Category Archives: Media

World’s Oldest Melon — and Alabama’s Tamest Wild Pig

Two Associated Press wire service items in today’s Rocky Mountain News caught my eye. My comments appear in italics at the end of each.

The first story:

BETTER THUMP IT
2,100 Years: The age of a melon with the flesh still on the rind that was unearthed in western Japan, apparently preserved underground in a vacuum-packed state.

That fruit is believed to be the oldest melon found with the flesh still on the rind, said Shuji Yamazaki, a local official in the city of Moriyama.

The little story was accompanied by a small black-and-white picture of a slice of the antique, but unpetrified, melon on a white plate.

The second story is a follow-up on the recent shooting of “Hogzilla,” widely described as a giant feral pig, reportedly butchered for the family’s meat supply:

WOMAN: GIANT PIG WAS GIFT FROM HUBBY
FRUITHURST, Ala. — The huge hog that became known as “Monster Pig” after being killed by an 11-year-old boy had a name: Fred.

Far from being feral, the pig had been raised on an Alabama farm and was sold to the Lost Creek Plantation just four days before it was shot there in a 150-acre fenced area, the animal’s former owner said.

Phil Blissit told The Anniston Star in a story Friday that he bought the 6-week-old pig in Secember 2004 as a Christmas present for his wife, Rhonda, and that they sold it after decided to get ride of all the pigs at their farm.

The South Shall Rise Again???? I sure hope not. This crew makes the Clampetts seem classy. A bit of the backstory is in an earlier AP dispatch, which reported that “An 11-year-old boy used a pistol to kill a wild hog his father says weighed a staggering 1,051 pounds and measured 9 feet 4, from the tip of its snout to the base of its tail. Think hams as big as car tires.

. . . “Jamison, who killed his first deer at age 5, was hunting with father Mike Stone and two guides in east Alabama on May 3 when he bagged Monster Pig. He said he shot the huge animal eight times with a .50-caliber revolver and chased it for three hours through hilly woods before finishing it off with a point-blank shot.

“Through it all, there was the fear that the animal would turn and charge them, as wild boars have a reputation for doing. ‘I was a little bit scared, a little bit excited,’ said Jamison, who lives in Pickensville on the Mississippi border. He just finished the sixth grade on the honor roll at Christian Heritage Academy, a small, private school.”

Young Jamison Stone’s trophy porker would seem nothing to be proud of, even though he has been hunting for most of his young life and reportedly bagged his first deer when he was five — just a couple of years older than the legendary Davy Crockett who, according to legend and song, “kilt him a b’ar when he was only three.” There’s a picture of Jamison and the late Hogzilla on the Fox News website.

If you’re wondering, as I was, about the Lost Creek Plantation, it is a 2,500-acre commercial hunting operation offering the opportunity to shoot “deer, buck, doe, European hog, sow, feral meat hogs, dove shoots, doves, turkey, pheasant shoots.” Kind of like the spread in Texas where VP Dick Cheney went quail hunting and instead shot his buddy, lawyer Harry Whittington, 15 months ago.

Outdoor Dining in Boulder County

In an article called “Happy Hours” in the Friday Section of today’s Daily Camera lists “some of our favorite places to dine, soak in the rays and enjoy the great views of the foothills” (a sidebar lists the writer’s rooftop faves, but I’m just sharing the patios here):

Perhaps this is a picky quibble, but not all of these places have “great views of the foothills” — and some have no views of the foothills whatsoever. That doesn’t make them unappealing, but it seems odd for a writer to promise diners something that they won’t find. More puzzling: I wonder why not a single establishment on the Pearl Street Mall made the list. With no vehicular traffic, every patio along the mall is uncommonly pleasant. The selection includes no places at all in Nederland or other eateries scattered through the mountains in western Boulder County, but even sticking with the flat part east of the foothills, there are a few reall y obvious (to me) omissions.

For instance, why not include Sherpa’s, at 824 Pearl Street (303-440-7151), a couple of doors west of D’Napoli and with its own shaded patio? Centro at 950 Pearl Street in Boulder (303-442-7771) has a great, lively patio — no foothills views, but everything else that makes for great patio dining. In North Boulder, the patio of Proto’s Pizza (4670 Broadway; 720-565-1050) is on the side of the building fronting on a quiet side street. Treppeda’s at 300 Second Avenue in Niwot (303-652-1606) boasts a wide patio with umbrella-shaded tables. And other than the fact that its al fresco dining is on a porch rather than a patio, the Chautauqua Dining Hall (set in Chautauqua Park off Baseline Road, just south of Ninth Street, 303-440-3776) is an unsurpassed outdoor venue for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Zagat Rates Fast Fooderies

I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry about the news that Zagat Guides, those slim, maroon guides that rely on “suveyors” to evaluate and rank restaurants, now has rated chain restaurants, including fast-food places. Each restaurant listing carries a numerical score and also quotes evaluators’ comments, just as for what I think of as “real” restaurants. Zagat did this in conjunction with “The Today Show,” a surprising (to naive me, anyway) confluence of committed foodies and the mass-est of the US mass television audience (OK, maybe “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars” is even mass-er, but you get my drift).

Zagat has released two new surveys, one covering 24 fast-food chains and “mega-chains” (at least 5,000 outlets), and the second covering 21 sit-down “family” restaurants. Both are food-service places that I take pains to avoid. In any case, Zagat Fast-Food Chains 2007 and Zagat Full-Service Chains are out, with a preview online as PDFs. Zagat says that 5,500 “diners” rated chains on food, facilities, service and overall, plus the specific categories of burgers, chicken, fries, shakes and child-friendliness in the fast-food group. If you’re in suspense, know that Panera Bread came out at the top of the overall fast-food rankings and Outback Steakhouse did the best in the full-service category.

Article for the Street Food Lover in You

Local reporter highlights favorite street food from a recent trip

If you love Asian street food as much as Kelly Yamanouchi and I do, be sure to pick up today’s Denver Post and read her long feature in the food section called “From the Street to the Table.” You can link to it from this blog, but do get today’s paper so you can see the photos too. Fresh from a trip to Asia where she crammed one last “steaming bowl of noodles topped with fresh vegetables, slow-cooked beef and ladles of broth” in her final half-hour in Taipei before leaving for the airport, she sought similar tastes in Denver.

I remember my own last-minute food frenzies — scooting around the corner from a fancy hotel in Shanghai, where my bags were packed and ready to go, for one last portion of dumplings from a stand, or making time for one more order of chicken skewers with a divine peanut/chile dipping sauce before leaving Bangkok. Unlike me, however, when Kelly, a Post staff writer, returned to Denver, she researched places to get similar food here.

She wrote, “Taipei is known for its night markets, which bustle with tourists and locals jostling for food sold from dozens of different stalls. Street food throughout Asia appears in an array of places – at storefronts along the sidewalk, at festivals and in outdoor markets. While the American notion of street food tends to focus on hand-helds like hot dogs and pretzels, in Asia the selection runs the gamut — almost anything that can be prepared quickly and simply, from noodle soup to deep-fried stinky tofu to oyster omelets. In metropolitan Denver, street stalls aren’t prevalent and there’s no Taipei-style night market or Singapore-style hawker stand, but I found some selections at Asian restaurants and groceries that reminded me of the originals.”

She recommended:
Lao Wang Noodle House, 945-D South Federal Boulevard, Denver; 303-975-2497
H Mart, 2751 South Parker Road, Aurora; 303-745-4592
Spice China, 269 McCaslin Boulevard., Louisville; 720-890-0999
J’s Noodles & New Thai, 945-E South Federal Boulevard, Denver; 303-922-5495
US Thai, 5228 West 25th Avenue, Edgewater; 303-233-3345

A further resource if you love ethnic foods is The Gyro’s Journey (left)by Clay Fong. This guide to ethnic eateries on the Front Range is new from Fulcrum Publishing. I haven’t seen it yet, but it is described as “guide to authentic and affordable ethnic dining experiences in the Front Range. Written for the adventurous diner, this book describes family-owned businesses found off the beaten track that hold true to the traditions of their native lands.” Fong is now a restaurant and food writer for the Boulder Weekly.

Sandoval at La Sandia — In Person

Just last week, Westword restaurant critic Jason Sheehen took Richard Sandoval to task for having become too distant from his numerous restaurants. He was named Bon Apetit’s Restaurateur of the Year in 2006, but now his restaurant group operates Tamayo, Zengo and La Sandia in Denver; Maya in New York, San Francisco and Dubai; Zengo in Washington, DC; Pompano in New York; Isla in Las Vegas, and another La Sandia in Tysons Corner, VA. Five more restaurants will open soon in Mexico City, Acapulco Chicago, Scottsdale and San Diego. That’s an overloaded plate, and Sheehan noticed.

Setting the backdrop for his review of La Sandia, Sheehan wrote, “Because Sandoval has so many restaurants to keep track of…he has no day-to-day control over his properties…He sets a concept, writes a menu, staffs up with trusted lieutenants (sometimes), trains a crew and then unlocks the doors. His business is not so much about creating great restaurants as it is about creating great food-service machines that can run flawlessly in his absence. And there’s nothing wrong with that — as long as customers understand that going in….As a chef, I can’t help but be impressed by his menu from an organizational and force-disposition standpoint…[but] I’m not a chef anymore. And what might have once made me respect a guy for his smarts now makes me disdain him for his detachment and those parts of the dining experience that are just too cold-blooded and calculating to be ignored.”

Yesterday evening, I went to La Sandia for the second time. Previously was for lunch with friends, and it was fine — a little programmed, but fine. The space is attractive, every item dishes was very nicely presented (a Sandoval signature), the guacamole was good, and the tortilla soup and house salad made for a nice, moderately priced lunch. There was a sterility to the place, partly because it’s in the NorthfieldStapleton “village” which alone equates to sterility, plus La Sandia occupies a fairly large space, and very few of us were in it. Still, because I enjoy Tamayo so much, and I was ready to return to La Sandia at dinner, to see what other dishes were like.

Last night, I did. New York-based Richard Sandoval Restaurants hosted a small media dinner, complete with tortilla-making demonstration, and Richard Sandoval himself (top photo) was there to do a little demonstrating and a little Q&A with writers. Outstanding watermelon mojitos, and regular and hibiscus margaritas were passed around before the demonstration. Then, we sat down at a very long table set with baskets of tortilla chips, three-legged lava bowls with guacamole and little bowls of roasted tomato salsa. The waiter took our orders for a choice of “Mexico City-style” tacos, which means on soft, freshly made corn tortillas. The offerings are from the regular dinner menu.

I picked the grilled chicken, which was cut into a rough dice and well cooked — perhaps a tad too well, because it was no longer moist. Grilled slivered vegetables and a small bowl with two sauces (a light and a dark presented in sort of a yin/yang fashion but not easily identifiable) were came on a hot platter. On the side were a small plate of rice and black beans and a basket of napkin-wrapped tortillas to make the “fajita-style” tacos.

Maybe it was because I’d drunk two mojitos, or eaten entirely too many tortilla chips with guac and salsa, but my taste buds wouldn’t hook onto anything. The textures were pleasing, but something was missing in the taste department. Dessert was churros with hot chocolate for dipping. The chocolate was thin (maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be), but didn’t have much taste either. What I really like about Tamayo is the interplay of strong, distinctive flavors. I didn’t find them last night. Like the Northfield/Stapleton venue, it was all watered down and bland. The Cafe de Olla (made with decaf coffee on request, orange zest, cinnamon and piloncillo, a Mexican dark brown sugar) was so delicious that it made me almost forget the empty flavors that marked the rest of the meal.

We were told that Sandoval visits Denver about every six weeks and hosts events in various cities. I asked whether the events were all for the media or whether some were open to the public too. I didn’t get a real yes or no answer. Sandoval is an engaging man, one who has created awesome food elsewhere. I just haven’t found it at La Sandia. Neither, FWIW, did Jason Sheehan.

What Makes a Great Food City?

Tucker Shaw, the Denver Post restaurant critic, posed that question today in an essay called “Do Clientele or Chefs Make a Good City? Weigh In.” He wrote about five foodies from five different cities (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Denver) chowing their way through San Francisco and discussing, among other wide-ranging topics, whether talented chefs or an appreciative, knowledgeable dining public that makes a city great for food.

He wrote, “It made me think about Denver, and I wondered: Are we, as an eating public, truly dedicated to food and restaurants? Are we demanding enough? Are we willing to spend the time and money that’s required to encourage our chefs to ever-higher heights? Do we have enough desire and commitment to spur our food scene to a nationally relevant level E-mail me and let me know what you think about the state of Denver dining, and what we, as customers, can do to improve it.”

I think I’ll answer here.

It takes good, creative chefs and talented restaurateurs, of course, but in my opinion, the people who go out to eat are the ones who make or break an individual restaurant and even a city’s collective restaurant scene. Denver has some wonderful chefs, and some really fine restaurants. But it’s a challenging city for talented chefs and fine dining. I think often of Sean Kelly’s poignant comment when he was ready to morph the exquisite Clair de Lune into the more casual Somethin‘ Else. On many weeknights, he remarked, there are more people in line for the restrooms at the Olive Garden than at the tables of his dream restaurant. He has now gone corporate and is no longer in any restaurant kitchen.

Kelly isn’t the only first-rate chef to have ridden the roller coaster of Denver’s highs and lows. Kevin Taylor has had some noteworthy successes (Restaurant Kevin Taylor and two Prima Ristorante locations) and some disappointments (Nicois and Dandelion). Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef Bryan Moscatello pulled up stakes when Adega closed and moved to Alexandria, VA, where I understand his Indigo Landing is packing ’em in — just as Adega did not long ago. Fellow Best New Chef James Mazzio left the Front Range for Illinois, but luckily for Denver diners, is now the top toque at Via Ristorante, where I hope he stays for a long time. Jon Broening cooked his way north from Colorado Springs to Denver, where he turned culinary heads at Brasserie Rouge, but it also abruptly shut. He now is entrenched in Duo, which I also hope lasts a long time with Broening at the helm.

As long as Kelly’s observation remains true, Denver will not be a first-rate dining city. There are too many national chain restaurants, especially outside of the downtown/LoDo core, Uptown, Cherry Creek North, northwest Denver and a very few other pockets of fine and interesting food. Some of those good-food enclaves have “parking issues,” and some people just won’t dine anywhere that doesn’t have a convenient parking lot (or perhaps valet parking). With sprawl comes an automatic dilution of good dining, because chains also value convenient parking.

Shaw and his foodie friends picked New York and San Francisco as America’s top two dining cities and bandied about what the others might be. New Orleans, Portland (OR), Miami, Seattle, and Washington, DC, seem naturals. Los Angeles and Houston were also suggested. LA, which benefits from cultural diversity and a lot of show-biz, show-off money, and Houston whose sprawl makes Denver seem compact, excepted, the contenders are all geographically tight. They feel sophisticated and lively, which Denver is also becoming, now that so many people live in urban neighborhoods.

If I could help speed the process, I would. If I could wave a magic wand and make every local outpost of a national chain evaporate, I would. Of course, if I could hypnotize the entire city to make Denverites and their visitors avoid these “concepts” where corporated-planned meals are served, I would do that too. And then, only then, would Denver have a shot at being a top food city.

That’s my opinion. Share yours, either here or at www.denverpost.com/foodcourt.

Dining When There’s No "There"

Gertrude Stein famously observed, “The trouble with Oakland is that when you get there, there isn’t any there there.” In today’s Denver Post, restaurant critic Tucker Shaw turned his attention to La Sandia. This nuevo Mexican restaurant in the Northfield shopping area is operated by the talented Richard Sandoval whose Tamayo is a Larimer Square favorite. Shaw wrote that he was surprised to hear a 9:00 p.m. last call from the bar on one Friday night, his party of four being immediately seated on another Friday evening and an again empty restaurant in the middle of March Madness that he speculated might been because basketball addicts stayed home or visited places with big-screen TVs. “Each time, the discernible lack of clientele was a bummer,” he wrote.

I had lunch at the also almost-empty La Sandia a few months ago. Like Shaw, I thought the food was terrific and the decor appealing. “It was easy to lose myself in these dishes,” Shaw wrote of La Sandia’s beef barbacoa sopes and beef skewers (with and without bacon and sausage), “and forget about the cavernous space, which, if it were a little more busy, would be quite beautiful.”

One topic on which Shaw and I disagree is the mix-it-yourself guacamole. He thinks that for $6.95, someone should mix it for you, but if you are dining — as I did — with fussy eaters, the notion of mixing your own has a lot of appeal. If someone can’t eat onions, doesn’t like anything spicy or doesn’t care for cilantro, it’s OK. The table can still share an order of guac.

For my part, I was sad, but not surprised, by the emptiness when we ate there. Like Stein’s Oakland, Northfield doesn’t have much “there” yet. The attempts at a New Urbanism town center are sincere, but the curvy streets, the back-of-beyond parking lots and the total cleanliness and “managed-ness” of the place have an Stepford quality to them. The designers and managers have certainly tried, planting street trees, installing attractive street furniture and creating all the Disney-ish trappings that try to tap into nostalgia. Boulder’s 29th Street has a little of this same quality, but it benefits from being surrounded by Boulder. Northfield is at or near the northern end of the old Stapleton Airport’s runways and is surrounded by a lot of emptiness. I prefer more authenticity, vitality and grit to my environment.

I hope La Sandia survives, because it does dish up good food (and the parking out back is free), but I think I’ll return to Tamayo or try Zengo, which I’ve never visited, next time I want a hit of Sandoval’s cuisine.