Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Least Favorite Dining Companions

It's happened to all of us.  You go out to eat with someone you don't know too well.  Most likely, someone you've never gone out to eat with before.  Minutes into the meal, they do something that makes you silently groan, something that may make the meal even longer.  At this point, I imagine you have an action in mind that drives you nuts at restaurants.  Since I love to rant, I'll give you my top 5 least favorite traits of dining companions.

"Check on our order." Do you know this person?  Are you this person?  Seemingly, they are in a rush, though they have nowhere to go.  Soon after ordering, they grab the waiter or most likely some random employee and ask them to go "check on our order." Years ago, I went to dinner with someone who did this on separate occasions.  Both times, it had not been long after the order was placed.  One of the times, the manager came out to apologize.  I was embarrassed and saw no need to receive an apology.  This person needs a lesson in patience and perhaps something "in their order."
Second-class citizens.  These are the people who tend to not acknowledge the waitress/waiter's presence. . . ever.  They treat a restaurant like some Hindu caste system, pretending the waiters do not deserve eye contact or attention.  They have no interest in hearing the specials or the waiter's attempt to be friendly.  I tend to overcompensate in this circumstance and treat the waiter like a long-lost friend.  This person will also stare at the bill trying to figure out 15% gratuity to the penny, and that's only if the service was "extra special."
"On the side." The picky eater, who wants everything on the side or needs details as to what is in every dish.  I'm not referring to one who is allergic or is watching their weight or even this person.  I'm talking about the individual who thinks they're at Burger King and can always "have it their way."  If you're at a decent restaurant, there's a reason the menu looks the way it does.  It's because those foods go together.  I know someone who would request to replace Romaine lettuce with Iceberg lettuce wherever possible.  Beyond the fact that you're specifically asking for less flavor, you should try to abide by the menu.  This person also refuses to ever try new things and will probably order the most boring thing on the menu.  If this is you, you sound like this when ordering.
Well-done.  I don't really get angry at this person, but if you are extra anal about the temperature of your meat, it bothers me.  I'm referring to your steak not being done enough.  Medium rare is the perfect temperature for ideal consumption of many meats.  Once you start to get increasingly done, you lose flavor and moistness. . . fast.  A request for a well-done steak is a request for the kitchen to start cooking your steak, walk away, and come back if they happen to remember.  Don't ask for burnt meat, just get the chicken.
Same-siders.  I needed to have 5 in order to have a top 5, so I threw this one in.  Obviously, if I'm out with people, they'll probably sit on the same side.  It's the couple that's out with just themselves but sit on the same side of the table/booth.  This is very odd to me.  Why are you on the same side?  Are you conspiring to harm someone?  Put both on your hands on the table.  I know I'm not alone in feeling this way.  Here's proof
Honestly, I don't eat out with these types of people too often.  Most of my dining companions don't fall into the top 5.  Maybe that's on purpose.  However, if you're one of these people, stop being a jerk to the waiter.  They control your food until it's on the table.  If you're at a nice restaurant, respect the menu and the chef-suggested temperature.  Finally, if you're sitting on the same-side, stop whispering.  What other annoyances have I missed?

Monday, April 2, 2012

DLT Stop #1, ChoLon Bistro

Image from:
Stop #1 on the Denver Lunch Tour (#denverlunchtour) was at ChoLon Bistro.  ChoLon is an Asian bistro serving some modern Asian fare.  I had relatively high expectations going into the restaurant based on what I had read about the chef and the reviews I'd seen.  To be honest, I hate having high expectations.  I'm one of those people that believes high expectations equals extreme disappointment.  I tried to mellow them out and say to myself that this was only lunch, so it may not be as good.
Thankfully, my high expectations were too low.  One review mentioned that the sweet onion dumplings were not to be missed.  We started with those.  The dumplings had the appearance of a normal Asian dumpling, yet when prodded with a chopstick, their texture was similar to what I imagine a jellyfish feels like (without the sting).  The waitress recommended we let them cool, which I did. . . but not long enough.  The first dumpling was a little fireball forcing me to awkwardly exhale as though that would somehow cool it down.  Despite the heat, the taste was evident, I was eating french onion soup in dumpling form.  I don't even like french onion soup, but this flavor was remarkable.
For my main entree, I went with the fish tacos.  Another dish that is somewhat uncharacteristic of me, but the waitress said it was good.  As you can see from the photo, the tacos came out tostada-style.  I can't stand tostadas.  They're like uncooked nachos or stale tacos.  They looked attractive enough that I took a photo, but I was concerned that I couldn't fold them.  Another issue I have with tacos is that when you start to eat them, the food falls out the back like a drunk on a wagon train.  You know what's bizarre about all these issues that I concerned myself with?  It's as though they had a meeting beforehand to determine how they would address them.  The tacos were actual tacos that could be folded (without breaking), and the ingredients stayed on the taco through my last bite.  I didn't have to push any ingredients back on to the the taco with my pinkie finger (my designated clean finger while eating. . . don't ask me why).  The flavors were remarkable.  Not one flavor overpowered another, which was tough to believe considering the amount of fresh cilantro that was piled on.  With Mexican tacos, you usually have one strong ingredient like salsa that takes over, but this was perfectly balanced.
I was full without being uncomfortable, and the meal was relatively inexpensive considering the quality.  For Stop #1, I am now concerned about how the rest of the restaurants will be able to stack up against ChoLon Bistro.  Rest assured, I am keeping my expectations as low as possible.
Cha Ca La Taco

Monday, March 26, 2012

Denver Lunch Tour

Get ready for the Denver Lunch Tour (or #denverlunchtour)!  Downtown offers quite a few quality restaurants and many of them are open for lunch.  Furthermore, there are values to be had at lunchtime.  Many restaurants offer a very similar menu during the day just scaled down a little.  It allows one to sample a great menu at a great discount.

Because of this, I have put together the Denver Lunch Tour.  The below restaurants are places I intend to visit and determine how their lunch menus compare.  Let me know what you think about my list.

Cholon Bistro
The Kitchen
Thai Food Cart
Mici Handcrafted Italian
The Lobby
Osteria Marco

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Denver Restaurant Week Tips

With the commencement of Denver Restaurant Week (DRW), I feel there may still be some folks who do not know how to properly exploit these two weeks of potential dining bliss.  Each year this time grows more and more popular with an increasing amount of restaurants participating.  It can be overwhelming to choose which place to dine at, and since it sneaks up on a lot of people, reservations can be hard to find.  Because I care about everyone's food interests, I've listed some tips below to help navigate this gastronomic event.

  1. Find the best value.  This isn't exactly what it sounds like.  You're probably thinking that all places cost $52.80, so aren't they all equal?  Absolutely not.  Some of the nicest restaurants in Denver/Boulder participate, so you want to focus your efforts on these places.  If you can't imagine normally making it to one of the very expensive restaurants, then now is the time to make a reservation.  You pay only $52.80 and still get a meal that could normally cost you twice as much.
  2. Steak(is)OUT.  Too many people think nice of a nice restaurant and immediately think of a steak place like Del Frisco's or Morton's or Brooks, but steak is a tricky thing.  Generally, I'm opposed to ever going out to a steak place.  They rarely do anything other than steak decently.  All other food tends to be awful, and the steak better be more than perfect to be worth my money.  So stay away from steak places during DRW, for there are better places to spend your mile high money.
  3. Break the chains.  This is the most important rule.  Do not EVER go to a chain restaurant during DRW (or any other time).  It's the opposite of rule #1.  You end up at a restaurant that you would never spend $52.80 for two people to normally eat at.  I think restaurants like Outback or PF Chang's or Hacienda should be banned from participating.  Think about it.  All of DRW restaurants are equal during these two weeks.  You'll most likely spend a similar amount of money at any place, so you're choosing these awful chain over fantastic local restaurants?  Are you crazy?  Do you care about the taste of food?
  4. Study the menus.  Some restaurants get pretty lazy during this time and their menus show it.  You don't want to arrive at a restaurant only to find that their menu consists of basic roast chicken or salmon (unless it's Thomas Keller, then he can make whatever the halibut he chooses).  Find some restaurants that you've always wanted to try then check out their menus.  Some places, like Rioja, are getting wise to DRW and include their normal menu with small surcharges for various plates.  It's a good idea, but it can add up to what you thought was going to be a cheap trip.
  5. Yelp.  Check Yelp for reviews if you need help deciding.  I have a rule that I only go to a four-starred restaurant or better.  You know that if a place has over 100 reviews and at least four stars, it's probably worth your time.
  6. Act like you've been there before.  This is just general dining advice, but don't act like a jerk when you're out to eat.  I've never understood people who act like waiters and waitresses are subhuman.  These people are great resources to what is good on the menu, and they handle you're food before you do.  Why anger someone who can easily influence the chef to mess with your order?  Be nice and courteous and chew with your mouth closed.  Enjoy the evening and take your time.
  7. Be on thyme.  If you're going to be a late for a reservation, call.  I'm shocked at how thrilled these hosts/hostesses are when I call and say I'm running 15 minutes late.  They definitely appreciate the concern for their time.
Follow these tips for a successful DRW.  If you want to know some of my other thoughts about DRW, you can find them here.  Happy eating!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Alternative Thanksgiving

Don't let the title scare you too much. I'm not referring to an event where Pilgrims and Indians dress like each other or something more awful like, Tofurkey. An alternative Thanksgiving is something I want to suggest to many of you planning your Thanksgiving menu. I've ranted before about the food at Thanksgiving and how sad it is. Of course, I will rant again.
Thanksgiving is a tradition and, like many traditions, we've changed nothing. I'm not talking about drastically altering the menu so that it in no way resembles the autumn food fest catering to overeating Americans. I am merely suggesting that we upgrade the menu. Turkey is kind of bland, but you can dress it up. Cranberry sauce????? Why? I could go on with what's not working, but let's figure out how we can improve on some of the outdated dishes.
What to do with cranberry sauce? I have always been disgusted with the cranberry sauce and the lines from the can it comes in. My thought has always been to eliminate it completely. However, I saw a great use for cranberries. Check out this idea that looks to be a great utilization for appetizers. Next up is the green bean casserole. I don't hate this one as much as cranberry sauce but when everything generally comes from a can, it's tough to like it. My previous idea was to just ensure that all ingredients were fresh. Fresh green beans and fresh onions, but you still have the issue of the cream of mushroom. Same place that had the great idea for the cranberries came up with this for green beans. I would revise the mayo to be more truffle based to capture the use of mushrooms, or you could go for a wild mushroom aioli. For stuffing, I think it's best to start with a high quality bread that already has a lot of flavor, like a rosemary Focaccia. The sweet potato substance always makes me sad. The mix of sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, marshmallow, topped with some nuts seems odd and rather gross. My revision? Sweet potato gnocchi! For the sauce, you could do a brown butter sauce and mix in some cinnamon and maybe some maple syrup. If you're dead set on nuts, you could candy some and add them afterwards. My only personal change to mashed potatoes are to use Yukon Gold not Russet. I recently discovered that Yukon Gold are far better than Russet. They produce a sweeter, silkier mash. For dessert, how about some pumpkin pie? Does the texture of pumpkin pie turn you off? Try my inside out, upside down pumpkin. I've included the recipe at the bottom of this post.
It's okay to change. Don't fear mixing up the Thanksgiving menu. Sure you'll anger some moms out there, but once they realize that everything is still there, just in different form, they'll probably forgive you. . . many years later. Enjoy your Thanksgiving and please post any other ideas you might have for a different menu.

Upside-Down, Inside-Out Pumpkin Pie

  • 26 ounces canned pumpkin
  • 6 whole eggs
  • 10 ounces granulated sugar
  • 4 ounces brown sugar
  • ½ ounce corn starch
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • pinch salt
  • 20 ounces milk
  • 2 ounces heavy cream

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix pumpkin filling and eggs thoroughly. Combine all dry ingredients together and sift so there are no lumps. Add sifted dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and mix well. Gradually add the milk and cream. Pour into 4-ounce bomb molds. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until set in the center.
2.Once cooled and set, using a food syringe, inject the center of the mold with whip cream.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Remember the beets that were indistinguishable from cranberry sauce in a can? You know, the "way too red" blobs or slices? I remember, as a kid, my grandfather eating beets on his salad and urging me to try them. After one taste, I quickly spit the rest out of my mouth and vowed never again. Never again would I put those weird roots in my mouth -- those roots that taste like dirt and were actually used to dye clothes back in the day. Really? Why would I seek out a food that was used to make red dresses? Beets me!! (No more beet jokes. I don't want to beet them to death. Okay, now that was the last beet joke)
Yes, beets don't have the best PR campaign. However, knowing that they could convert an anti-beetite like me, I think it's time for a resurgence. It all started in 2010, in Yountville, CA. The restaurant was Ad Hoc. The dish was a homegrown salad with golden beets (see below pic).
When I saw that beets were in the salad, I was indifferent. My wife, also an anti-beetite, took the first bite and immediately asked what the little yellow diced items were. Having never consumed golden beets, I had to assume that's what it was. They were delightful, and we couldn't get enough of them. I was shocked that something I once hated was so delicious. What else was I missing? Was the stem of broccoli now tasty (it isn't)? It's almost as if I had been lied to this whole time. My wife and I have now embraced beets, looking for ways to incorporate them into dishes and seeking them out on restaurant menus.
Is there a food that you might have been afraid of when you were younger? Perhaps it's time to take another look at it. You might be surprised at what you've been missing.

Beet Green Salad with Warm Goat Cheese and Figs (+Scallops over Grilled Corn Off the Cob)

Monday, September 19, 2011

DVR and the Slow Food Movement

DVRs, Apple TV, Hulu, and Netflix streaming are all drastically changing the way we watch TV. Gone are the days when you’d rush home to catch an episode of Seinfeld or even try to properly time your bathroom or refrigerator trips. It’s becoming rarer that you are left out of a conversation at work if you didn’t watch a show live the previous night. Fortunately, many of us utilize one of these services to allow us to watch TV on our time. We don’t need to schedule our evening around the final episode of Seinfeld (If you haven’t already noticed, Seinfeld is my TV show of reference due to its popularity at a time in which DVRs did not exist.). Only sporting events keep us chained to our televisions because who would want to watch a sporting event after it already happened? Many people are cutting cable altogether in part, to save money and also to save time. One of my friends who recently parted ways with cable said he realized how often he would just have the TV on to watch something that he didn’t really even care about. Perhaps not having limitless choices would help one actually filter out all of the junk that you don’t really need to watch (there’s a related joke here about the Cheesecake Factory menu, but I can’t nail it down).

By now, you might be questioning why I am on a seemingly random crusade against cable. There is no hidden agenda to rid you of cable or your satellite, but more of a question as to how this applies to our eating habits or how it should apply to our eating habits. We’ve established that DVRs, and the like, have created more time for us, as it relates to TV. With this free time and no need to rush home or rush at the dinner table, how will you handle it? How will the US handle it? In theory, shouldn’t this allow us more time to enjoy our food? We can prepare food at home without worrying that we are missing something funny that Franklin said to Bash (please note that the humor is never intentional). Good food takes time. It takes an investment involving some planning and prepping of ingredients. TV dinners should have been cancelled several seasons ago. How much more shame do you need than sticking your meal repeatedly with a fork before shoving it into the microwave? We now have time to eat better and eat right. For what reason, other than laziness, do you need to visit the drive thru when you shouldn’t be short on time? People consistently argue that they do not have time to eat better or prepare food, but I believe you do have the time. Perhaps there is a fear or intimidation or maybe you’ve been burned or more accurately, the dish has been burned. Practice does make perfect and we’ve now established that there is more time available to practice. Make this important.