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Swirl Wine Bar, The Overlook, Yakitori #5

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Swirl Wine Bar

717 Manitou Ave., #102, 685-2294,

Swirl's always shown swagger with unique bar offerings. Example: Our Sazerac ($12.50), the classic cocktail originally mixed with French brandy and Peychaud's Bitters, but later adapted for rye whiskey. At some point an absinthe rinse took hold, and Swirl uses Leopold Bros. for that aromatic step, but where it really personalizes the drink is with the substitution of Amaro (Italian liqueur) for the bittering element and Corsair Distillery's Ryemageddon Whiskey, whose chocolate rye malt gifts a roasted hint and lingering dark chocolate aftertaste. That bitterness harmonizes with the Amaro, balanced by simple syrup and lemon garnish. Excellent.

As is the roasted beet salad ($6) with citrus and cider acidity, onion bite and goat cheese smoothing. The salty artichoke-Manchego proscuitto wrap ($7) wins, too. And cheers for professionally handling that awkward hair-on-the-plate moment. (Yes, it happens, but all dishes exiting kitchens deserve scrutiny.)


The Overlook

6628A Delmonico Drive, 344-5522,

I subject my coworker to a blind taste-test: "Hot chocolate or mocha?" "Hot chocolate," he guesses. "No," I say. "Damn," he says. And that's the only real problem with my mocha ($4.15/16 ounces) — the espresso element's buried to the point of invisibility. Otherwise, it's a perfectly lovely hot chocolate, ordered with whole milk, in which Colorado Coffee Merchants product joins Ghirardelli chocolate powder for a lightly bitter (in that dark chocolate way) and faintly nutty finish.

A couple additional notes: Cost sensitivity aside for a 2-month-old business, the foam and flimsy plastic to-go ware could use upgrading to the sturdier paper with hard plastic tops. (My stick shift got slightly baptized.) And this former Coffee & Tea Zone location, despite its live music stage, has a challenge ahead to make it as a "coffee shop by day, nightclub after dark," since it's all-ages with no booze served. I'm reminded of the former Acoustic Coffee Lounge on Centennial Boulevard.


Yakitori #5 & Thai Kitchen by Naya

6626 Delmonico Drive, 265-9168,

It's cold outside but the front door's propped open, overwhelming the tiny space heater. At around 1 p.m. I have the dining room to myself, if you don't count two un-bussed tables of food scraps and stained and dirty tablecloths everywhere. I sit and eat among someone's crumbs with only the eponymous chef as staff.

Naya's out of the spicy chili salmon, so I instead get the day's special, spring rolls ($3.95), plus a young coconut ($3) with a straw and spoon, and the spicy Thai basil fried rice ($7.95). The natural drink finishes with an ephemeral cinnamon hint (island terroir?), and the rolls are crunchy and fresh but for black-edged basil, still fragrant though on its way out. The accompanying warmed peanut dip is divine. A tiny chicken bone fragment amid the rice almost cracks my tooth, and 4 out of 5 on the heat scale proves benign, but otherwise, egg, poultry hunks, crisp green beans and more basil (this time many stems) work out just fine in the toasty grain pile.

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