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.

Be A Colorado Kitchen Snoop

The next few weeks bring at least two opportunities to visit other people’s kitchens and benefit good causes as well. You might be looking for ideas for your own kitchen remodel, or you might just be a masochist who enjoys the pain of kitchen envy when comparing your own cooking area with gorgeous designer kitchens furnished with the finest — exquisite cabinets, over-the-top granite countertops and the highest-end appliances.

Boulder’s annual Kitchens on Fire (right, June 1-2 , 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) is, to quote the organizers, “a self-guided tour of inspiring kitchens of every size and shape.” Tickets are only $15 and benefit the Dairy Center for the Arts. They are available at the Dairy Center (2590 Walnut Street), on-line or by phone (303-444-SEAT).

Denver’s fourth annual Kitchens That Cook! tour (left, June 10, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) features nine show-stopping kitchens in the Park Hill, Country Club and Washington Park neighborhoods. The tour is also self-guided. Tickets are $20 in advance (on-line) or $25 on tour day (available at all stops). Proceeds benefit the Junior League of Denver. You can also preview these kitchens on the JLD’s website. These gorgeous kitchens make any enthusiastic cook drool. I often wonder, however, how many people with such magnificent showplace kitchens actually cook.

Many years ago, when Corian was the trendy countertop surface and SubZero was just coming onto the scene as the first designer appliance (the first I knew about, at any rate), a friend an I went on a tour of fancy kitchens in New Jersey’s fashionable exurbia. We were living in then-unfashionable Hoboken. We both loved to cook (and she’s a terrific baker as well). We were managing quite nicely with kitchens that we fixed up only slightly from the 1950s updates we inherited from the previous owners when we bought our 1870s brownstones — icky salmon-colored Formica countertops (in both houses), forgettable cabinets (mine were knotty pine and mounted for someone 6 inches taller than I; hers were simply cheap and mounted for someone shorter than she), merely functional appliances (neither of our kitchens came with dishwashers; I bought a roll-to-the-sink model; she settled for a half-size under-the-counter machine). We walked through these pristine kitchens where only one had any evidence (i.e., a few cookbooks on a small shelf) that anyone actually cooked, and then went home and whipped up dinners in our considerable more modest settings.

‘Chocolate and Zucchini’ Author’s Book Tour

Clotilde Dusoulier, a young woman whose captivating Chocolate and Zucchini blog about food and cooking in Paris has been a foodie favorite since it eased into the blogosphere in late 2003, has written a cookbook. The American edition of Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Paris Kitchen has just been published by Broadway Books, an imprint of Random House. The reviewers who have seen it have been swooning: “”Dusoulier has contagious enthusiasm for her local Montmartre markets. Reading “Chocolate and Zucchini” is like going on a slightly frenetic shopping spree — in other words, irresistible” enthused Paris-Match.

Born and raised in Paris, Dusoulier lived in San Francisco for a couple of years after college and it was there that she developed her passion for food. She learned about cooking from her mother and is also self-taught, a perfect melding of her French roots overlaid by her American experiences. Her blog is full of her carefully indexed recipes (mercifully and pragmatically given both in metric and American measures), as well as her observations about food, restaurants and related topics that intrigue her. I have blog envy; hers attracts 4.5 million visitors a month, and I’ve been a lot of them.

Dusoulier is embarking on an American book tour. Alas, Denver is not on it, but here are the US cities scheduled thus far (book signings are free and begin at the time indicated; cost for others is given):

New York – Tuesday, May 15. 12:30 p.m.
Dean & Deluca (560 Broadway, SoHo)
Book signing, free meet and greet, 12:30 p.m.

Boston – Wednesday, May 16, 7:00 p.m.
Chez Henri (1 Shepard St., Cambridge)
Book signing and dinner, $75 for glass of wine, three-course dinner and signed copy of the book); reservations required (617-354-8980)

Boston – Thursday, May 17, 6:30 p.m.
The French Library (53 Marlborough Street)
Catered luncheon, talk and book signing; $15-$20 (I’m not sure why this price range);reservations required (617-912-0400). Chef Jean Claude Carvin of La Riviera Gourmet will prepare three recipes from the book.

Chicago – Saturday, May 19, 12:00 noon
Froggy’s French Café (306 Green Bay Road, Highwood)
Book signing and luncheon; cost TBA; reservations required by calling call Lake Forest Bookstore (847- 234-4420)
Chicago – Sunday, May 20, 1:30 p.m.
The Book Cellar (4736-38 North Lincoln Avenue)
Book signing and free meet and greet

Seattle – Monday, May 21, 7:30 p.m.
Impromptu (4235 East Madison Street)
Book signing and food-and-wine event, in collaboration with Shauna and Dan of Gluten-Free Girl; $45 including copy of the book; reservations required (206-860-1569).Admission: $45

Seattle – Tuesday, May 22, 7:00 p.m.
University Bookstore (4326 University Way NE)
Book signing and free meet and greet

Sonoma County, CA – Wednesday, May 23, 7:00 p.m.
Bovolo (106 Matheson St., Healdsburg)
Book signing and three-course dinner; $25; reservations required (707-431-2962)

Berkeley, CA – Thursday, May 24, 7:00
Cody’s Books (1730 Fourth Street)
Book signing and free meet and greet
San Francisco – May 26
Book Passage (Ferry Building, 1 Ferry Plaza #421)
1:00 p.m.
Book signing and free meet and greet

From-The-Heart Thai Food Prepared in a Home Kitchen

A few weeks ago, when I wrote about the Denver family that introduced Thai restaurant food to the US, I didn’t know that I would be privileged to enjoy a home-cooked meal by Nita Chittivej (left), who runs Chada Thai with her son, Peter. The home where Chef Nita performed her magic belongs to Holly Arnold Kinney, owner of The Fort. The Arnolds and the Chittivejs, two foodie families, have been friends for a long time, beginning when the Holly’s parents took their children to the ChittivejsChao Praya Thai Restaurant. Holly recalls the her favorite childhood dessert was Thai custard prepared by Nita’s late mother-in-law, Lilly.

Nearly 10 years ago, my husband and I spent two weeks in Thailand. The dishes that Nita prepared were the equals of those we oohed and ahed over at a dinner in the fanciest Bangkok restaurant we went to, and better than any others we had in the country and at Thai restaurants here. The reason that I was able to sample Nita’s fantastically fresh Thai fare in a matchless home setting setting is that Holly, the current president of the Colorado chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a group of culinary professionals, invited the chapter to her home. Holly’s husband, Jeremy Kinney, poured champagne, and we watched Nita cook.

In Holly’s spectacular kitchen, Nita prepared the following dishes:

Appetizer
Roll-your-own green lettuce leaves to be filled with a selection of dried shrimp, fresh garden mint, fresh lime pieces and fresh Thai ginger, with a tangy-sweet vinegar/chile dipping sauce

Second Course
Lemon Grass Soup (the best I’ve ever tasted)

Main courses
Chicken Thai Curry
Mee Crop Thai (crispy rice noodles with a deep fried crispy shrimp and a tangy tamarind sauce, right)
Rice

Dessert
Thai Jasmine Custard (which Holly remembers so well)

Nita cooked specially for Les Dames on Tuesday evening, her one night off. One of my good LDEI foodie friends and I plan to go to Nita and Peter’s restaurant, Chada Thai (2005 East 17th Avenue; 303-320-8582).

Nita, the food was a-roi. Khawp khun kha.

Notes from the Local Dining Scene

Boulder sure is a food town. Just go to out to eat, and it’s clear that residents, people who work here but live elsewhere and visitors love to eat out from breakfast to late-night chow. The Daily Camera’s lead story in Monday’s Business Plus section revealed just how much the eating-out scene is worth. According to the piece by Camera business writer Greg Avery, diners in Boulder spend an average $808,347 a day (which he calculated to $561 every minute or $9.35 per second) “on someone else’s cooking.” My husband and I and our friends and guests are happy participants in the dining frenzy. Boulder currently has roughly 465 restaurants, which collectively raked in $295 million in 2006 — up 7 percent from the previous year.

Coming soon, he reported, in the 29th Street retail-plus mall will be the Railyard Restaurant and Saloon (the second location of a Santa Fe eatery), Cantina Laredo (a Dallas-based Mexican chain), A1 Sushi & Steak (that may or may not be related to one in Allentown, PA, which seems to specialize in Benihana-style theatrics), Ruby’s Diner (based, I think, in southern California), Boulder’s third Jamba Juice and Daphne’s Greek Cafe (a San Diego-based chain dishing up Greek fast food). Colorado’s first Daphne’s opened recently at 575 Lincoln in Denver). Thank goodness for Laudisio’s, a locally born and raised, one-and-only in a prominent space at 29th Street.

Thank goodness too for the Cafe Gondolier, which has been dishing up solid, very moderately priced, red-sauce Italian fare since 1960. Ravenous teens and college students fuel up during Tuesday and Wednesday all-you-can-eat spaghetti nights. The original location was at 1600 Broadway, where Khow Thai is now sequestered. Then it moved to a strip mall on 28th Street just north of Valmont (I think La Mariposa is there now). Seven years ago when The Harvest closed, the Gondolier moved again to 1738 Pearl, where it is now hip to hip with Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder’s most acclaimed high-end restaurant. The Gondolier is about to relocate once more, this time to 1600 Pearl, into a space quietly vacated by BD’s Mongolian Barbecue (a Michigan-based chain).

Meanwhile in Denver, Green: Fine Salad Co. has just opened a second store. It seems as if Green’s owns 16th Street as far as fresh salads go. The new one at 110 16th Street joins the original at 1137 16th Street (Skyline Park). Quality ingredients, light-handed grilling techniques turn fresh ingredients into tasty and nutritious food that makes a perfect lunch. In addition to Green’s 11 signature salads, it is possible to mix and match to assemble one’s own.

Something to look forward to is the imminent return of chef Michel Wahaltare to Denver. Amuse by Michel is set to open on May 25 in a private back room and patio of 5 Degrees, a trendy lounge at 1475 Lawrence Street in LoDo. Wahaltere is teaming up with Francois Safieddine, owner of 5 Degrees, to create an uban restaurant-lounge with an international culinary flair in the club.

According to the pre-opening announcement, “the inspiration is from the eclectic neighborhood restaurants, cafes, wine and tapas bars found throughout Europe. Amuse by Michel offers an array of appetizer-sized samplings aside wine and cocktails to allow patrons the leisure of enjoying both food and drink in moderation — there, smaller is better. Here, the traditions of European cuisine meet the flavors of the American market with a menu reflecting dishes from Chef Michel Wahaltere that focus on the simplicity of fine ingredients. Creating a perfect harmony of bold flavors, sophisticated textures and artful presentation, it’s not really dinner, yet it’s more than a snack.” In addition to seasonal dishes, Wahaltere promises such signatures as “grilled asparagus and smoked salmon; almond crusted calamari; potato gnocchi and rock shrimp; mushroom ravioli, ahi tuna tartare; and rigatoni duck pasta.”

As a chef, Belgian-born Wahaltare has a glittering resume, including (in Colorado alone) Campo di Fiore and Mirabella in Aspen, MODA in Denver and Seven Eurobar in Boulder. He is also a restaurant consultant with similarly impressive credentials in that specialty. Plans additionally include the Amuse by Michel Wine Club (no cost to join). Members can join such evenings as Sip Wine on Mondays (25 percent off all bottles under $70), Wine & Cheese on Tuesdays and a monthly tastings called Class in a Glass. For reservations, call 303-260-7505.

Wahaltare was in Boulder too briefly as the culinary force at Seven EuroBar, but his new venture’s name is giving me flashbacks. Amuse was the ambitious but ulimtiately short-lived restaurant that occupied the space 1430 Pearl Street between the long-running Little Russian Cafe and Cafe Girasole (and now the Trattoria on Pearl). James Mazzio was the executive chef at 15 Degrees, also in Boulder, when he was named one of the 10 Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs of the Year in in 1999. Like Amuse, 15 Degrees is no more, and neither is Triana, which Mazzio opened after that. Wahaltare is a fine, creative chef. I hope he is not superstitious about names.

Big-Name Chefs, New Eateries in Minneapolis


I haven’t been to the Twin Cities since Noah got off the Ark, but I’ve been reading a lot lately about the thriving restaurant scene, especially on the Minneapolis side of the river. In fact, I’ve been reading so much about it that I thought I’d share it here, but remember that this posting is informational, not personal. What I like about all this news is that another mid-country metro area has really good restaurants and a populace that appreciates them.

Wolfgang Puck’s 20.21, recently opened in the Walker Art Center, is his first full-service establishment in Minnesota. He brings his sprightly style and his signature Asian-influenced California menu to the great north country. He’s not the first star chef to do so. Less than a year ago, celebrity chef chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (left) opened the Chambers Kitchen in the chic, sleek and sophisticated Chambers Hotel. The restaurant offers art on the walls and art from the kitchen. Foodies can reserve the chef’s table, though J-G himself is unlikely to be presiding

While not graced with such marquee names, but popular nonetheless are Brenda Langton’s Spoonriver and Cue in the Guthrie Theater, both in the booming Riverfront District.
La Belle Vie, Minnesota’s most highly rated restaurant, is getting a run for its culinary money with these new big names but so far is reportedly holding its own. Also, quaint 112 Eatery has has been in Food & Wine magazine as one of the “hot ten,” while Azia and Mission American Kitchen have been cited by Bon Appetit as casual chic spots. Cooking Light noted the Dakota Jazz Club for its heartland cuisine.

The newest kid in town is Chef Todd Stein of Chicago’s heralded MK – The Restaurant. He heads up B•A•N•K, in the new Westin Minneapolis built in and around the historic Farmers & Mechanics Bank building in downtown Minneapolis. Features are locally-cultivated, seasonal ingredients (tricky indeed in Minnesota), an extensive wine display (no trick at all; all it takes is money) and do-it-yourself martini-ing. The bartender invites guests to “enjoy the personal experience of shaking their own martinis” (a gimmick that I predict will either go over big-time or not at all).

Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news. For address of any restaurant, click on the Zomato icon at the end of the post.