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Trip report [Denver]

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I'm sure most of what I'll have to say won't be news to Denver denizens, but maybe it can serve as a minor update on some well-known places.

Just back from a week in Denver, where we ate well -- a mix of lowbrow and highbrow, as it were. Keep in mind that my delight in the lowbrow stuff should be filtered through the fact that I only get this stuff once every few years...

Tamayo
As expected, a creditable rendition of upscale Mexican. The terrace was a fine place to eat on a gorgeous evening, and the food was tasty -- though I'm not sure what the fuss is all about with their guacamole. Edible, but in no way spectacular. Same thing for the margaritas -- drinkable, but with a rough edge to them. They were out of the pipian de puerco, so I had salmon Acapulqueno (pan roasted, with citrus-fennel salad and a habenero-passion fruit sauce). Tasty, but a trifle over-cooked and one-dimensional. My fellow diners fared better -- their cordero Colorado (grilled lamb sirloin) and tampiquena (butterflied filet mignon with a poblano chile-potato gratin) were truly yummy. Tamayo won't replace Frontera Grill in my affections any time soon, but it wasn't bad.

The Egg and I
I got dragged here for breakfast not once but twice. I don't know if it's a local (Highlands Ranch) favorite, or if it's just another strip mall creation (what isn't, I sometimes wondered), but it was packed to the gills both times for reasons I cannot comprehend. Pancakes were serviceable, but the huevos rancheros were truly nasty.

Thai Basil
My parents wanted something basic and Asian, and that's what we got. Adjacent to Park Meadows Mall, this place is noteworthy primarily for the friendliness of its service and its fetching wood-and-silk-clad booths. Americanized Thai/Vietnamese dishes -- goi cuon were surprisingly good, as were red curry beef, a sizzling shrimp and scallop dish and a spicy garlic chicken stirfry, but my sauteed eggplant tasted disturbingly like mint air freshener.

Rioja
What can I say? If I lived in Denver, I'd eat here weekly. I'd been looking forward to coming back here since my first visit over two years ago, and it was wonderful again. This time we started with yuzu margaritas at the bar while waiting for a terrace table, and couldn't help splitting the fresh bacon starter. The pig is truly a magical creature, is it not? When we got to the table, I took full advantage of their wine by the half-glass options. Had a second starter of candied lemon gnocchi with butter-poached crab with a half glass of California Riesling (Wente, 2006 - not bad, but not the match I'd hoped for) and a half glass of Chilean Chardonnay (Broquel, 2005 - perfect!). G. had saffron fettucine with pork meatballs with a glass of very nice Oregon Pinot Noir (Piedra Roja, 2006 - had never heard of it, but it worked well). Then moved on to spice-rubbed lamb tenderloin and a glass of Australian Shiraz for G. and a flatiron steak with bone-marrow and Manchego risotto for me, with a half glass of Zinfandel (Seghesio, 2006 - impressed by the tannic structure, fruity but not a fruit bomb) and a half glass of *excellent* CA Cabernet (Robert Hall, 2005 - we tracked down a couple of bottles at a liquor store and brought them back with us). Then a tasting of blue cheeses for G. and sheep's cheeses for me; the cheeses were weaker than I remember them being before, but everything else was spot on. God, I love this place.

Hickory House (Aspen)
Enter the lowbrow aspect. Went up to Aspen because I'd never been, and ate here twice -- fabulous pulled pork sandwiches for dinner and the world's largest and fluffiest pancakes for breakfast the next morning. Bliss.

Tacos de Mexico
Was jonesing for hole-in-the-wall Mexican, so stopped by this place in the Santa Fe district (wanted to go to Tacos D.F., but it was the weekend and therefore closed). Went for a taco plate with asada, carnitas and pastor -- the last two were the best. Tortillas were excellent, but the tacos could have benefited from a jolt of cilantro and salsa verde. Horchata was appropriately gritty and cinnamony.

Morton's
May I never pay this much money for a gussied-up steak ever again. I don't understand steak houses, really; how can you charge 12 USD for sauteed spinach? I was happy to get my American beef fix, but still. Started with bacon-wrapped scallops and crabcakes -- both okay but not stellar, and moved on to the meat event. Prime rib for two guests (it appeared to have been carved from a brontosaurus), and Chicago ribeyes for us, accompanied by the aforementioned spinach and admittedly yummy garlic mashed potatoes. I was particularly pleased by the August Briggs Zinfandel (I think it was a 2004), but again, may I never pay 80 USD for a Zin again (and that was one of the cheapest bottles on the list!).

All in all, well pleased with the trip -- and looking forward to trying Fruition and Tacos DF, and going back to Rioja, when we're back for a wedding in November.

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  1. Thanks for the report! Why am I blanking on what Tacos DF might be?

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    1. re: tatamagouche

      There's a Tacos DF out on Parker Rd. near the intersection with Iliff. We have been several times. OK, but not special. IIRC, the mushroom quesadillas were very good.