Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Bad Frito Pie in Salida

Often I make sweeping statements of a general nature with little evidence to back it up. It is my nature. For example, once I wrote something to the effect of having to go south of Salida, CO to find the best Frito Pies in our great state. Now, I've been to Salida a lot, and actually lived there for a while, but when I wrote that, I'd never had a a Frito Pie there.

Given that many of you may have chosen to skip the post where I obsess in great detail about the best Frito pie I have ever eaten, the title of this post may have been poorly worded. Nevertheless, I feel the need to share: Last weekend, in Salida, Colorado I had my first ever bad Frito Pie.

The view, however, was good from our room

Mama D's is exactly the kind of place that one would expect to get a good Frito pie in any Southern Colorado town: a small hot-dog and hamburger stand. The problem is, Salida isn't really a Southern Colorado town and this place actually touted a Chicago-style menu, which may have otherwise tempted me, but after I saw the Frito Pie on the menu, I knew it was time to test my Frito Pie theory.

Without further delay, here is a picture of the worst Frito Pie I have ever eaten:

No lettuce, no tomatoes, big unwieldy chunks of red onion (instead of little white ones) and barely enough chile to cover the top layer of Fritos. The chile was actually decent, and I can see it being OK on a juicy hot dog, but these people have no business making a Frito Pie like this. If your distaste for the Frito pie came from an experience like this, then I can fully understand your disinterest in my obsession.

Given that there is not a big Chicano population in or around Salida, it is no wonder that the only other Mexican-looking person in the place (besides my wife) had a confused look on his face, clearly avoiding eye-contact with the authorities by looking at his coffee cup:

This outdated and bigoted painting of those lurking somewhere South of Salida is likely a symbol of how much this place gets New Mexican food. To be fair they advertise Chicago-style food, and if they are really from Chicago, it would be perfectly understandable that they would not know a Frito pie from the chile-covered chips that they served me.

Downtown Salida, Colorado is full of good restaurants, and not too long from now I will be posting on a couple places where I had fantastic meals, including a divine Mexican-influenced dish that I can't wait to share. Stay tuned and happy Independence Day.
Mama D's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beat the Heat Filipino Style: Halo-Halo in Aurora at Sunburst Grill

Being a half-Filipino myself, I admittedly know less than I should about Filipino food. But while my non-Filipino mom raised me on pot roast and potatoes, I have made the journey back to my father's homeland more than once, and all my childhood and adolescent holidays were spent stuffing my little face with homemade Filipino delights, so I do possess at least more than default authority on the cuisine. And in Denver, where I rarely get anything at all like a home-cooked Filipino meal, I have to travel to Aurora.

For many Denver-ites, travelling to the far corners of Aurora for Filipino food may seem akin to making the journey to the Motherland itself: a long arduous journey to the far Southeast into unfamiliar regions full of new cultures and experiences. I do admit that I myself used to be overcome by indolence at the thought of driving anywhere East of I-225 or South of Parker Rd, but Aurora's many ethnic gems remind me again and again that it is a very worthwhile trip to make.

With the Tropical Grill back to a catering-only business and the closing of Manila to Go, Sunburst Grill is now the sole surviving Filipino restaurant in the Denver metro area. It is now going on two years, so it is a little shameful that I have just now made it out to visit them, though it is a good sign for them to survive for that long in such a far-away and isolated location.

There is a lot on the menu at Sunburst, and I plan to return, but I wanted to share at least one classic and wonderful Filipino dish that they do incredibly well here: Halo-Halo. Halo-Halo (pronounced "hollow-hollow") is an amazing dessert concoction that I first tasted down the street from where my dad grew up in Manila.

In the stifling heat and stagnant, sticky air of Manila's crowded streets, Halo-Halo is a refreshing douse of myriad flavors served over a welcome chunk of ice. Over that ice is poured condensed or evaporated milk and then the rest is up to the creativity of its creator. At Sunburst there were no less than eleven different toppings on my Halo-Halo, and presented in a bowl (versus a tall soda glass which is also common), it made for a dazzling and enticing array of color and texture.

The first place the eye is drawn is to the ube ice cream on top. Ube is pretty much a purple yam. It is sweet, earthy and has to be one of my favorite ice cream flavors. Also in the mix was an ube paste and next to that going clockwise were slices of fresh mango. Above that were caramelized bananas then a sticky rice that I think was coconut flavored. At the top of our halo-halo clock were firm red chunks of gelatin, followed by softer yet bigger chunks of green-tinted gelatin. Excellent bites of flan followed, then two types of beans: sweet red beans, and plainer white ones. Even more gelatin cubes followed, though this time they were clear, small and soft.

Halo-halo is fun to eat. The best bet is to mix it up with the cold milk underneath and explore the seemingly infinite flavor combinations. And it is not only the flavors, but the interesting textures of the gummy gelatin, the chewy beans and the crunch of the fresh mango. All these textural varieties, along with having beans as part of dessert, will seem strange to the typical American palate, but I think that even the plainest of palates would enjoy digging into a halo-halo on a hot summer day.

We ate a full meal at Sunburst, but I want to go back and try more before completing my review. I will say that what I had was all quite good. I will also say that like any good Filipino kitchen they had a giant wooden fork and spoon hanging on the wall. And to further verify their authenticity, your flatware selection includes a fork and two spoons, as Filipinos are notorious for being able to eat anything with fork and spoon alone. All of these are good signs, of course, but the menu is extensive and I'm going to need some time (and gas money) to work my way through even part of it.

SunBurst Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pinche Tacos in Pinche Denver, Hijo e pu!

The Cherry Creek farmer's market has slowly become a showcase for restaurants and other miscellany, with a paucity of actual farmers peddling their home-grown produce. At this point, it really should be considered false advertising to call it a "farmer's market" at all,  but if any good can come from having less local produce to vend, it would be at least having some prepared food worth eating. Among the new vendors this year is Pinche Tacos, one of Denver's newest food truck/cart players that have flooded the market this summer as the upscale portable food scene has taken Denver by storm.

Already steeped in what might go down as the stupidest, most trivial controversy ever, Pinche Tacos is now infamous for having to change its name after some overly-sensitive bureaucrat of the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District became alarmed because "Pinche" is a "bad word". Sure "pinche" can mean the "f-word", but taken in context is much more along the lines of "damn". In other words it is not that big of a deal. But simple logic lost again and from now on, when you see the trademark donkey-logo on 16th street mall it will be with the name, "Tacos Borrachos", or "Drunk tacos." Instead of condoning a harmless, curse word, let us instead expose the impressionable teenage mall rats to the excessive intake of alcohol. Of course, it truly doesn't matter either way, but so is the twisted logic of a bunch of functionaries that have been charged with enforcing meaningless regulations for too long.

Careful little girl! That truck sports a curse word in another language!

Pinche tacos is the most interesting of Denver's new food trucks to me, not because of the naming game, but because it is trying to replicate what is already done very well in Denver - taco trucks, or loncheras. Of course the market of Pinche Tacos is not the typical taco truck patron. No, Pinche Tacos is clearly going after the culinary curious who may be otherwise disinclined to go find a traditional taco truck.

By going after this market, location is the first key. Pinche Tacos has a trailer set up at the Cherry Creek and Stapleton farmer's markets and of course the "drunken" taco cart on 16th street mall. It also plans to set up somewhere around 19th and Market for weekend Rockies games. Maybe because of these prime locations Pinche Tacos also charges a lot pinche dinero for its tacos. Coming in at $2.50 per taco, it is far from a value, but then again, the convenience and accessibility of not needing to leave Central Denver (or the lack of adventurous spirit), has its price.

My wife and I went to Cherry Creek to sample some Pinche Tacos recently and forked over $20 for six tacos and two drinks. I don't mind the price, despite the fact that it would cost me less than half of that to get the same amount of food at a traditional taco truck. No, what is important is the taste.

Pinche Tacos prides itself on serving "Comida de la Calle", and using locally sourced ingredients including their traditional corn tortillas. It has an interesting range of options that go from the straight carnitas to the "daring" lengua (tongue) to creative breakfast tacos with innovations like green chile hollandaise.

The first taco I tried was the one with the hollandaise. It also had carnitas, eggs and a potato-onion hash. It was good, though a little plain, and would be better as a burrito. I also wish they made their salsas readily available so that one could add more salsa if needed. In other words, my taco needed salsa.

The second I tried was the "asada brava", which unlike the citrus-marinated asada, was apparently meant to be spicy ("brava" meaning "fierce" or "brave"). It was well-cooked meat with a nice, smoky tomato salsa, but it was by no means "brava". I have had fruit with more heat.

The "chipolte puerco anaranjada" taco consists of a chipotle and citrus marinated pork with avocado-tomatillo crema (the latter being prententious-talk for an avocado salsa typical of taco stands everywhere--for my recipe, click here). The pork was tender and delicious but again, even with all the different flavors, left me wanting more. More spice to be exact. Any spice.

It started getting better with the "queso a la plancha". A perfectly grilled thick slice of cotija cheese, avocado and a dollup of tasty tomatillo salsa. This was an excellent, creative and sizable taco-- though still lacking spice.

The chicken-chipotle-cream-sauce taco was another star. A mild heat came through, but what I loved was the creative use of what tasted like creamed spinach. Sprinkled with cotija cheese and covered in sour cream, this was by far the most original of the tacos.

The last I tried was the lengua. The lengua was the clear winner of all the tacos. Wonderfully tender and rich with flavor as lengua often is, the tomatillo and smoky red salsas added a complex blend of flavors and even packed a mild heat. It was a great original version of a traditional taco.

These pinches tacos (technically "pinche" should be plural) have the look and feel of a traditional street taco, and although they offer innovative options, they lack some spice and flavor to be really great. In spite of this I like what I see so far and Pinche Tacos will probably be successful. Its marketing is well researched and executed. It is amazing to me how marketing works sometimes, convincing us that we need something we don't, or in this case offering us something new that we already have. The Pinche website promises "real pinche Mexican food in Denver", something we have had for a very, very long time. The food is not un-authentic, but it is certainly dumbed down for the typical American palate. It is also expensive for what it is, though it is good enough that I would readily go back because of its prime locations where a good taco is otherwise pretty hard to find.

Pinche Tacos on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More From the Road: The Huerfano Cafe of Walsenburg

Leaving work early on a Friday afternoon at the start of a three-day weekend with a carful of camping equipment and other travel-ready gear is a great feeling. Such was my blissful world this past Memorial Day weekend as I peeled out of my work-place parking structure and headed out to pick up my wife. She was equally giddy when I scooped her up, barely giving me a chance to stop the car as she jumped in and let out a yelp of happiness. The nine-to-five grind makes times like these especially joyous (that is my new glass-half-full philosophy that I was trying out that week).

We drove south on I-25 and didn't mind the DTC, Castle Rock or Colorado Springs traffic one bit. In fact, before we knew it we were plowing through Pueblo and well on our way to Santa Fe, via the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, our destination for that evening.

To get to the Sand Dunes from I-25, you turn right at the town of Walsenburg. Arriving in Walsenburg was excitement enough (you've never read those words before), as a couple years ago, on this same drive, we found a great hamburger stand typical of Southern Colorado full of all the usual suspects: Frito Pies, green chile burgers, smothered burritos, etc. We rolled slowly into town, carefully scanning the street for our meal-time destination, unsure of its name but with a clear picture of the New Mexico colors it sported as well as the drive-thru window. Sure enough we found it, except now it looked like this:

"Awwwwwww," I moaned; the excitement of the drive, the long weekend and the triumphant arrival to Walsenburg left me momentarily, and in its place was the familiar feeling of grumbling hunger. All day in my mind I was preparing for this moment, when I would sit down in a booth at Tes' (pronounced Tess') and stuff my face with smothered this-and-that. I even skimped on my other meals that day knowing I would throw down like a ravenous stray dog when I got to Walsenburg. And now this? Boarded-up windows and empty parking lot? How much good food could there be in Walsenburg?

But remember that this week I had adopted (I have since neglected it) the admirable Serenity-now-like philosophy where a small crisis like this is not a setback but rather an opportunity to experience something new. Serenity now. Or something like that.

What I did next was more similar to how I had been dealing with difficult situations in my life up until a week ago: go into the liquor store. Actually I just wanted to ask someone where I could get some good Mexican-like food in this town.

For a while, Walsenburg had it all: drive-thru liquor and Frito pie on one corner. 

I asked the guy behind the counter the deal. Apparently Tes had a big fire a year or two ago, but there were other places, he assured me. After some difficult hemming and hawing on his part between the other two or three other restaurants in town, he came out with it. While his friend worked at this one place, he would go to this other place: Huerfano Cafe. "Man, my friend would kill me if she knew I sent you there," he said. Not to worry my friend, me writing that in my blog is as good as the best kept secret.

I appreciate the honesty of a good liquor store employee, and bought a couple tall boys of Tecate before heading out. Newly invigorated, we got in the car and drove through lovely and historic downtown Walsenburg, passing historic city hall (right), turned right at the stoplight and continued on to the edge of town to find our destination.

The Huerfano Cafe is the good company of restaurants that close on a random weekday that is not Monday (a good sign). Inside was a simple diner-style layout with booths in the middle, tables around the walls and two hard-working servers handling a full house. This truly seemed like the place to be in Walsenburg that night as families, biker-couples and lone aging cowboy-types packed the place. We got a table after a short wait and sat down to order.

Our server was especially friendly and was clearly a professional. She stacked and piled plates like few others I have ever seen, clearing a full six-top in one precarious but confident trip--without a tray. Then she hustled over to us, smiling big like she was really having a great time. We got the wipe-board special of Chicharrones as well as some enchiladas and a daunting smothered sopapilla hamburger.

The chicharrones were fresh-fried and served with warm flour tortillas. It seems like bits of fried pork skin in a tortilla would be too dry, but just like a torta de tamal, it was actually quite good. We didn't exactly finish the small bowl off, but that is also because looking at the size of everyone else's plates, we knew what we had coming.

The enchiladas were excellent and curiously prepared Mexican style, with pan-fried crisp corn tortillas instead of the more typical baked New Mexican-style enchiladas. It was, though, topped (smothered) with a delicious New Mexican-style green chile and alongside it were refried beans that tasted wonderfully of lard.

It was an excellent green chile and a very good plate of enchiladas. It was large as well, but the true gut bomb of the evening was the sopapilla hamburger. Smothered. The New Mexican and Southwestern sopapilla is the rough equivalent of the Mexican gordita, except the dough is lighter and it is typically served as a dessert. Here it was used as sandwich around ground beef. It reminded me of the infamous and deadly donut hamburger, sometimes called the "Luther burger" in honor of Luther Van Dross (who did fill out rather robustly after its "invention" and unfortunately suffered from diabetes and hypertension). I propose that this Chicano version of the Luther burger could then rightly be called the Fluffy burger, in honor of the obnoxious (but sorta funny) comedian Gabriel Iglesias.

You can't really tell what is going on in the following smothered mess of a picture, and true to the chaos present on the plate, so it was in our stomachs as we drove the rest of the way to the Sand Dunes. It was, of course, a very good mess of a meal. The crunchy-yet-soft sopapilla soaked up the delicious red chile like a sponge, and the unnecessary half-pound of ground beef was obviously good.

The Huerfano Cafe in Walsenburg is not on the way to much, but when out wandering in the Southern parts of our great state, it is certainly worth your while to stop and have a well-made meal that is sure to satisfy.

Just make sure it's not a Tuesday.

904 W 7th St, Walsenburg, CO, (719) 738-2041

Huerfano Diner on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Heart of Colorado's Frito Pie Country: G6 in Antonito

I love Frito Pie. I know I just lost most of my audience with those opening words, but I can't help but be drawn to this simple dish of corn chips covered in chile and topped with tomatoes, lettuce and cheese. For those of you still with me, hear me out: I think I may have found the best Frito Pie in the state of Colorado.

In my past journeys I have pondered the origins of the Frito Pie, so I won't bore you with that now except to say that there is a good chance it is a descendant of the Mexican chilaquiles. I will, however, tell you a story that you may or may not find funny, depending on how much you know and care about obscure iconic regional ethnic dishes. Years ago when my wife and I were in New Mexico we stopped at a roadside taco stand and were surprised to see chilaquiles on the menu. While my Mexican wife pondered her order, the pimply-faced kid behind the counter asked what she was deciding between. When she told him, he responded, in his deep New Mexican Chicano drawl, that the chilaquiles were pretty good. "In fact," he told her to give her a frame of reference, "they're kinda like a Frito Pie, but with tortilla chips." My wife smiled, and told him that this indeed was what she would order.

This story is funny because chilaquiles most certainly came first. My point is that the Frito Pie, however silly this may sound, is a deeply-rooted and classic piece of New Mexican and therefore American cuisine. I have written several times about Frito Pies in Colorado, and I really think that to enjoy a proper Frito Pie in our great state, you must journey south of Denver into the San Luis Valley towards New Mexico, or that is, into Frito Pie Country.

That brings me back around to where I started. On a recent road trip to Santa Fe, I found the best Frito Pie in Colorado at G6, a roadside stand in the town of Antonito, CO, the last bastion of colorful Colorado civilization going south on 285 into New Mexico.

It is not readily apparent that there is actually a name to this anonymous walk-up eatery. There is no sign anywhere on the building and there is no advertising on the highway coming into town (a good sign of course). But the parking lot has always been full in the times I have passed by, and there are always plenty of people waiting in line or eating on the picnic benches under the side awning. The only indication that you are eating at G6 is the iron screen door that guards the side entrance to the kitchen, where the mark of this family's cattle branding iron is displayed humbly in the center.

There is plenty on the menu at G6, and although the Frito Pie is somewhere near the bottom, it is likely one of the best items on the menu.

This time around we ordered a green chile and a red. I always think that red chile is a better option when choosing a Frito Pie topping, and most places will default to red if you don't specify. The green here was good, and came with a layer of refried beans on the bottom, which was a nice touch to the more watery green chile. But the star was clearly the red.

A common problem with Frito Pies is the salt-factor, oftentimes being way too salty. It makes sense, as most places don't think about easing up on the salt in the chile in order to compliment the Fritos, which have about 150% of your recommended daily allowance on their own. At G6, the red chile is salted just enough so that when poured over the Fritos, the resulting combination does not overwhelm the palate (though they do throw in a couple salt packets for those determined to raise their blood pressure). Instead, you are left to savor what is a delicious chile con carne: thick and rich in texture, smoky and sweet in taste, with a wonderful mild heat at the finish.

There is also plenty of chile in this Frito Pie. Many Frito Pies leave you with a few stray, dry Fritos and no sauce left to dip them in. At G6, there is more than enough chile and the Fritos are perfectly soggy but still hold a nice texture, which is of course why this thick and processed food-product is the perfect chip for the job.

For those of you who made it through this post with me, you now know have read more than you thought possible about this great dish. I truly do love Frito pies; not only for the taste, the perfect combinations of contrasts that are the crunch and soggy, the fresh toppings and the not-so-fresh corn chips; but also for the tradition and the culture it represents. And I love places like G6, where locals frequent, signs and advertising are unnecessary and the simple, straightforward food is cheap, hearty and good.

Don't speed through Antonito next time you are headed South on 285 because you will miss G6 at 210 Main St, 719.376.5520. Then again, you might miss it anyway. Look for the red and white hamburger stand on the East side of the road at the South end of town. And don't speed through the Northern part of New Mexico either. Stupid speed limit is 55mph, and even when they drop the violation to 5 mph over, it still rings in at a lofty $76.   
G6 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Restaurant Martin in Santa Fe: Dress-how-ya-like

Restaurant Martin is one of the newer players on Santa Fe's dining scene. Given the fact that I can't even keep up with dining trends in my home city of Denver, I won't pretend to know anything about Santa Fe's dining scene-- but I am familiar with Chef Martin Rios. Chef Rios, formerly executive chef of such renowned New Mexican dining heavyweights as the Inn of the Anasazi and Gernonimo's, is also famous for his 2008 appearance on Iron Chef America's Battle Tomato, where he went head-to-head with that one chef with all the TV shows. In 2009 Chef Martin opened his own restaurant, just south of the town center in Santa Fe.

It is an elegant and simple building from the outside, well-lit and sleek inside. Despite the inviting environs, I have to admit that I was a little skeptical after my first five minutes inside. We admittedly were a tad late for our reservation (OK, 40 minutes late), but the dining room was only about half-full, and it was Sunday, so seating didn't seem like it would be a problem. Somehow, however, we waited for quite a long time while several different waiters and hostesses fumbled around with menus, napkins and the reservation list. With plenty of time to take in our surroundings, my friend and host for the weekend pointed out the tag-line embroidered into all the staff's polo shirt uniforms: "Progressive American Cuisine". And while this name is admittedly much better than "Conservative" American Cuisine, or certainly then "Republican" American Cuisine, fancy and elusive naming is not my favorite.

There were also quite a few 60-some year-old guys with orange tans, penny loafers, pleated khakis and (this is the key) sweaters knotted loosely around their necks, draped over their shoulders and hanging like some kind of preppy merino-wool mullet down their backs. I have been to Santa Fe before, so I understand that this population sub-type is inevitable, but there did seem to be a disproportionate number of them concentrated around the entrance at this particular moment. And while I am a true believer in the "Doowhutchyalike" way of life (which of course includes "Wearwhutchyalike"), these guys were getting seated much faster than us and I didn't like it one bit. I was starting to think our long wait for a table had more to do with our out-of-touch sweater-style compounded be my friend's own "doowhutchyalike" shoe choice.

"Just eat food, try not to be crude or rude, 
Kill the attitude, chill the serious mood, 
And doowutchyalike..."

I am very glad to say that the good people at Restaurant Martin did not in any way turn out to be crude, rude or with attitude; nor did they show any particular favor to those of us who, unsure of what the volatile Santa Fe weather may do that night, and too old and weak to carry an extra layer by hand like a normal person, draped that layer instead over his shoulders. In fact, it was very much the opposite: we waited because the staff was busting its chops by graciously opening up an otherwise closed section of the patio for us to occupy.

And the patio was wonderful. And everything from that moment on was worth the wait. Even the not-yet-quite-there service of a growing restaurant was hardly a detraction at all because the food was so good and the staff was so friendly.

It all started with three plates for the four of us. First up was an Ahi Tuna Tartar. Now, there is little that is more overdone than a tuna tartar, but I was curious as to how Chef Martin would use one particular ingredient listed in its description: jalapeno blinis.

It turned out that the blinis were a little dry and plain, but the rest of the ingredients, when all eaten together, made for a delicious and complex, refreshing and intense bite. In the mix of the ideal bite was a small salad of mandarin, cilantro, greens and radish. Also a sweep of fresh avocado-wasabi sauce and a little "cirtus foam". The key, however, was scooping up some of the smoked sesame seeds, which gave all that citrus and tang a deep contrast, yet still letting the tuna be the star.

Next was a perfectly cooked risotto of scallops and mushrooms. In a creamy sauce of mascarpone, with peas, bacon, leaks and truffles, it was thick and sinfully rich.

Speaking of sin, we were also dining with my friend's Uncle, a Catholic priest in for just one night who, in retrospect, we forced into eating there. Being raised a God-fearing, guilt-ridden Catholic myself, I couldn't help but think of the sin of gluttony in which we were all partaking on this night. Or did the fact that we were dining in the company of a priest instantly absolve us? I think it just might have.

Moving on to the next dish, I was glad to be free of my guilt and openly enjoy the succulent and (I want to say "sinful" yet another time, but again, that must just be my Catholic guilt) savory pork belly. It got a little covered up in this photo by the greens, but it was also bathed in a delicious Asian-influenced sweet chile-glaze.

The entrées were up next and two of us ordered the duck. The duck was thick slices of perfectly cooked breast over what was essentially a bed of duck confit. Either one by itself would have made a fine meal, but together (here I go again) were sinfully good. Drizzled over the top was a blackberry gastrique, candied Marcona almonds, and halved cherry tomatoes. Two big squares of crisp bacon-polenta cakes finished this masterpiece of a plate.

The other entrée on the table that I tried was my wife's salmon, which was seared and served in a shrimp broth with sambal. It also came with a few prawn potstickers, peas, corn and seaweed. It was also very good and perfectly cooked--but not as good as my duck.

For dessert, all sin long ago absolved or at least forgotten, it was all about "Eatwhutchyalike". We ordered a delicious assortment of sorbets which included a guava, strawberry and melon; a chocolate truffle cake with pumpkin seeds; and something called "Elements of Chocolate and Banana". We ordered the last one in spite of its pretentious name, and it turned out to be a good (it's chocolate and banana) but not great mix of a flourless chocolate cake, caramelized banana, pudding and a creamy chocolate sauce. The star of the dessert was actually the wonderful cinnamon ice cream that came with the truffle cake. OK, and the cake was pretty damn good as well.

The meal was fantastic and the service is just about there. Everyone was enormously friendly. Things like clearing the table before serving the next course, having enough flatware when the courses arrived, and the flood lights that lit the back patio and shone directly into my friend's face for a while, were not as crisp and ironed out as they ought to be, though surely will be once the restaurant completes its first busy summer season this year.

In the end it turns out that I do know something about the dining scene in this small Southwestern idyllic town of 70,000 people: there is an impressive array of fine dining options that just got a lot better with the addition of this one. On your next trip to Santa Fe, a mere six hours driving from Denver, you want to eat at Restaurant Martin.

Restaurant Martin on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Torta Ahogada at Jonesy's EatBar

There is a lot in a name. Take Jonesy's EatBar, for example. I love it mostly because it evokes the idea of the trendy gastropub without any pretension at all. And although their website delves into what I would consider too much detail on the "gastropub", I think that they have actually come up with a much better name in "EatBar". Think of it as American for gastropub. We don't go to the "pub" in America any more than we experience "gastronomy" once there. We go to the bar. We drink. And being American, whether or not we are hungry, we eat. And if the food is better than the typical bar food then we are happy. All of our language and naming should be so simple and descriptive. It reminds me of a Simpson's episode (of course it does) where Homer and Moe run across Tipsy McStagger's Good Time Emporium of Drinking and Eating.

Though far from the chain that Tipsy's has become, Jonesy's EatBar is in this fine company as far as naming goes. So it should come as no surprise that their brunch menu stars a sandwich with an equally fine, descriptive and simple name: the torta ahogada, or drowned sandwich. The Torta Ahogada is a Mexican-style torta sandwich that is swimming (or better yet, has drowned and died) on the plate in a bath of red chile sauce. (Drowned is Mexican for smothered in the American Southwest-- a very good thing.) This traditional plate is native to the city of Guadalajara, where it is as ubiquitous as mariachi and tequila. I have never eaten a torta ahogada in Gualajara, so I won't comment on the authenticity of Jonesy's dish, but what I can say is that this Eat Bar makes a good sandwich soaked in chile sauce.

It was simple, as far as tortas go: just a fried egg and some tender pork sandwiched between the bread, which again was all smothered in a chile sauce (guajillos, I would guess). It was also large, but not that large. Our waiter warned us of the gravity of eating a whole torta ahogada, and I don't know why I listened to him. He made a joke (to every table) about how one would be advised not to make plans for the rest of the day after ordering one. He was a skinny little guy, so I should have known better. It was pretty easy to put down. In fact, I'm not bragging, but I could easily eat two if I was hungover enough, and even that would be less painful than one torta cubana. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant amount of food washed down with Pablo's coffee and truffle fries.

Yes, of course I had to have some of this EatBar's famous truffle fries, although again our skinny waiter dissuaded me from ordering my own plate (yes, I had plans that day ha-ha-ha), so I picked at my wife's order. She ordered some sliders with falafel which were in reality pretty sorry-tasting, but the obvious star of the plate was the French fried potatoes covered in shaved truffle.

Not to worry, I didn't leave hungry, and it is probably for the best that I didn't overeat yet another time, seeing as how I arrived at Jonesy's on two wheels powered by my own two legs. I will reinforce, however, that I absolutely and quite literally mopped the plate where once sat my torta.

While there are other places in Denver that will likely serve you a more authentic torta, Jonesy's EatBar has created one great sandwich, and offers those caught up in their downtown bubble some brunch variety. Jonesy's is also a very pleasant place for brunch, with a small patio outside, and inside seating that is warm and inviting with tons of natural light. Jonesy's is also part of the DINR Deck discount card pack that I bought for my wife last December. Shamefully, though I have given away many, this is the first card we have used for ourselves. I have another $10-off card for Jonesy's, so I will certainly be back to this EatBar even if it insists on paying respects to the gastro pub.

Also see Sheehan's Westword review which I swear I had never read before I wrote this, as it makes another case against the term, "gastropub". Though my review is, of course, less opinionated, it is another vote for "Eat Bar"!

Jonesy's EatBar on Urbanspoon


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