Mouthing Off

Since moving back into Denver, I've rediscovered the joys of living in a neighborhood. Specifically, I've rediscovered the joys of neighborhood eateries.

Every time I drove past Peter's Chinese Cafe (2609 East 12th Avenue), an institution in the Congress Park neighborhood for thirteen years now, the parking lot had been packed. So finally, I decided that it was time to see what all the fuss was about. The answer: good, if not great, Chinese food.

While Peter Chan's place has a handful of tables, it's set up primarily for takeout and delivery; to-go meals are always nicely packaged so that they don't spill all over the backseat of the car. And you wouldn't want to waste a bite of the sliced beef with broccoli ($6.95), which featured fresh broccoli and tender meat that hadn't been wokked to death, both sitting in a thick sauce that had a strong undercurrent of chicken, oddly enough. It turns out that Chan long ago dropped MSG and instead uses a double-cooked chicken stock as the base for most of his non-vegetarian dishes. As a result, Peter's food isn't as salty as the Chinese dishes in other neighborhood joints, but it sometimes lacks the depth of flavor that MSG can bring.

That didn't matter so much in the chicken dishes, and with the moo shu chicken ($6.75), the double-dose of fowl actually gave a boost to an otherwise lackluster preparation. But the sesame pork ($7.95) was a disappointment: The sticky-sweet coating was so thick it actually hurt our teeth, and the meat underneath was dry and bland. The ground pork in the fried dumplings ($4.25), on the other hand, was soft and flavorful, and the scallion pancakes ($2.75) were packed with oniony goodness. But my favorite Peter's dish -- so far -- was the combination fried rice ($5.50). Unlike the dry, overcooked versions you find at many other Chinese restaurants, this one was moist, studded with shrimp, pork, beef, fresh (not frozen) vegetables and just-scrambled eggs.

I'd brake for that any day.

Nice to meat you
Rather than going out for a major meal, I'd often rather order a few appetizers, split a bottle of wine and maybe eat dessert. But some restaurants sneer at this practice -- which baffles me, because we always wind up spending more on four or five starters, a few salads, desserts and drinks than we would on a regular meal.

I'd worried that Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House (8100 East Orchard Road, Greenwood Village) might be one of those places, but our server didn't seem to mind when we sat down and announced that we were just doing appetizers. Of course, that's possibly because he knew that after ten minutes of smelling those steaks, we'd abandon our starters-only strategy and order some beef. But first we devoured succulent crab cakes ($11.95), two bundles of sweet meat barely held together by the sautéeing process, as well as a shrimp combo ($10.95), the ideal way to try Del Frisco's tangy, herb-flecked, marinated crustaceans, as well as plain shrimp paired with textbook-perfect remoulade and a cocktail sauce that bites back.

Del Frisco's is one of the few places in town where you can count on getting excellent beef every time, and we didn't regret our change of plans once we eyed our twelve-ounce filet mignon ($29.95) and sixteen-ounce prime ribeye ($26.95). The ribeye was particularly drop-dead delicious (and it should have been, considering the fat factor); even the filet, which I usually snub because of its lack of fat, was bursting with beefiness. A side of superlative sautéed mushrooms ($6.95), with their velvety texture and buttery flavor, was an ideal accompaniment. And the desserts could not have been better: a not-too-rich, not-too-sweet, but very chocolatey mousse ($6) and whipped cream-topped fresh berries.

The service, too, was superlative: spot-on, unsnotty and knowledgeable. In fact, there are just two things I'd change about Del Frisco's. For starters, I wish the hostesses would stop acting as if everyone coming through the door is a potential burglar -- a simple "Hello. Are you here to dine with us this evening?" should clear up any misunderstanding of one's intentions. And I'd also ban smoking. But since the ventilation system is superior unless you're sitting right next to the offending party, that's a minor quibble.

Thinly Vailed: Speaking of quibbling, this will be the first year in six that I won't be attending the Taste of Vail (scheduled for April 6-8). The people running it apparently believe the event is such a success that they can "pick and choose" among the media invitees, and I was left off this year's list. Of course, the particular folks who came up with that list -- Event Promotional Sports Marketing -- weren't around six years ago when I was talking up the Taste and only a few hundred people attended (back then, it was run by the Westin). I still think it's one of the best-run food-and-wine orgies around, though, and while a ticket runs $325, it nets a lot of great food from around the Valley and many, many opportunities to taste vino. Call 1-888-311-5665 for more info.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner