Food and Drink: from gutters to glitz…

•October 7, 2008 • 2 Comments

One man’s journey through seedy dive bars, greasy spoons, and Michelin starred restaurants in search of the perfect food, drink, and the stories that come in between

First things first: I have never read a blog. It’s not that I am techno-phobic, nor am I unfamiliar with extensive possibilities of the web.  To the contrary, I am constantly at the computer reading news, on message boards, e-mailing, instant messaging, etc, etc.  I am also not a food critic, nor a sommelier.  In fact, I do not claim to be an expert in any topic that will be touched on in my writings.  So why take the time to start a blog?  The answer lies somewhere between, “who the hell knows”, and “I just like to hear myself talk.”  But really I believe that there is a sort of kinship between those that take extreme pleasure in eating and drinking.  Regardless of where one might reside, the desire to find a great meal, a great bottle of wine, or the perfect cocktail, and then share it with others is a powerful force driving us all.  Whether in Parisian cafés, Pittsburgh’s working class bars, the open air markets of Hanoi, or the greasy spoon around the corner there is a tendency to talk passionately, laugh heartily, and revel in the glory of food and drink.

So I have started this blog to share with the world community of foodies and drunkards my experience with food and drink, stories and laughter.  I have a feeling it will be a cross between Bon Appetit and the Modern Drunkard with a tinge of Mad Magazine.  Perhaps these stories will resonate with others.  Perhaps not.  But like a great meal with friends that meanders from pre-dinner cocktails, through dessert, and coffee, and stumbles out into the streets, these writings will be a journey.  Sometime down the road, this voyage may come to an end, but for now, let us see where it takes us.

“So it goes…”

–Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse V


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A little catching up to do

•October 6, 2008 • Leave a Comment

So now that I have a blog, I suppose that I should consider adding some interesting posts.  Or perhaps the true “first thing” would be to explain a little bit about what to expect in the future.  But to be honest, I’m not sure what to expect.  I do know that there are a few recurring food and drink related events in my life which I suspect will find a home here.  Beyond that, any dinner, wine tasting, catered affair, chili cook-off, street fair, or hot dog vendor will be fair game for both praise and criticism.  I think that I’ll begin with a rundown of some of the recurring events the oldest of which is:

Wine & Cheese Night- A group of about 10 of us get together about once every couple of months to sample different bottles of one varietal.  We dress up slightly, drink with our pinkies extended, and partake in general wine
hob-nobbery
.  The varietal is chosen by the host, and everyone tends to do at least a bit of homework regarding their bottle (or bottles as the case usually is).  And we drink.  And we eat cheese.  And we drink some more.  Typically we drink until whatever knowledge we may have gained from the night’s lesson gracefully drifts away like a wonderful dream.  While that may be hyperbole, it is always a riotously enjoyable night that, because of “real-life”, happens not frequently enough.

Hole-in-the-wall Lunch Tour- Pretty straight forward event.  3 of us meet as often as possible (2-3 times a month typically) to find the best restaurants that no one has ever heard of.  All types of cuisine, all sorts of interesting places.  Usually it’s just a quick lunch.  Sometimes we linger over a couple of beers, and sometimes it leads into:

Dive bar hopping- What could be better than whiling away a few hours in a dark, dank dive bar?  For my money, nothing.  If you have the means, I highly recommend it.  We throw some money in the juke box, order up a few Pabst Blue Ribbons, and soak in the ambiance.  There are times when this is best suited to a couple of hours in the afternoon.  Then there are the Saturdays when the snow is falling heavily, the temperature is dropping steadily, and the only thing to do is to hole up in a warm pub, order a few dozen Pabst’s, and keep feeding dollars into that trusty internet juke.

So there it is…  The main plot has been laid.  Of course there is a cast of characters that you will hopefully get to know and love as I have.  Now, it seems, all that is left to do is tell the stories of how it all comes together now and again…

“Frankly, I was horrified by life, at what a man had to do simply in order to eat, sleep, and keep himself clothed. So I stayed in bed and drank. When you drank the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn’t have you by the throat.”

–Charles Bukowski


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Bones- methinks thou dost protest too much

•April 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

bones_denver_smIn true gutters to glitz fashion the title of this post is complete hyperbole.  Well, to be honest it is not even an overstatement.  Actually that line from the Bard has no relevance whatsoever.  Perhaps I just felt like writing a line of Victorian (or is it Jacobean?) English.  Whatever the case may be, there is definitely something amiss with regards to my feelings for Bones.

On the one hand, this restaurant is everything that I look for in a dining experience.  It is casual, and compact.  The counter seating lets diners feed off the energy of the busy kitchen staff.  And the simple decorations lend to an air of comfort.  I like that tables are right on top of each other.  I like that people crowd into the door and spill out onto the sidewalk trying to get a seat on busy Sunday night.  I love the uncommon offerings- roasted marrow, and steamed buns with either suckling pig or pork belly.  What I love perhaps more than any of this is that people whose culinary opinions matter the most to me have absolutely raved about this place.

On the other hand, with all of these factors pointing towards Bones being a Denver food lovers Mecca, how could I have left so underwhelmed?

Jamie and I headed to Bones for our anniversary dinner on a lovely March Sunday night.  I had made a reservation, and was glad that I did since the place was hoppin’.  Settled down at our table with an excitement that I haven’t had for a restaurant in a while.  From the get go, our server was extremely attentive- checking in on us, wiping down the table, etc though he was a bit of a low talker.  So, at times, it was difficult to make out what he was saying against the din of a busy room.

Started with some drinks (obviously).  Jamie ordered a flight of four Sakes picked by our server three of which met with her approval, and I ordered a Kirin which, amazingly enough, had morphed into a Sapporo by the time that it arrived. Luckily for everyone in the restaurant, I am an equal opportunity beer drinker, and was not totally offended by this turn of events.  And that, my friends, is where things took a turn for the disappointing.

We decided to start with three apps, then move onto a noodle bowl apiece since we figured the noodles should make for great next day eats. First up was an order of the Black Cod Tempura to which there was an added piece since it was the last order of the night.  The tempura batter was nice and light, but the cod itself could have used a pat down before it was battered, and fried; it was bit soggy.  Not the way I like my fried fish.  Next was the Hamachi Tataki- excellent.  What else can I say. The avocados were fresh, the tapenade a nice accompaniment, and the fish was perfect.  Then came the Suckling Pig buns that I was so looking forward to.  The pork was good, the buns were so-so, but the hoisin was as bad as nearly any sauce I’ve ever encountered.  Not only did it overpower what could have been delectable pork, it was just the wrong flavor for that dish.  I scraped as much as I could off, and added some sambal to make the last bun decently eatable.

By this point in the evening, I was ready for some of the well reviewed noodles!  Ramen with poached lobster, and Udon with pork were delivered and we dove straight in.  While the Ramen were good (how can anything with that much butter not be?) there was something missing. They were too rich with nothing to cut through with a touch of brightness.  The Udon, oh sad Udon- while the noodles and broth were decent, the menu says “roasted pork” so I was hoping for some crispy bites.  I got none of that. What I did get was a lump of pork that had a softer consistency then the noodles, and caused the dish to fall flat- one dimensional.  Like the Ramen, it needed something else, something slightly disparate.  But it had only one trick: soft, and uneventful.

In The Nasty Bits, Anthony Bourdain says, “Restaurants are supposed to be about the food, aren’t they?  They’re supposed to be… well…fun”.

And that really gets down to the crux, doesn’t it?  Restaurants should be about food, good food.  Food prepared with passion and skill.  Restaurants should be a brief respite from the toil of everyday life.  That is, after all, the basis of this blog!  Bones fits half of the bill with a fun, energetic atmosphere.  The other half… well, I am left to wonder.  I will give Bones another chance though.  Hoping that (with more attention to detail) they can be the shining gem of Denver restaurants that I so hoped it would be.

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”

–Voltaire

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The Candlelight Tavern- Hello, I love you…

•March 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A quick little dive bar update to get back in the swing of things…

I love dive bars!  Seriously. LOVE them.  And not these trendy “made for TV” dive bars (I’m looking at you “place” on Colfax); true dive bars that are just the way they are because that is the way that it has always been.  I love- dark in the middle of the day, slightly odorous, regulars at the bar like crows on a wire- dive bars.  Example?

Candlelight Tavern

c_light_21

This is one of my favorite places to imbibe not just in Denver, but in the world.  Walking in with a group of friends, the door closed behind us, and shut out the sun completely.  We were left with only the task at hand.  We grabbed a couple high-tops near the internet juke, and proceeded to order our first of many two dollar Pabsts- a twelve pack at a time.  During the day at the Candlelight, no one bothers you, no one objected to our monopoly of the juke, and the bartender was nice enough to turn it up a bit.  We were there for a few hours, drank MANY twelvers of Pabst, and even played Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” without upsetting the delicate balance between Saturday afternoon barflies and our roving band of drunkards. (Thank you very much, Swankpants!) The bartenders are always friendly, and where else can you get such a great, greasy cheese burger for two bucks?  Granted the burger is small, but it’s perfect drinking food especially when you are killing Pabst as if at any moment the world might just end, and you have JUST enough room left for a little grease.

You can enjoy a stellar Denver institution amongst other like-minded connoisseurs.  And if you see a group of guys hording the juke with a table full of brave, fallen Pabst soldiers, do not worry.  We will run out of money at some point. So, if you are like me, and the idea of a trendy, hipster doofus bar makes you consider agoraphobia as a life-choice, then I highly recommend the Candlelight during the day.  Grab a burger and chips, a few dozen cocktails, and soak it all in.

Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

–Oscar Wilde

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What is going on here?

•March 25, 2009 • 1 Comment

“take it from me, this lack of all things good- this obsession with words without meaning…”

The above, intrepid reader, is a line from a poet that you have never heard of (or have you?).  It conveys something that I have wondered about, and wrestled with since I began writing many years ago.  To me, it is the true bane of the writer.  And if you have ever written passionately, you get it.  Since I started this blog, I have posed the question: to what end?  Where is this all leading.  To tell the truth, I still have no idea.  I do know that there IS an obsession with these words.  Whether they have meaning or not- who can rightfully say.  They are there.  Though it has been sometime since they appeared on this blank page.  And there will be a concerted effort to fill the blank pages perhaps as much for me as for you.

With that said, let us return to it.  Where have I been, what I have eaten, what wonderful booze has been keeping me warm?

After my trip to Berlin (for which I still owe at least two posts) I returned home to a new job that has kept me busy enough for all of us.  But that is no excuse for not writing.  In the interim, there has been Denver Restaurant Week, a quick trip to San Francisco, a weekend in Vegas, and not quite enough dive barring, or holes in the wall.  There has also been plenty of wine buying which should lead to more wine drinking.

In the coming days and weeks, there will be a bit of all of this.  Perhaps chronologically backward, or maybe inside out.  We shall see so stay tuned…

Let us get back to it, and see where it leads us.

Oh Berlin, how I love thee…

•December 4, 2008 • 3 Comments

What can I say, I love Berlin.  In my previous adventures there, my love was mostly born of the general attitude- the relaxed nature of the citizens.  It is the sort of place where you can just be yourself.  Obviously I loved the drinkers mentality that pervades the city, and was never happier than buying a two euro Berliner Pilsner, and walking to the U-Bahn station.  On this trip, I fell in love with a different face of the city which I had never taken the time to research and explore: food.  Berlin has what might possibly be an infinite variety of food.  With such a diverse cultural make-up, there are different sights, smells and tastes on every corner.  And then there is traditional German fare.  A never ending parade of sausages, schnitzels, and sauerkraut, the Germans know how to eat heartily and flavorfully.  There is a comfortable feeling of home in German eating.  Hoisting huge beers over plates of delicate schnitzel with wild mushroom gravy feels like true communion.  It feels warm, safe, and most of all good.

So where do I begin?  Chronological seems a bit trite while trying to somehow rate my meals seems like an exercise in insanity.  So, intrepid reader, I will write them as they come to me, and it will most likely take seven or more posts which means that they won’t be finished as soon as I would like.  Bear with me though.  This food was a gastronomical adventure as I hope this writing will be.

Konnopke’s Imbiß

On my first full morning, I woke feeling energetic and purposeful.  Having already researched a handful of places that I was interested in trying, I headed out to the U-Bahn to make my way across town to the neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg to have a bratwurst.  As I was walking from the U-Bahn stop, I had a moment of questioning whether it was odd to eat a brat at ten thirty in the morning.  My concerns were soon dsc03205assuaged as the stand which is Konnopke’s Imbiß came into view.  I saw quite a few people at the stand up tables out front finishing brats and drinking beers, and my stomach and I made the final decision that there was ABSOLUTELY no time like the present.  This snack bar is quite famous with locals and tourists alike as it is considered to be the birthplace of Berlin’s famous currywurst.  More about that later,  but for now I must focus on the bratwurst at hand.  One euro sixty gets you a sizable brat wrapped in a small piece of bread, and for another two euro you get the perfect accompaniment: a large Berliner Pilsner.  I grabbed a napkin, stepped over to a table, and should have taken a picture of this delectable morsel in all of its glory, but instead I proceeded to devour it in as few bites as is humanly possible.  Make no mistake here, this is not a Johnsonville brat in a dried out hot dog bun.  Not that there is any thing wrong with that, but this is real German sausage in a high quality baked good-  fresh, tender dough that only enfolds enough of the brat to make it a hand held snack.  The brat itself is a thing of juicy white sausage goodness that was perfect on a drizzly-cold morning.  I walked away warm and satisfied, and ready to see what other culinary delights lay ahead.

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Malbec madness or how I learned to relax and love an old grape (part 2)

•November 18, 2008 • 1 Comment

Ahhhh, those wines…  I will admit it has been a challenge to write about all of the wonderful Malbecs that wewc_before tasted.  Why?  It could be a combination of my utter lack of note taking,  and the fact that we drank nine bottles between ten people.  That’s not to say that we were so inebriated that the night is some sort of spinning blur.  In actuality I have clear memories of the entire night, and awoke the next morning sans hangover. So I will call it what it is.  My journalistic neglect has made it nearly impossible to create concise distinctions amongst the various bottles.  Well, así es la vida…  Thanks to Lynn and Heather, I do have a complete list of the wines which I will include here:

1- 2004 Tentation de Chateau Pecot

2- 2006 Clos la Coutale

3- 2007 Don Miguel Gascon

4- 2007 Luca

5- 2006 Altos Las Hormigas – Vineyard Selection Reserva

6- 2004 Finca Los Maza Reserva

7- 2006 Mendel

8- 2006 Durigutti

9- 2007 Domaine Jean Bousquet

I suppose the only way I have to approach the wine review of this night is to give a brief history of the Malbec grape, some of my thoughts (as scattered as they might be), and then let you, gentle reader, figure the rest out on your own.

wc_groupMalbec is one of the six grapes allowed in the blending of Bordeaux.  When blended with Merlot and Cab Sav, it gives us the lovely Claret.  It is presumably named after the Hungarian peasant that first introduced it to France.  It is a thin skinned, delicate grape that was decimated by the intense frosts in France in 1956.  In France, it is now grown primarily in Cahors where it is the primary grape, and any Malbec from the region must contain at least 70% of the grape.  A renaissance of the grape outside of blends occurred because of the natural home that it found in Argentina where it is the major red varietal planted.  In theory, the French wines should be more “old-worldy” while the Argentinean wines should be smoother, with slightly more fruit.  Both should be complex, mouth-filling, tannic, and dark inky red.

The first two wines on the list were French.  The next seven were from Argentina, and I believe they were all from Mendoza which is considered the premier Malbec region in the world.  While I did find #1 to be complex, dusty, and highly complex, I felt that #2 (perhaps owing to the fact that it was blended with 30% Merlot) to be more fruity yet big and bold none the less.  And though #9 was Argentinean, it had a very old world feel.  #8 (which was one of my offerings) was frankly not very good.  If memory serves me, my three favorites, in no particular order were: #5, #2, and #9.

There you have it…  For better, or worse…  I will say that I was able to find more comprehensive tasting notes by Googling each of the wines, but did not want to include them here without proper citation (which I neglected, yet again, to note).  I would recommend trying all of these wines since there is such a diversity of taste, and leaving comments here if you do.

There are two reasons for drinking wine…when you are thirsty, to cure it; the other, when you are not thirsty, to prevent it… prevention is better than cure.

–Thomas Love Peacock

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The Arabian Bar- a find for true drunkards

•November 13, 2008 • 1 Comment

I need to pause here for a minute, and veer away from the wine and cheese night recap to mention a dive bar.  And not just any dive bar, but one of the BEST dive bars that I have come across in my eleven years of legal drinking:

The Arabian Bar at 3360 Navajo St in Denver

In John’s random north Denver wanderings he happened upon this completely unassuming structure that looks more like a small haunted house than a bar.  It sits calmly on the corner a slightly grey-black building with the name painted on the door waiting for the true drunkards, the regulars to step into its inky embrace.  I say inky because once inside you are pulled into a true working class bar ambiance where they don’t have to pull the shades on the windows to shut out the day because there are no windows.  There is only the soft humming glow of old neon beer signs.  It is the sort of place that many people might find daunting, perhaps unwelcoming.  When the door closes behind you, you are faced with a decision: turn around and walk out, or accept the mariachi crooning loudly from the juke, and step up to the bar.

We chose the latter.  At the bar we ordered tall jack and cokes, and shook hands with the bartender and owner- John.  We made a bit of small talk asking him if it was his bar, and he asked what we did, and where we lived though he could have just as easily served our drinks and gone about his business.  We soaked in the atmosphere, had another drink, and met Gil, another regular who was “just tryin to make it work”.  As we got up to leave, we said goodbye to John who took the time to come down and shake our hands and let us know that he thought we were “good people”, and to come back any time.

The Arabian is a bar for regulars, where everyone knows everyone in one way or another.  It is a bar with a limited amount of drink options: no draft beers, no lychee martinis, two tpes of tequila.  Yet they have a Thanksgiving dinner for all comers.  We walked in strangers in a strange land, but will absolutely return feeling like prodigal members of the family.


If I were sufficiently romantic I suppose I’d have killed myself long ago just to make people talk about me. I haven’t even got the conviction to make a successful drunkard.

–John Dos Passos

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Malbec madness or how I learned to relax and love an old grape (part 1)

•November 12, 2008 • 3 Comments

Let me be quite honest- I did not take notes on the first wine and cheese event of the 08-09 season.  Therefore, I’m not sure if I can give an accurate portrayal of the madness that occurred.  And, quite frankly, it is nearly impossible to convey in written word the exquisite pleasure that is derived from the consumption malbecof great wine and good food amongst the company of stellar people who happen to love food and wine as much as myself.  What I can do is give an overview of the food and wine touching on my personal highlights, and hopefully some of my fellow enthusiasts will drop by to post comments filling in some of the details.  So let’s set the stage…

Jamie (my MUCH better half) and I hosted, and chose Malbec as our varietal.  I prepared four canapé style appetizers, and everyone brought cheese to share.  My thoughts in building the menu centered on a couple ideas.  First, since it is a wine and cheese night, I incorporated cheese into each item.  Second, due to the highly tannic nature of Malbec, I wanted the food to be slightly robust (though bite-sized) so that it would stand up with the wine.  I had planned to make gruyere
gougères
which are a typically served at French wine tastings, but unfortunately I ran out of time and they were left off of the menu.  What I was able to make were two twists on sandwiches and two types of tartlets.

The sandwiches-

Ham and cheese, all grown up: Bite sized slices of toasted bread spread with Dijon, with a piece of Gouda, thin slices of green apple, and wrapped with an excellent Prosciutto di Parma.

Grilled ham and cheese, all grown up: Slices of baguette topped with two thin slices of good Spanish style chorizo, and a slice of manchega then toasted under the broiler just long enough for the bread to crisp, the chorizo to warm up, the cheese to melt just slightly, and the oils from the chorizo to saturate the toast.

The tartlets-

Caramelized onion: Red and white onions cooked gently in butter until nicely caramelized, then added to a custard mixture of egg and heavy cream, piped into crispy phyllo tartlet shells and topped with a slice of goat cheese then baked to gooey perfection.

Portabella mushroom: Portabellas sautéed with shallot and garlic then blended to a paste with goat cheese and dill then piped into phyllo tartlet shells, and baked just long enough to warm.

And since Jamie’s birthday was a couple days earlier, I made her a mascarpone chocolate chip cheesecake with chocolate graham cracker crust.

My personal favorite was the onion tartlets.  They were the perfect blend of sweet and savory that I felt complimented both the Argentinean and French wines.

But what about those wines…


An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.

Ernest Hemingway

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