Monday, August 02, 2010

Mile-High Club

No, not *that* Mile-High Club...what kind of blog do you think this is?  I just meant that I had finally visited Denver.

I've been to the lovely state of Colorado before, but never to Denver, and I would love to go back soonest.  I could seriously picture me and the poodles living in Denver.  Especially with the heatwave that we've been experiencing lately.  On my way back from Denver, there was a layover in Memphis, and I, along with my fellow passengers, made audible noises about the force of the heat and humidity as we stepped out of the plane and into the jetway.  It was like a physical slap in the face with a hot, wet towel.  Ugh to the nth degree.

The cool thing about this trip was having friends in the area to meet up with and share some fun and cool dining experiences. I met up with a former co-worker, LD, when I got off the plane, and we went to a lovely little French place in downtown Denver (LoDo area) and had  a fantastic meal.  There was a little "incident" that made the dining experience a little less than optimal, but the food was fab;.  We went to Bistro Vendome, and ate "bad things," which means things that tasted extremely good but were not on my 400-calorie per meal allowance...more on that later.

We started with mussels in garlic/wine/butter and Rillette de Canard with a rhubarb-black currant marmalade.  How can you go wrong with mussels in a wine and butter broth? You can't, unless you ask for a second loaf of bread to try and soak up all that garlicky goodness, which might negatively impact how much of your entree you can eat, and you might as well forget about dessert.

The  rillette is a sort of  a rough, rustic paté...without the liver.  Meat (could be duck, could be pork, etc.) is cooked in fat until very tender, then shredded and mixed with seasonings and packed down into jars or ramekins and sealed with a little layer of the fat.  The rillette came in a little glass jar with the requisite layer of creamy white duck fat on top.  You mix in the fat (I know!! How decadent is that?! Mixing actual fat into your food ON PURPOSE!) with the meat, and then spread it on toast.   And, no I totally forgot to take a picture, dammit!  You can go here, which I found by Googling "rillette" and check out the picture for an idea of how it looked, and the blog, which I plan to go back to and read more of, because it's very interesting.

I'm sidetracked by her post on Porchetta...almost shorted out the laptop by drooling.

On to the rest of the French meal...we both got Steak Frites, and I opted for the classic Béarnaise (hello, steak and butter!), and LD went for the Roquefort in a port reduction option.  I had some of her Roquefort, and I think we both found it a bit pungent.  Don't get me wrong, because I love all the bleu cheeses, but I think I would have rather had that particular one with some apple slices, bread, and a big glass of wine.

Steak Frites (steak with fries) is more of a Belgian dish, but who cares what the actual entymology of the dish's steak and potatoes, which we Americans seem to claim as one of our national signature meals, too.  The steak was perfectly medium-rare, the fries were skinny, crispy, and coated in a sweetish's hard to describe...maybe it was a sherry vinegar?  The thing with the frites is that they should be fried twice to get crispy.  Fries are one of those sides that I can take or leave for the most part, but I think I ate every single one of these.

Unfortunately, that extra loaf of bread that I mentioned earlier caught up with me, and I was unable to do more than glance at the dessert menu...hate that.  Plus, the "incident" was a little off a table near us, a couple with a small toddler-age child was dining, and about halfway through our meal, the child tossed his cookies...not something you want to see or hear while having a great meal...or any meal, for that matter.  It seemed to take forever for this to get cleared away, because the parents were in no hurry to leave, so the staff could hose down the area (we were sitting out on the patio).  That was highly annoying...hello clueless people, your child just upchucked all over the place much to the chagrin of other diners and you are continuing to talk to each other and ineffectually dab at him with a napkin.  What is wrong with you?  Pick him up and hightail it out of there and leave a good tip for the folks who have to clean up after you.  We just averted our eyes as best we could and plowed gamely on.

The next night, I was on my own and went with recommendation from one of the library staff for Lola, which bills itself as "coastal Mexican," and "one of the top 5 places to drink tequila in America, according to Food & Wine Magazine," and who am I to argue?  Monday nights are all-night happy hour, with a special appetizer menu and reduced drink prices.

I decided to have a draft Dos Equis--I really wish it had been the Dos Equis Amber, which I consider to be *the* perfect food beer--and build myself a little tapas-style dinner from the happy hour apps.   I had a little fried fish taco that had a nice crunch (soggy is bad!), along with homemade pork rinds, and pork gorditas.  The homemade pork rinds were sprinkled with cojita cheese and lime zest and served with Lola's signature sauce Muñoz, which has chile de arbol, tomatoes, and onions, and packs a nice little kick.  That sauce can be downright addictive.

The star of my little platter was without a doubt the pork gorditas--little open-faced pork tacos with fried onions, habanero, tomato, and cojita cheese.  The cojita used in these dishes is the creamy version, and it was a lot like a chevre with its tangy flavor.  Those 3 little bites of pork heaven were a-to the-mazing.  I seriously thought about ordering a dozen to go and taking them back to ye olde Hampton Inn and eat myself into a little foodie coma. 

However, I resisted and opted to have a slice of Chocolate Chipolte Caramel Cake...a devil's food cake layered with dulce de leche and chocolate mousse, served with sea salt caramel ice cream and pepita (pumpkin seed) brittle.  I wanted a little more of the chipolte heat in the cake--love the chocolate and the heat--but all was forgiven/put out of my mind by that salted caramel ice cream. It was the perfect combination of sweet, cold, and salty.

Tuesday night, I had plans with TC, who I had not seen in a bazillion years, and was looking forward to catching up in a big way.  I talked up Lola from the night before, and he thought it sounded pretty good for dinner, so we went back.  Tuesday night was a 4-course tasting menu with or without wine or tequila (we went with the wine).

First course was a little ahi tuna tartar in a gazpacho sauce, which was nice, but not anything to really write home or blog about.  Then, the second course of habanero barbecue pork rib appeared, and it ranked right up there with the previous night's gorditas.  I was very tempted to say "bring me the rest of the rack...matter of fact, bring me ALL the racks, bwhaaahaaahaa!"  Succulent, tender, with just the right amount of heat...and I'm not normally a rib aficionado, but these were awesome.

For the third course, you had a choice between escolar, a firm white fish, carne asada, or steelhead trout.  I chose the escolar, and T chose the carne asada.  The blackened escolar was very tasty and served with a jalapeno coleslaw.  Since I had never heard of this fish before, I Googled it, and this article on Wikipedia is most interesting...and slightly makes me not want to order it again, especially since the state of Hawaii is thinking about banning it.  Although, it might be the perfect portion control diet food--you overindulge with this one and have food poisoning symptoms, you probably won't do it again!  No worries with this meal, though.

We finished up the meal with a peach shaved ice topped with a mango-strawberry salsa, which was just light enough that we felt obligated to find another recommendation called the Red Trolley and have some ice cream.   A scoop of Dark Chocolate Covered Salted Caramel ice cream for me, and a bite of TC's Graham Cracker ice cream put paid to a wonderful evening.

I met back up with LD for my last night in Denver, and we dined at Domo, a country Japanese restaurant.  When the words "country Japanese" came out of LD's mouth, I got a mental image of octopus on cornbread, then started wondering if pinto beans go with sake, and had a hard time shaking all that from my brain. 

Domo is an odd's sort of on the edge of an industrialized area and boasts a museum and garden, along with a dojo.  The "country" part comes into play with the side dishes they serve.  We got 7 little dishes of things like a wonderful eggplant and tofu combination, a pork stew, and potato salad...a pretty darn good potato salad, which is not something that I normally associate with Japanese food.  (I know, you think I've lost my mind because I used "wonderful" as an adjective for tofu, but it really was very tasty.)

Dining outside in July is amazing to me, considering at home, we are like little lizards running from one air conditioned building to the next and trying not to move any more than we have to or break out into any form of perspiration. This year, it's like we jumped directly from spring into the depths of August heat at the beginning of June.

"Moo-ternal" love
Denver is also chock-a-block full of public art installations.  My customer liaison told me that companies are required to spend 1% of their new construction budget on public art, so there's lots o' interesting things to look at in the downtown area.  Here are a few of my faves:
The broom and dustpan are outside of the newer part of the Denver Museum of Art
I have no idea what this red thing is, but it's pretty cool.
It looks like it might transform into something else at a moment's notice

I'll be back in Denver in February, when the customer goes live, and I'm thinking that Mother Nature will probably prepare a nice little welcome for me in the form of 10 feet of snow.  Which, in this crazy 98-degree, heat index of 106, and my stupid AC decides to go out AGAIN--3rd time this summer!, is sounding pretty darn enticing. 

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