|Pigs' Heads at the Bar|
The past few weeks have been a little rough.
Two weeks ago Matt got into a "fender bender," as he taught Roman to call it, with a telephone pole when his car slid out of control on the snow and ice. They were headed to A-basin to go skiing in a big storm and had decided to turn around when it happened. Nobody was hurt, except the car, thank God, but the absence of Matt's car and the lack of straight-forwardness regarding when it will be ready has created some crazy mornings with me driving both him and Roman into downtown Denver and then some exhausting afternoons picking them up. On the one hand, Roman and I listened to the entirety of Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, a favorite of mine from Mrs. Moses' 4th grade class (and perhaps one of the many reasons I viciously hate mosquitoes). On the other hand, we are all also sick (wonderful mid-winter colds and coughs for the lot of us!) and exhausted and ready to have life back to normal. All of this occurred just when we'd started to settle into the house and had begun to turn a corner with Alexander's horrible reflux and lack of sleeping at night, so I was literally at the end of my tether on Friday when I spent more than 4 hours in the car.
As if a direct answer to my unspoken-but-probably-telepathically-communicated-prayers, Matt's coworker and his girlfriend randomly offered to babysit the boys so we could get out. It was nothing short of a miracle. I went from facing a mediocre dinner while holding a crying baby and yelling at Roman to sit down, to a gourmet meal at an amazing restaurant in LoDo (lower downtown Denver) which I have not been able to stop thinking or talking about. And what's odd is that the food was not perfect. There were things I didn't enjoy about the meal much at all, in fact. It was more that this is the first restaurant I've been to in Denver that I felt took real risks, and was successful with them.
So, our dinner at Euclid Hall.
I don't usually review restaurants but this one is worth the effort. I truly loved it - which is more than I can say for almost any of the restaurants I've tried in Denver. I'm not sure how to describe it; maybe modern American nose-to-tail eating with a twist? First of all, we sat at the bar directly in front of the open kitchen (which is always my favorite place to sit) and right next to us on the elevated section of the bar where the chefs placed all the outgoing dishes were 3 partially cooked whole pigs' heads on plates. That might bother some people, but it's literally what drew me in. We found out that they were actually on sale to take home and cook for $60, something we'd like to do one of these days. But I digress.
Our server was great, knowledgeable, thoughtful, timely. He was interested in our experience and even had them split and serve our dessert on two plates without us asking. The vibe was cool - it is a huge bar, actually - and their kitchen, I'm here to tell you, is nothing short of a perfectly orchestrated dance. Their chef, Jorel Pierce, commanded and inspected and delegated quietly but firmly. There was no chaos, no yelling, and if there was swearing - I mean, come on, there had to be swearing - it was done quietly enough that we couldn't hear. The three guys in the kitchen with him worked quickly, efficiently and with skill. I watched carefully at what they were doing and didn't order until I'd seen several different dishes come by me. We almost got the chicken and waffles, but after we saw the composite-rectangular-chicken-y thing they serve there come by, we decided against it. (Sorry guys, sometimes you've just got to leave a classic alone.) We lingered, having our drinks, and enjoyed the show before us.
When, at last, we were ready, here is what we ordered. First off, I recommend our approach: We decided to get several dishes - the menu does offer entrees but reads more like an American tapas menu - and just shared. We skipped out on the homemade sausages and pickles (a great shame as they look fantastic), and the enticing roasted bone marrow (that was a tough call because it seriously looked perfect), and, to be honest, there were at least 10 other things besides that I would have happily tried. But all that just gives me another reason to come back.
* * *
A Damn Good Meal at Euclid Hall
First Course: Pig Ear Pad Thai; tamarind chili sauce, scallion, peanut, egg, sprouts, mint, cilantro
|Pigs' Ear Pad Thai|
Second Course: Manila Clams with Merguez Caldo Verde; braised kale, fried garlic, grape tomato, olive oil crostini, smoked malt and rye brodo
This dish gets bonus points for creativity. A riff on a Portuguese-style soup with the kale, sausage and seafood, it was good, but not great. The presentation blew me - and everyone else who walked by - away. I had a girl come up and ask if she could join us so she could eat what we were ordering. It's odd that nobody else bothered to order the dish, but part of me wondered if maybe it had to do with them having tried it before. The merguez sausage - a Moroccan-style lamb ditty - completely overpowered the clams and didn't marry well with the other components. The broth lacked salt and was, well, almost too unique, too strange, being something like a "beer" broth with notes of sour and not-enough-savory, and yet, somehow...I liked it. I added a lot of salt. I would order it again just for the half baguette to dip in the soup when you're done.
Side 1: Brussel Sprout Casserole; garlic cheddar fondue, lemon, French fried onions
I am a self-professed Brussel Sprout fiend. I almost always order them when I see them on a menu, and the winter is a perfect time to do so. In this case, I enjoyed the combination of flavors, but after two bites felt that the cheddar fondue was just too rich. It overtook the sprouts which are really the star of the show. That said, it was a great combination of meaty, gooey and crunchy and a nice little dish to share with someone else.
Side 2: Wild Mushroom Poutine; porcini gravy, hand-cut fries, cheddar curds
One of the main reasons I wanted to try Euclid Hall was their Poutines. I first tried this Canadian dish back in college during a very drunken trip with my roommates to go clubbing in a not-so-unique bordertown laden with bad casinos which we were all too young to enter. It is a fantastic and almost-wrongly-decadent idea: to smother french fries in cheese and gravy. It lured me in then just as it did last week. I had seen that Euclid hall often offered a Duck Poutine, but that wasn't on the menu when we visited, so naturally I went for the mushroom offering. The porcini gravy was definitely what I would call a super-umami food. Delicious but almost too rich by the end of the somewhat-generously-portioned dish. It all went well together and I enjoyed the cheese curds. And maybe it's just the carnivore in me talking but I thought it was lacking meat of some sort.
|L to R: Brussel Sprout Casserole, Porcini Poutine and Clam & Merguez Soup|
Dessert: Sourdough Waffle Ice Cream Sandwich; salted butterscotch ice cream, praline
Matt and I were so full - borderline food-coma-full - that we almost didn't order dessert. But I'm glad we went for this. One portion is the perfect size to share, and while I'm not a huge fan of sourdough, all the sour and salty notes worked well in this dessert. I'd recommend it as a nice way to end the meal.
Matt: Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale: not much to say on the beer front except that Matt ordered two of these and was quite enamored. Even I liked it and I'm not what you'd call a beer person. Unique.
Me: Baby Godzilla!: This cocktail had me at hello. I would wager that I'd order most things called "Baby Godzilla" just because it's such a fantastic name, but the fact that this concoction consisted mainly of gin and grapefruit reeled me in. What a wonderfully perfect winter drink! I am a gin-maniac, and have been eating the winter's ripest red grapefruits obsessively for the past few weeks, so this hit home. There was sweetness, bitterness, and even some substance with the thickness that the grapefruit juice lends. Give it a try. Yes, it's pink. But Baby Godzilla is anything but wussy.
* * *
In a city where the culinary scene is still slowly - sometimes too slowly, I think - clawing its way up the ladder to a status near some of the other big food cities in the US, it's hard to find a place that is less-flash and more-flavor. Ironically, I'd been to one of Euclid Hall's sister restaurants - Rioja - about a year before and had the opposite experience: pretty, fancy, overpriced food that wasn't all that great. Rioja is much-lauded while Euclid Hall seems to be the grungier, less ostentatious step-child content to sit in a dark corner and do his own thing. But it is decidedly more unique, daring and, therefore, surprising. And, despite not wanting to be - it's also refined. Pigs' Heads, Baby Godzilla, and all.