Feb 27 2010

Top 10 Burgers in Denver: Jack n Grill’s “The Kathy”

jko

Jack n Grill’s “The Kathy (Albuquerque Burger)”

Location: Federal

Price: $7

The Skinny: The Travel Channel is in love with Jack n Grill. The kind of love that only food obsession can bring – that maybe a 13 year old girl understands.  I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if they dot their “I’s” with hearts while scribbling the restaurant’s name in their diary.  Maybe it’s the portions, the greasy spoon vibe, or the visible family behind the enterprise – whatever it is, they’re swooning.  They featured the place on “Man vs Food”, as restaurant owner Jack Martinez challenged the network to eat his 7 pound burrito (winner: burrito).  They list the spot as one of the top 10 places in the country to pig out, and in the top 15 on their “101 tastiest places to chowdown in America” list.  Obsession like this piques my interest – what’s the fuss about?

Answer: Size.  Sheer, circus-like size.  And their ability to pull it off and still make the food taste oh-so greasy-good.

The burger comes out all huge and freakish – like a mini basketball with meat in between.  It’s nearly embarrassing when served, except for the fact that every dish in the diner is somehow this same size.  After you manage to get your mouth around the son-of-a-bitch, it’s really an excellent burger.  Perfectly cooked meat, the outside seared to a deep brown hue, and the inside pink and tender.  This version, The Kathy, gets a topping of green chili and cheese – good mates for any burger, including this one.  If I had one complaint, it’s that the bun-to-meat ratio was a little slanted towards too much bun, but only by a little.

And, I kid you not… I had the “small”.  There actually is a “large” version of this monster.  Kudos to he or she who can conquer it… Travel channel?

AGREE OR DISAGREE?

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Rating: -2 (from 4 votes)

Feb 21 2010

Top 10 Burgers in Denver: Bud’s Cafe and Bar’s “Double Cheeseburger”

jko

Bud’s Café and Bar’s “Double Cheeseburger”

Location: Sedalia

The Skinny: This is Burger Purity.  No lettuce or tomato, no secret sauce, no fries.  It’s just you and the meat, cheese, & bun.  And it’s absolutely delicious.

Buds is exactly the kind of place you think it will be.  Exactly the kind of place you hope it will be.  Way out in the middle of nowhere Sedalia, past a few tumbleweeds and in between the railroad tracks, there it sits – like a place out of Mayberry.  I wouldn’t have been shocked to see a few rocking chairs out front, or at least a 6 string being picked.  No such luck on this occasion, but at least the inside was a satisfying scene: locals, beer, drab booths from decades ago, and 40+ year old waitresses.  Just the kind of spot that is guaranteed to serve good food.

The burger itself is simple and classic: Two patties of a proprietary blend of beef, melted cheese, and two perfectly steamed buns.  The buns deserve special recognition – they straddle the fine line between being sturdy enough to hold their shape, yet soft enough to melt into the burger in each bite.  It’s a greasy, burger purists dream.

AGREE OR DISAGREE

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Rating: +16 (from 22 votes)

Feb 19 2010

Top 10 Burgers in Denver: Larkburger’s Truffle Cheeseburger

jko

Larkburger

Larkburger’s “Truffle Cheeseburger”

Location: DTC

Price:  $6.75

The Skinny: To start off with, I owe Larkburger a bit of an apology.  While I was reviewing the top100 dishes in Denver, this was on the list, and at the time I didn’t think it was anything special – said it was no better than a backyard burger at a neighbor’s house.  The review turned out to be one of my most unpopular, getting thumbs down from most.  Curious, I decided to try it again – this time in the newly opened Tech Center location.  Was I wrong?

Yes.  Dead wrong – It’s a slammin’ good burger.

There is a lot to like about Larkburger, apart from their delicious food.  They use fresh ingredients, they recycle, they’re good stewards of the land.  They even constructed the restaurant out of reclaimed trees, which sounds admirable and decent, even if I don’t quite know what it means.  But naturally all of this would be meaningless unless they put out a great burger, which indeed, they do.

On this occasion, the burger was outstanding.  And it comes down to one thing: truffle aioli.  Owners Adam Baker and Thomas Salamunovich modeled the restaurant after a love of truffles, and it’s never better expressed than in this sandwich.  The incredible, earthy sauce drips throughout the burger, uplifting everything from the bun, to the cheese, to the perfectly cooked patty.  The meat, incidentally, was the biggest difference from my last experience to this one.  This time it was juicy and memorable, much better than my neighbor’s version in their mythical backyard.

Keep an eye out for LarkBurger.  Adam, the owner – a good and down to earth guy – told me they’re opening a new spot in Ft Collins soon, and Denver after that.

AGREE OR DISAGREE?

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Rating: +27 (from 37 votes)

Feb 18 2010

Congrats to Colorado Chefs Nominated for James Beard Awards

jko

Colorado state flag

Outstanding Restaurateur:

Frank Bonanno, Bones, Luca d’Italia, Mizuna, and Osteria Marco, Denver

Steve Ells, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Denver

Rising Star Chef of the Year:

James Rugile, Venue Bistro, Denver

Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year:

Yasmín Lozada-Hissom, Duo, Denver

Outstanding Wine Service:

Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, CO

Outstanding Service:

Penrose Room at the Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, CO

Best Chef Southwest:

Bertrand Bouquin, Summit at the Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, CO

Mark Fischer, Six89, Carbondale, CO

Ryan Hardy, Montagna at the Little Nell, Aspen, CO

Jennifer Jasinski, Rioja, Denver

Kelly Liken, Kelly Liken, Vail, CO

Alex Seidel, Fruition, Denver

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Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)

Feb 16 2010

Top 10 Burgers in Denver: H Burger Co’s “H Burger”

jko

IMG00167

H Burger Co’s “H Burger”

Location: Downtown

Price:  $11

The Skinny: H Burger opened 11am Feb 13th, and by noon, we were there.  Who could resist the promising combination of high end burgers, chicness of Jet owner Pete Plum, and uber-creativity of mad food scientist, Ian Kleinman?

True to form, Kleinman’s stamp on the menu is immediately apparent: liquid nitrogen milk shakes , below freezing beer, and little creative nuances here and there.

We ordered the milkshakes, which, due to the liquid nitrogen, start out as ice cream, and slowly melt into a shake during your stay.  Very good indeed.  For the burger, we got the H Burger – Angus Beef, green chili, smoked cheddar, sweet bacon, and a side of secret sauce.  A few bites in, 2 things stick out:
1.  Wow…lots of flavor.
2.  Sweet pleasant heat

If there was one flaw with the burger, its that the accompanying components are so compelling they distract a little from the meat.  The spice from the green chili and bacon is wonderfully present but not overpowering, and the smoky cheddar does well standing up for itself.  I asked Kleinman about the choice to use smoked cheddar with the chili as opposed to the traditional white cheddar or jack –  his response was that he wanted to make it unique – a “Colorado” burger (and screw you, New Mexico).  The meat, in comparison, was a little ordinary.  Mine was slightly overcooked, an error easily forgiven by the newness of the joint, but not at all bad by any stretch.

Good first visit and I’ll definitely be back.  Not sure if it’s elbowing “My Brothers Bar” out of top burger spot in Denver, but it’s in the top 10.

AGREE OR DISAGREE?

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Rating: +1 (from 13 votes)

Feb 13 2010

Denver Magazine Top 100 List Completed

jko

Jeremy Vegas

Recap:

100 Dishes

(7 not offered)

116 days

$1177.04 (before tax and tip)

10 lb weight gain

Highest rated: Rioja’s “Beignets” – 9.5

Lowest Rated: Sea Urchin from Seafood Landing – 1

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Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)

Feb 11 2010

The Top 100 List: #100 Z Cuisine’s “Assiette de Charcuterie Maison”

jko

IMG00125

Z Cuisine’s “Assiette de Charcuterie Maison”

Location: Highlands

Rating: 7 (out of 10)

Price:  $20

The Skinny: So… here we are, folks:  #100.  No doubt I will have a few lists coming up in the posts ahead -best this, best that, overpriced here, awful there.  When I make a “best overall restaurant” list, Z Cuisine will surely be on it.  Their charcuterie was an excellent note to end on.

The list of elements on the plate bears mentioning, so here it is:

-          House made Long’s farm pork shoulder rillettes

-          Pâté de Campagne ‘Country Pâté’ ,

-          local & French artisan cheese

-          accompaniments of red onion confiture

-          caramelized shallots

-          seasonal chutney

-          candied pecans

-          imported saucisson sec

-          pickled cornichons

-          marinated olives

-          house crackers

You might think with a list of components this long, you’d forgive the chef if one or two weren’t quite up to the rest.  Not the case at Z – every bit of it was good.  From the chutney to the Pate.  And they balanced well with each other – one complimenting or adding another layer to the next.  To borrow a description I read recently, it was more like a chord than a series of individual strings.  Very, very good.

Finally, I’d like to give justice to this new gem in Denver – the place was truly excellent.  Warm, comfortable feel, almost as if you’re eating in a French relative’s kitchen.  And the rest of the food after the charcuterie was incredible.  The duck skin in my Cassoulet might have been the most delicious thing I’ve eaten in this entire journey.  No joke.  The memory of the amazing flavor has stayed with me for weeks.  Probably one of the top 3-4 restaurants in Denver right now.

AGREE OR DISAGREE?

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Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)

Feb 10 2010

The Top 100 List: #99 The Broker’s “Southwest Wellington”

jko

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The Broker’s “Southwest Wellington”

Location: Downtown

Rating: 5 (out of 10)

Price:  $41

The Skinny: High prices can often be a signal of many things – quality, good service, creativity, ambiance.  In the case of The Broker, a restaurant which is absent all of that – it is simply a slap in the face.  It’s an infuriating display of raping and pillaging the good people of Denver who are foolish enough to dine here.  Consider me one of them, forking over $41 before tax and tip to eat their remarkably average and uninspired “Southwest Wellington”.  And that was on the low end – an order of Rack of Lamb will run you a cool $57.

Really Broker?  Could you possibly be this tone deaf to the economic happenings outside of your little vault in an abandoned bank?

The appearance of upscale is attempted, at least.  Diners eat in an old bank vault, the huge steel door propped open for display.  In keeping with the theme are the tables, which are like private rooms with 3 sides.  Apparently this is where bank patrons sat with the contents of their lock boxes – counting their money, poring over documents, plotting takeovers, etc.  Upon sitting down, I was handed a menu with the words “personally yours” on the cover.  Gag.  After ordering the Wellington, a big basket of shrimp cocktail was delivered to the table – a Broker tradition no matter what you order.  It’s not my thing, but I had a few anyway.  The waitress told me they would throw them out even if I didn’t touch them, so I felt compelled, you know… to honor the killed shrimp.  Below average.  The same can be said of the other 2 courses that come with the dish (soup and dessert):  Below average.  It’s not a great value if you get 4 courses and 3 of them suck.

Finally the Wellington arrives.  I break into the puff pastry and find that the meat is chopped, not whole.  Disappointing.  The rest of the dish is fine.  Flavors were fine.  Green chili had a nice kick and the meat was decent, such as it was.  Nothing special, but nothing bad either.  Sides were average.  Not at all worth $41.  Not when you’ve got TAG, Twelve, and Panzano all within 5 minutes away, serving home runs for $26.  Skip.

AGREE OR DISAGREE?

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Rating: 0 (from 4 votes)

Feb 9 2010

The Top 100 List: #98 Seafood Landing’s “Fresh Uni (Sea Urchin) from Bruce”

jko

Sea Urchin

Seafood Landing’s “Uni (Fresh Sea Urchin)”

Location: Highlands

Rating: 1 (out of 10)

Price:  $9.50/lb

The Skinny: Yes, the Urchin was just about the worst thing I’ve tasted on the whole list.  Quite possibly the worst thing I’ve tasted in years, to be honest.  But I’m going to guess that this entry was on the list due to Bruce, the owner of Seafood landing.  Not a character in town quite like him..

You walk into Seafood Landing and something just seems a little bit… different.  You look up at their chalk board at “Specials of the Day” and see a Peace sign graphic.  Apparently they specialize in peace?  Once you meet Bruce, you get it.  Ponytail of gray hair, calloused hands, and a voice and demeanor that’s as gentle and pleasant as a light ocean breeze.  He was a former civil engineer who tired of the racket and decided to buy this seafood market from the elderly owner.  He confided in his slow, warm way, “it was either the best thing I ever did or the dumbest thing I ever did.”  In any case, the guy is clearly passionate about fish, and will go above and beyond for his customers.

After asking Bruce about the Uni (which he was thoroughly confused about), he suggested we special-order it.  I went with the flow.  In it came the next morning, all black and spiny, threatening as all hell – the physical opposite to Bruce.  He broke open a cookbook and instructed me on how best to prepare it.  You break the thing open and scoop out the roe on the insides – then toss it in hot pasta.  The heat of the pasta is supposed to be enough to cook the roe adequately.  I did as I was told – throwing the roe in with my penne, and dug in.  It was wretched.  Simply awful.  Like Ocean snot.  After one big bite, I had to throw the whole bowl away.

Even with this disappointment, I’ll probably go back – got to support guys like Bruce.

AGREE OR DISAGREE?

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Rating: -1 (from 3 votes)

Feb 5 2010

The Top 100 List #97: Olivea’s “Head Cheese”

jko

IMG00128

Olivea’s “Head Cheese”

Location: 17th st

Rating: 6 (out of 10)

Price:  ?

The Skinny: Head Cheese, as most probably know or can guess, is not cheese at all.  It is, however, a “Head”.  The head of a Pig, to be exact.  At one point in the dinner, the waiter – knowing my interest in the dish – showed me a picture on his phone of the pig head they were going to cook that evening.  And there it was, all frozen and solid in the freezer, like a mafia goon or a Dahmer victim.  Apparently, they cook the head on down slowly, and remove the skull from the meat, but keep the liquid.  It is this liquid that has all of the fun collagen from the skull that will solidify with the meat once cooled.  The dish arrives to you a solid block, ready for slicing and eating with bread.

Now doesn’t that sound delicious?

In actuality, it is pretty decent.  It tastes like a good salami, which of course it is not.  It’s got a good pepper, meaty flavor that goes well with a cracker or on its own.  Nothing that I’m dying to have again or recommend to friends, mind you, but decent.

PS: I do not get the worship of Olivea.  The owners created a terrific restaurant in Duo, so I had high hopes for Olivea.  Let-down.  Nothing was all that terrific.  Not the famed “Head Cheese”, not the “Duck Meatballs”, not the “Carmel Tart”.  It was all just ok.  Nowhere near TAG, Fruition, or even Duo.

AGREE OR DISAGREE?

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Rating: -1 (from 1 vote)

Feb 4 2010

The Top 100 List: #96 The Fort’s “Roasted Bison Bone Marrow”

jko

IMG00134

The Fort’s “Roast Bison Marrow Bones”

Location: Morrison

Rating: 6.5 (out of 10)

Price:  $18

The Skinny: Ahhhh… The Fort.  What would a Must-Eat list be without this place?  The adobe walls, the roaring outdoor fire, and the bizarre one-of-a-kind meat options for the courageous.  When I tried my first Rocky Mountain Oysters, this is where I came.  No one does out-of-mainstream like these guys.  Scanning the menu, you might find choices such as duck quesadilla and bison tongue on your way to ordering the enormous must-eat Marrow Bones.

One caution: it is a hell of a lot of show for what basically amounts to a cracker spread.  And an $18 dollar show at that.  The plate arrives at the table with 4 huge bones the size of my forearms, all stacked criss-cross and rising above the plate like a small… oh hell… a small Fort.  The bone-fort is surrounded by crostinis waiting to be topped with the gelatinous spread and devoured by you, bone-eating carnivore.

I’m sure the taste isn’t for everyone, but for those who enjoy such things, it is lovely.  Light and packed full of meat flavor and grease.  For me, being a part of the group that enjoys the taste of pure fat, I found myself scraping the dried bone remains to get just one last remnant of flavor.  “Good” – but just missing “Very Good” by the incredible amount of regret involved afterward.

AGREE OR DISAGREE?

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Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)

Feb 2 2010

The Top 100 List: #95 Cafe Bisque’s “Lobster Cobb Salad”

jko

bisque-logo

Rating: Not Available

The Skinny: I’ve been after Cafe Bisque for some time now about their Lobster Cobb Salad.  They’ve told me that they simply ran out of lobster.  Apparently, they also never re-ordered lobster, since it hasn’t made a reappearance in the 3 months that I’ve been hounding them.  But they’ve kept it up on their online menu, teasing and exciting , like a 6-0 Broncos squad on their way to the playoffs.

I’ll keep checking and report back once they get some lobsters in

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Feb 1 2010

The Top 100 List: #94 Tables’ “Sweet Corn Risotto”

jko

Tables

Rating: Not Available

I know of Tables through word of mouth.  Apparently,  2 former chefs at Strings who went out on their own.  Small spaces, good food.  That’s the reputation.

I must have just missed their sweet corn risotto in the changeover to a recent new menu.  I’ll update if it comes back around.

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