21 E. Kiowa St., 473-8105, yoomae.com
Yoo Mae owner/chef JJ Kim is known for his adventurous qualities, with rolls named for states, cars and countries alike. When I visit, he's sharing monkfish liver, a traditional winter dish in Japan. Dubbed "foie gras of the sea," it's powerfully fishy with a smooth, dense texture. Sadly, it won't see the menu any time soon. Instead, whet your appetite with steamed shumai ($3.99/six), toothsome, sweet little dumplings full of shrimp.
Of course, Yoo Mae still does the standards well. While a California roll ($5.25) is a California roll, this one comes packed generously and is good for the price. The tempura calamari roll ($6.99) sports big pieces of tender squid in a crunchy coating. And for the fish-phobes, the katsu ($13.99) is no slouch. The pounded-flat chicken cutlet, fried in panko, gets a needed refreshing from its vinegar-based sauce, plated alongside julienned cabbage, rich Japanese mayo and rice. — GS
2332 W. Colorado Ave., 520-9900, cucurucafe.net
My highlight moment at Cucuru, the funky artsy coffee and boozy cafe, comes at dessert, when I'm for no reason inspired to dunk my Cucuroon ($3, actually just a fine, chewy coconut macaroon bought from La Sinaloense or Nana's Bakery) into my Cuban coffee ($3.65), a sweet construct of brown sugar steamed into half 'n half added to two shots of excellent High Rise espresso.
Owner Guillermo Alvarado seats us, pushing the day's prime-grade top sirloin/pesto sandwich special ($9.25) hard, disappearing for long stints but otherwise offering highly affable service. The sandwich mostly lives up with a thin layer of tender meat topped in avocado and a cheese cap melted by a panini press, while a very basic chicken quesadilla fails to justify a $10.25 cost. A decent corn chowder (also steep at $5/cup) bests the house green chile ($4/cup), which bears ample pepper bite and generous meat cubes but a watery broth that lacks a finishing roundness. — MS
84 CO-185, Palmer Lake, 488-2007, speedtrapbistro.com
Don't make my mistake and walk into Speedtrap expecting a limited pastry cabinet and Starbucks-plus cappuccino. This petite eatery, all too easy to miss, is a bitchin' bistro with a full bar and a Montreal-informed palate.
Coffee first: Serrano's espresso-roast beans form the basis for a cappuccino ($3.25/12 oz.), mostly well-executed but a skosh heavy on the milk. The Epinards Cheddar crêpe ($8.95) is cooked beautifully, with maple syrup and black pepper singing perfect harmony with sharp cheddar and bright spinach. If that's not enough, the side Speedtrap Salad still works with maple vinaigrette and bacon singing "O Canada" loud and proud in my mouth. The filling pair almost made my sweet potato bisque ($3.95/cup) feel like gluttonous excess. Said soup boasts velvety smooth texture and an impressive depth of flavor thanks to ginger and dark rum. — GS