Sunday, April 21, 2013

Oy Vey! The Bagel Deli as Featured on the TV!

A certain food celebrity with spiky hair and a sort of persona you might describe as a Rachel Ray mixed with a wannabe biker was recently in Denver to gush in cliches over more of our city's food. His arrival generated a little backlash--even a tinge of hatred--from more than one local media outlet. I'm not sure what makes him so polarizing, though I think watching too much Food Network these days would make anyone edgy. I personally have never been a fan (though I do secretly wish I came up with his tagline), but isn't it a good thing to get some national exposure for some of Denver's mom and pop joints? My answer to that question after eating at one of his stops on his last Denver tour is: maybe.

It was a weekday and the Denver On a Spit family had the morning off so we packed ourselves in the car and made a trip down to The Bagel Deli. It wasn't until I was walking up to the restaurant itself that I found out they were featured on the Food Network, thanks to the hard-to-miss signs.

We entered the half-deli, half-diner strip mall space and among the family pictures and other homey kitsch decor was a TV playing a loop of their 6.5 minutes of fame. Big signs advertising a TV show is understandable and is one thing, but playing that spiky blond blabbermouth on a continuous loop while good people are sitting down to break bread together is a special kind of torture.

But still there was great service and even some refreshing East coast-style smack talking. When I wondered out loud to my server about ordering a simple bagel and lox, over the bagel and lox plate, he snarkily commented that the small sandwich would be a good choice if I was, "80 and having dinner at four in the afternoon." Well put. I respond well when my waiter challenges my manhood and overall eating stamina. And alternatively, for the record, I hate it when my waiter tries to get me to eat less-- what are you my doctor?

My lox and bagel platter was just what I was in the mood for. A hearty serving of smoked salmon and a scoop of cream cheese with all the fixings. The bagel was decent and the meal was overall satisfying, and though not in any way large it would indeed probably be a tad too much for the average 4pm diner.

If you do find your meal too much to handle, they do offer to-go boxes at The Bagel Deli; something we took advantage of for my wife's meal, a plateful of potato latkes. There didn't seem to be too many latkes, but they were a tad on the greasy side, so we boxed them up but I'm not sure we ever finished them. They were perfectly fine latkes, I just don't know if I've ever been in the mood for a full plate of latkes.

I somehow managed to write a post about the Food Network show about greasy spoons, hole-in-the-walls and eating in cars without mentioning the host's name. If you are a an employee of Denver's alternative media, you might refer to him as, "he-who-must-not-be-named", and be proud of me. But come on. Is he really that bad? And if he is, doesn't he win--I mean have you seen his car and studded jewelry?-- he really is winning--for the attention he grabs?

And regardless, I think it's probably good for the businesses in the end, though this one could tone it down a little. I think I would have preferred the Bagel Deli in the pre-fame days. Or I think I think so. Whatever. So like I always say: "Ess, bench, sei a mensch", or, "Eat, pray, don't act like a jerk!" (Note: I've never said that before, but if I were Jewish that would totally be my tag line.)

The Bagel Deli and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Seeing Friends and Eating Seafood at Thai Flavor of Aurora

A few weeks ago, my family and I had the pleasure of once again sharing a dining table with Mark Antonation, who now has a public forum for his food eating opinions at; Denveater, who writes what I consider our city's best all-around food blog; and Denveater's partner in life, food and most importantly, film, the Director,  We broke bread-- or noodles-- way out in the heart of Aurora, at an East-side favorite of mine, Thai Flavor. Here are some snippets from our subsequent email conversations about that night. For some more on Thai Flavor, check out Denveater's post, and for all your adventures on the Peoria Street of Denver, check out Mark's blog on Westword's Cafe Society, A Federal Case.

Me: I cannot recall the name of my entree. That is not to say it wasn't memorable, but I was distracted at times from my meal and otherwise stimulating conversation by the throwing of broccoli, tossing of rice and an admirable go at ripping to shreds an entire phone book. Yes, as you may recall, my boys were there, who are in the full throes of their terrific twos. So what can I say about my entree? I remember liking it. And I remember the big chunks of calamari, the 2 or 3 well-cooked mussels, the shrimp and the sweet sear of my not-too-spicy sauce.

DVI agree we were all a bit distracted...not just by little squirmers! It was also that we were sitting at a table near the entrance in the middle of the room in broad daylight. It's always hard for me to concentrate when I feel like we're circling our wagons on the prairie. I definitely get that old urban myth about mobsters insisting on sitting with their backs to the walls. And there was lots of back-&-forthing with the adorably gregarious old guy who, I assume, was the owner.

Me: I take responsibility for all that. Eating at 5pm is now the standard for my family, and we were headed to a nice booth in the back, but I thought the boys would be best entertained sitting by the fish tank up front-- they were, for about five minutes. 

MA:  The giddiness of the two toddlers who shared our table may have rubbed off on me (Me: That is the nice was to say, "Your babies are fucking nuts!"). Concentrating on food took a vague second – or even third – place to catching up with Denveater, the Director, and the Denver-on-a-Spit family. The other customers and the good-natured proprietor further distracted me.

Me: I liked the first couple of shared appetizers best. It may be that at that point my boys were happily tearing through a plate of fried rice which left me free to indulge my attentions to the dishes at hand, or it may be that that eggplant salad, with its soft, not-bitter-at-all Chinese eggplants, steamed shrimp and fried egg was just a fabulous and unique plate. I have to say, I love a salad where the only greens are a few sprigs of basil.

MA: What stood out to me above the sauces and proteins were a few unique preparations and ingredients that I’d never experienced before. Was the eggplant in that salad pickled, or just cooked to bring out the crisp freshness of a vegetable that generally flaunts its dull, spongy, and mushy attributes? It certainly had the firmness and verve of a farmhouse pickle. 

DV:  The marinated-eggplant salad with shrimp, strips of sweet omelet, red onion, & basil is the masterpiece here. It's so colorful & unusual: by turns tangy & delicated, sharp & soft, crunchy & silken-textured.

Me: And the same might be said for the fish cakes, though in a different way. The crunchy, thick fried fish mash was balanced perfectly by the fish-sauce-laden spicy cucumber-peanut-cilantro salad that accompanied it. I loved that dish.

DV: I don't think the fish cakes themselves or the fried catfish were quite as successful, simply because they weren't quite hot enough to remain ultra-crisp for long. The potential was there, though—both dishes were put together well, the coating was deft, the flavors clear & bright. 

Me: Quite so. I didn't love the catfish for that reason, and in times past, those fish cakes have packed more crunch.

MA: Those quartered bites of Thai green eggplant in the fried catfish also had a little snap, more like a lightly sautéed green tomato, but with just enough meatiness to absorb the heat and pungent flavors of the sauce.

DV: The key difference between mediocre & quality Thai, in my book, is that the latter is surprisingly subtle. People often refer to the importance of balance between the elements—sweet, spicy, salty, sour, bitter—and while I agree with that, I'd add that the ideal result is above all refreshing; the brushstrokes aren't as bold as they are in, say, Malaysian/Indonesian/Singaporean cuisine. Seemed to me Thai Flavor nailed that distinction in almost all the dishes we tried: from the steamed mussels with a vibrant dipping sauce—not the ubiquitous, neon-pink, sweet-chili stuff but just a simple blend of fish sauce, citrus, & fresh chilies—to Mantonat's jungle curry & our seafood stir-fries, which were all exceptionally light, fresh, crisp, & peppery. The seasoning showcased the main ingredients rather than the other way around. 

Me: True, though I wasn't overly impressed with the spiciness at Thai Flavor. I did only order "hot" and not "Thai Hot", Nevertheless, the man who seemed to be the owner did give the typical Thai-friendly polite-though-scoffing laugh of caution about ordering too hot, so I expected a little more burn and nasal clearing from my dish. But the jump up to Thai Hot might be exponential. And for an extra fun kick, the one condiment with the mix of red and green sliced peppers was tremendously hot, and so I did get that familiar Thai burn that builds and builds past heat, through pain and to a sort of numbed pleasure-state that I so often strive for when I eat Thai.

Overall I like Thai Flavor a lot, and I still feel like there is a lot on that menu that I want to try. Clearly the specialty is seafood, but most of what we had was so good it would be worth checking out as much as possible on that menu. I have a feeling we'll all be back in this part of town sooner than later, because the allure of international eating variety in that neighborhood is too much to resist. 

Thai Flavor on Urbanspoon


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