The Ultimate Duck

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Cask & Larder – Orlando, FL

There is nothing quite like a Christmas ham, or should I say, there used to be nothing quite like a Christmas ham until Cask & Larder created their Christmas Miracle, the Duck Ham. Yes, naughty never tasted so nice. Faithfully emulating the pig that inspired it, the duck version, like any good apprentice, surpasses the master. Guess you could say it is the ultimate “Angry Birds” revenge. Served over a bed of nutty faro, the contrast between sweet and savory and earthy is like getting everything your mouth had on its wish list.

Elan – New York, NY

As if it weren’t bad enough that the duck muscled in on pork’s turf with the Duck Ham (above), now the bird is going after the cow. Perhaps this is retribution for the long-running Chick Fil A campaign? Well, whatever the reason, Elan’s duck & foie gras burger puts about 98% of your cow burgers in the city to shame, save the Black Label and the Bash. Admittedly it’s more of a hoity-toity burger, but if hoity-toity tastes like this, who gives a cow’s ass? Also, if you’re really into self loathing or simply find that you’ve been too healthy lately and want to swing the pendulum in the other direction, I highly recommend getting it with the Bearnaise sauce and a fried egg, coz you’re gonna die anyway, might as well do it with a smile on your face, because as the famous Long Island philosopher Billy Joel once said, “Only the Good Die Young!”

Mizuna – Denver, CO

There is an old saying, “Fuck a Duck.” And albeit crass, I finally understand its true meaning, because if ever there were a duck I would consider for such a bestial act, it would probably be this one. Granted it’s also dead so I suppose I’d be committing necrophilia at the same time. Oh my, has this review gone off the rails. I started with Christmas and now I’ve devolved into doubling down on sexual deviance. Well, getting back to it (assuming I haven’t already lost you), this duck, served with with foie gras dirty rice, is a Cajun masterpiece like no other, with the two poultry-born indulgences teaming up to make a buttery counterbalance to the spicy grains. It might just be the best thing a duck has achieved since Daffy.

 

 

 

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The Ultimate Guacamole

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When it comes to great guac, I have to admit I’m a bit of a priss. Okay, so I’m prissy in general as a rule, but only as it pertains to good food. As for the complexity or simplicity, I whole-heartedly appreciate both. But when it comes to guac, I have to say I kinda prefer the fuss. No simple old mashed up avocado will do for this cat, oh no, no, no. You gotta earn my lovin’ with a little magic in your mush. Below are three of my favorite magicians.

The Ninth Door – Denver, CO

This is the most inventive guac of the three, and more inventive than any I’ve ever seen before or since. It starts with an avocado cut in half, then they flash fry it with a little panko and fill the divot where the pit use to be with pico de gallo. The end result is so unforgettable you’ll hear Natalie Cole singing in your ears while your mouth and your eyes are still busy recovering from the rapture.

ABC Cocina – NY

Jean Georges always seems to find a way to take the basics and turn them into brilliance. From caprese salad to foie gras terrine to guac he really knows how to make you feel like you’re tasting something again for the first time. The dial here is a simple one, however, simply adding sunflower seeds to the green stuff and serving it up along side a wonderful grapefruit salsa and oversized, fresh-baked chips.

Rosa Mexicano – New York, NY

For the purists, I offer up the remarkably fresh, table-side prepared guac at Rosa. I’ve been to hordes of other places that try to do the same, but somehow it always pales by comparison. I’m not sure how or why, but whatever they’re doing, they manage to pull it off at every location too. Also, one of the things I love most about it is that they customize the heat. You like spicy, they throw in more jalapenos. You like crazy spicy, just ask for habaneros. That’s what I do and it’s guac-a-holy-mole!

Mizuna

225 E 7th Ave. Denver, CO 80203(303) 832-4778 mizunadenver.com
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One of my favorite meals of all time. The food here is not to be believed. Partly because it’s in Denver of all places. But trust me when I say that Denver is a better culinary city than one might think. We had a number of fantastic meals there and Mizuna was at the top of the top.

For my appetizer I had the lobster mascarpone mac & cheese and my god was it good. So good that I said “my god” and I don’t even believe in one. And yet this was good enough to make me want to have a god just so I can use the phrase.

That was followed by my main, duck with foie gras dirty rice. AKA, decadence on a plate and the best duck dish I’ve ever had. And finally I finished off with apple ginger beignets, worthy of giving Cafe du Monde in New Orleans a run for their money. So bright and sweet and how is my cholesterol still under 300 I have no idea.

And yes, again, this was in Denver.

5 teeth

The Ultimate Doughnut

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Boon Fly Café – Napa, CA

This is the purest entry of the three, served as a classic combination that could even rival Oreo’s and milk, “coffee and doughnuts.” Now I didn’t try the coffee, but giddy giddy are those doughnuts good! Always served warm to order. Perfect contrasting textures. And served with a chocolate dipping sauce that deserves it’s own Ultimates write up.

 

Doughnut Plant – New York, NY

There are several doughnuts at the plant that are worthy of adulation, but only one is SO good it should probably be on the controlled substance list. The crème brulée doughnut. Done true to its name, the outer sugary glaze is almost caramelized so as to mimic the crunchy crackle of the torch-seared brulée top. And as your teeth break through to the custard inside, the crème side of the equation hits you in the kisser and it’s game over. Or should I say, “fin.”

 

Mizuna – Denver, CO

While these last ones are technically beignets and not doughnuts, I fail to see the difference. At the end of the day it’s all just fried, sugary dough, right? So, assuming you agree, just go to Mizuna and get the apple ginger beignets. They are so well balanced in flavor it’s hard to ask for more from a doughnut. The ginger is just faint enough to bring its refreshing lightness, without trying to overpower the sweetness of the apple and steal the show. And what a show it is.

Steuben’s Food Service

523 E 17th Ave. Denver, CO 80203(303) 830-1001 steubens.com

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They had me at “Shakes with Booze.” I got the Grasshopper and man was it good. So was the Philly Cheesesteak. VERY impressive for being so far from Philly and as good or better than any I’ve had.

Now for a bit of blaspheme. I actually didn’t think the gravy fries were all that. They aren’t bad mind you, just nothing worthy of note over scores of other cheese fries. For truly transcendent fries, order the Phoenician fries from Ilili in New York.

Same goes for the mac & cheese. It’s good. Nice crunch. But the cheese blend is what you’d expect it to be. For amazing mac and cheese, try Mizuna in Denver- the lobster mascarpone mac is insane. Or Virgil’s in NY with the spicy hit of black pepper.

The falafel’s were also just okay in my book. Again, not bad, but pale in comparison to Taim in New York.

I think the menu just tries too hard to be all things to all people. But on the whole, I still found it to be a very respectable showing.

3 teeth

The Ultimate Mac ‘n Cheese

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Mizuna – Denver, CO

By now every place and their grandmother has lobster mac and cheese, which will make this review seem like a big “me too,” but as far as I’m concerned, this is the only place to ever get it right. I mean, just think about the dish fundamentally. Cheese and seafood? Not a frequent culinary combo (except maybe on a Filet-O-Fish at Mickey D’s) and for good reason. It’s why most people don’t get grated parm over linguini and clams. So, whoever had the idea of putting it on lobster was a bit of a loon in my opinion. Well, that is until I ate at Mizuna. You see, what makes Mizuna’s work and the others fail is the choice of cheese. A remarkably creamy mascarpone that teeters on being a sauce as opposed to melted cheddar. And as we all know, sauce and seafood go swimmingly together (sorry).

 

Virgil’s – New York, NY

The only way I can think to describe Virgil’s Mac & Cheese would be to call it “dirty.” Not as in unclean, but rather unrefined, visceral, crave-inducing naughtiness. For example, the spice alone puts this way up there for me, but it’s no secret. Just a healthy dose of black pepper. Yet it gives it this incredible hit that no other mac seems to grasp. The other thing they do is ever so slightly overcook it. Purposefully, to get that slight burnt crunch on the outer clumps of cheese, while still maintaining a glorious creamy blend of cheeses beneath that crusty epidermis. And that’s really it. Nothing more. But trust me, it is the Mac Daddy.

Ace Eat Serve

501 E 17th Ave. Denver, CO 80203(303) 800-7705 • acedenver.com

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The crispy brussel sprouts with shishito peppers are reason enough to come here alone. I know every restaurant and their grandmother is doing sprouts right now (and kale salads), but this is a nice, spicy twist, as opposed to sweet, like so many others.

The other thing I liked was the sesame seared salmon served over noodles. A special, but a solid one.

The only miss for me was the dessert. But I dug everything else about the place. Service was friendly and attentive. Decor is cool and fun. Especially if you like ping-pong, which I do… and thus the namesake for the joint. Plus, they have a huge outdoor seating area, which probably swayed me a little because it was 78 degrees and sunny that day. Practically worth a star unto itself after such a long, bitter winter.

4 teeth