Thursday, June 30, 2011

Le Central and the Roasted Pig

My husband has been food-fantasizing about a delicious roasted pig for as long as I've known him. And if that pig happened to be served in his honor, even better.

There was therefore no uncertainty over what would be the main course at his graduate school graduation party last month.

My wonderful mother hosted the party, and she was not about to dig up her backyard for a roasting pit. Instead, she google searched "roast suckling pig" and came up with three different places. The first two never called her back, and the third was Le Central. Yes, Le Central apparently roasts suckling pigs on top of serving amazing French food seven days a week. They were happy to make us a roasted pig, and my mom has loved Le Central forever. The choice was easy.

The party meal was a local, organic-fed, free range, 40-pound suckling pig. For a price of $400, this little piggy was not cheap, but it was well worth it from the first bite.

Transporting the pig from Le Central to my mom's place was a little tricky. I had concerns about lingering pig odors if we put it in the back seat, but the staff at Le Central advised against storage in the trunk to minimize movement during the car ride. So the piglet rode in the back seat, but still managed to leave some drippings behind on the seats.

The presentation of our piglet was beautiful. The pig sat on an oval mirror, surrounded by herbs and garlic cloves and oranges. We took an awful lot of photos before digging in.

And the taste? It certainly satisfied my husband's seven-or-so-year-longing for roast pig.  The meat was juicy and tender and wonderful. All the guests loved it.

Thank you for yet more delicious food, Le Central.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Sweet Action Ice Cream

Sweet Action is kind of a big deal, and everyone I know has been telling me this for months now.

So it finally came time, on an insanely hot summer day this past weekend, for me to check out what exactly the big deal was.

Sweet Action is known for delicious ice cream, but it's even better known for a constantly changing array of unique flavor options. Think Horchata or Strawberry Balsamic. Or Biscuits and Jam. Flavors change on a weekly-ish basis and are difficult to pinpoint at any particular point in time without walking into the store. Their website is sparse on flavor details in any form, but their Facebook page divulges new flavors regularly. Vegans will be happy to know that they offer several vegan options at any time.

After all the excitement building up to my Sweet Action visit, I was surprised to see the complete lack of decor both inside and outside the shop. It's like someone took an insanely clean car repair garage and turned it into an ice cream parlor. The interior has only a few tables, and a garage door that gets retracted on searing hot days like the one when I visited.

This is just part of the flavor list for the day:

Flavors offered the day of my visit - some of them

Life has been a bit hectic lately, so I had to suffice with grabbing a couple pints for later enjoyment between Mr. Oyster and myself. I selflessly picked out two flavors I thought the husband would love - Red Velvet and Crunchy Peanut Butter - before rushing out the door. At $5.25 each, I thought it was a bit pricey, even for an avid sugar freak like myself.

Flash forward a few hours later, back at the house, spoons in hand, and we went to work:

The red velvet had a white ice cream base that tasted like regular vanilla, with small pieces of red velvet cake mixed in. The texture was perfectly light and fluffy. My first few bites, however, were disappointing. The base ice cream and red velvet pieces lacked punch. It took me several spoonfuls before I finally found what I was looking for: cream cheese frosting.

Red Velvet Ice Cream Pint

Cream cheese frosting is the amazing component that makes a red velvet cake not taste like nothing, and I wish there was more of it in this ice cream. The flavor was decent overall, but didn't quite provide enough tastebud excitement to live up to my beloved Ben and Jerry's Red Velvet Cake.

The Crunchy Peanut Butter flavor had a peanut butter ice cream base, with salted peanuts interspersed throughout. The ice cream had the same wonderfully fluffy texture as the Red Velvet, and a light peanut butter taste. I enjoyed the salted peanuts, but wished there were far more of them, and I would've preferred a stronger peanut butter taste to the ice cream base.

Crunchy Peanut Butter pint. More peanuts please.
My husband, the peanut butter fanatic, was only lukewarm about this flavor. I liked it alright, but slightly preferred the Red Velvet.

I'm obsessed with the flavor options at Sweet Action, and want to go back to try more of their varieties.  I didn't fall in love with either of the two flavors I tried, but I hope my ice cream soulmate lurks among their other zillions of flavors.

Everyday Dining

(7 of 10)

Pros: Endless flavor options, excellent texture, clean store
Cons: Not enough taste to some flavors, expensive (in pint form at least), lack of parking


Sweet Action Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Indulge Wine Bar

Allow me to begin this post about Indulge Wine Bar with a quote about the restaurant, taken directly from their website:

Indulge Wine Bar is a unique wine, tapas and dessert restaurant located in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Indulge, you deserve it.

Indulge is only unique because it has the wine list, atmosphere, and menu of a trendy downtown wine bar, but it's way, way deep in the Highlands Ranch suburbs. Other than that, however, it's not really that unique. It's got the same feel as Cru, or the Wine Loft, or Trios Enoteca,or just about any other wine bar you've ever been to. 

From the outside, you'd never guess you're about to walk into a swanky little wine bar. Indulge is in a small strip mall-ish cluster of buildings, right next to a Noodles and Company, Corner Bakery, and Bernie's Hot Dogs. And it's across the street from a monstrous Home Depot. So if you want a fancy dining experience, and you don't want to leave the 'burbs, Indulge is your place

Indulge Bar and Wine Cellar Area

We'd been to Indulge once before this particular visit, and had liked it enough to make a return trip. In fact, this time we had some out-of-town family that we wanted to introduce to Indulge.

The menu has standard entree portions, as well as a wide selection of tapas and small plates. We opted to share a number of the smaller dishes.

The Yucatan Ahi Guacamole ($10.5) comprises, quoting directly from the menu: A+ sashimi-grade ahi tuna tartar over house-made guacamole with toasted black sesame seeds, ponzu sauce and house-made chips. 

Yucatan Ahi Tuna Guacamole
This is basically a large blob of guacamole with small chunks of ahi tuna atop.  It's delicious, but I wish the tuna-to-guacamole ratio was higher.

We also tried the Blue Suede Shoes Flatbread Pizza ($12), which, again quoting directly from the menu, contains Grilled chicken, BBQ sauce, whole milk mozzarella, and shaved leek. Finished with a drizzle of Indulge’s house-made buttermilk ranch dressing.

Blue Suede Shoes Flatbread
This pizza was rich and very tasty, but the barbeque sauce was more like honey mustard sauce, and was a little too sweet for my liking.

Next was the Andouille Mac and Cheese ($12.5).

Andouille Mac and Cheese
This was also good, but I couldn't help but notice that the cavatappi noodles seemed suspiciously similar to those at Noodles and Company just a stone's throw away. Also, the $12.5 price tag was awfully steep for cheesy pasta with a few thin slices of sausage. 

Our dinner companions also had the hummus plate ($10.5), which comes with red pepper hummus served warm.

Red Pepper Hummus with Flatbread

We didn't try any, but they enjoyed it.

Overall, the food on this visit wasn't as good as what I remember from our last experience. 

And the wine? Ehhh...well, I don't drink wine. All I know about wine is that it tastes bad and beer is far superior. Yes, I am reviewing a wine bar without consuming any wine, and without any basic knowledge of wine at all.  

Maybe if I were a wine lover, I'd be a little more enthusiastic about Indulge. As it stands, the food is decent but overpriced, and even if you are looking for a nice wine bar without heading downtown, I prefer the Wine Loft at Landmark (there's also Cru at Park Meadows but I've never been).  

Casual Dining 

(6 of 10)

Pros: Good service, great place for wine lovers
Cons: Food is nothing to get excited about, too expensive 


Indulge Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

CJ's Frozen Custard

CJ's is the ultimate mom-and-pop custard stop. Their small location is located in Lone Tree at Lincoln and Yosemite, in a strip mall near Safeway and in between a couple of random stores.

The interior of CJ's is pretty bare-bones, with six or so tables and fliers everywhere for every local thing imaginable.

CJ's offers the traditional custard-stand staples of chocolate, vanilla, and "flavor of the day" custards, as well as Vienna hot dogs. I've never tried the hot dogs, but I do know all about the custard. The frozen treats are offered with a variety of standard toppings, and can be ordered as part of a sundae or malt. CJ's also sells "flavor of the day" pints.

My husband's favorite thing ever is the marshmallow malt, made with vanilla custard ($5.5).

Marshmallow Malt

My selection on this particular visit was a small cup of chocolate custard with peanut butter cup pieces ($3.5).

Chocolate Custard with Peanut Butter Cup Topping

And one of my husband's favorite "flavor of the day" selections, in pint form:

Cherry Amaretto Custard Pint
CJ's isn't anything terribly unique, but it is a solid neighborhood custard stop.

Everyday Dining

(7 of 10)

Pros: Unique flavor of the day options, custard in every form consumable
Cons: Slightly expensive, very average custard options


Cjs Frozen Custard on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 10, 2011

Le Central

For as long as I can remember, Le Central has been delicious. I've been eating there forever. Le Central has long been my mom's favorite French restaurant in Colorado. Even though we lived outside of Denver, special occasions during my childhood often meant we'd trek all the way to Lincoln and 8th for some seriously good French food.

It also must be that everyone in Denver who doesn't live under a rock has eaten at - and loved - Le Central. Any time I mention it, whoever I am talking to immediately starts gushing about his or her last visit and how wonderful everything was.

Last weekend, when looking for a brunch spot for seven people, including two sets of out-of-town family members, Le Central was the clear choice.

If you go to Le Central, get the mussels. Get them in the saffron sauce. Trust me on this one. For a mere $14, you will be enjoying an unbelievably large bowl of steamed mussels soaking in a rich and wonderfully seasoned sauce. The fries are unlimited, but you'll be so full from all the mussels that you probably won't want any more of anything else when you finish them off.

Moules au Saffran

While I've enjoyed the mussels a million times before, I ventured off the beaten path on this particular occasion to try the the Omelette Aux Epinards ($8; from the menu: Three egg white omelette filled with sautéed spinach, roasted red bell peppers, and Brie cheese). I'd never ordered this omelet before, and I really didn't ponder the ingredient list too deeply before ordering it. Once it was in front of me, however, I was puzzled by the combination of healthy, low-fat egg whites and veggies, and the decadent, calorie-bomb Brie cheese oozing from every possible opening in the omelet. Overall, it was good but not great. The veggies were a little overcooked, and the bell pepper pieces were too large to eat easily. Plus, I wasn't too excited about eating the huge pile of mashed potatoes on the side at 11 am. 

We also tried the Eggs Benedict ($8), which had way too little Hollandaise sauce. 

Eggs Benedict

My husband had the seafood crepes ($8), which contain, quoting directly from the menu, Red and white fish with shrimp and scallops in a fresh dill cream sauce finished with a touch of cream and wrapped in a house made crêpe, gratineed with Swiss cheese. 

Crêpes de Fruits de Mer

The crepe was divine. The cream sauce was extremely rich, and a perfect complement to the wonderful assortment of seafood it smothered. I think I even liked this crepe more than the mussels. 

The location, while spacious and filled with closely-packed tables, fills quickly for brunch. Reservations are a good idea.  And despite the cheap prices, the attire is somewhat dressy.

Le Central is a bargain overall. Some dishes, however, are much better than others. The mussels and seafood crepes we had were outstanding, while the eggs benedict and spinach omelet were less impressive. There's room for improvement in the side dishes, particularly the rice and potatoes. 

But we loved it, and of course, we'll be back. 

Casual Dining

(8 of 10)

Pros: Outstanding quality food for cheap. Get the mussels. 
Cons: Dining area can be crowded, some dishes are better executed than others


Le Central on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Silver Creek Diner

The Quest: To find a plate of biscuits and gravy as delicious as the ones my husband used to eat at the local diner in his tiny rural hometown. He's been looking for a worthy contender ever since a recent visit back home.

The First Place We Started: Silver Creek Diner. We've seen it off C-470 a hundred or so times, and the use of the word diner in the title suggests the presence of some sort of biscuits and gravy.

This place has a bit of an unfortunate location. Anyone can see the huge DINER sign from C-470, but actually getting into the restaurant from there takes a lot more work. It's housed at the end of a string of retail spaces, something I wouldn't quite call a strip mall, on the C-470 frontage road alongside all kinds of random small businesses.

The yoga studio next door gets plenty of regular visitors; Silver Creek didn't seem to have the same appeal. We were there at about 11:30 am on a Saturday, which I would expect to be peak hours, but they were only at about 1/3 capacity.

The interior of Silver Creek looks as though the location used to house a Chinese restaurant, then a Mexican restaurant, and now a diner, and throughout the successive changes in restaurant theme, no one has changed the decor. Instead, they've just added random item after random item, turning the interior into a mishmash of bizarre paintings and photos and excessively bright wall colors.

As you probably guessed, my husband ordered the biscuits and gravy ($8), which came with eggs, hash browns and sausage. I went with a Denver omelet ($6), which came with hash browns and toast.

Just a matter of minutes later, out came our food.

My omelet was decent. It tasted exactly how I thought it would.  The cheese was sparsely applied, which I appreciated, the peppers were fresh and crunchy, and the ham....just tasted like regular ham. The hash browns were ok, very average, and the toast was strangely only toasted on one side.

Denver Omelet
My husband's biscuits and gravy were also very average.  He loved the buttery flavor of the biscuits, but the gravy was a letdown. It wasn't proper country gravy with a rich, meaty flavor and sausage pieces strewn throughout. Instead, it was thin and chicken brothy and too salty. The eggs, hash browns, and sausage were all decent but nothing special.

Biscuits and Gravy
We both felt very "eh" about Silver Creek Diner.  We may come back for another visit....or we may not.  It was cheap and quick and OK tasting, but just nothing to get excited about.

Everyday Dining

(6 of 10)

Pros: Good service, cheap, fast
Cons: Everything is very average tasting, weird location

Silver Creek Diner on Urbanspoon