Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Woody's Wings & (Asian) Things

Can't decide between Asian or American for dinner? The answer is Woody's Wings & Things—a smallish chain of Denver-area restaurants specializing in hot wings and other fried items, but with one exception. Walk into the Westminster location, and along with the standard wing menu you'll be greeted with a thick hardbound volume filled with pictures of Cambodian, Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese specialties.
ES and I had dinner there after returning from Black Hawk and Central City, and started with this dish of mussels and assorted vegetables in a green curry. I loved the tender mussels, and the thick, slightly spicy curry, rich with coconut milk and ground peanuts, was delicious over rice.
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Delicious, too, was a creamy and soothing chicken-rice soup, as well as a Thai beef salad. We had originally intended to order the Cambodian beef salad, but the waiter insisted that the Cambodian version was bitter and that the Thai one was the best on the menu.
There was also a dish of pad see ew, with that wonderful slightly charred and smoky quality that I'm always looking for in this dish. It also struck the perfect balance between not-sweet-enough and too-sweet, and was less oily than usual; though I might have quibbled with the usage of what seemed like dried rice noodles instead of fresh ones, the flavor was so good that I didn't quibble for long.

From what I observed, neither menu at Woody's Wings & Things goes ignored; in the restaurant that night there were an equal number of tables ordering from the American menu and from the Asian menu. Some tables even boasted platters of hot wings alongside noodle soups and rice plates: those who couldn't decide which way their tastes were leaning, or those who decided that heck—they just want a little bit of both.

Monday, May 9, 2011

An elevated gamble: Ameristar Centennial Buffet

On a bright Saturday afternoon at the end of my spring break, ES and I drove a half hour out of Denver and up into the mountain gambling towns of Black Hawk and Central City. While mellower than Atlantic City and certainly smaller and quieter than Las Vegas, these two towns boast a number of large casinos interspersed with humbler ones, all set along a gulch that had once been a hub for gold mining and processing.
Upon arrival, we stepped outside and breathed in the cold, crisp air. Behind the casinos tree-speckled mountains rose in the background, and the sun shone high overhead. Since we had arrived around noon, our first stop was Ameristar—one of the newer casinos to arrive to Black Hawk—to eat lunch.
Ameristar's Centennial Buffet is pretty standard "international buffet" fare, with the notable addition of a pho station amid the steam tables of American, Mexican, Chinese, and Italian offerings. ES got himself a bowl and declared it actually okay.
This, by the way, is also where I hatched a renovation idea for pho restaurants: installing a buffet station for the garnishes—sprouts, limes, mint, jalapenos, cilantro, etc.—instead of having servers bring over a pre-plated portion for each table. I don't know about you, but whenever I eat pho the garnishes never seem to match what I want; I rarely put in as many sprouts or herbs, and I always end up asking for more limes. A serve-yourself buffet station would allow everyone to get exactly what they need, and decrease waste for the restaurant, too. Brilliant…no?
Err, anyway. Back to the buffet. Pictured here are mac and cheese, corn souffle, meatballs in gravy, a king crab leg, breaded mini hot dogs, a spring roll, a piece of country fried steak with cream gravy, and a piece of smoked salmon with capers. All of it not bad, all of it not great.
The same could be said for the desserts, where one bite of each was pretty much enough. But that's how it goes with buffets, isn't it? You don't go for the high quality of each and every dish, but rather for the unfettered ability to sample your way through as much as you can.
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We spent the rest of the afternoon letting our stomachs digest by taking a stroll down the main strip of Black Hawk. Afterward we drove a mile over to the much quieter Central City, where we found tiny casinos set up in houses and former bars and restaurants; it was delightfully strange to walk into a kitchen or a living room and to find it lined with working slot machines. All in all it was a wonderful day excursion, a unique little part of Colorado that I was happy to explore.
Also, one day I'm going to save up my money and buy these ten acres. With views, privacy, access, power, and its own gold mine, surely this is the perfect purchase?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A giant, juicy burger with many hats at Cherry Cricket

So what makes a good burger?

At The Cherry Cricket in Denver's Cherry Creek area, it's an extraordinarily juicy half pound beef patty on a squishy sesame seed bun, along with whatever you desire from a long list of add-ons. In addition to the standard cheeses and vegetables, you can request to top your patty with salsa, peanut butter, guacamole, or sour cream; drown it in green chile; or toss it in spicy blackened seasoning or wing sauce. Standard practice among ES and his friends, too, is to never skip adding a fried egg. But it's easy to overload, so on my visit I went with a more classic version: swiss cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and grilled bermuda onions.
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First, though, as part of an ongoing effort to understand Colorado's obsession with green chile, ES and I had Cherry Cricket's version, in the extra-large side portion (you're looking at about six ounces). Unfortunately, this green chile was nothing like what I expected; it was thin, lacked spiciness, and barely tasted of green chiles. (Then again, I'm not really sure what makes a really good rendition—anyone? Suggestions on where to find the best are welcome!) And there were also frings, a mixed basket of onion rings and fries, which were good enough to quickly disappear between all of us.
Then, the main event. I found my burger rather too greasy, the sesame bun so unable to stand up to the copious beef juices that the bottom half completely collapsed into sogginess. The meat seemed as if it could have been more flavorful, too, and as I ate the toppings slid this way and that, a problem of all multiple-topping burgers. Still, it's worth noting that I was alone in my struggle, being squeamish at times about getting grubby while eating; as demonstrated by the above photo, ES and his friends had no problem wolfing their burgers down—oozing yolk, running grease, glistening fingers, and all.