That's the sound of the men breaking up the chain gang.

Say bye-bye: A few blocks away from Santino's, two spots just bit the dust. Hi Ricky, 1318 15th Street, quit after--what--four months, perhaps because the owners were tired of staring at those long lines a block away at P.F. Chang's, 1415 15th Street. But the Firehouse Bar & Grill lasted half a decade at 1525 Blake Street before it suddenly shut its doors last week--too quickly to drop out of the LoDo Restaurant and Hospitality Association ad in the January 1 Denver Rocky Mountain News that touted, among other things, the "five years' strong" Firehouse's new menu. (That ad also listed ten resolutions for the new year, including the novel "Come to LoDo more often. Who wants to throw up in their own neighborhood?" and "Never wake up under the sink at Wazoo's...again."

Also empty is the space formerly occupied by JV's The Cork, at 410 East Seventh Avenue. The disappearance of this earnest neighborhood effort came as a surprise, because it seemed to have finally found its niche. Maybe someone should just put a McDonald's in there and be done with it. Then again, if you like McDonald's, you'll love Grandpa's Burger Haven...


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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner

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