Survival of the Fittest

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Ditto pork blood, which the Vietnamese have turned into something wonderful, and ditto cow's stomach, which the Mexicans turned into menudo, much to the delight of anyone who knows anything about anything. Stress and necessity are great motivators of cuisine, which you should remember before dismissing someone else's lunch. Even pizza seemed weird once upon a time.

A lot of the thoughts above were inspired (though only in the most glancingly pseudo-scientific fashion) by a fantastic new food book, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. In it, he traces back to their absolute origins the ingredients of four meals: a fast-food lunch from McDonald's, an industrial-organic microwave dinner, a sustainably farmed chicken with all the trimmings, and a final, foraged dinner of mushrooms and wild pig that he shot himself.

These are four amazing journeys through the human food chain (detailing, among other things, how nearly everything we eat today owes its existence to the research of one obscure Jewish chemist who worked to produce chemical weapons for the Germans during WWI and Zyklon B for Hitler, the hallucinatory effects of certain mushrooms, and how many of today's so-called "organic" farms can get away with factory-farm practices little different from those practiced by the world's largest industrial ranchers), exhaustively researched and presented in such a way that they will change forever the way you look at your food.

Fair warning, though: This is one of those books (like The Jungle or Fast Food Nation) that's likely to fundamentally fuck with the way you see the world. Want to hold tight to your illusions and keep imagining that all those cows pictured on your gallon of Horizon milk are actually living in a beautiful pasture somewhere with a charming red barn in the background? Then I suggest you choose some other summer reading. I hear that dog book, Marley and Me, is quite a good read.

Square deal: Two months after I bashed Tamayo for never updating its menu -- as far as I could tell, this bastion of high-end Mexican had barely changed its typeface (Second Helping, March 30) -- owner Richard Sandoval has thrown caution to the wind and introduced a new board for the summer season.

Why now? Maybe Sandoval finally realized that he'd squandered every advantage he had when he opened Tamayo five years ago. At the time, fancy-pants Mexican food was still a new thing, and his menu -- full of rajas and huitlacoche and mole and achiote -- was not only cutting-edge, but it worked. Tamayo was successful from the day it opened, but by spring 2006, it was overdue for a change.

The menu introduced last week includes such departures as tacos filled with filet mignon and chile toreado; gazpacho with lump crabmeat; lamb costillas with truffle; pipian de puerco; and a plate of yellowfin tuna, crabmeat, avocado, microgreens and a port wine-habanero reduction that sounds excellent in a multicultural, cross-border fusion sort of way. The fresh inclusions sharpen Tamayo's cultural edge -- further removing it from the pueblo and the cocina, but jamming it firmly into its metaphysical space in Larimer Square.

Still, after my dinners at Guadalajara ("A Surprise Inside," June 15), I'm convinced that it, and joints like it, are the best places to go for tasting (on the cheap) everything being done in Denver's hoitiest and toitiest white-tablecloth temples of Latino haute. Further, the meals I had at Guadalajara were better than many of those I've had at Tamayo over the years, and the experience of having these dishes (the chicken pipian, the sopa de albóndigas) served without the intermediary step of being translated for a fine-dining menu will always be more comfortable and, in a way, more true. Easier on the wallet, too, considering Tamayo's new menu starts where Guadalajara's maxes out (at ten bucks) and doesn't even slow down until it gets up around $25 a plate or more.

Leftovers: Northwest Denver is full of upstart restaurants these days. But even the older joints can learn some new tricks: After almost thirty years in business, Taqueria Patzcuaro (2616 West 32nd Avenue) has finally gotten a liquor license. Now you can wash down those exemplary tacos de cabeza (made with cow cheeks) with a few cold Mexican beers. Viva la licensing board!

And finally, Josh Wolkon and Matt Selby of Vesta Dipping Grill fame got their new baby, Steuben's, up and running earlier this week at 523 East 17th Avenue. Scouts who attended the final test dinners over the weekend report that the months of tastings and travel and menu negotiations have paid off. For this second place, Selby and Wolkon have drawn from America's regional classics -- everything from hot dogs to lobster rolls, from grape Nehi to veal Oscar -- and brought them together on a single menu that reads like our culinary heritage, with the building blocks of what it means to eat like an American, presented regardless of border or accent. And I, for one, can't wait to get a table.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan