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Like any food writer, I’m obsessed with word use as much as I’m obsessed with food. At least that’s the party line. I’ll never say if I actually favor one. Given the twofold infatuation, I was thrilled to see when I reviewed Gozo for last month’s issue that one convention Frank Jolley pulled from Northern California (where he lived before moving to Denver) was descriptive menu terms.
At the neighborhood trattoria on South Broadway, a clam pizza includes “burnt” spinach (pictured). Scallions for another pie are “charred.” The terms reminded me of a recent trip to California’s Bay Area, where menu items were described with a skosh more creativity than just “roasted,” “toasted,” or “braised.”
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During dinner at Kin Khao, a new-ish Thai temple in San Francisco, Brussels sprouts were “charred” and “blistered,” rice cakes were “crunchy,” and shallots were “burnt.” A tamarind and Sriracha glaze was listed as “pretty spicy.” The menu promised that a Kapi shrimp paste was a “funky, spicy, umami-bomb.” Pork belly was listed as “voluptuous.” Kin Khao’s Pim Techamuanvivit was, after all, a blogger before she became a restaurant owner. Later that same trip, lunch in Berkeley at Alice Waters’ distinguished Chez Panisse reminded me that the region has a long history with descriptive menus.
I’m not suggesting a return to the pedantic three-sentence narratives that gave some California eateries a name for being more precious than delicious. There is no need to list the soil type, farmer’s age, and distance from the sun for every last ingredient. But a particularly illustrative word describing a key ingredient is welcome, at Gozo and elsewhere.
Weigh In. At which Denver restaurants have you spotted creatively helpful menu descriptions?
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