Star Crossed Lovers

When I made the reservation for eight of us at Cafe Star, it sounded like they might have trouble tabling that many people on a Friday, they took the reservation anyway. When I arrived with only two others they seated us immediately not once asking when the rest of the party will arrive. They quickly took our drink orders and we had full glasses of delicious Cheapskate Cabernet and a bottle of bubbling Vino Verde (not Prosecco) waiting for everyone when they showed. When the other six people arrived, they accommodated our extra arrival without rancor and quickly had another place set before she even reached the table. Our waitress, the dear Andrea, whom I had already fell head over heels for, answered all of our questions patiently and knowledgably. And trust me, we bombarded her with questions about everything on the menu! My wine glass was never empty, nobody attempted to take my plate before I was done (a common occurrence with a slow eater like me), we were rarely bothered during our meals, and wholly taken care of. On top of all that, Andrea didn’t include gratuity in the bill, she knew full well that her performance would do the correct math. Amazing! Was there really this kind of service in a Denver restaurant? How completely refreshing. If this meal were based solely on service it would have been incredible.

Instead, Rebecca Weitzman, made Cafe Star top itself with menu that continues to amaze me. The menu changes to evolve with the season’s freshest produce and meats. Our table started off our meal with three flatbread pizzettas appetizers, all of which were unique and flavorful. We worked the kitchen over by each ordering a unique dish (doubling up on only one plate) and every one of them was delicious. Portions seem small at first glance but are rich and intense with unique flavors. Our buffalo steak was returned because it was a little undercooked, but it came out three minutes later seared to perfection and was promptly devoured. I ordered the lamb which was heaven on a plate and a perfectly sized portion for such a rich cut of meat. There was no problem finding dishes for the vegetarians in our party (and not just pasta with vegetables) though the pressed eggplant was probably the only dish not to my liking. In my opinion the best dish on the table was the lobster-and-rock-shrimp pot pie riddled with tarragon, as comforting as comfort food gets, yet as luxurious as anything. My girlfriend ordered the crisp gnocchi with truffle oil and escargot, which I finished without question. Don’t miss the soft-sweet beets with pistachio-crusted goat cheese or the crab-filled potato ravioli with white truffle sauce. The desserts were good too, though no match for the entrees. You won’t be disappointed with the Chocolate and Chili Pot d’Creme.

Cafe Star is hip, without attitude. Somehow, the entire room feels like both a trendy hot spot and low-key neighborhood hangout. It’s colorful and creative. Flavored and textured.

Now if there were only more restaurants in this town on the same level of excellence as Cafe Star. Have any ideas?

Caterpillar Power

We were driving up to Boulder to see Cat Power last Friday. On the way was a phone call offering us tickets to Cirque de Soleil. We opted to see Chan Marshall in all her glory and pass on the circus tickets. What we got was a circus of our own.

I had never seen Chan Marshall live before but I have read enough reviews to understand that she has incredible stage fright and is prone to mini-breakdowns, rantings & ravings, false starts, rambling, and occasionally straight-up abandoning her audience. So, when she arrived on stage forty minutes late, I was just glad that she decided to show up. She sat down with her guitar and immediately tore through three great songs. Soon her mic started making a low rumbling sound… and then the wheels fell off.

Chan wondered if the rumbling that was coming through the speakers was buffalo or thunder, and quipped it must be buffalunder, and then stated that she wished that was a word someone would use to describe her ass. It was moments like these that made the audience laugh. However, much of the night the audience was unprepared or unwilling to accept Chan’s blunt personality and stretched-beyond-limits character and ended up wincing, shifting uncomfortably and often simply leaving because of how uncomfortable they felt.

Chan then proceeded to stumble through a half-dozen songs unable to actually complete any of them.

She continually complained about the sound but complimented the theatre. She said that, had she still been drinking, this show would probably prompt her to commit suicide. She wished for a “psychedelic sound button” on her piano and across the elementary classrooms of America. She talked of having her period, picking her crack, butt-crack, and “all her cracks”. She talked about getting sober and the vices picked up from becoming straight, all the while ashing her cigarette into her shirt pocket. She talked about old friends, and her childhood, and politics (feebly). She slammed her hands on the piano in frustration, left the stage for a little bit fuming with dissatisfaction, asking for the magic to return. She sat in silence for extended periods, and had the audience in silence , wondering if any sort of shouting or clapping would send her shattering into pieces. When the audience did scream, it was usually words of encouragement to, “keep on going!”, “it sounds great”, and “don’t worry Chan, we love you”.

Having no back up band to push her though finishing any songs Chan was free to stop in middle of songs, start in the middle of songs and just mash up a bunch of songs together –and she did.

She eventually finished her two-and-a-half hour set by singing an a capella version of “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”, tinkling on the piano trying to decide what to play, then announcing to the audience thanks for listening and that she is going to leave us alone now. She then walked off the stage while pretending to moon the audience.

G described the show as though she were watching a train wreck and couldn’t pull her eyes off craziness on stage. I loved it. I thought it was raw and real, and yes – crazy. But it was so fucking honest that I couldn’t help but root for her every painful minute of the way.

This is not to say every minute was painful. Chan sang beautifully and her piano and guitar playing were superb – when she’d give herself a chance to play them. I loved hearing “Good Women” (Otis Redding cover), “Satisfaction” (Rolling Stones cover), “The Colors And The Kids” and “I Don’t Blame You”. This is a show I thoroughly enjoyed but judging from what others have said, and how many people left the theatre mid-show, my opinion is not a popular one.

Did anyone esle go to this? Does anyone have a set list (somehow I think that may be impossible)?

Snooze Is Nearly Asleep

There are plenty of places to get a great brunch in Denver, Snooze isn’t one of them. Snooze has some great things going for it. Snooze also has some problems. Unfortunately, in this case, the bad outweigh the good.

My party arrived as a group of six. This may be more than Snooze is accustomed to but is by no means an outrageously sized group, particularly for brunch, which is often a friends and family affair. Sorry Snooze, I’m not letting you use that as an excuse. Despite being both seated and served quickly, our service was poor. Each of us had to ask for at least one of our drinks multiple times. We each had water and at least one more drink like a coffee, mimosa or bloody mary, but this is common for brunch too. A large party ordering multiple drinks is no reason not to bring us our order. We had a conversation that went very similar to this:

Wait staff: Can I get you anything else?
Me: Yeah, you could get me a water and him a coffee (pointing to my dad who ordered the coffee when we sat down).
Friend: I’d like a water too, please.
Waitstaff: Okay a water and a coffee then.
Friend: No, I’d like a water too.
Waitstaff: *stares into space*
Me: That’s two waters and a coffee.
Waitstaff: Okay, two waters and two coffees.
Me & Friend simultaneously: Sure.

The way our waitress was acting she must have been on the opening 1:30 A.M. shift. No excuse when you are competing with the 24 hour diners on Colfax who have waitresses sharper than Manolo four-inch heel. The best part was when she came over asking, “How is everything?” when we were still waiting on two of our orders to come out of the kitchen.

When the meals came out of the kitchen they were less than stellar. First off, choices were minimal. There are 11 breakfast choices and 7 lunch choices. This includes two types of pancakes, one item that is basically a bowl of hash browns, and the regular-old, way-too-big, breakfast burrito that everyone in town makes. All of it is simply mediocre.

Snooze is trying to make a name for itself in the imbibing department. True, they have a breakfast wine list and this is very cool and unique. Also true that my bloody mary was pink for some reason. Too much hoarse-radish I suspect. It still tasted pretty decent though.

To top it all off, Snooze is expensive. We ended up spending $170 (tip not included) for the six of us, only half of us drinking alcohol. That’s nearly $30 a person! For brunch! Yikes!

Now for the good parts of Snooze. The saving grace on the menu is the chocolate & peanut butter pancakes with chocolate chips, and the pineapple upside down pancakes. Without these two items Snooze would be sound asleep. Snooze has an incredible location in the ballpark neighborhood and is the only brunch spot in the neighborhood that I know of. Snooze’s operating schedule is of benefit as well. Opening at 1:30 AM on Saturday and Sunday make it a prime location for an after-party gorge. The best thing Snooze has going for it though, is the atmosphere. The place is so hip it almost hurts. This is thanks to the incredible work by the people over at Xan. Kudos to Xan, you did a wonderful job. Despite the food menu being weak, the drink menu is superb and the pomegranate mimosas are utterly delish.

Hopefully Snooze can fine-tune itself. Its menu needs tweaking and the wait staff need no-doze but the outfit has a lot of potential. Don’t take my word for it, go eat there and tell them what you think.

Casa Bonita

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure/displeasure of eating at one of Denver’s – scratch that – the Nation’s landmark restaurants: Casa Bonita.

Casa Bonita opened in 1974. It is over 52,000 square feet with seating for 1,100 guests and took one year to build. Since the Casa Bonita in Tulsa closed in September of 2005 (which I’m incredibly disappointed in never having had the chance to visit), Denver’s Casa Bonita is now one of a kind – with the exception of the soon to be open Casa Viva and The Mayan (which was sued by Casa Bonita). Casa Bonita achieved national recognition recently with it’s appearance on South Park.

I think it’s easily described as the offspring of a broken down Disneyland, less than stellar Taco Bell, long airport security lines, the Las Vegas Strip, Chunky Cheese, and good liquid acid.

Nearly everyone who has lived in Denver, for any amount of time, is going to know what casa Bonita is. And most of those people are going to gag at the mere mention of it’s name. In fact, the reputation of the food at Casa Bonita is so poor it has been deemed “Casa Don’t-eat-a” by many Denverites. Casa Bonita is not for the week of heart or the week of stomach. It is just as plastic as Vegas (maybe more). And the food is some of the worst I’ve ever had. For reals.

The lines to get into the Casa can be horrendous. Go on a weeknight, less screaming children and little-to-no lines. If you decide to make a weekend night out of it you can expect lines up to an hour long to get in. And often a 30 minute line can form just to get the hell out of there. You’ve been warned. Trust me, this is one of the last places on earth you want to feel trapped.

After you have made your order and paid (you didn’t think they’re going let you see what’s on your plate before you paid did you), you are ushered to another cafeteria style line were you get a tray and wait until a young lady asks, “wachoo order?”. Soon your meal comes sliding out of a mysterious hole in the wall were it waits for you under the heating lamps. I love the fact that you never see where or by whom your food is made – it just appears through a hole!

Mystery Slot

I can only harsh on Casa Bonita for so long though. I personally, have spent many a childhood birthday at Casa Bonita. It will forever hold a nostalgic place in my heart, no matter how many times I end up puking in the fountain on the way out.

And so the fun begins. After getting your slop you’ll be lead to your seat. Everyone asks for a seat by the waterfall. Don’t. The smell of chlorine will get your stomach upset before you have a chance to drink your first coronaita. And they won’t seat you there anyway. One of the coolest things about Casa Bonita is all the cool rooms they can seat you in. There are gazebos, waterfall seating, mines, cave rooms, “open air” seating, and the governors mansion.

Miners Booths

This particular time we were seated in the magic room. This room had a cool chandelier and stage complete with red velvet curtain. There are magic shows every hour. The magician seemed like the saddest man on the planet but actually produced quite a few laughs.

Chandalier

In addition to magic shows, Casa Bonita has all kinds of other entertainment including pupppet shows, flame jugglers, a wishing well, a roaming mariachi band (which reportedly can’t play anything other than ‘happy birthday’), Black Barts cave, an arcade filled with 80’s video games and ski-ball, a souvenir store filled with absolute shit – and t-shirts, “authentic” Mexican dancers, a wishing well, piñatas for the kids, and all kinds of other stuff. Casa Bonita is great to go exploring in. Go thru a door your not supposed, search around, there is cool stuff to be found.

The Alley

The Puppet Show Is Closed

But by far the main attraction at Casa Bonita is the thirty-foot waterfall. Everyone seems to fall into the waterfall. If it’s not the regular divers doing flips, it’s Black Bart being shot by the sheriff and falling into the pool, or Chiquita the gorilla running around it escaping her captor and harassing the patrons. It’s the waterfall that makes Casa Bonita really unique. The diver’s at Casa Bonita even have there own blog featuring Chiquita.

Mariachi

Here are some Southpark screen caps and sounds.

Here are Casa Bonita My Space and Friendster accounts.

Go to Tiki Boyds and get a drink called the Casa Bonita. Refreshing!

Her reminiscing about Casa Bonita really hit home with me.

This dude made a video of his Casa Bonita experience.

Jeffery Sward has some great phtography of Casa Bonita.

The death metal band Carrion Crawler once did a short show on the Casa Bonita stage before getting kicked off.

Some more Casa Bonita photos can be found here.

This is a decent post about the Casa.

Casa Bonita at Night :: Denver

Please share you favorite / nostalgic / least favorite stories about the Casa. Or, just comment on how absolutly jealous you are of not being able to go here every weekend!

It Was So Good It Tasted Like My Birthday

It has been really nice having my brother’s birthday on Monday because the parental units have been taking us out to dinner per the bro’s preference the past couple of nights.

On monday mom took us out to Little India out on 6th avenue (there’s Little India downtown too but I’ve eaten there and there is a difference). Now I’ve been hearing good things about this place for a while but I wasn’t expecting what I got. It was completely astounding. I loved it. I got the shrimp biryanis. But everything everyone ordered was good. The saags, the masalas and curries were all turbo-delish. The service was great too. But if you are in Denver I recommend you get your ass out there. Now.

On Tuesday we went to and old stand-by. Sushi Heights (Colfax and York under the Free University). I used to go here all the time back in the day. However, I discovered last night that my brother and Pandy have turned it into their own place last night when our waitress not only recognized their faces but called them by name and joked about the being regulars. I have to admit I felt a tinge of jealousy. Sushi Heights is a perennial favorite and didn’t fail last night by serving us some of the best sushi in Denver and definitely the best in downtown. I tried a couple of new things last night. Tiger Eye is salmon stuffed squid and was really good. I also tried the white tuna for the first time (go now, it’s on special and isn’t very common in these land locked mountain states) which melted in my with pure deliciousness.

Pure

I should start by pointing out that Rebbecca Ray was only 16 years old when she began writing Pure, and it shows. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because the novel is about adolescence, Rebbecca Ray’s age while writing the novel keeps her closer to the subject matter. At the same time, her age often shows in her unpolished writing via some shallow characterization and a very poor ending. Pure is an admirable first effort for such a young writer and a decent cotton candy read but it is by no means a fantastic or important novel. I may have found this book more interesting than most due having enjoyed other, better novels with similar themes involving female adolescence.

Our unnamed narrator is a 14-year-old girl who is struggling desperately to find her place. She’s struggling to feel anything at all, really. The story begins with what appears to be a relatively normal British kid with problems the typical problems of peer acceptance, minor family problems, and just wanting to grow up. As the story moves forward we find that our main characters life is more complicated and not nearly as normal as we first expected. The narrators emotional ambiguity and sad apathy seem tip prove the helplessness of adolescence. The uncertainty of how to judge what is happening to her seems to the most poignant and truthful theme in the novel and that also of our teenage years that provide so many new experiences. As thing in her life become more complicated, problems with her parents escalate. When her overbearing father and ineffectual mother fall further apart, their 14-year-old daughter begins dating a man over twice her age. She allows, then craves abusive relationships and before long her feelings of self-loathing become self-destructive: hurt becomes love, repulsion becomes sexy, and pain is part of fitting in.

This novel harbors very little joy and it’s not sensational or sentimental. But being along similar veins of Perks Of Being A Wall Flower and Kids, this book is interesting in that it is both fascinating and upsetting to look at how growing up has changed for the modern child. You wince for the girl in this book, but you also relate; remembering what it was like, having been in that cool basement, on that lumpy couch, wondering if they actually like you back or are just fumbling toward an incomprehensible and obscure maturity too.

White Noise

Back in highschool, me and my friend Les would often stand in the hallway near our lockers during passing period and stare out the door. We wouldn’t talk to each other. We were too busy listening and didn’t want to interrupt what we were hearing: the sound of 400 students gossiping, spilling books, taunting, laughing, slamming lockers, eating snacks, chasing each other, smacking gum, copying homework, making out, tearing pages out of notebooks, etc. When we didn’t focus on one sound at a time but the on whole sound: a low penetrating, ominous, rumble would emerge. It was a hum you would hear only if you knew it was there. Soon, we noticed this could be done almost anywhere. It fascinated us, how this sound seemed to stand on its own, beyond the individuals creating it. Les was the only one I had ever told about my listening to this sound. I think because I thought he would be one of the few I knew who could appreciate it. To this day I could walk up behind Les and hum, and he’d know exactly what I was referring to: white noise.

As a close friend of pop culture, it’s very surprising that I thought Don DeLillo’s White Noise was, in a word, boring. At least mostly boring. The novel held some appealing wit. The scene with like the “Most Photographed Barn In America”, the near plane crash, and some of Jack Gladney’s conversations with his family I found really amusing in DeLillo’s dark and dry way. And though at times the novel produced a disturbed chuckle from me, I wouldn’t say that it was hilarious or even funny, really. In fact much of the time it was annoying and tedious. Yes, this novel was clever, but despite having many facets, it was not fascinating.

It’s true that the meat of DeLillo’s White Noise is held in its observations, not in its plot. But the story held almost no plot. The main character in White Noise tells us that all plots move deathward. Is it a valid reason for Delillo not to include a plot in this novel? I don’t think so.

It could very well be that I have become so accustomed to the torrent of information, often useless, swirling around me that I don’t think that the racket that it creates is worthy of a novel itself. Let alone bothering to read that novel. White Noise seems to be just more white noise. It’s not lost on me that may be exactly what DeLillo had intended.

I did enjoy the cultural themes presented in the novel. DeLillo reveals to us how we as participants in American culture are often more interested in the copy than in the original. We as a culture reject the real event in favor of the simulation. Representation supersedes experience. I also enjoyed the idea that death seems to be the only concept that can equal our society’s white noise in sheer force. And despite popular culture using glitz, packaging, and showiness in an attempt to hide death beneath the surface, death is in the end, inevitable. Despite what DeLillo is trying to portray, I don’t think death has disappeared from american culture, my death clock is testimony to that. Maybe I’m missing something. On the other hand, maybe I get it.

Is Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise high-end art? Maybe. Enjoyable? Maybe not.
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My Life Without Me

Last night I watched My Life Without Me (trailer can be found here). What a tear-jerker that was. I was a sniffling mess for a while there. I can’t remember who recommend this movie to me, but they said my Big List reminded them of it. Anyway, thanks whoeveryouare, it was really enjoyable. I thought it was a great movie, if not a bit depressing and a little manipulative, it really moved me. There are plenty of bad reviews out there for this movie, this isn’t one of them. I thought Sarah Polley did an incredible job. The stylization was just up my alley and the soundtrack was great to boot. The selfishness of the main character was lost on me till I started reading some negative views.

I also really enjoyed it because it correlated with the book I’m reading right now: White Noise by Don DeLillo. Both stories (the movie and the book) deal with the ever looming spectre of death, specifically terminal illness. They both deal with how we act when our time on earth becomes specifically finite. Neither of the characters (in both the movie and the book) choose to tell their spouses or their children. Is that OK to do? Are we obliged to tell our loved ones if we are going to die in two months? Are we saving them any suffering if we don’t? In addition, both main characters deal with issues of infidelity which draws even more parallels between the two stories. Anyway, I totally recommend the movie (as long as you don’t mind a good cry) and I’ll let you know about the book when I finish it.