Tuesday, April 13, 2010

AWP Wrap-Up, Part I: Food

First things first: what did I eat in Denver?

I spent Wednesday-Sunday morning in Denver at the AWP conference, and I think I did a pretty good job food-wise. I mistakenly assumed that Denver wasn’t much of a food town…how wrong I was, as I had one of the best restaurant experiences of my life at the Palace Arms at the historic Brown Palace Hotel.

This was a romantic dinner with Steve—the two of us alone, before too many writers descended—and we had a lovely time, splurging on the chef’s tasting menu. I’ve never been much for soups with potato in the broth, but the vichyssoise was AMAZING. Later, the chef told us that he had recently added it to the menu. (Yes, the chef came out to talk to us—twice. Turns out he had spent some time cooking here in DC—our loss, for sure.) Another highlight was Caesar salad prepared tableside, and the restaurant is famous for its Colorado Bison “Rossini,” which, if I remember correctly, involves Madeira sauce, béarnaise, foie gras, brioche, and a filet of bison. Oh, and some swiss chard to seem healthful. Another amazing dish! Finally, we concluded with a pre-dessert (bread pudding), a dessert (bananas Foster prepared tableside—flames galore!), and a post-dessert of salted caramels and macaroons. Great service: friendly and knowledgeable. A fantastic night, and well-worth every penny if you’re ever in Denver.

[Side note: this place was so good that the following night, Steve returned for a drink in the cigar bar. He returned the next night for dinner with his Denver friend. He returned the next day to meet the Denver friend there for a drink before heading to the baseball game.]

Doesn’t Denver make you think of Eastern European food? Me neither, but because we had had such a fun time last year at the AWP in Chicago with the specialty vodka at Russian Tea Time, we decided to recreate the memory at Red Square Euro Bistro and its vodka bar. Along with several vodka selections (not sure I whole-heartedly recommend fig-infused vodka, but it was fun to try), Steve and I shared some nice pierogi-like dumplings, and he had the rack of lamb which was seasoned beautifully, and I went for elk sausage. Sadly, I selected the elk sausage because it sounded lean and “light.” And the reason I needed something “light” is because I was still pretty full from a lingering lunch at:

Rioja, a Mediterranean restaurant that had an incredible Cuban sandwich (something else I wouldn’t expect in Denver…clearly it is my expectations that were askew here). Also notable was the appetizer I shared with two women: “artichoke tortelloni--goat cheese and artichoke mousse stuffed pasta, artichoke broth, truffle essence, queso de mano cheese, chervil.” We each got one lovely tortelloni nestled in a luscious broth pooled in a pretty white bowl. The dessert we shared had a side of “smoked almond ice cream” that was…let’s just say interesting. (Really, it mostly tasted like bacon.)

I could go on—an excellent Indian lunch buffet, bar burger sliders made of kobe beef with béarnaise (a trend? Definitely beats mustard!)—but I’ll close with the final dinner at Panzano, an Italian restaurant, where I had a contemporary interpretation of veal scallopini (“Scallopine di Vitello—Grass fed veal scaloppini sautéed with lemon, capers and sun-dried tomatoes, over Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and fresh spinach) and an appetizer that I could eat copious amounts of: “Bresaola Sigari--House-cured bresaola rolled with gorgonzola mousse and finished with roasted walnuts and valpolicella reduction.” And how could I forget the refreshing “Italian Rickey” cocktail (which I now see is only $5 during the generous happy hour hours of 2:30-6 pm): “Bombay Gin, fresh squeezed lime juice and simple syrup finished with prosecco.” Like a gin and tonic but without that cloying, gummy mouth-feel that too much tonic can give you.

Oh, how I hate that I was so stuffed that I had to skip lunch entirely one day. And I never even ate breakfast. I suspect there was much, much more to be found and consumed.

So—great food, all within easy walking distance to the conference hotel and convention center, sunny skies and beautiful weather, and friendly people. I can’t believe I thought I wouldn’t especially like this town. Quel fool!

Tomorrow, or the next day, or the next: Part II of the AWP wrap-up that will prove that I actually attended the conference and picked up a few words of wisdom about writing!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.