Since we're such foodies, people think Erin and I eat out all the time. But the fact is, we cook a lot at home too. Last night, f'rinstance, I grilled chicken breasts rubbed with homemade spinach pesto, served with Caesar salad with homemade dressing (Erin makes the BEST Caesar dressing) and wild grain rice, drizzled with homemade Argentinian Chimichurri sauce.
OK, so it ain't Asian. We cook a lot of Asian dishes too, not just Japanese but also Korean and Indian and Chinese. We often start with recipes but hardly ever stay true to those recipes. We tweak and customize everything -- mostly, we add a lot more garlic than the recipe requires.
Now we have another source for Asian recipes: Asian Supper.
Erin and I have always been wistfully jealous of our friends in Los Angeles and San Francisco, for lots of reasons but not least the fact that they can eat killer ramen any night of the week. We have our fave ramen-yas in both San Francisco's Japantown and LA's Little Tokyo ("ya" means "shop"). There's also great ramen to be had on the East Coast -- I've slurped up wonderful noodles and steamy broth in New York City's funky little "Japantown" district on the lower East side
In Denver, for many years we had only one ramen-ya: Oshima Ramen, which was good (albeit pricey) when it opened about a decade ago, and has over the past few years become increasingly dirtier and greasier, and the ramen less special and more bland. As it went downhill, it gave us less and less reason to drive all the way across town for a sad bowl of noodles. Some people (including some food critics who don't know better) think it's "the real thing" but uh, sorry.
So Erin and I have made it a holy mission to find good ramen without flying to the coast, and some brave Japanese restaurants have met the challenge just in the past year or so.
The best we've found in the area is Okole Maluna, a Hawai'ian restaurant an hour north of Denver in the tiny eastern plains town of Windsor, whose owners serve a killer Saimin (Hawai'ian-style ramen). There's a very good, very authentic ramen served in a little take-out food court in Boulder called Bento Zanmai. Although it'a a bit unorthodox, the miso-ginger ramen served at the late Hisashi â€œBrianâ€ Takimoto's East Colfax restaurant, Taki's, is very good. And now, even the fast-foody Kokoro is serving ramen (but at only one location, on 6th and Broadway, and only after 4 pm). We keep hearing about a Korean-run Japanese restaurant in Longmont that we haven't made it to. But as you can see, we're willing to drive for a good bowl of ramen, so we'll get there eventually.
Imagine our surprise, then, to find that there's been a veritable explosion of ramen happening right under our nose (is that a triple mixed metaphor?) -- and that it's not ramen made by Asians!
Pho has evolved over the years, from its invention in 1920s Hanoi to its popularity in the U.S. today. When the soup, with rice noodles and meats served in a hearty broth, first arrived in the stateside, the restaurants catered to mostly Vietnamese diners, like an exclusive club. As non-Vietnamese discovered pho, the restaurants became more inviting, and the diners more diverse.
When we first started going to pho restaurants, we weren't always treated very warmly, because we were outsiders -- clearly not Vietnamese. These days, pho restaurants have evolved. We're welcomed as regulars at our favorite neighborhood pho spot, Pho 78, and all sorts of folks enjoy pho. Even Denver, not exactly known as an Asian American mecca, has dozens of pho restaurants, many with the odd names including nonsensical numbers.
Pho-Yo! is the next evolution. When you step in you might not even think it looks and feels like a typical, funky family-run pho restaurant.
The difference starts with the menu: itâ€™s an Asianfusion combo of the popular Vietnamese noodle soup, pho, and the popular dessert, frozen yogurt.
Since the fastest-growing population in the United States is mixed-race and we live in an increasingly global and multicultural world, it makes perfect sense that a restaurant like Boa on West 32nd would open, and serve a mashup of Mexican and various Asian cuisines.
Erin and I got to sample some of Boa's cooking recently, when we were asked by Asian Avenue magazine to write up one of their 'Restaurant Peek" features on the eatery. We met photographer ace Brandon Iwamoto there and tasted the food and spoke with the owners on an afternoon interrupted by a tornado warning and a twister curling down from the sky in the neighborhood (it never touched down).
Inside, the restaurant reflected none of the dark fury of the weather outside (except when the entire staff and all the customers ran out in the street to gape at the funnel cloud).
The small, comfy eatery is located in the heart of the bustling, hip Highlands business district off 32nd and Lowell, and welcomes passersby who look puzzled at the combination of Asian and Latin foods. When they give it a try, say the co-owners and chefs, Julie Villafana and Braydon Wong, they like it.
We drove an hour north from our house last night, to dine in Hawai'i.
Well, not exactly Hawai'i, but an outpost of Hawai'i, in the most unlikely place: On a quiet Main Street corner in Windsor, a typical small, old-fashioned mid-western town on the plains of northern Colorado. Definitely not a tropical paradise, although inside the clean modern restaurant, you might as well be along Oahu's North Shore, or somewhere in Kauai.
But Okole Maluna (Bottoms Up) isn't in the islands. The intimate restaurant is in Windsor.
Erin and I love Hawai'ian food and seek it out in the few places where it's available in Colorado. Most often, we find ourselves at L&L Hawai'ian Barbecue, a Hawai'i-based fast-food chain with a franchise in the eastern Denver suburb of Aurora. We think it's a bit pricey for what you get, as well as being entirely too generous with salt on everything they serve (maybe it's needed in hot humid Hawai'i, but our palates don't require so much sodium).
We've also tried 8 Island Hawai'ian BBQ in Boulder and were disappointed both by the food and the service -- especially when the staff made a bog deal of charging us 75 cents extra for a little dollop when we changed our mind on the kind of sauce we wanted on a dish. Come on, that's like charging for ketchup and mustard!
And more recently, we had a very fine meal for my mom's birthday at Iwayama Sushi and Da Big Kahuna Bistro, which is as known for its sushi as for its Island vittles.
Iwayama's fun, and closer. But I'd make the hour drive any day for the Kalua pork at Okole Maluna.
Its deep smoky flavor is tantalizing, and it's not overly salty (hooray). It's served with two mounds of rice (for the full portion), a side of creamy Hawai'ian macaroni salad, a little bowl of Lomi Lomi salmon, which is like pico de gallo with bits of salmon mixed in, and a little serving of haupia, a conconut custard.
In fact, overall, Okole Maluna is the best place in the state we've found for Hawai'ian food.