Sunday, December 19, 2010

Film and Food Contest: Win a Denver Film Society Dual Membership

I am a simple man who's life's pleasures include family, food, friends and another "f-word" reserved for dimly lit nights on the couch with my wife or snuggled in the back row of some dark theater. You can probably guess what that word is without me having to come right out and say it, but just so we are all on the same page, I am of course talking about "film".

Recently I spent two weeks enjoying all my favorite "f-words" at the hugely successful 2010 Starz Denver Film Festival. Just before that I was in the Southwest corner of our state for a long weekend of the same. Now that my year of film festivals is over, I am looking forward to enjoying more great features at the new home of the Denver Film Society on East Colfax next to wonderful Encore, who I dearly hope will open a second home in the empty kitchen of the revived theater complex.

What will help me enjoy this cultural sprawl on East Colfax is of course the fact that my wife and I are members of the Denver Film Society. This allows us discounts at the box office in addition to first dibs at festival showings with priority seating. We also get a bunch of free ticket vouchers and are in on one-time special screenings. There are many more perks (see here), my favorite being free popcorn at every movie.

Now at this point you might be thinking, "Why are you telling me about how good your film-going life is?" It may seem envious and luxurious, and if you love watching movies as my wife and I do, it is. But I am not here just to wax proud about my good fortune, no I am here to share a piece of the proverbial pie in what is my biggest and best giveaway contest yet.

Tell me your favorite movie or scene from a movie that features food in some way or another-- and also why it was so memorable/ funny/ sad/ life-changing/ or whatever-- and I will pick a winner who will be awarded a FREE dual membership to the Denver Film Society!

"A FREE DFS Dual Membership!"

All of the benefits I touted above (and more,-- see here for all the perks) can be yours for you and a significant other, friend, family member, roommate, co-worker or anyone that you choose. Email me at denveronaspit at gmail dot com or leave a comment with a way to get in touch with you and when I pick the winner I will get all the other details they will need to sign you up.

In the meantime I will likely be taking a holiday respite, but when I come back it will be with the biggest winner yet!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Colorful Colorado Christmas with Denveater: Red Tango and a Holiday Light Show

This past weekend, my wife and I spent a colorful evening with Denveater and her significant other, the Director. We met in the parking lot of the restaurant Red Tango where they hopped in our car (nights that start out in a dark parking lots are often the best) and we took them to bear witness to what is becoming our favorite holiday tradition. We then returned to Red Tango and ate and drank until we had more than our fill. What follows is a series of questions I asked to her the next morning about how our night went down; in turn you can visit her site and get my side of the story.

So what did you think of the pre-dinner light show in Arvada?
Freaking fantastic! But what really made the experience complete was the four-pack of Sofia blanc de blanc you brought. Especially for a Jew, could there be anything better than drinking bubbly from a can in the backseat of a car parked before such a blazing display of Yuletide chaos? 

video
Christmas burns bright at 12177 E 58th Pl in Arvada

So I heard the Director got sick. Too many tacky holiday lights? Or bad arepas?
Nah—I think it was just the sheer amount of heavy food & red wine. I eat & drink to grotesque excess so often my stomach’s like my own inner abuse victim; it whimpers now and then, but its way too afraid to turn on me. 


The appetizers were probably the best part of the meal. Which was your favorite?
The arepas were excellent—at once fluffy & almost creamy, filled with a queso fresco that had a nice, slightly salty character. And though the chips it came with were stale, the simple, citrusy ceviche was well executed too, containing just red pepper, red onion & cilantro to highlight the firm chunks of orange roughy, topped with avocado pico de gallo. It was a falsely promising start...



The wine was maybe the next best thing. Thoughts from a wine expert in training?
Concha y Toro is Chile’s largest winery, & I think there's a widespread assumption is that the wines are just cheap, easy drinkers, but the Casillera del Diablo Carménère is really pretty decent. On the nose, Carménère ranges from startlingly strong bell pepper or jalapeno notes to those of chocolate & spices; this is one of the latter, very plummy on the palate. Not super-complex, but fun.

Describe your dish again. How exactly was that cream sauce? 
I had the ravioli de frijoles con pollo, which was interesting, if not entirely successful. The theoretically bold flavor combination—black beans & roasted onion inside the ravioli, blackened chicken & gorgonzola sauce on top—was undermined by clumsiness: the pasta dough was too thick & chewy, and the cheese sauce had the color & consistency of Liquid Paper—weirdly sticky. It would also have been strangely bland without the juices from the chicken mixing into it—although how they got there is a bit of mystery; you wouldn’t think a blackened chicken breast would release that much liquid onto the plate.


And the Director's arepas de carne mechada?  
Again, the arepas themselves were great, & their presentation was delightful, sandwiched between a mound of beef tinga & another of avocado pico de gallo & lettuce, drizzled with crema fresca. But the beef was just awful—rather than gaining from a smoky, tangy, & oniony simmer, it seemed to have just been tossed in sugary canned tomato sauce. Such a bummer.


What was up with my salad?
I think they forgot the oil in the dressing on the baby spinach! It just tasted like vinegar, salt, & red pepper flakes.

Did you really get up and go work out at 7am the next morning?
Um, almost. Skipped my yoga class but made it to step aerobics at 8. If I weren’t fairly disciplined about exercise, I’d be a butterball. As it is I’m an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butterball—still plenty soft & greasy.

The meal was entirely mediocre and questionably poisonous, but somehow we had a great time. We also talked a lot about Don DeLillo, what is your favorite line from White Noise again?
“Do not advance the action according to a plan.” Which is exactly what we did (not do)! Though it has far more complex, both melancholy & sinister connotations in the novel, out of context it could easily accord with the Italian concept of dolce far niente (sweet doing nothing): just go with the flow alongside people whose company you value; eat, drink, be merry.



Would I go back? Visit Denveater's site for my take on Red Tango or travel to Wheat Ridge and go see for yourself.

Red Tango on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fritangas of Denver: Fried Stuff, Breakfast for Dinner and More

It was a Friday night, I was hungry and again found myself approaching the crossroads of international cuisine in our fair city. My stomach growled loudly in a prime example of classical conditioning triggered by pulling up to the stoplight at the corner of Alameda and Federal. Like the simple-minded Pavlovian subject that I am, my salivation level was approaching canine-like drool when I saw the light turn green, opening passage to a bounty of great eating. This time around I was headed to Fritangas, just west of Federal on Alameda, or as its chef and owner Eduardo calls it, "Flavor Corner". Although "Flavor Corner" sounds much too much like an old cigarette ad for me to ever write again, it is true that there is a lot of great food to be found in this part of town. Fritangas moved to this corner a couple years ago after spending some time further up the road at 25th and Federal which itself boasts some flavorful options.


Simply by the descriptive name, I knew Fritangas had to be good. Firtangas loosely translates to "fried stuff", and the menu here is full of these delicacies found on almost every street corner in places like Mexico City: quesadillas (the good, fried kind), sopes, huaraches, flautas-- the list goes on and on. In fact the owners are from the Mexican capital themselves, and have tried to bring their little deep-fried slice of the city to Denver. And the menu is not limited to oil-soaked crisp corn masa, it is also full of just about everything else-- six pages worth of goodies such as a super-stacked hamburger replete with, among other things, a hot dog and bacon; to tacos, tortas and enchiladas; to breakfast served all day.

When our helpful and attentive server pointed out to us that breakfast was indeed served all day (a handy three page menu insert in the original six page volume) I was elated. Recently I have been having an unusually intense craving of breakfast food items after the sun goes down-- that is, breakfast for dinner, or for Scrubs fans like me, Brinner. Last month I made my wife and I pancakes, eggs and bacon for two nights in a row but my urge was not sated, and tonight I realized why: I wanted Mexican Brinner (desayena?).

I started with an order of Molletes, a classic Mexican breakfast treat: pan telera with refried frijoles, melted cheese and topped with pico de gallo. It was fantastically satisfying. Unusually so, I suppose. My table mates did not share my fervent enthusiasm for this simple toasted bread and bean snack, but they were obviously not craving Mexican breakfast for dinner like I was.


I also had a big fat plate of chilaquiles. This is, as I have described before, one of the world's ultimate crudo-killers (hangover cures for the non-Spanglish readership). This pile of fried tortillas soaked in salsa was spicy and served with a thin fried skirt steak. Although not hungover--or even drinking for that matter (no alcohol at Fritangas)-- it was nevertheless a satisfying plate of salsa, chips, beans and meat. On the downside the steak was dry and would have benefited from a runny fried egg-- and given me something else to soak up with my grilled and buttered piece of torta bread served on the side.


The rest of my table was not enjoying breakfast for dinner, but they were enjoying some other fine Mexican classics. We shared a sizzling skillet of queso fundido filled with chorizo sausage. Heaping oozing chunks of chorizo-filled cheese onto fresh flour tortillas is always a good thing, and the Fritangas version did not disappoint.


Another very good dish that came out was a shrimp mojo de ajo. This garlic-laden traditional seafood seasoning commonly includes other simple indgredients like butter, chiles, lime and parsley. It is hard to go wrong with this plate either, and the Fritangas plate was a good one.


Also good-looking was a plate of roasted chicken that was advertised as a 1/2 roasted bird and came out with only the good halves of the bird. Instead of slicing the chicken down the middle, Fritangas serves both sets of wings and legs in their half-chicken platter. A chicken made of only wings and legs is of course the perfect chicken (you can order the roasted breasts in their pechuga-only platter). I didn't taste this plate, but was given a thumbs up from the other end of the table, and by the looks of this picture, it is worth posting.


By now, with so many non-fried plates coming out to our table, the Fritangas deep-fryers were likely getting a little impatient with anticipation. Their first fry-task for our table was the visually stunning masterpiece know as the mojarra frita. Mojarra, as far as my simple understanding of aquatic biology will allow me to grasp concepts in the taxonomic rank, is a species of tilapia, farmed especially for restaurants and supermarkets the world over. Whatever the case, this fish is generally served in its entirety: whole and deep-fried. Sprinkled with the juice of a few limes it is delicious. One side of the Fritangas version was somehow much drier than the other, but still it was finger licking-good.


It was also bone-licking good.


My wife, in the true spirit of her Fritanga Chilanga roots, couldn't resist a deep-fried masa classic. She ordered and ate a big plate of crispy chicken flautas-- flutes of tightly rolled corn tortillas stuffed with pollo and deep fried into submission. They were perfectly fried and true to the Mexico City classic.


We also ordered a plate of sopes for some reason-- we must have been feeling incomplete with only one fried corn dish. They are worth noting because of the delicious meat we chose to top them: chicarron prensado, or pressed and fried pork skin. They were great but barely got touched only because we ordered so much more. Some lucky person at our table took them home and is right now probably enjoying dinner for breakfast. Mmmm.


In addition to a great restaurant name, Fritangas has one of the best restaurant-website-soundtracks ever. (I'm sure the Westword will have an award for this next year-- they give those awards out to anyone these days.) Click here to be transported to a world that is part homage to fried Mexican food and part sultry rhythm and blues soundtrack. The music makes such little sense with the website content that for some reason it is all perfect together-- completed by a smiling and welcoming photo of Eduardo and a hodge-podge collage of Mexico City landmarks. For a bonus, when you click on a link the soothing sound of a bubbling brook accompanies you to your next page view. It blends in so perfectly with the music that I happily browsed through the entire website before I realized that I had dimmed the lights, lit some candles, was in the mood for romance. Groovy. Fried Stuff.


Fritangas is a good choice for a dose of Mexican-fried comfort and much, much more. There is a lot on the menu and I imagine as with any restaurant with extensive options like these there will be some mediocre and even bad to go along with all that is good. If you end up there, take your time to choose and ask the friendly and excellent servers for some recommendations. As a bonus the prices are just right. Visit them on Alameda or enjoy their entertaining website at www.fritangas.net.

Fritangas Mexican on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chicago Style Beef and Dogs In Denver

"Hog butcher for the world,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with railroads and the nations freight handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of Big Shoulders:"
     -Excerpt from Carl Sandburg's Chicago

Of all the things I miss from the place of my birth, almost every last one of them is food-related. I spent my first 18 years in Chicago, followed it up with a spattering of extended stays in my parents' basement and finished it by an ironic three-year stint in my mid-twenties as a Sox fan just a (very) long home-run from Wrigley Field. It is in Chicago that I learned to do what Chicagoans do very well: eat and drink. Sadly for us Chicago transplants, very few Chicago classics are reproduced faithfully outside of the loose borders of the greater Chicagoland area, and because of a personal history of repeated disappointments with Chicago-style food in non-Chicago places, I have for the most part stopped looking.

Lately, however, I have been yearning deeply for a good Chicago-style beef. I wrote about an average one when I was back there earlier this year that would keep me happy for the rest of my life in Denver. But that satisfaction has long-since faded from my memory so I turned to the streets of Denver in search of one.

Chicago-style beef is thinly shaved and served in a thick toasty bun soaked in beef juices and topped with peppers. It is one of the world's perfect sandwiches. It seems logical that in Denver when seeking out a sandwich so near and dear to Chicago, one would start at Chicago Style Beef and Dogs.


Chicago Style is a stand-alone brick building on West Colfax near Pierce. Its exterior signs simply read "Chicago" over and over, and entering is like walking into a concentrated indoor version of the city. It is a densely-packed homage to all things Chicago; a museum of sorts-- or more like a collectibles shop-- with everything from a Barbie doll dressed up in a Bulls uniform to dozens of Bears football cards to sports jerseys to a Chicago Tribune newspaper box.


I was here with my food-blogging friend and genius artist, Riki Takaoka. You may remember Riki from our adventures at Tacos Veloz, where we enjoyed what is in my opinion Denver's best taco al pastor both orally and visually. In fact, the painting that Riki made from his sketches that night is now in the process of being framed and hung in my kitchen (my wife would not let it in the bedroom).

Riki and I were back at it again at Chicago Style, he with his India Ink brush pen and sketch pad, me with my camera and both with our voracious appetites. Besides a beef, I ordered us a Chicago-style hot dog, an Italian sausage and fries that we split down the middle (Riki is also a struggling but immensely talented artist that you too can support here).


Let's start with the good: Riki's skillful drawings and the hot dog. Riki immediately got to work, his deft and precise brush strokes of black ink in no time turned the blank sheet of paper into a fluid and vibrant outline of dog, fries and drink that he later filled in with his trademark animation style.


He then set into the actual dog like the hungry artist that he is, inhaling it like I did mine moments before. It was a great Chicago-style dog with all the traditional fixin's: yellow mustard, onions, tomato, sport peppers, neon-green relish, an entire pickle spear and a dash of celery salt. And of course, no ketchup.


Ketchup, if you don't already know, is a serious insult in the world of Chicago hot dog cuisine and if you press the point when there you should feel passionate enough about it to know you just might end up in a fight over it. It was nice to see an educational pamphlet on our table, explaining the finer points of improper ketchup etiquette. I think the words used to describe those who choose to put ketchup on their dogs included "alfalfa-eating barbarians". The worst kind.

The next thing I sampled was the Italian beef. It looked good: copious amounts of thinly sliced meat, grilled and pickled peppers, a toasted Gonnella bun and all of it dripping in juices. The taste, however, was a little disappointing. Maybe it was all the hype that I had built up in my mind about it. Maybe it was that sitting in this restaurant I really felt that I could have been in Chicago. Whatever the case I am sorry to say that while everything looked to be in place, the beef was bland. I salted my beef (that would make Mike Ditka proud) and it got a little better, but something just didn't do it for me. Riki loved his beef, so maybe it is my snobby Chicago upbringing that left me wanting when it came to this beef, but I didn't love it.


I actually went back for a beef because I wanted to like it so much. The second time around it was a little juicier but the beef itself was somehow still dry. Again I salted. Again it left me wanting.

I am glad I did go back because I got to share with my wife another Chicago classic: the meatless Friday Lenten special that has become a menu staple in many a hot dog and beef stand known as the Pepper and Egg sandwich. Most Pepper and Egg sandwiches that I remember were of the scrambled variety, but I really liked the Chicago Style fried egg version. Like the beef it was topped with sauteed peppers and served on a toasty Gonnella bun. Delicious.



Back to my day with Riki. The last item we tried was the Italian sausage--grilled like it ought to be. It looked good but my first bite was incredibly salty and dry. Riki liked this sandwich as well, so I started wondering when my artist friend ate his last good meal. I suppose it wasn't really bad, it just wasn't as good as I expected it to be. What did turn out well were his sketches, as mouth-watering as the original promised to be.


Even though I liked the dog and the pepper and egg, I really wanted to love the Chicago style beef, and I'm not sure what didn't go right here. Maybe it is the number 8 Bears jersey that hangs from the rafters. It had no name on the back but it made me think of Rex Grossman-- or worse-- Cade McNown. Now sure they played football for the Bears, but like most quarterbacks that have played (and play) there, they are far from the best the city has to offer.


It is also seemingly north-south neutral, which is likely a necessity in the isolation of Colorado, but it might be that having large lighted signs of the Sox so close to the Cubs causes an irreparable imbalance in the Chicago Style universe that causes the beef to lose flavor.



I am sad to say that I also did not love the Chicago Style Italian sausage. Though disappointed by these Chicago classics, the dog and the pepper and egg will bring me back. Also, I could spend another hour just checking out the fantastic memorabilia again. I encourage you to check it out and judge for yourself, whether you miss Chicago-style food like me, or have never even been to The Windy City. Visit them on the world wide web, or at 6680 W. Colfax.

Chicago Style Beef and Dogs on Urbanspoon

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