I used to love to go to Cherry Creek, wander the green-carpeted book-filled halls of Tattered Cover, satiate my gluttonous appetite with a huge prawn burrito covered in homemade salsa from Chez Jose and amble down to my favorite sign-less basement bar (and one of my favorite bars ever), The RooBar. I can't count how many times I did all those things in that exact order. Now to do all that I need to start on East Colfax, drive down University (through Cherry Creek) to Centennial and then get back in my car to finish off the night with a traffic-filled drive to the wasteland where Park turns into 38th around I-25.
Cherry Creek, over the last five years or so has slowly become void of economically and culturally diverse options, driving out the budget-seeking regular guy in favor of the middle-age BMW-type with a penchant for tying sweaters loosely around his neck.
There are, of course, exceptions. I recently wrote about Ondo's Tapas which brings authentic Spanish cooking to the Creek without any Lexus-only parking. Also good to see still surviving (and growing) is the Cherry Cricket. More recently is the arrival of Pinche Tacos at the farmer's market, but that will be gone again in October. And then there is Tambien.
Likely there is a zoning ordinance in Cherry Creek that two Mexican-themed restaurants cannot operate within any two or three block radius of each other. And did you ever wonder why the Mexican embassy moved out? But in all seriousness, it is probably Tambien's more extensive menu, bigger bar and more clever kitsch decorating that brings them enough revenue to pay the Creek's high-priced rents that drove out Chez Jose. And with all of my skepticism and yuppie-angst aside, Tambien really is smartly decorated, friendly and inviting.
I have avoided going to Tambien for the last few years primarily because of my anti-Creek-ness following the closing of the Tattered Cover and the RooBar. But after Ondo's lured me back and Chez Jose closed, I wanted to see what this DINR member restaurant had to offer (plus I had my wife's handy DINR coupons). My biggest concern going into Tambien is that they would Cherry-Creek the Mexican right out of the food.
The first thing I tried stood up and slapped me in my face with Mexican flavor, although with an appropriate and satisfying twist. It was the Ahi Tuna ceviche, marinated in lime--but I think also some lemon, which took that acrid bite out of the traditional Mexican ceviche (which I like as well), making it sweeter and smoother from first bite to finish. It was still made with the typical Pico de Gallo salsa, and my only complaint is that there was not a lot of fish mixed in. I also liked that they served it with tortilla chips (that tasted homemade) instead of the Mexican tradition of two-per-package Saltine crackers.
Also the Shrimp Cocktail, which was served with the two-packs of Saltines and was quite good itself. The giant shrimp were well cooked and the traditional tomato-based cocktail sauce with big chunks of fresh avocado was so authentic it immediately evoked images in my head of sitting on a beach bar on a semi-desolated beach in Mexico.
Another thing that brought me back to lazing around in a hammock in that same beach town was sipping on my michelada. A michelada, if you don't know, is a beer mixed with lime juice and served over ice with a drizzling of salt. I love beer. I really do. And I know some beer enthusiasts will cringe at the thought of beer over ice, or beer with a cup of lime juice in it-- or any alteration of this beloved beverage, but the reality of it is that beer cocktails are very underrated and the michelada is the king (or the queen) of beer cocktails. I've always loved Tambien's sister restaurant, Mezcal, because they serve a great michelada (and the michelada cubana-- essentially a beer Bloody Mary) and I'm glad to see that Tambien does them as well.
With another Tecate came my red mole. The sauce itself was very good, not the richest and most complex of moles, but with a nice flavor and depth nonetheless. Served over two big chicken thighs and legs and topped off with sesame seeds, it was a lovely presentation as well. The chicken was horribly dry and tough on one of my thighs (guessing that it had been re-heated more than once) but besides that it was a solid mole, which is something not so easy to find in Denver.
For brunch once I got the chilaquiles. Chilaquiles is a great-- maybe one of the perfect-- brunch items and storied hangover cures. Traditionally this is a dish made from fried tortillas soaked in chile sauce and covered in onion, sour cream, egg and/or chicken. The Tambien version is non-traditional for two reasons: scrambled eggs and heat.
Although my eggs were perfectly scrambled (seriously some of the better scrambled eggs I have had in a long time), and I devoured my entire generously portioned plate, Chilaquiles should come with over-easy fried eggs. Part of the hangover (crudo) curing properties are in the egg-yolk goop, while the other part comes from the spiciness. These chilaquiles were definitely made for the mild-mannered, non-crudo'd Cherry Creek regulars, and while I understand that not everyone likes heat, these were so spice-less they were sweet. Luckily I was not hungover and luckily they brought me this huge array of hot sauces that I poured liberally over my plate.
The fish tacos at Tambien could be their signature dish and could quickly become a favorite of mine. Grilled tilapia with pickled onions and a delicious mayo-chipotle-type sauce over what looked and tasted like homemade corn tortillas.
Tambien has an extensive menu and these trips of mine were just a small sampling of what they have to offer. There seems to be a nice mix of authentic dishes and creative interpretations. Everything I ate was good, except the chilaquiles, and all of it was universally mild in spice. The latter point is a little annoying to me, but I understand that spice likely doesn't survive long in Cherry Creek, and while the diverse hot sauce rack does a little to make up for it, how hard would it be to offer spicy and mild options on some dishes? (Not hard, if you're really wondering.) Nevertheless, Tambien is a great place to enjoy some good food and drink and I will be back.
One thing I have noticed in Cherry Creek is the high amount of prime store-front space now abandoned. Hopefully this will bring prices down and some diversity will return. Until then, there is the diverse subterranean space occupied by Ondo's, and its neighbor Tambien.
Photos: A Sweet Time at Choctoberfest
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