The Bite

"I hope you and your family die of food poisoning this Christmas," the caller said. "Then you'll know what it's like to die slowly and painfully like a lobster."

It's a little hard to take seriously the rantings and ravings I've received via voice mail and e-mail regarding my recent review of Denver's new Whole Foods ("The Whole Truth," December 7). In that piece, I mentioned that Whole Foods, which opened in October and sits at 2375 East First Avenue, makes an effort to find products that are as "chemical-free as possible and humanely obtained," a phrase that seems to have sent scores of lobster-rights advocates off the deep end.

For example, Karen Johnson writes: "The article doesn't mention that the store sells live animals for sale -- live lobsters. At least, though, they were 'humanely obtained,' so that they can be boiled alive at home." And C.J. Bishop wants to know if I am one of the "fresh-out-of-college, wet-behind-the-ears, pimply-faced people that have no clue as to what really goes on in the world?" Hey, buddy, I'm here to tell you that you can get acne well into your thirties, and that there are a lot of people who got out of college decades ago and still have no clue.

Here's what else I know: (1) People who profess extreme compassion for animals often have no problem thinking up horrible, violent ways for people who don't feel the same way that they do to die or be maimed. (2) Lobsters can be killed more quickly and, thus, more humanely, by having the cords that lie behind their heads cut with a sharp knife instead of by being boiled. (3) Lobsters would probably rather die by having the cords behind their necks cut, or even by being boiled, than by other ways they can die, including being torn limb from limb and having their innards gnawed out by dogfish and skates, or being swallowed whole and very much alive and then suffocating to death in the belly of a cod before being slowly disintegrated by stomach acids.

What I really don't get, though, is why these readers focused on the live-lobster issue. Several mentioned that they would keep their business at Wild Oats and other grocers that don't sell live lobsters: Do these people think that the fish sold at Wild Oats, King Soopers, or yes, even that mean old Whole Foods met their ends in a sweet, storybook fashion? Is it more humane to pull fish from the water, throw them on a dock and let them choke to death? And having witnessed the entire slaughterhouse ritual, I'd much rather plunge a lobster into a kettle of boiling water than ever again watch a steer get whacked in the head with an electrical charge and then be split from one end to the other.

Unlike some of my critics, Bill Claiborne has given the subject thoughtful consideration. "I just decided for myself that I don't want to eat animals," he says. "I wasn't writing to you to switch you over to my side or anything. I just wanted to say that I wish I could find a grocer that doesn't traffic in animal products that involve killing the animal to get them, and I know that's very much wishful thinking. I respect other people's rights to eat whatever they want, just as I'd like people to respect that there are those out there who don't want to eat what they do." Well said, Bill.

But in case Bill's argument doesn't convince you to stop eating lobster, Lobster at Home, by New England chef Jasper White (Scribner, $30), offers the best recipe for lobster pad Thai ever. And I happen to know that you can get your hands on the key ingredient at Whole Foods.

Fungi, fun guys: The Truffle sells smoked fish and fish eggs, so I guess it can't be considered totally cruelty free. But those are only a few of the items stocked at this new, boutique-style gourmet-food shop at 2906 East Sixth Avenue.

As evidence of the next big food trends, The Truffle specializes in small-batch artisanal cheeses and hard-to-find specialty ingredients, such as wheat flour mixed with dried truffles, quince jam and Sparrow Lane vinegar. You can also special order caviar, smoked sturgeon straight from Russia and just about any kind of cheese you can think of. And, of course, the shop sells truffles -- both black and white.

The owners are David and Kate Kaufman, both veterans of local restaurants (David was a server at Café Brazil, Brasserie Z and Le Central, while Kate was once in charge of buying wines for the Boulder Broker and, most recently, was general manager of Aubergine Cafe). You won't find two people more passionate or knowledgeable about food.

I was the proverbial kid in a candy store as I perused their offerings: thyme-flavored honey, dried trumpet mushrooms, bulk cornichons and olives, pumpkin-seed oil, rose flower water, escargots, date syrup. The store is small but attractively set up, and the Kaufmans are eager to offer information and samples. I wound up buying a white truffle ($130 an ounce, with most coming in at $20 to $30 apiece) to shave over a porcini-filled potato pancake that night, along with several cheeses, including a heavenly round of Saint-Marcellin in the crémier (or small dairy) version -- truly one of the finest cheeses ever, with a rustic sort of nutty flavor and a soft, creamy interior -- and a nubby little round of crottin de Chavignol, here a middle-aged example of the tasty goat's milk cheese. Like me, the Kaufmans are proponents of cheeses made from unpasteurized milks, and we're all keeping our fingers crossed that this country will soon change its tight-assed ways and start allowing the stuff to be made here.

Look for similar shops to open in the next year or two, including the much-anticipated one in North Denver planned by Hugh O'Neill and Ionah de Freitas, the husband-and-wife team who recently sold their Hugh's New American Bistro at 1429 South Pearl Street. The couple hopes to open their shop -- focusing primarily on cheeses and cheese-related ingredients -- soon after the start of the new year in a space they've leased at 3600 West 32nd Avenue.

Eric Roeder -- a Culinary Institute of America grad, former pastry apprentice at the Flagstaff House, chef at several Manhattan restaurants and chef de cuisine at Q's in Boulder -- bought Hugh's, changed the name to Micole, and started serving last week. The menu is set up as a three-course prix fixe deal, with a focus on innovation: pastrami-cured Muscovy duck breast; roasted lobster, chorizo and pumpkin tarts; white-chocolate pomegranate terrine. The lounge, redone in gold tones and strewn with loveseats, will also offer an à la carte menu of grazing dishes. Micole's manager is Kathy Hawkins, who owned the original Cafe Paradiso in Cherry Creek North.

The space is beautiful, and the menu sounds wonderful. Still, Hugh's will be missed.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner