Monday, December 8, 2008

A visitor in town, part 3: Earl's, Sri Thai, Rio Grande

Catch up! Day 1 and Day 2
I was determined to take advantage of having a car around, so early the next morning TL and I drove to Denver, about an hour away. It felt really good to be in a city again, but with lots of people comes lots of cars, and the parking situation around the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall left something to be desired. Finally, after I managed to snag a roll of quarters so we could park at a meter, we were on our way to explore the city.

First things first. We needed food! TL had spotted an Earl's while we were looking for parking, and he'd explained that it was a chain with locations all over Western Canada. Since it was right nearby and I didn't have any other place in mind, we stepped in to have lunch.
The place has a dark, lounge-y feel, with dim lighting, leather-clad seating, and sleek-looking waitstaff. When I couldn't decide whether or not to also order a bowl of soup with my sandwich order, thinking it might be too much food, I was pleased to discover that soup could be swapped in for the sandwich's fries or salad at no extra cost.

Both of us asked for the clam chowder…which was unremarkable. There was barely any hint of clam or clam flavor, and the large pieces of cooked carrots and other vegetables seemed out of place. It came with an okay piece of bread, billed as "Rosemary-Oregano Pan Bread," but which seemed sort of flabby. In short, this course tasted like chain food.
Much better was the Cajun chicken sandwich I ordered, which featured chicken breast so moist that juices dripped onto the plate when I bit into it. The spicing didn't taste at all Cajun and the cheddar didn't taste aged, but it was still a decent and filling sandwich. I wouldn't go out of my way for an Earl's, but at least some of their food seems a cut above other chain offerings—just don't get the clam chowder.

That line down the middle of the sandwich is from where I pulled out the toothpick skewer, by the way.
In truth, what we saw of Denver was a bit of a disappointment. There just didn't seem to be that much personality to the city, and the much-touted pedestrian mall was like any other cluster of national chain clothing shops and restaurants. Its saving grace was one of the coolest bookstores around, the Tattered Cover, located a few blocks off the far end. With comfy armchairs and reading nooks scattered throughout its three levels, a sizable coffee counter, and as large a selection as any big retailer but the charm and coziness of a small independent, this place covered all my criteria for how a great bookstore should be. The Tattered Cover regularly holds interesting literary and community events, too.
Back in Fort Collins, after a nap at home, TL and I got some Thai food before meeting up with people for drinks. I wanted to go to Sri Thai, because I had heard good things about the place from friends, but my first impressions didn't bode well for the meal. Aside from it being sort of a cavernous space with worn, outdated decor and dingy lighting, the place didn't have chopsticks! Come on, I know this is Fort Collins, but maaaaan, you're really going to make me eat noodles with a fork?

I kid, it wasn't that big a deal, just surprising. The real problem was the food. Our appetizer of tod mun gai turned out to be eight nuggets of spongy material masquerading as chicken; the flavoring tasted like fish and the texture was downright weird. The dipping sauce was nice, but I feel no need to ever order that dish again.
IMG_9823 IMG_9827
The other dishes we got were better, but still not great. The basil fried rice lacked any of the title herb's flavor, a pretty big omission in my book. Like bad Chinese takeout, this dish was heavily sauced and very salty, and for me it quickly grew sickening.

The pad thai, on the other hand, wasn't bad. At worst, it was like much of the generic pad thai found all over Manhattan, and at best, it was better than any other pad thai I've had in Fort Collins so far. This isn't to say it was excellent—just decent and passable.
What saved the meal for me was our dessert, a dish of sweet rice with Thai custard and coconut milk. The textures and flavors of the dish were in perfect balance, and I enjoyed the sweet, eggy custard paired with the smooth coconut cream and slightly salty rice.
At the Rio Grande, where we met up with several friends for drinks, we made it a double-dessert night by ordering sopapillas, inspired by the sight of them being delivered to a neighboring table. The three large cinnamon-dusted discs came with our choice of honey or agave nectar for dipping, and I couldn't stop tearing off pieces to stick in my mouth. Fried dough: it's just never wrong.

A Visitor in Town
Day 1: Thanksgiving, away from home
Day 2: Silver Grill Cafe, Red Robin
Day 3: Earl's, Sri Thai, Rio Grande
Day 4: Cafe Bluebird, Celestial Seasonings tour, Sherpa's
Day 5: Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine, Austin's American Grill


  1. We've had the same experience at Sri Thai. Once a group of us went in, we all ordered dishes to varying degrees of heat... when they arrived at the table they were all the same. We've been happier with the Thai Pepper.

  2. Anon, I tried Thai Pepper too, and had probably one of the worst pad see sw renditions I'd ever encountered! Their pad thai seemed better, though…are there dishes in particular that you recommend?