Monday, May 25, 2015

Denver al Pastor Take 16: North County

It would not be an overstatement for me to say that tacos al pastor are a fundamental part of my being. This is true figuratively, as it has been the inspiration for this blog (from the logo to the name, and to the exhaustive and exhausting list that I once compiled annually). It is also true literally, as for better or worse, marinated pork has surely come to permanently line my intestinal tract (I think 9 out of 10 physicians would think that to be for the worse). And although I have not posted on Denver pastor for about two years now, my passion for pastor has not waned. It is rather that, as far as I can tell, I have combed the city so thoroughly that there just aren't any new pastor spits to write about. That is, until just recently.

I have stopped being surprised about where I find pastor ever since I had a taco al pastor from a spit in the posh mountain town of Telluride. Nevertheless, I was taken aback when I got a text from my friend Brian a couple months ago with this picture taken in the Lowry residential neighborhood of East Denver:

Brian knows well of my love for pastor because, as I have related before, when we were roommates in Chicago, we could have these fine tacos delivered to our apartment door at any hour of the night or day. In fact, if our lives had just gone slightly different, I might be still adrift at sea with Brian (and our other roommate Michael) on a yacht named: "The El Pastor". But that is a story for another post. Suffice to say, that Brian knows a good spit of meat when he sees one.

The Lowry pastor spit, located in the relatively new North County, as you might have guessed, is a modest one. But as I have posted before and will remind my readers, the size of a pastor spit matters little.  (The spit, of course, is still the only real requirement I have of whether I will consider a taco al pastor worth having. No matter how good the marinade, a non-spit roasted version just won't do.)

North County apparently is a very specific part of San Diego, where the words "North Country" seemingly generate great pride in people who care about those kinds of things. San Diego, I believe, is somewhere in California. You might be familiar with California as the northern and western-most region of the once-great Spanish-then-Mexican empire. It shouldn't be surprising then, I suppose, after all these years that Californianos still know a thing or two about tacos.

The North County al pastor taco was, I must admit, very good. I am now used to pastor tacos being sliced a little thicker than they are in Mexico City, and while I still prefer the thin-sliced and charred bacon-like cuts in the Federal District, I am coming to appreciate the thicker cut as it can also be quite moist and tender. North County did well, however, to impart a little char on its pastor, which is crucial, and what's more, the flavor of their marinade was spot-on. The fresh, house made corn tortillas, chunks of grilled pineapple, and a solid, spicy red salsa rounded out this all-round solid taco.

I've written before about how much I loathe taco stores that try to dress up their tacos (and give them gimmicky names) so much that they become small hors d'oeuvres that just happen to be served on tortillas. Maybe the best part of North County --  a restaurant that had all the external appearances of a place that would try to fancy-up their tacos-- is that their taco al pastor remained refreshingly simple: meat, tortilla, cilantro, onion.

I also tried a fish taco (with my second round of pastor) which was a little more dressed up, but that is typical. Still, the battered slab of fish was not lost under the simple slaw and bright mango salsa. It was also good enough that I would be happy to return to North County to see what else they have to offer.

There are tacos al pastor on a spit all up and down East Denver and Aurora, but unfortunately many people are not ready for the East Colfax taco experience. For this reason the spit of pastor at North County fills a niche and fills it well. You can now enjoy a decent taco al pastor while you sit on expensive patio furniture surrounded by suburban-looking families while sipping a "craft" cocktail instead of sitting on a plastic chair in a greasy taqueria with a can of Modelo in a paper bag. Not sure if that is really an improvement, but hey, it takes "all kinds of people", as they say. And now all those people can find a little more common ground with a mouthful of pastor.

North County on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 3, 2015

My Kids and I Love to Pig Out at Dae Gee

My blogging (it's sort of sad that the continued de-evolution of the English language makes "blogging" an accepted verb these days), along with its mandatory dinner photos (that interrupt the flow of a meal and annoy other diners and restauranteurs alike), has left an indelible impression on my youngsters in their first four years of life.

I've written before about how my poor kids think it is normal to snap a close-up of every plate that is set down before them, but the other day they took it to a new level. We had eaten at the relatively new location of Dae Gee on Colorado Blvd. a week before, and when we asked them what they wanted to do this past Friday afternoon they simultaneously yelled: "Pig Out!" "Pig Out" is more or less the tag line of this Colorado Korean chain, and they proceeded to march around our house chanting: "Pig Out! Pig Out!"

The chant lasted several minutes before one of them (they look the same, you know) asked to see my photos from our last visit. All I had to show them was a solitary photo of my steaming Bibimbop bowl. Where, they wanted to know, was the up-close photo of their zucchini pancake? Those little crunchy things (fried dumplings)? What about the little white plates that were all over the table (Banchan), or the great big sticker of the pig's face that they had each stuck on their shirts like walking Dae Gee mini-billboards?

"I only took this one picture," I said, and I could feel their disappointment swell up from within their little bodies.

"Who are you?" They each seemed to glare, "I thought you were my father?"

That is how I found myself back at Dae Gee, camera in hand, ready to snap photos to temporarily win the affection of my boys. And ready to eat. Although Dae Gee is advertised as Korean BBQ, they don't have table grills as of yet due to pesky regulartory processes. Still, Dae Gee has the thick, smoky, greasy air of a real-deal Korean BBQ joint. The aroma is at once enveloping and instantly inviting. I went from ready to eat to ravenous in an instant. Indeed, there could not be a better way to describe my mindset that the two words splattered all over the restaurant: "Pig Out".

The last time we ate there we shared a Galbee BBQ plate which gets cooked in the kitchen (again, waiting for the table grills). We also shared a bibimbop. Sharing quickly became an issue, as this is a favorite of mine, and it is hard for me to stop and pass once I get going. "Sharing" quickly turned into a race to see who could scrape the most perfectly browned rice from the hot clay bowl. When we returned for our second meal, we each got our own bowl. Here's mine:

When this dish is done right (and it is done to perfection at Dae Gee), it is really one of the world's greatest dishes. The key is that fire-hot stone bowl. So hot that it cooks the raw egg as it gets mixed in with the rice, veggies and meat. But waiting a few minutes is also key. It lets the bowl brown the rice into an irresistible crust. Then, and only then, mixed up all together it becomes a delectable Korean harmony: mmmm.

There are, of course, many other items at Dae Gee. I will probably wait for the table grills to be installed before getting the BBQ again, though it was really pretty good the last time I had it. (Plus there is a little bit of a misleading verbiage on their menu that implies "unlimited BBQ" that will come with those aforementioned table grills.) My sons are also in love with the zucchini pancake which, though a little greasy, is a chopped veggie -almost latke-like patty with a distinct Korean flare.

And the fried dumplings, which anyone would love, but that are particularly good at Dae Gee for being so light and fluffy.

We also shared a small bowl of Man Doo Gook, or chicken dumplings (and such) in a beef broth. It was a glorious soup: a subtle but intricate broth packed with veggies and shredded beef. 

There is not a shortage of Korean food in Denver. However, much of it is found in the far corners of places like Aurora, which understandably makes it less likely to reach the average Denver diner. Dae Gee brings the Korean adventure to the average Joe. It does so with a clever logo, a streamlined image, a clean design, and a friendly, inviting environment with staff that is willing to spend some time to explain the menu and educate its customers. They even break down the basics in their menu with a step-by-step guide to eating proper BBQ.

Dae Gee does all this, as far as I can tell, without sacrificing real-deal Korean flavor.  You can't get fried rice. There is no kid's menu. Nothing is dumbed down or disguised in order to appeal to the middle-American palatte. Dae Gee brings the flavor to you, Denverite. Now go and thank them with your business.

Dae Gee on Urbanspoon


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