Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

48 hours in Denver

Oh I love Denver, especially downtown, where my sister lives. She's in her own little village, surrounded by restaurants and boutiques. Her husband's office is a five-minute walk away. Everywhere we go (always on foot) my sister is warmly greeted by friendly neighbors who have become friends.

I landed around lunchtime. We were going to eat at Vendome but they were closed by the time we got there, 2:30 (I will have to try the champagne pomme frites another time, alas), so we had lunch at their sister restaurant, Rioja, across the street. I had a smokey lamb burger with spicy aolli and peppery arugula salad. My sister had pungent artichoke tortellini with truffle. Rioja makes a fantastic bloody mary.

My mother, youngest sister, brother, and 5-year-old niece arrived later that afternoon and we voted to have dinner at Casa Bonita. Casa Bonita is a nostalgic favorite. As kids, we celebrated our birthdays there year after year. It's much, much more than a restaurant. It's a huge palace with an interior designed to look like a Mexican village at night.

There's the fancy Stateroom, there are tables in stalagtite- and stalagmite-filled caves, and best of all, there are tables surrounded by lava rock overlooking a diving platform, where Denver's finest highschool drama students perform wild west skits that end in a dramatic dive over a waterfall to a pool below. After the show you can tour Black Bart's cave, if you dare.

There are also puppet shows, arcade games, and for the holidays, Santa. Why not?

We always pay a visit to the wishing well, with an incomprehensible goblin garbling at the bottom.

Poor Mom. I think she was counting on never having to endure Casa Bonita again now that her kids are grown. But she was a good sport. Needless to say, the food is completely beside the point. In fact, you should probably plan on eating before you go. I have fond memories of mushy, canned peas and white-bread toast, though they did used to make their own fresh tortillas, which you could watch being made. These days the peas and fresh tortilla spectacle are gone. But never fear, the food is still delightfully terrible.

I decided I would be safest with the dish that required the least amount of cooking, the taco salad. My shell was leathery rather than crisp, and somehow they managed to fit in about five iceburg lettuce cores. "I just don't understand how you can mess up something as simple as rice and beans," my brother-in-law muttered over his plate. But my sister liked her fajitas. Maybe that's what I should have gotten.

I was looking forward to the sopapillas, which Mom tells us is an American invention (the name comes from the words "sofa" and "pillow" -- not the Spanish words for them, mind you, but the actual English words). They're kind of like Navajo fry bread. You raise a flag at the table and a waiter brings a hot basket. You fill your sopapilla with honey and devour immediately, while it's still warm. If you want more, raise your flag again and more will arrive. I gobbled two and then felt slightly ill. But I have no regrets.

Next morning my brother-in-law hosted brunch with everything -- lox, Canadian bacon, sausage, eggs, English muffins, bagels, cream cheese, fruit, cold cuts, cheese. We lingered over the smorgasbord until it was time for my sister's graduation ceremonies, which were held at the convention center. Can you believe we walked to her comencement? I love my sister's neighborhood.

I'm happy I got to see my sister graduate. And I'm so damn proud of her.

And by the way, aren't these the perfect shoes to see peeping out from a graduation gown?

Afterwards my brother-in-law treated us (again) to dinner, at nearby The Oceanaire. "It's a chain," my sister whispered, "but it's so good." The chain is a small one, and anyway, when everything is perfectly executed it doesn't matter. We shared some fried calamari, soft under the crunchy surface. The oysters Rockefeller were good, though I always think it's a pity to cook oysters at all, let alone cover them with a sauce. I had sesame seared tuna flown in that day from Hawaii (an unsustainable luxury!) with a spicy yuzu sauce and red pepper and fennel salad. They cooked the tuna exactly the way it should be, so it was mostly buttery garnet goodness. I'm going to try to duplicate the red pepper and fennel salad. Are yuzu lemons in season now? I wonder where I can find them.

The desserts at The Oceanaire looked good but my brother-in-law brought something special, a luscious chocolate cake from Gateaux. While there he'd seen a lemon poppyseed cake with strawberry filling and frosting, and couldn't help buying that as well. We'd eaten it the previous night.

And here I am now in Brooklyn, simultaneously recovering from the Denver feast and planning my Christmas feast. I'm going to roast venison loin with juniper berry sauce, serve (hopefully) swiss chard gnocchi on the side, maybe some pureed carrots as well. What are you planning for Christmas dinner?


Jessica said...

I haven't seen a Casa Bonita since I was little. Ours closed when I was probably 6 or 7. Nostalgic indeed!

Hevansrich said...

Fun trip! I too had the chance to spend some time in Denver this past summer - my brother's family lives in nearby Loveland - and I was impressed with it! I hadn't been there in years. There was a great area not too far from the theater we went to (Little Mermaid pre-broadway preview) that was near a bridge - a whole area of shops and a promenade and apartments - newer looking and very nice - it reminded me of the Gateway Center in Salt Lake City. Maybe that is near your sister's place. Seemed like a great place to live.

we ate at the Cheesecake Factory there, thats how exciting we get. But I think that Casa Bonita was the place that may have sued Larry Miller in Utah for his Mayan Restaurant he opened in Midvale Utah that has a Mayan Jungle Theme with waterfalls and divers, too. (Larry Miller owns the Utah Jazz among other things and is a bit of a character in Utah, fyi)
anyway, Merry Christmas to you all!

Paul O'Brian said...

That review was everything I hoped it would be. And congratulations, Angelica.

Swizzies said...

Ah, A - I'm just HAPPY to have you back! Congrats on the spanky new range, and the lovely lavendar shortbread (yum). Your sister's shoes kick ass. And your christmas dinner is far too sophisticated for the likes o' me.

We're going to friends' house on xmas eve for dinner and midnite mass. I think we're having fondue bourgingon (no idea how to spell that).

Happy Christmas!!

Sheri said...

wow, what an adventure...

christmas dinner? oh, i was planning on eating whatever you're making. do you mind?

ha! honestly we get yummy homemade cioppino at my husband's family's. i make nothing. it is grand!

merry xmas!