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All-American Road Trips: Denver

Rocky Mountains, Colorado

The Big View

Flanked by mountains and ringed with highways, it's easy to get lost in Denver's strip malls, chain restaurants and outer-ring developments, but once you find your way to Colfax Avenue, you're on the road to dining with the locals.

I was suffering from a dreadful cold on the trip, so we didn't get out to the bars at all, but there were a couple of spots that came highly recommended by my buddy Alex (a former Denverite):

My Brother's Bar: "A classy spot with fantastic burgers (try a JCB burger)."

The Cruise Room: "If you're staying right downtown this is a good bet for cocktails, though the crowd can be a bit obnoxious on the weekend."

The Bites

Jack Daniels Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Just blocks from the Botanical Garden, Liks Ice Cream is a friendly neighborhood joint that features homemade ice creams and sorbets alongside umbrella-shaded outdoor seating. If you're not up for ice cream, the iced coffees and chai seem like a good bet. I had the Jack Daniel's Chocolate Chip, which tastes lightly alcoholic and quite creamy... very much like an iced Bailey's.

Though it's not exactly a cafe, I'm a book junkie, so the Tattered Cover gets a happy mention. Good coffee, tasty-looking pastries and, of course, books! They have several locations, but why not go to the historic LoDo locale? It's huge, comfy, welcoming and chock-full of high-quality staff picks to help you snag a winner or two among the hundreds of selections on the shelves.

Pete's Kitchen

Serving 24 hours daily in a slightly seedy stretch of Colfax Ave, Pete's Kitchen is a classic greasy spoon. My friend Alex recommended it for the chicken-fried steak. The "how ya doin' hon?" staff all seem sweet and genial, if harried. Pete's has been an institution since 1942, so you're here as much for the history as for the gyros platter with fries.

Side Dishes at Domo

If you don't make a reservation, you're going to endure a long wait at Domo's country-style Japanese restaurant. But the lobby is large, the decor is warm and engaging, and you can spend a few minutes walking through the various rooms and gardens. I didn't get a good sense of their fish craftsmanship, but their Wankosushi(TM) combo helps to offer sushi newbies an easy way to navigate various classics by offering a pick-three (or pick-five) small-plate option that arrives with miso soup and an array of kitchen-selected side dishes. It's filling, fun and approachable.

Tacos Platter

El Taco De Mexico strikes me as the kind of place that once featured great food at fantastic prices, but now that it's been listed in a few national publications, they've raised the rates a bit. That said, it's still a good lunch spot. The neighborhood seems like one that's recently been reclaimed by a handful of small, arty businesses, so it's nice for a little post-taco stroll. Order in Spanish or English. The staff is fluent in both. You'll sit with the locals, sip horchata and chew your burrito or tacos in a busy, but tidy, diner booth.

The Takeaway

Denver, Denver everywhere, but I never once saw a Denver Sandwich. The classic Denver Sandwich is essentially a western-style omelette on bread. If you're going low-carb, just skip the bread and eat the omelette. This would also be nice with a slice of cheddar or a spicy pepper jack melted across it. Mmmm...

Denver Sandwiches (Serves 2)

4 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp butter, melted
Dash of salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup ham, diced
1 green onion, sliced thin
1/4 cup green pepper, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 slices good-quality bread

1. Beat the eggs, milk, melted butter, salt and pepper together until blended. Add the ham, green onion and green pepper.
2. In a heavy frying pan or skillet over a medium flame, heat the olive oil.
3. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, creating an even layer.
4. Cook about 3-5 minutes, lifting the edges to allow excess egg run underneath.
5. Run a spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen the eggs. Turn the omelette carefully, and cook another minute or two on the other side. Slide onto a plate and cut in half.
6. Toast and butter the bread, using half of the omelette for each sandwich.


Tattered Cover Book Store
1628 16th St
303.436.1070

Liks Ice Cream
Liks Ice Cream Parlor on Urbanspoon
2039 E 13th Ave
303.321.2370

Domo
Domo on Urbanspoon
1365 Osage St
(Just off W Colfax Ave)
303.595.8256

Pete's Kitchen
Pete's Kitchen on Urbanspoon
1962 E Colfax Ave
303.321.3139

El Taco de Mexico
El Taco de Mexico on Urbanspoon
714 Santa Fe Dr
303.623.3926

Cheers,

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4.30.2008

A Guide to the Guides

I find that as marketers and advertisers become increasingly more savvy, it becomes increasingly more difficult to parse the difference between the authentic rave and the shill.

On a recent trip to Baltimore, mom and auntie and I stopped at a Maryland tourism center conveniently set up in one of the roadside rest stops along the turnpike. The brochures, of course, were legion. And you have to expect that in that environment, 97% of the material is going to be marketing and maybe 3% is going to be made up of legitimately helpful advice and maps.

I picked up a couple of the guides relating to food (you're surprised, right?) and found that one was great, and the other was utter garbage recycling.



In comparing these two food guides, I was able to come up a few helpful questions that I believe will be useful for me (and, hopefully for you) on the future forays into unknown lands.

How to tell if the guidebook in your hands offers genuinely good dining advice or just a bunch of advertorial content.

1. Who wrote it?
The Dish guide (seen above), was written by the editors of Baltimore magazine. They're putting their names on it. The Maryland Dining Guide (also above) was written by "Media Two" in conjunction with the Maryland Restaurant Association and the State of Maryland.

While magazine editors might actually give you the real dish in the Dish be assured the Maryland Restaurant Association isn't going to risk ticking off any of its members. You know darn well that Dining Guide will feature glowing praise for every Applebee's in the state.

2. What's the advertising to information ratio?
Is the guidebook in your hands chockablock with ads? Are there more ads per square inch than restaurant listings? If your guidebook seems more like an adbook, you can probably assume they're far more interested in cashing in than in helping you out.

3. How many coupons does the guide feature?
This is not to say that coupons are necessarily the mark of the beast for a given restaurant. They're simply a strong warning sign. If the food's great and it's reasonably priced, people will go there. Great local places generally don't need big ads and coupons to bring the mouths in the door.

4. Are there images and reviews of restaurants and cafes, or just listings?

If the guidebook's intent is to list every eatery in town, they're not offering guidance. They're offering a phone book.

5. If there are reviews, do they use the words, "scrumptious," "delectable" or "succulent" a lot?
A word like "scrumptious" is rarely used by a professional reviewer because it's an empty word. It means delicious. But what does "delicious" really mean? It's vague.

The phrase, "The pancakes at Joe's are scrumptious" has nothing on "Cookie Joe serves up flapjacks the way his Grandpappy Joe did: thick, airy and stacked up high on the plate." The second phrase tells you more about those pancakes than a simple, soulless synonym for "delicious" would.

Along the same lines, a shill is never going to have a bad word to say about a restaurant. It's a sign of quality if the reviews give some credit to the bad along with the good.

***

In sum, determining what's advertorial content is tricky. It's meant to be tricky. They want your money.

If you're really interested in eating well on the road, you might consider skipping the tourism center altogether and hitting the regional forum messageboards at chowhound.

Cheers!

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4.22.2008