Epicurean Delight

Having grown up on a farm in the Midwest I certainly never heard the word “epicurean” in relation to food. We certainly had lots of meat in the form of chicken, beef, and pork. My mom was a rather disinterested cook, but I had a couple of aunts who lived nearby, and they devoted much more energy to cooking and baking in particular.

The real epicurean delight of my childhood though was going to a nearby drive-in owned and operated by a relative. The hamburgers, fries, and coke served mostly by high school girls and delivered right to the car were a bit exotic and so very delicious compared to our usual fare. The food was literally hung on a tray from the driver’s side window that was raised a couple of inches and would be distributed by my dad.  It was devoured in the car in a matter of minutes it seemed by a bunch of kids acting like they were starving, which of course we were not! This was fast food I guess but so much more delicious than anything concocted these days by Mcdonald’s, Burger King, or Wendy’s. It was certainly our version of an epicurean delight and something we got to indulge in only a few times in the summer. These outdoor drive-ins, at least the one we went to, were viable only in the warm months and eventually forced out of business by the travesty called McDonald’s.

These days, and a good sixty years later, my idea of really good food has a distinctive Asian bent. My favorite being Japanese though I am fond of many local Thai restaurants and a few Chinese establishments. What I consider to be the best Japanese food is often very simple and unadulterated. I do appreciate a delicate presentation of sashimi which sadly these days may come with my yearly allowance of mercury and some guilt associated with eating what was once a living creature. Fortunately, there are many wonderfully prepared vegetable dishes that I also very much enjoy, and I love the rice served in many Japanese establishments. Yes, I must confess I will often ask for the white rice rather than the brown. And nothing beats sipping a warm bowl of miso soup on a cold winter evening in anticipation of further epicurean delights to come.

As I have written about in the past for this group, I was introduced to Japanese food by a dear friend named Vern who passed a few years ago. I met Vern at the Gay Community Center on Lafayette Street in the late 70’s. He had served in the military in the 1950’s and was stationed in Japan where he came to appreciate and love Japanese food. He introduced me to my first Japanese food at a lower downtown restaurant in part of what is now called Lodo. The restaurant was called the Mandarin, which is a Chinese name. The Japanese population of Denver were all rounded up and sent to concentration camps during the second World War. The camps were located on the desolate prairie of Eastern Colorado. Upon release and return to Denver after the war to be associated with anything Japanese was apparently not thought to be wise and so the name Mandarin for this Japanese eatery. This was a restaurant I returned to many times and was able to expose my palate to many more Japanese dishes tip toeing into an appreciation for sushi and sashimi. Interestingly my friend Vern was never into raw fish most often ordering a deep-fried breaded pork tonkatsu his version of an Epicurean Delight. My favorite Japanese restaurant today is the Sushi Den on south Pearl. Their menu and hours are slowly recovering from the COVID nightmare. Though the menu is not as varied and extensive as pre-pandemic it is pretty damn good and can in my book still be called an epicurean delight.