Monday, April 24, 2006

Dining Out for Life

Every year, Denver restaurants team up to raise money for an amazing nonprofit called Project Angelheart. Project Angelheart provides meals for people with life-threatening illnesses. It's a wonderful group that I have volunteered with in the past. This Thursday, April 28th, I encourage everyone to go out for an awesome meal at one of Denver's great restaurants. 25% of the money made that night will go to Project Angelheart! So, you get a great meal and you help provide meals to some people who really need them. How can you go wrong? Check out this link for a list of participating restaurants. Hint: You can even go at lunch, because all front range Tokyo Joe's and Wahoo's Fish Tacos are participating! Rock!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

El Noa Noa

Speaking of patios, there is nothing I would rather enjoy on said surface than some excellent Mexican food. I always feel like good Mexican food is meant to be enjoyed outdoors. Maybe it's the fresh flavors of cilantro, avocados, and tomatoes. Or maybe I just like to pretend I'm on the beach in Puerto Vallarta while I sip my perfectly blended, icy margarita.

I recently spent a beautiful Friday evening on the excellent patio of El Noa Noa at 7th & Santa Fe, in the heart of the Santa Fe Arts District (making this a perfect spot for First Friday noshing). I haven't encountered a Mexican restaurant with better atmosphere since Casa Bo. Granted, there are no cliff divers, but the food is quite edible. A large trellised wall seperates the eating area from the street, keeping out the noises of Santa Fe. On the weekends, a mariachi band plays in one corner- just loud enough to be atmospheric without being overwhelming. The patio is large enough to seat big parties, as well as give everyone the breathing room which is lacking in some more crowded spots downtown.

El Noa Noa offers some interesting, authentic dishes along with the classic chile rellenos, enchiladas, etc. I opted for the shrimp tacos on my recent trip there, and they were excellent. Large, juicy shrimp and marinated mushrooms and onions stuffed into three warm, fresh tortillas served with a massive helping of guac and chopped tomatoes. Messy but delicious! My friend (who introduced me to this fine establishment) ordered the enchiladas suiza, which were also reported as excellent.

I'm well aware that there is another Mexican joint in LoDo with a very popular patio and very popular marg's. That place is great if all you want to do is get drunk with the rest of the after-work crowd on a Friday night. But if you want to actually, say... eat, skip that bordertown cafe and make the short trek to El Noa Noa.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Patio Time!

Ahh... thank goodness for warm weather. Now, I know this is Colorado, so it could snow tomorrow, but I'm personally ready to enjoy the nice weather. One of the things I miss most during the winter is sitting out on a nice patio downtown, sharing a cool drink with friends and people watching. The time has come! Here are some of my favorite places to do just that:

Rock Bottom at 16th & Champa- Huge patio, live music in the summer, good beer
LoDo's Bar and Grill at 20th & Market- Rooftop patio, good burgers, best before a Rockies game
(I was going to include Above the Dove here, but I just found it is changing to a different name/format very soon, so it remains to be seen what the patio will be like.)
Paramount Cafe on 16th- Cheap drinks, patio gets very crowded with the after-work crowd
Rialto Cafe on 16th- Try the warm chicken salad...mmm

For lunch, check out the food court on 16th & California. The patio is on about the 3rd floor, overlooking 16th Street. Very nice in the summer.

And if I can tell you only one more thing... wear sunscreen.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Beer is Good

I am a total beer snob and I'm totally not afraid to admit it. I live in a city where beer is an art, a religion, a hobby. It's not just a drink. So, as part of this blog, I want to give you the heads up on some of the city's best hops and barley libations. Today's brewery of choice: Breckenridge. There are 3 locations of this venerable institution. The one located on Main St. in the brewery's namesake town and the location at 2220 Blake St. are both more brewpub/restaurant than straight up bar. If I want to eat with my beer, I certainly hit up the Blake St. locale, which has an awesome sausage and cheese app. But for just straight-up beer (and some not-too-shabby bbq), I recommend the location at 471 Kalamath St. You just missed the amazing Vanilla Porter (produced only Jan-Mar), but you can now get your hands on the seasonal Summerbright all the way until August. This is a fruity wheat beer that goes perfectly with a hot summer day. So go out, drink beer, enjoy the summer, and thank me later.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Victory American Grill and Bar

Let me start by saying that I had high expectations of Victory American Grill and Bar. It's not their fault, I built them up in my own head. Why? They are owned by one of my favorite little greasy spoons, Sam's No. 3. At the same time, Sam's isn't exactly where you go for the ultimate dining experience. But they do serve a mean breakfast burrito, and their green chile is out-of-this-world. And I digress, because this isn't about Sam's.

Victory is conveniently located right next door to Sam's at 15th & Curtis, just 1 block from the Denver Performing Arts Complex. This makes it an excellent location for those stopping for a quick bite on their way to the theater. The design of Victory actually reminds me of the dramatics of a theater. High ceilings, dark woods, heavy velvet curtains, and servers in the requisite black. The bar area has a couple of nice pool tables and a pin-ball machine to while the time away. Another bonus in Victory's bar: PBR. On tap! I don't remember the last time I encountered PBR on tap at a real restaurant, but I have to say- I'm impressed.

Victory's menu is eclectic and interesting. They have a decent sized wine list, and they don't seem put off by strange drink orders. Two appetizers really stand out: the Fried Pickle Spear & Pretzel Basket, which is exactly what it says. I've personally been a huge fan of fried pickles since I first tried them at Bayou Bob's Taste of Colorado booth back in 1997. They are hard to find, and they're generally made with pickle chips, so this is an interesting take. The other appetizer that you can't help but notice is the Cheese on Fire!!! (exclamation points theirs). I wasn't sure whether this involved actual flames or just heat and/or spice. The description assures that it is 'flaming saganaki'. While I have yet to order this myself, the table next to us did. Let me say that this is quite the attention getter. It is literally a flaming plate of food. They show it to everyone, who 'oohs' and 'aahs' then quickly extinguish it with lemon juice. Very cool presentation. Once again, I'm impressed. But if you prefer something less fried or flaming, I suggest a cup of the creamy, smooth lobster bisque.

In the world of entrees, Victory offers a nice selection of sandwiches, burgers, pasta and steaks, plus some specialty dishes ranging from Carribean Salmon to Pork Souvlaki. I'd describe it overall as 'upscale comfort food'. None of the entrees are offputting, but they still sound slightly fancy in a way that makes an adult feel just fine about ordering a grilled cheese sandwich or mac and cheese. Both of these involve chevre, which I enjoy just saying. I had the Victory Mac-N-3-Cheese- a beautiful amalgamation of gouda, cheddar and prosciutto baked together with that good ol' chevre on top. The mixture of cheeses wasn't too rich, as some baked mac and cheeses are, and the breadcrumbs added a nice little crunch. Filling and satisfying in the most basic way. My dining companion had the Baked Ziti, which had a delicious mix of sausages covered with a slightly spicy marinara. Many diners around us had ordered the Yiayia's Fried Chicken and it looked fantastic. It's definitely next on my list.

I rarely end a dining experience without dessert, because life is short. I realize I may be making it shorter with this bad habit, but at least I will die happy, with a mouthful of chocolate mousse. Regardless, Victory has a nice looking dessert tray. I've always loved dessert trays and I don't know why every restaurant doesn't take advantage of these. I am much more likely to be tempted when I can see that fantastic cheesecake or creme brulee than just read about it. Everything on Victory's dessert tray looked great, but we chose the Mija Chocolate Mousse Pie. Not only did it look delicious, but I enjoyed the story behind it. Apparently, it is based on an original recipe from Baur's Bakery, who occupied the space Victory is in now back in 1891. The pie was rich and chocolatey, but not overwhelmingly sweet, punctuated by slivers of toffee on top of the whipped cream.

Victory lived up to my expectations in the food department. It also has a beautiful atmosphere that can be both professional and cozy. The only problems we encountered were in the service department, but they were the problems of any new restaurant. Our waiter was exceedingly friendly, but he seemed to lack some confidence and sense of humor and was a bit slow on the clean-up side. These are all easily fixed with time and comfort in a new environment. I see great things for Victory's future, and I know I'll be back soon for that fried chicken!


Welcome, welcome. Let me introduce myself. I am a Concierge in Denver. As such, it is my personal responsibility to know what's up in this great city's restaurant scene. Since a large part of my life is spent talking about restaurants, eating at restaurants, and reading about restaurants, I've decided I might as well write about them, too. Denver isn't known as a culinary capital (yet). I wouldn't mind being part of a force that changes that opinion. I also hope to be a resource and an inspiration. Try new places! Eat new foods! Get out there. Denver is waiting for you to eat it.