"We've got chalupas. We've got tacos. We don't need no stinkin' mountains," Ron Kirk, mayor of Dallas, boasted last week. So what did Denver do to battle the evil forces of chalupas and tacos (not to mention the Chicago-style hotdogs served up by the third contender)? We sent part of Boeing's fact-finding team to a chain eatery that's based in Seattle -- the town that Boeing execs will soon abandon.
For the record, the Boeing group was treated to buffalo tenderloin and eggs Benedict at a May 1 breakfast at the Governor's Mansion. Did the buffalo replace the Canadian bacon, or was it served separately? Somehow that detail had been overlooked by the TV and daily-paper reporters who covered every second of the Boeing visit. Inquiring minds wanted to know, however, so I called Andrew Hudson, spokesman for Mayor Wellington Webb. "It was instead of the Canadian bacon," he confirmed. "I was kind of taken aback, because I'd never seen it done that way, but it was actually quite good."
The mainstream media was more forthcoming with other dining dish: Later that day, some of the Boeing folks were given box lunches containing turkey sandwiches (with lettuce and mayo) from an as-yet-undisclosed outlet; some of them may or may not have eaten lunch when they checked out Broomfield's FlatIron Crossing (we can only hope they got to try Bloom, reviewed above, rather than an insipid place like Il Fornaio); and all 28 of them had dinner that night at the pricey Palace Arms in the Brown Palace Hotel, where they were staying.
But it had escaped the media's notice that the night before, the Boeing group had eaten at Palomino Euro Bistro (1515 Arapahoe Street), a Seattle-based Mediterranean-themed eatery. And it was the Brown Palace's concierge, Shawn Sweeney, who recommended Palomino! "It's on our regular roster of places we suggest, depending on the type of cuisine people want," he says. "They were looking for Italian, so that's probably why we sent them there."
Why not recommend one of our homegrown Italian eateries instead? "Well, they were trying to keep a very low profile on where they went, and it was very hectic and confusing through the whole thing," Sweeney explains. "I gave several recommendations, and that's the one they picked."
According to Palomino manager Charlie Stauter, a good time was had by all. "My understanding is that they had picked Palomino because several of the group were familiar with our food and liked it," he says. "The group chose their own entrees from the menu, and since no one knew they were there, no one hounded them. I guess they picked it at the last minute so that they could avoid the media."
Local folks weren't the only ones interested in the dining habits of Boeing execs. "I can't believe how many calls I've received regarding what they ate and where," says Deborah Dix, spokeswoman for the Brown Palace. "I got a call from a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, and all he wanted to know was what food the group ate."
Well, among other things, the group could have dug into the day's second helping of buffalo, this time in a dish pairing a Colorado-raised filet with fingerling potatoes and shallot verjus, one of five entree choices offered from the regular menu at the Palace Arms. The only other Colorado ingredient Boeing diners got to try was Haystack Mountain goat cheese from Niwot, a regular on the Palace Arms's appetizer menu. Kudos, though, to the Palace pastry chef who crafted a Boeing logo out of chocolate to top each dessert.
Sadly, Boeing's advance team failed to ask me what I would have recommended in order for the group to get a real taste of Denver. Had anyone inquired, I would have told them to first fuel the Boeing execs with breakfast at El Tejado (2651 South Broadway), where they would have learned that there's no better way to prepare for a day of big decision-making than with a bellyful of potatoes, eggs and green chile (take that, Chalupa Boy). For lunch, the sandwich crowd should have tried the Spicy Pickle (the 988 Lincoln Street location, which has the choicest selection of office workers for Boeing's solo flyers to ogle); for the non-sandwich crowd, you couldn't top the Rocky Mountain Diner (800 18th Street).
The obvious choice for dinner (and one Dix swears was also offered up to Boeing): The Fort (19192 Highway 8 in Morrison), which has plenty of space for landing a helicopter, all the twinkling city lights and from-the-foothills views anyone could want, and the most authentic Old West fare around. (Hey, if it was good enough for the Summit of the Eight, it's good enough for some airplane makers.) The Buckhorn Exchange (1000 Osage Street) is closer to home, but all of those animal heads on the walls might have put sensitive Seattle types off their feed. Still, did they get to eat yak in Chicago or Dallas? The Buckhorn recently added meat from yaks raised in southern Colorado to its lineup; having had yak back in Pennsylvania, I can attest to its sweet, bold flavor. It's low in fat like buffalo, hormone-free and packed with nutrients (in fact, four out of five sherpas recommend it).
And had the Boeing team continued to insist on Italian, I'd have recommended Santino's on Downing (2390 South Downing Street), Barolo Grill (3030 East Sixth Avenue), Carmine's on Penn (92 South Pennsylvania Street) or even Basil Ristorante (846 Broadway), now that chef David Oliveri is back. At least these eateries are all born and bred in Denver, for heaven's sake.
Open-and-shut cases: Maybe Denver's more south of the border than Mayor Kirk thinks (it's not the heat in Dallas kitchens, it's the humidity). Soon the 1400 block of Larimer Street will be a veritable gourmet shrine to la vida loca: Lime (going into the old Cafe Promenade space), Tamayo (opening this month at the corner of 14th Street, where Cadillac Ranch once roamed all over the culinary map) and the Samba Room (set to debut soon in the abandoned Williams-Sonoma spot on the corner of 15th Street) will all focus on New Mexican, Southwestern or Mexican fare -- or a combination of the three.
It's hard to imagine a concept less appealing than Dick's Last Resort, but its replacement in that choice bit of real estate at 1901 Blake Street -- Alice Cooper'stown -- might fit the bill. I don't care if Alice Cooper's out of his bad-makeup-and-fake-blood phase and now into Little League and golfing; it's a sick world out there, and restaurants created by celebrities prove it.
It's also a cruel world for many would-be restaurateurs who've never come close to star status. After only a few months in business, the Empire Diner (3 South Broadway) has fallen by the wayside. Also gone is Vicious Rumors (630 East Sixth Avenue), the coffee shop that briefly replaced the notoriously cranky Newsstand Cafe.
Despite all the talk of an economic downturn, several local restaurants are expanding their service hours. The aforementioned Fort will add Sunday brunch to its repertoire starting Mother's Day, May 13 (according to the Colorado Restaurant Association, Mother's Day is the biggest single dining day of the year). Sullivan's Steakhouse (1745 Wazee Street) has started doing dinner on Sundays from 5 to 10 p.m. and has also introduced a new martini menu -- good news for the downtown bar crowd. And Gallagher's Steakhouse (1480 Arapahoe Street) just added weekday lunches from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
And finally, a sign that spring has really sprung: The Gold Hill Inn in the old Boulder County mining town of Gold Hill has reopened for the season.