Category Archives: restaurants

Fear, Fire, and Solidarity in New Orleans

David Beriss

Someone tried to burn down the Flaming Torch restaurant last week. The restaurant, flaming-torch-menu-signlocated in my neighborhood in New Orleans, is a French bistro that has been in business since 2004. It is small and friendly, with good French food, a little bit fancy (they have tablecloths), but very much part of the neighborhood. It is a reliable place for locals seeking classic French dishes (they make a great coq au vin), not a tourist destination. I have eaten there many times, but I especially remember eating there soon after Hurricane Katrina. The Flaming Torch was one of the first restaurants in the neighborhood to reopen and although they were desperately short-staffed, their presence was deeply appreciated by those of us who had come back to the city, because they provided a much-needed place to reunite with neighbors around good food and wine.

The fire, according to news reports, was deliberately set. The owner, Zohreh Khalegi, says she was upstairs, doing inventory, when someone broke into the dining room, doused the place with gasoline, and set it on fire. At least some of this was recorded by a security camera. She escaped to the roof and was rescued by the fire department. The interior damage is apparently quite extensive, so the restaurant’s future is uncertain.

flaming-torch-doorThe arsonist’s motives are unclear, but suspicions have been raised that this may have been a hate crime. Zohreh Khalegi, who started the restaurant with her late husband Hassan Khalegi, is an American citizen who immigrated decades ago from Iran. Although their origins were no secret, until recently there was very little in the restaurant that might have indicated the owners had any ties to Iran. In the last few years, the restaurant had begun to feature occasional special menus with Persian food. Certainly, for many people, this only made the restaurant more attractive, since there are not many other places to eat Persian food in the area. But the current American political context seems to have encouraged and given legitimacy to prejudice against people from countries like Iran (one of the countries subject to President Trump’s immigration ban). Could such prejudice have motivated someone to act against the restaurant? As far as I know, nobody has claimed responsibility for this act. But there have been threats and incidents of violence against immigrants and minorities all over the country since the presidential election. All of this is of grave concern and if the fire at the Flaming Torch is any indication, such things must be taken very seriously.

We do not know if this crime was related to anti-immigrant prejudice. But the fact that people are ready to believe that it is suggests that the political climate in the United States has reached a point (not, of course, for the first time) of critical danger. From fine dining to neighborhood diners, immigrants from many countries play a major role in the American restaurant industry. In New Orleans, as elsewhere in the United States, there are many restaurants owned and operated by people from predominantly Muslim countries, serving food from those regions. There are also many immigrants (perhaps most) who prepare and sell foods that have nothing to do with their origins, so they may not be visible as sellers of foods associated with immigrants. All of them may be targets for people who want to advance the nationalist agenda that has accompanied the rise of President Trump.

flaming-torch-thank-you

There has been an outpouring of support for Zohreh Khalegi and for the restaurant. People have posted testimonials and statements of support on the restaurant’s doors. Money has been raised to help with expenses. There are many people here in New Orleans who are eager to show their solidarity. The stakes involved are very high. By choosing to stand by owners of restaurants and other businesses that are targeted by racists and nationalists, we make a statement about what kind of community and nation we want to live in. We must all consider where we stand at this moment and what we will do to make sure that heated political rhetoric is not turned into more violence.

So why document this on an anthropology blog? There is a lot that anthropologists and other social scientists can do—and are doing—to help us understand the rise of nationalism and fear around the world in recent years. For anthropologists, this sort of incident can be an opportunity to think about how institutions like restaurants tie communities together, as well as about the ways violence, fear, and terror, can work to tear communities apart. We can call attention to the way such acts are named and discussed. President Trump recently claimed that many acts of terror are not adequately covered by the media and that, as a consequence, people do not take the threat of terror seriously enough. This act of arson, if it turns out to have been motivated by politics or hate, is an act of terror, but one that Mr. Trump will probably not define as terror, either because it is too small or because it had the wrong sort of victims. Yet acts of mass violence, including attacks on restaurants, schools, or religious communities, create exactly the kind of fear that terrorists try to achieve. We need to document the impact of these events and examine why they are interpreted by people as acts of terror. And, in this case, we can also show people coming together to resist and to show solidarity. In doing all of this, anthropology can help increase understanding and help resist those who would sow fear among us.

flaming-torch-rebuild

Resistance.

4 Comments

Filed under anthropology, food activism, Food Studies, New Orleans, restaurants

Review: The Ethnic Restaurateur

Ray, Krishnendu. 2016. The Ethnic Restaurateur. London; New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Reviewed by Rafi Grosglik
Department of Sociology, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, USA

When we sit in a restaurant and food is served to the table, most of us very often do not look properly at the waiter or the waitress. We pay a lot of attention to the dish that is put in front of us, while overlooking and not really acknowledging the person who serves us (not to mention the cooks in the kitchen, dishwashers, cleaning staff, suppliers and restaurateurs). Ordinarily, the food itself draws most of our attention. Thus, properly recognizing the people who prepared and served our food, and thanking them for doing that, is not done very often. This is one of the common practices that makes the food industry workers invisible. They do things for others—they cultivate, bake, prepare, cook, sell or serve foods—but they are not fully acknowledged. They are unrecognized.

Thinkers such as Nancy Fraser, Axel Honneth, Charles Taylor and others [1] stress that recognition is a basic need of any human beings and an essential process in the social nature of subjectivity and in social interaction. This non-recognition, or invisibility, of food producers can be attributed also to academic writing and to trends in food studies and in sociology and anthropology of food. These fields are saturated with studies focusing on foodstuffs and culinary artifacts, on the “social life” (Appadurai, 1986) [2] of certain foodstuffs or nutritional ingredients, on “food systems” and “foodscapes” or on representations of foods and dishes in popular media. As Krishnendu Ray argues in “The Ethnic Restaurateur”, contemporary theory of the social aspects of culinary culture and taste is strongly shaped by empirical work that examines food consumption and consumers. That includes theories on the opening up of the American palate and the growing popularity in Western cities of dishes and restaurants that are staged as “ethnic” and “authentic”. This scholarship is often done while not paying full attention to food producers and distributers, and thus adding to their non-recognition. Ray directs our attention to the people who produce and distribute so-called ethnic foods, and illuminates the labor  behind contemporary changes in the American palate. In “The Ethnic Restaurateur”, he addresses the paradox that although the foreign-born have numerically dominated the feeding occupations in American cities, their role in the culinary field and their own perspective on the transaction of taste are lacking in the literature that deals with taste and culture-making (p.1). In this respect, “The Ethnic Restaurateur” is an important and unique work that calls for recognition.

Centering on the visible different immigrants, those who look different, sound different and prepare different food (p.1), as well as looking at the urban culinary field from the perspective of the ethnic restaurateurs – Ray attempts to grasp both the subordination and the power of immigrant restaurateurs. He provides a voice to ethnic restaurateurs and describes what they have to say about the city, the consumers’ taste and making a living within the constraints of those constructions (p.24). Doing so, he contributes to their struggle for recognition, to their efforts to move from inferiority to equality and changing their visibility as Others to their visibility as Selves. In theorizing encounters between immigrants and natives—as it is manifested in shops and restaurants on the streets of New York City; in culinary teaching and training institution (Culinary Institute of America) and in restaurant evaluations and surveys—Ray offers both macro and micro levels of study of contemporary relationships between the non-ethnic center and the ethnic others. He provides an ethnographic description that demonstrates a double movement between discourse and practice. In his analysis, he pays attention both to the representations that produce certain contingent subject positions (ethnics, immigrants, Anglos, natives, etc.) or objects (ethnic food, Indian food, American cuisine, haute cuisine etc.) and to the physical, habitual and professional practices, which are more open to subtle possibilities than representations (p.22).

Contrary to previous studies on “ethnic cuisine” that point to cultural appropriation, culinary colonialism or culinary imperialism, Ray is reluctant to use those sorts of explanatory accounts. He emphasizes that ethnicity is not a thing and therefore it cannot be appropriated. According to his view, the openness to “ethnic” dishes and tastes are the outcome of a “relationship of domination” (p.194). For Ray, ethnic entrepreneurs should be perceived as important actors in the aesthetic transaction. Their bodily presence in metropolitan spaces; their pre-reflective knowledge of everyday practices (such as cooking) (p. 192) and their labor that shifts between taste and toil (p.17)—all of these aspects played an essential and constitutive role in urban American culture and changed the ways people eat and think about food (p.192).

The first empirical chapter of the book, Dreams of Pakistani Grill and Vada Pao[3] in Manhattan: Immigrant Restaurateurs in a Global City, revolves around the story of two separate immigrants who tried to establish restaurants in New York City. It details their practices, their “being in the city”, and the ways they learned to deploy [their] hands and tongues (both for talk and taste) […as well as the ways they] brought their memories of things [they] had eaten (p.53). These practices are entwined with their education, economic capital, morals and motivation. Altogether, they form the basis for the design of their restaurants and their actions, and comprise their agency in the construction of an urban-cosmopolitan gastronomic discourse.

In chapter 3, Hierarchy of Taste and Ethnic Difference: American Gustatory imagination in Globalizing World, Ray steps out of the perspectives of the restaurateurs and points to the ways in which different kinds of restaurants and cuisines have been historically evaluated by American taste-makers. He describes how journalists and restaurant critics constructed certain “ethnic cuisines” in the lower stages of a hierarchical system of symbolic values and meanings. Within this system, the aesthetic values produced by immigrant restauranteurs have become invisible (to use again the terms of Axel Honneth[4]) and their product of labor and knowledge are discussed as a matter of necessity and toil. By contrast, those very taste-makers attributed high-status to other foreign foods, initially Continental and French cuisine and later Italian and Japanese. Ray exemplifies the formation of hierarchies of tastes and provides a convincing explanation to the question: Why aren’t Western consumers willing to pay the same prices they pay in Italian or French restaurants when they consume, say, dishes that are cast as Chinese, Vietnamese, or Indian?

In chapter 4, Extending Expertise: Men in White at the Culinary Institute of America, the author continues to discuss the reconfiguration of the American palate, as it is manifested in American haute cuisine. Based on ethnographic work in the premier cooking school in the United States, he portrays the strife between chefs (which are associated with characteristics of whiteness, masculinity and professionalism) and the ethnic restaurateurs (who are conceived as associated with otherness, femininity, toil and domestic skills).

In the last empirical chapter, Ray points to the tension between the categories of “chef” and “ethnic”, as indicated from his interviews with immigrant restaurateurs-chefs and his examination of the ways their experiences are reflected in restaurant criticism and cookbooks. Ray points to the barriers that ethnic cooks aspiring to be professional chefs face, and to their struggles when they already achieve this status, as they were required time and again to turn back to their heritage, to their allegedly authentic and natural skills (as subjects that were born to the category of ethnicity) – notwithstanding their professional skills. The chapter illuminates the boundary between ethnicity and expertise, but also suggests that the twining of ethnicity and expertise is actually “central to the fabrication of contemporary identities in urban settings such as Manhattan” (p. 183).

Ray contends that, on the one hand, public culinary culture in American cities is a domain of the social field where old elites (American native-born consumers, chefs and taste-makers) abject foreign-born cooks and restaurateurs (p. 190); but on the other hand, immigrants have the resources to turn the table on the dominant culture of taste (p.194). The latter statement is a derivative of his argument that the aesthetics of the dominant classes is no longer the dominant aesthetic in urban food consumption (as evident, for example, in the fact that a wide range of classes can afford non-expansive “ethnic” dishes) (p.189). However, in my view, the former statement—about the subordination of immigrants and their produce in the culinary field (which resonates a form of racial or ethnic hierarchy in American society in general) — is much more convincing, considering the empirical data presented thorough the book.

This book combines meticulous ethnographic descriptions with refined theoretical analysis of the social aspects of taste, culture and power relations. It provides an original thesis about the connection between food and ethnicity and between commerce and culture. It will be of great interest to scholars of food studies, sociology and anthropology of food, culture, taste and consumption; but also to anybody concerned with ethnicity, immigration and diasporic studies, urban studies and sociology and anthropology of the body.

[1] Fraser, N., & Honneth, A. (2003). Redistribution or recognition?: A political-philosophical exchange. Verso. ; Taylor, C. (1992). Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition. Princeton, NJ; Princeton University Press.; Honneth, A. (1995). The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

[2] Appadurai, A. (1986). The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[3] Deep fried potato patty served in a bread bun.

[4] Honneth, A. (2001). Recognition: Invisibility: On the Epistemology of “Recognition”. Aristotelian Society Supplementary,75: 111–126.

1 Comment

Filed under anthropology, ethnicity, restaurants

Curry’s Great Transnational Journey from India to Japan and North Korea

Guest contributor: Markus Bell, Australian National University

I hadn’t been in Japan more than a few weeks before I was hooked on Japanese karē raisu (curryrice/カレーライス). It was the rich, unmistakable smell that seeped under doorways and filled the undercover shopping markets of Osaka that first caught my attention.

I followed the scent down an alley and into a tiny eatery not large enough for more than half a dozen customers. Behind the wooden counter perched two large vats – the source of the seductive aromas. In one, the potbellied chef told me, is spicy curry. In the other is sweet curry. Perhaps noticing my indecisiveness he picked up two small, wooden bowls and dished out a ladle of spicy into one bowl and a ladle of sweet into the other. “Try,” he commanded.

Curry in a pot, Kyoto

Curry in a pot, Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jamie Coates, Waseda University.

Marking the beginnings of a ritual that I would repeat many times over the years, my tastebuds burst into life. Obediently, I took a scoop of the sweet sauce. The velvety texture of the piping hot substance wrapped itself around my tongue and left me wanting more. But I hadn’t finished. Unapologetically licking my spoon clean, I plunged it into the spicy sauce and into my mouth. This time my tongue burnt.

“Is it too much for you?” The smirking chef asked, almost gleefully. “No, no.” I replied, sucking air into my mouth and reaching for a glass of water. “It just took me by surprise.” Without asking, the chef took a larger bowl and filled it with sweet curry, beef, and potatoes. So began my love affair with Japanese karē raisu.

At that time I was carrying out research in Japan on Osaka’s incipient North Korean community. That evening, when I met my North Korean friends for our customary pork barbeque and beer in Korea town, I recounted my midday culinary adventure. “Oh yes,” they agreed. “Japanese curry is good. But until you’ve eaten it on a snowy Pyongyang day, you haven’t lived.”

And there it was. My curiosity was piqued and I had to know: How did curry, ostensibly a product of the Indian Subcontinent, make its way onto tables in the most isolated nation on the planet?

Curryrice with side of miso soup, Kyoto

Curry with a side of miso soup, Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jamie Coates, Waseda University.

The story of curry is emblematic of the early days of colonialism, and the beginnings of what we now simply refer to as globalization. Academics claim that people may have been eating curries as far back as 2,500BCE, and that it has addictive properties.

The roots of the word “Curry” are undecided, with some arguing that it comes from the Old English word “Cury,” ostensibly first used in an English cookbook published in 1390. Others contending it is a derivative of the Tamil word, ‘Kari’ (கறி), referring to a dish cooked with vegetables, meat and spices.

The “curry-flavoured” powder that members of the British colonial administration took home from India became popular in 18th century England. Hannah Glasse published the first curry recipe in English in 1747 in The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy. Her interpretation was more of a “gentle, aromatic stew” than a fiery vindaloo, but it featured curry powder as a key ingredient. In 1810, Sake Dean Mahomet opened Britain’s first curry house, the “Hindustan Coffee House”: it was a massive failure, but in the years that followed curry as an English dish re-emerged in restaurants across the United Kingdom. Curry gradually became an accepted part of every British pub menu, perhaps offering balance to an otherwise lackluster English diet.

Anglicized interpretations of Indian cuisines were subsequently taken to Imperial Japan via the Anglo-Indian officers of the Royal Navy and other stalwarts of the British Empire. They were among the first British subjects the Japanese came into contact with, after Commodore Matthew Perry landed his “Black Ships” at Kurihama in 1853. By the late 19th century, the Japanese navy had adapted the British version of curry, just as the English had earlier Anglicized Indian curry.

In 1872, the first karē raisu recipe was published in a Japanese cookbook, and in 1877 a Tokyo restaurant first offered karē raisu on the menu. Just as it had done in England, curry rapidly became a staple of the Japanese diet. Today, Friday nights on-board the vessels of the Japanese navy are still curry nights. A website of the Japanese Self-Defence Force’s “Family Page” lists its most popular curry dishes with recipes for the public to try. These mouth-watering recipes come with step-by-step cooking instructions and pictures of over fifty different curries popular on Japanese military bases.

In 1968, inspired by the Swedish army’s “pouched sausages,” Otsuka Foods Co. launched vacuum-sealed boil-in-a-bag curry. The convenience of these ready-to-eat treats appealed to thrifty students and overworked salarymen. Within a few years Otsuka Foods’ annual sales topped 100 million packets.

In the 1960s, when the Japanese government pressured Koreans, Taiwanese, and Chinese – former subjects of the Japanese Empire to self-deport, curry also followed tens of thousands of repatriating Koreans to North Korea. Family who stayed behind in Japan sent tightly packed parcels crammed full of ready-made karē raisu to loved ones in North Korea.

The North Korean government prohibited repatriates from ever returning to Japan. Immigrants from Japan struggled to survive the often-harsh conditions of North Korea. Access to imported karē raisu and other imported food products became a matter of life and death. They used karē raisu as a currency, trading it for local products – kimchee, rice, and meat – and strategically gifting it to cadre of the Korean Workers’ Party. The more industrious, daring individuals opened black market curry and noodle stalls operating out of their apartments.

Over dinner, my friend Hye-rim Ko, recently escaped from North Korea, explained that during this time, “We native North Koreans tried to mimic immigrants from Japan. We wanted to dress like them and eat the food they had. We were curious. What they ate was better than our food.” “Native” North Koreans, like Hye-rim, had to rely on immigrants from Japan for a regular fix of curry.

In between mouthfuls of fried pork wrapped in perilla leaves, another friend, Sazuka Tanaka, who migrated to North Korea in 1960 told me, “I managed a small restaurant in a northern city of North Korea. We served karē raisu and other dishes from Japan. It was a hugely popular place to eat for North Koreans and I became quite famous for my curry.”

The tastes and smells of curry reminded immigrants from Japan of the home they’d left behind. More importantly, such dishes were a lifeline during the famine that gripped North Korea in the 1990s.

In 2002 Kim Jong-Il admitted that North Korea had kidnapped Japanese citizens. The Japanese government reacted by imposing trade sanctions on the DPRK. These sanctions choked off the supply of curry to North Korea. Consequently, North Koreans living near the Sino-Korean border were forced to import a Chinese version of karē raisu. North Korean defectors I worked with assured me that “fake” karē raisu wasn’t a patch on the real thing. They claimed that it “lacked flavor” and was “made with inferior ingredients.”

Curry is a chameleon of a dish and a well traveled one at that. From India to Pyongyang, to Tokyo, and the NASA space program; in each place it’s traveled to people have adapted and blended it to local tastes, making it one of the world’s most loved cuisines. Perhaps this is why many of my friends and I feel such affection for it: curry, like us, shifts and evolves through its travels, the cultures it passes through, and the people who love and adopt it.

Markus Bell is a Ph.D. candidate at the Australian National University’s anthropology department, researching on North Korean society and North Korean migration. From September 2016 he will take up a lectureship in the University of Sheffield’s School of East Asian Studies. Follow him on Twitter: @mpsbell 

5 Comments

Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, cooking, cuisine, curry, food, food history, hunger, Japan, korea, North Korea, restaurants

Chefs as activists–Daniel Giusti takes on America’s school lunches

Greg de St. Maurice
Ryukoku University

Chefs today wield a great deal of influence. They are (or are expected to be) simultaneously artisans, entrepreneurs, activists, and celebrities. In December the Washington Post published an article titled “A top chef from a world-famous restaurant wants to fix America’s school lunches.” The phrasing of the headline itself begs numerous questions: are Daniel Giusti’s actions worth following because of his celebrity? Is a chef better equipped to improve school lunches than someone in another profession, say an administrator, an economist, or an anthropologist? Such questions need to be asked. But it is, as the Washington Post article notes, worth observing that Giusti left his job at Noma, one of the world’s most influential restaurants and one with a very elite clientele, for another position meant to catalyze change in the food system. Giusti says, in an interview for Lucky Peach: “Well, if I’m going to feed people, I want to feed a lot of people and I want to wake up every day thinking that what I’m doing is affecting a lot of people’s lives in a positive way.”

Chefs today understand that their actions have consequences, whether sourcing or kitchen atmosphere or neighborhood economic impact, and they seek to influence society and guide change. Noma, incidentally, is closing so that it can be reconfigured as a restaurant organized around an urban farm. Sustainability, seasonality, and “local” are keywords. But chefs’ activism is evident not only through the choices they make in fulfilling their responsibilities as chefs, or in their “private” lives as individuals, but interestingly also in the networks they form with colleagues to pursue common goals. Chef Giusti, for instance, belongs to the Chef Action Network, which is engaged at the local level around school lunches and at the national level when it comes to legislation regarding food and nutrition. And, as he explains in his interview with Lucky Peach, he has received emails from people from a wide variety of backgrounds interested in participating in his project—some of them pro bono. Celebrity’s power to mobilize may very well help Giusti be successful where others have not.

We can be both critical and supportive of chefs’ activism. Chefs can be charismatic leaders who effect change. They should not be seen as heroes whose actions negate the need for other kinds of activism. Chefs do not operate in frictionless environments—they must engage with consumer trends, media narratives, government regulations, investors eager for profits, and so forth. Even when a restaurant such as Blue Hill at Stone Barns or Noma seems to epitomize some of the kinds of changes grassroots activists seek, there is always the question of reach: who benefits from such restaurants? Who is left out? Chefs, expected to be productive along many different dimensions simultaneously, may only accomplish so much. Their power is limited and we should not neglect to also support less charismatic actors working to improve our food systems.

1 Comment

Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, chefs, cuisine, food activism, restaurants, school lunch

Necessary Knowledge: Where Denver Anthropologists Drink and Eat

John Brett
University of Colorado Denver

As a Denver native and passionate eater of foods, what follows is my personal, if a bit quirky, list of places I would send my friends and colleagues to eat and drink while visiting Denver.  There’s no easy way to organize something of this nature but I’ve added some headings to provide some idea of where things are.  I suppose as a Coloradoan, I should include something on our recently legalized intoxicant but I can’t for lack of experience, but I would refer you to the Cannabist, developed by the Denver Post which has a lot of news and reviews and the number of shops rivals Starbucks in their density (the basics: you have to be over 21 to purchase, can’t consume it in public spaces, and can’t take it with you…).

The Denver food scene is big, complex, a bit weird, but really fun so find some time to explore.  Most of the restaurants are walking or short taxi ride from the convention center but I’ve included some stellar neighborhood restaurants as well.

Where to begin? Beer. Asheville, NC claims to have more microbreweries per capita than anywhere else in the country and I have no reason to dispute that but Denver surely ranges near the top for sheer number of excellent breweries. Microbreweries seem to pop up on a weekly basis so I’ll only mention the ones that always seem to find me at a table.  Most of them have a food truck outside, or are in districts with easy access to food, so it’s easy to “do dinner” around some tasty beer. One of the oldest and still finest breweries in Denver is Great Divide.  The Denver Beer Company actively partners with other brewers and in addition to their solid regular lineup, they often produce some creative new styles.  A long standing Denver institution, My Brother’s Bar (home of the Ralphie buffalo burger), the REI flagship store and Wilderness Exchange are all within a few blocks which can make this an afternoon bored-with-the-meeting excursion.  A small brewer that has made a big name for itself is River North Brewery; their specialty is barrel conditioned ales which to the glass are excellent.  Do the tasting flight to get the full range of options.  In the same neighborhood Epic Brewing Company (actually based out of Salt Lake City) is big and noisy but has plenty of tasty beer.  For those who like their beers sour, the Crooked Stave is the place to go.  For those with a desire for German style lagers, Proust Brewing will take good care of you.  These are my usual haunts; for more suggestions and reviews go to the Denver Post Beer Blog which has been running for several years.

Colorado has also become one of the hotspots for artisanal distilling (yes, some of us are sober some of the time) but I’ll mention only one.  Leopold Brothers produces an interesting line of whisky, gin, vodka and various cordials.  If you’ve got three hours and your Uber app, they do a great three hour tour and tasting.

Onto the food; for lack of a better strategy, I’ll organize restaurants by neighborhood:

Lower Downtown (LoDo): walking, biking, short hop from Convention Center

Any of the James Beard awarded restaurants by Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch will make you happy.  Their two flagship concepts, both in Larimer Square (two blocks from the convention center) are the Spanish inspired Rioja and the classic French joint, Bistro Vendome, across the street from one another.  Around the corner is their upscale pub, Euclid Hall with a great mix of local and imported beer and not-your-average pub fare.  A little further afield, but still within walking distance is their take on fish, Stoic and Genuine in Union Station.  If you’re in that neighborhood, or love books, be sure to drop into the Tattered Cover, a highly successful and widely known independent bookstore that evokes passionate loyalty among its many supporters (great coffee too).  Also in this area is the newly revitalized Union Station which is a beautiful example of urban renewal and in-fill.

Larimer Square has a host of eateries but I’ll just quickly mention a couple: The Market Deli is a locally owned institution and a great place for a quick breakfast or lunch (check out the salads) and fine coffee; everything is baked in house and their pastries are huge.  Osteria Marco is Italian inspired with good salads, charcuterie and pizza; Tamayo is upscale, modern Mexican with a huge tequila list.

Tucked into a former warehouse district (most of which have been knocked down) you’ll find Domo which serves Japanese country fare and is consistently good.  Their specialty is the wide range of noodle dishes from the Japanese tradition, with seasonal features.

THE HIGHLANDS

Little manA former working class, ethnic neighborhood that has felt the full brunt of gentrification over the last 20 years or so but in consequence has some excellent restaurants.  An early entrant and current mainstay in the neighborhood is Z Cuisine and the next door absinthe bar A Coté.  This is a classic French bistro space, intimate (read, tiny) with a beautiful menu.  A key point: this is not the place to go if you’re in a hurry; they don’t take reservations for parties of fewer than 6 so the routine is to wait (or eat) in the bar until a table opens up.  Two sister restaurants, Root Down, and Linger both feature locally sourced ingredients and innovative menus.  For those interested in “nose to tail” farmhouse cuisine, Old Major is worth a visit—they do all their processing in-house and occasionally feature a pig to pork workshop.  If ice cream helps you get up in the morning, you’ll want to make a stop at Little Man Ice Cream; you can’t miss it; just look for the 28 foot tall cream can…

RIVER NORTH

This mixed warehouse, light manufacturing district is a rapidly urbanizing mix of upscale condo housing, apartments and conversions with the funkiness of a transitional neighborhood, and, of course, a lot of interesting food.  Two restaurants back to back to one Cart Driveranother and always packed are Cart Driver Pizza and Work and Class.  Again, both tend to be noisy and crowded so don’t go if you have serious business to conduct or you’re in a hurry; if neither of those apply, it won’t be time wasted.  If you find yourself at the Crooked Stave for a beer, two restaurants in the same building are worth the effort: Acorn is a small/shared plate place featuring highly creative (but expensive) dishes.  The other option in this space is Comida serves reasonably priced, updated “Mexican street food.”

Not neighborhood specific but fine eating places within 5-10 minutes of the convention center and well worth considering include Satchels on Sixth, Beast and Bottle (nice wine list), and Charcoal; all offer interesting creative menus.  WaterCourse Foods is Denver’s flagship vegan restaurant; you won’t find anything here that pretends to be meat; flavors are unique and you won’t leave hungry; great juice bar.

The Mercury Café is a Denver institution serving locally raised, organic food in a community setting.  There’s almost always somethin’ happenin’ at The Merc—poetry reading, live music, dance…

SAME (So All May Eat) Café is a pay what you can/will with a different menu daily, depending on what’s available—soul satisfying food prepared in a social justice practice.

Three neighborhood restaurants twenty minutes or so from downtown but absolutely worth the trek are Bistro Barbès which is a north African/French inspired place (very small and very popular so make reservations well in advance); The Plimoth is another neighborhood restaurant that is generally reserved full 2-3 weeks out, because it’s really good.

There are dozens of lunch joints, both local and chain, within blocks of the meetings: the 16th Street Mall, Larimer, Market, Blake and Curtis Streets are rich with options as is Writers Square and the Tabor Center.  Although November is not the best season, Denver hosts a lot of food trucks (http://roaminghunger.com/den/vendors/; http://foodtruckrow.com/) though they are not always obvious downtown.

1 Comment

Filed under AAA 2015 Denver, anthropology of food, restaurants