Monthly Archives: May 2013

Jill’s at the St. Julien is a Happy Hour Lover’s Dream

Restaurants in upscale hotels are often overlooked by locals as an option when going out for a nice dining experience. We actively seek them out, because we’ve come to learn – especially in the suburbs – that’s where you can usually get great atmosphere and a good meal. Beyond the suburbs, in Boulder, we discovered Jill’s at the St. Julien years ago just after the hotel opened and we were looking for a place to start a new Christmas Eve tradition. We knew a good hotel would be decked out in all the holiday regalia we needed to get ourselves in the holiday spirit. We’ve been doing Christmas Eve there ever since. The St. Julien represents everything we love about casual elegance, which is usually how Colorado does elegance. Pretty, yet approachable furnishings, warm, professional and attentive service without overbearance, good food quality and selection.

Not only do we go to Jill’s every Christmas Eve, but we often take family and friends from out of town there for dinner, and we ourselves go to their Happy Hour at least once a month. We’ve had many great meals there, but for this, I’m focusing on Happy Hour. We’re early eaters and robust Happy Hours are perfect for us because while we typically have a drink or two, we’re there for the food foremost. Jill’s Happy Hour goes from 4:30 – 6p and their menu is one of the most extensive and high quality we’ve ever seen. All the food is 1/2 off. There’s everything from Tuna Tartare [$9.95] and Curry Coconut Steamed Mussels [$9.95] to Rigatoni Bolognese [$16.95] and Steak au Poivre [$29.95]. In between, there’s charcuterie, salads, sandwiches and pizzas. All told, there are 20 items on the Happy Hour Menu. 20. The service is always consistently good and the Bistro area [really, the bar], has a handful of tables seating both two and four, as well as a lounge area with couch and chairs.

On this visit, we ordered the seasonal brew [$3.] and Mauritson Red Zinfandel [$11.], the bistro tots [$7.95], iceberg wedge [$8.95], saint burger [$13.95], rigatoni bolognese [$16.95] and the chocolate almond cake [$6.95]. Everything but the drinks and dessert was 1/2 off, so we got $48. worth of food, for a mere $24. We list the bistro tots on our ‘Things that will change your life for the better’ page. These warrant the honor. Slightly crunchy outside and pillowy soft inside, with a truffle aioli – they are truly incredible bites of food. The iceberg wedge is run of the mill, and fatiguing to see on so many restaurant menus, but my husband is a fan, and it’s consistent with what I expect from an iceberg wedge. Blue cheese crumbles, diced tomato, bits of bacon, blue cheese dressing. The saint burger is a production. Roasted poblano chili, tomato, capicola, cheddar cheese, balsamic onions, chipotle aioli. I pared it down to just the tomato, balsamic onions and aioli. That’s enough of a burger production for me. The rest would have overwhelmed the flavor, I think, and is an example of a chef taking things too far. The burger was cooked perfectly and while not the best burger I’ve ever had, respectable. My husband gets the rigatoni bolognese here every time. This time, he declared it’s in his top five dishes of all time. This is a big proclamation and one he doesn’t make lightly. It’s an Italian sausage bolognese and the sausage has been lovingly cooked inside the sauce, infusing it with rich sausage flavor while rendering the sauce almost pink. The rigatoni is cooked as all pasta should be – al dente – and the flavor is deeply satisfying. The chocolate almond cake comes out plated as though entering a competition for Best in Show. Thin slices of strawberries standing at attention on either side of the cake, drizzles of raspberry sauce and the star of the plate, a dense cake that tastes more almond than chocolate [which was just fine with us]. $55. all-in with tip. An incredible deal in a lovely environment.


Restaurant Kevin Taylor Is Theater

Restaurant Kevin Taylor, in the chic Hotel Teatro, is a feast for the senses. The stunning aesthetics in the space design, and on the plate, are no less than theater. Our group was treated to tastes ranging from lamb and lobster to salmon and bison, so I got to experience a wide and exciting range.

Foie Gras Mousse
Amaretti socca cracker, turnip marmalade, miso gastrique
This was a fun beginning. The cracker was more the vehicle, than anything, but I can appreciate the effort that went into making an amaretti cracker. I can imagine how great these would be alone, to dip into wine before dinner. Foie gras, on any vehicle, is a luxury and speaks for itself.

Lamb & Eucalyptus Soup
Lime, pine nuts, EVOO
Some people like sourness in their food, and sour beers have become a hit with many of our Colorado craft brewers, but I’m not a fan of sourness [in food, beer or life!]. The prevailing taste here was that. Still, I was thrilled to see eucalyptus as an ingredient. I find that choice inspiring and inventive.

Lobster Tartare
Endive, mustard seed, blood orange, basil horseradish
This was the standout. A crispy, fresh, pliable leaf of endive, filled to the brim with lobster tartare. It was clean and fresh, and with the spice of both the horseradish and mustard seed, made for a beautiful bite of food. One of my favorites from all the bites I’ve had this year so far.

Scottish Salmon Rillettes
Sweet potato cake, buckwheat granola, apple, earl grey compote
This was also a fun dish. The potato cake was crispy, and the blend of flavors, perfect. I like the idea of a tea compote, though it didn’t have that strong, distinctive taste of Earl Grey tea. Perhaps the flavor mellows as you cook it, which I’m grateful for, since I find it too strong for my taste. It’s a polarizing flavor – like cilantro or horseradish – you either love or don’t. The apple was a bright surprise, and I love when something cooked is paired with something fresh like that.

Braised Bison Short Rib
Cumin, olive beet radish, prune puree
Most of us don’t think of prunes as elevating anything, much less braised bison, but the prune puree here was the highlight of this dish and definitely took it over the top. The bison itself was tender enough to not need a knife. It could have done without the olive beet radish; it wasn’t so much a distraction, as it was unnecessary.

Peanut butter powder, burnt caramel, nougat
This bite of delight came enrobed in chocolate, with more of a mousse center, than a nougat. The flavors were completely reminiscent of the traditional Snickers bar and I can see why this is their top selling dessert.

All of the food was accompanied by thoughtful drinks: gin and limoncello, bloody mary, whiskey and cucumber, rye whiskey and root beer and a chocolate martini with godiva liquer. Each pairing was well chosen, though the whiskeys I felt too strong to have with food. I see them more as a pre or after dinner drink, but I know many people who strongly feel otherwise. Wine is always my go to with this kind of upscale food. Still, it was fun to be treated to new tastes in drinks I otherwise wouldn’t have chosen for myself.

There’s a reason Restaurant Kevin Taylor has been awarded the AAA Four Diamond Award for 8 consecutive years.
It’s a true gem [pardon the pun] and theater you get to eat.

The Brown Palace Tea: A Classic Experience of Graciousness and True Hospitality

[Written in Summer of 2012]
The Queen of England celebrates 6o years on the throne this week – the Jubilee of her Queendom. I could think of no more fitting way to celebrate than to go for High Tea at the Brown Palace with a friend. In our emails back and forth trying to decide the exact date and time, we called it T @ the BP. I guess we were trying to hip up what is such a formal and traditional experience. We each put on our Tea Best and headed downtown. Known as the Western White House, from the days Dwight Eisenhower used it as this, and having hosted every President except two since Teddy Roosevelt, they have service honed to an art form. The entire experience – from the moment you arrive at the valet*, to the moment your car is brought around for you – is elegant and polished. There are people available at every step to attend to your needs, and that alone is a wonderful luxury. When walking in to the main lobby – where the tea is hosted – there is live piano or harp music and that sets the tone [literally] for an enjoyable, soothing experience.

We sat down to a table laden with visual delight – fresh flowers, true silverware, cloth tea napkins, a silver bowl of sugar cubes, a small silver pitcher of cream. We ordered the basic tea [$31.; you can upgrade adding kir royales or champagne] which comes with your own individual pot of tea [gracefully embossed with the Brown Palace logo of course], full-size scones, tea sandwiches and mini pastries. We were greeted by our server just moments after being seated and he asked if we’d been to tea there before. I said I had and my friend hadn’t, but we knew what we were going to order. This is a gracious way to welcome people, and a clarifying opening to understand whether there’s a need to explain the drill. It also relieves the server and customer[s] from having to sit through an explanation if one isn’t needed. I ordered the Darjeeling – which we were told is considered the Champagne of teas [fun fact] – and my friend ordered the Earl Grey – which he said is the Queen’s choice [fitting, since we were there Jubilee-style]. The flavors of the sandwiches are distinct and satisfying – like the curried egg salad on crustless white bread, and ham with apricot cream cheese on crustless wheat. Plain and poppyseed scones with Devonshire cream imported from England, and a varied selection of mini pastries, make for a filling “meal” and if you have any leftovers [which is unlikely since they’re so good], you can take them home with you. Also, you are often offered – or can request – a second plate of tea sandwiches at no additional charge.

Our service was well paced, with both our server and the tearoom manager checking in on us, as well as another server coming around regularly to refill our teapots with fresh hot water. I was in good company, sharing a meaningful conversation and laughs with my friend [as in all areas of life, who you bring with you to the table matters greatly]. It’s a civilized experience to be in such a lovely environment, adding sugar cubes to your tea with silver tongs, drinking from a delicate china cup and gently resting it back on its saucer. In our harried and frenetic world, it’s a reminder of the joy and calming influence of graciousness and true hospitality.

*I’m a big believer in valet parking wherever it is offered. It’s an avoidance of hassle and irritation [especially trying to park downtown], that I feel is worth it, whatever the cost.

An Ode to Craft Beer, With Special Focus on [Ode]ll

It is a grace of the geographic gods that we live in Colorado and have direct and immediate access to the quality of craft brewing we do. Led by Wynkoop Brewing in 1988, one by one new craft brewers have come on the scene upholding an already high standard, while pushing the hops and barley to new levels of greatness. On the heels of Wynkoop, came Odell and on their heels, New Belgium [first wind-powered brewery in the U.S.]. Other feathers in Colorado’s beer cap include Oskar Blues, Avery, Breckenridge, Left Hand and Upslope. I told you we were spoiled.

Odell has grown to a 45,000 square feet facility, that produces 45,000 barrels of beer each year [a tidy barrel per s.f.] and they also have a large tap room in which to taste their beers – ones commercially available, and ones only available on-site. We ordered two samplers – each with 6 different 3 oz. pours – the Classic [$4.] and the Co-Pilot [$8.]. The value of all sampler purchases is donated to charities in the area, and that feels good. The Classic has all the usual Odell suspects: 90 Shilling [hubs’ go-to favorite], Easy Street, Levity [my go-to favorite], 5 Barrel, Cutthroat Porter and IPA. The Co-Pilot has richer beers including the Hiveranno [American Wild Ale] and my favorite of the day’s tastings, the Mash of the Titan, made with 65% dark chocolate, cocoa nibs, vanilla and coffee. Between the two flights, ABV, or alcohol by volume, ranges from 4.6% in the Easy Street to 9.5% in the Hiveranno. They have snacks on hand for purchase, because it’s a good idea. Focusing on Colorado produced snacks, and more locally, Fort Collins produced, we had Roberto’s Peach Salsa and chips [$7.50; Ft. Collins], Olomomo Nut Company Cherry Vanilla Cream Almonds [$3.50; Boulder] and Nita Crisps [$3.00; Ft. Collins].

The support of craft brewing is a state of mind, part of a lifestyle. It’s interesting to read the story of a business [studies show this to be the most visited page on business websites] and with craft beers, it’s ever more interesting to be told the story of each beer – what inspired it, what it’s made from. Just to see the font on Odell’s packaging puts you in a certain mood – playful, open-minded, creative – and was designed by their ad agency out of Bend, Oregon. No staid Times New Roman or boring Arial here. Each label is a piece of art and inspires by its sheer uniqueness. In the tap room, there are canvases painted for each of the classic beers, which is a nod to the artisanal, creative quality of what goes on there. It’s a big bonus to know most of our craft breweries also embrace environmental stewardship, social and cultural change, fiscal responsibility, transparency and just good ‘ol fun. Oh yes, and the beers are fantastic too.

Traveling to Asia, Without Leaving Denver at ChoLon

I’m not into hype. It must be the Taurus in me, but I like things to be solid, steady and reliable, including restaurants [a need in the restaurant world that’s not always fulfilled, but one I still hope for]. I, like everyone, had heard – for close to two years – the immense buzz about ChoLon, and Chef Lon Symensma. Having sustained for a couple of years, and people I respect in the Denver food world having such high praise for what was going on there day in and day out, it was time for a visit.

The atmosphere is elegant and chic. Though it’s an Asian restaurant, it doesn’t smack of Asian decor – just some carefully selected pieces placed throughout the space to nod to it. It’s one of the most sophisticated restaurant interiors in Denver, to be sure. A masterpiece of a bar – almost a foot thick – made from gorgeous walnut wood, makes you want to belly up to it, which is exactly what we did. Bottles of a special Asian liquor frame the bar. Known to cause hallucinations from the combined venom – with actual cobras and scorpions inside – they were simultaneously cool and disturbing.

So many chefs move to New York City, but in Chef Lon’s case, he chose to move to Denver from New York City, where he had already established himself as a force to be reckoned with – which is no small accomplishment in such an intensely competitive food city.

Lucky, lucky us.

Soup Dumplings, Sweet Onion, Gruyere
We started with the soup dumplings, which blew us away. A favorite soup of ours – French onion – miraculously and skillfully enclosed in a dumpling. What? I placed this morsel of delight into my mouth and the soft, but substantial outer texture gave way to a small river of soup. I’ve never had anything like it and the flavor combined with the packaging, was such a joy to eat.

Pot Stickers, Pork, Ginger Mustard
We went on to the pork pot stickers. I’ve mentioned before that any good food lover and cook knows brown = flavor. These were beautifully browned with a traditional pork filling and an unexpected combination in the dipping sauce of ginger and mustard, which for mustard-lovers like me, was perfect.

Summer Rolls, Crab Salad, Sriracha Mayo
After the hot beginnings, it was nice to move to something cool and the crab summer rolls were fresh and flavorful. Shredded crab and crunchy vegetables wrapped in thinner-than-paper rice paper, these were substantial bites of food. The sriracha mayo for dipping was creamy and a beautiful swipe of color on the plate.

Kaya Toast, Coconut Jam, Egg Cloud
For us, the most stunning dish of the meal was the kaya toast with coconut jam and egg cloud. The description alone was enough for us to order it, feeling simultaneously excited, while slightly nervous. A nervous excitement, I guess you could say. Out came little toasts spread with a layer of coconut jam you then dip into a bowl of hot egg cloud. The closest I can get to for a description – and even this doesn’t do the dish justice – is french toast of the highest order, without the maple-y flavor. In its place a balanced sweetness in the coconut jam against the peppery egginess of the egg cloud. Stratospheric, as I’m coming to learn can be expected of all of Chef Lon’s food. Please, do yourself a favor and just order it.

Angus Burger, 63º Egg, Korean Onions, French Fries
We just had to get the angus burger. A 63* egg [to be precise!] was a great complement. I love eggs on burgers. There’s just something about that rich and runny yolk descending upon the meat and plate that makes me happy. A side of fries and it’s classic and unexpected in an Asian restaurant of this quality, but comforting and pleasing and makes the place all the more approachable.

What Would The World Be Without Restaurants?

What would our cities be?

What would our communities be?

Denver and Boulder have become powerhouses in terms of the quality of restaurant experiences and chefs we now boast. Contrast that to 1994, when my husband and I arrived in Denver from New York City and couldn’t even find a decent loaf of bread. Ironically, that same year, the Denver Bread Company opened, and now, we can buy bread directly from the same place that supplies some of the best restaurants in the area. If you’ve ever had their bread, you understand how big of a deal this is. Not to mention, they’ve been named in both Food & Wine and bon appetit as one of the best bakeries in the country. But, we digress.

This area of Colorado has become a food lover’s paradise, and with an incredible lifestyle and more than 300 days of sunshine each year, we’re able to attract some of the best food talent out there. Chef Lon Symensma, of the fantastic ChoLon [in our top 3 favorites in Denver], had his pick of anywhere in the country to build his vision for a modern Asian bistro, and thankfully [thankfully!], he chose Denver. Even Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes was a ski [really, snowboard] bum in Vail for a while, while working as a pastry chef at one of our resorts. Also, many people don’t know this, but Robert Redford worked as a janitor at The Sink in Boulder, while on baseball scholarship at the University of Colorado! Even he was part of our food landscape and history, and every job is an honorable one, to keep our restaurants humming.

We’re proud to be a part of it.

Check back because we’ll continue to tell you what is great here and brag on the extraordinary food scene that has emerged in this area.

Now, get out there and eat!

“…the waiters carried themselves with a quiet joy, as if their entire mission in life was to make their customers feel comfortable and well tended.”
― Julia Child, My Life in France

A Love Letter to LeGrand

There’s not much more you need to do than offer up incredible French food in an incredible French-inspired environment, which you do incredibly.
I would still like you a lot, and probably date you.
But, you do so much more than that.
You’re well mannered and communicate openly and graciously on social media.
You show your easy generosity and authentic welcome and hospitality.
And these things have made me fall in love with you.
Some of the others I’ve dated before, I wanted to love.
They’ve wined me and dined me.
But there was always something missing.
They talked about themselves too much.
Their egos were exhausting; their generosity, if present, felt forced.
I hope it doesn’t embarrass you that I want to shout my love for you from the rooftops [really, the Internet – but it’s no less passionate!].
I love you.
I really do.

Pizza Republica Wows.

Something really right is going on at Pizza Republica’s new location at the Convention Center. Actually, there are so many things going right, I’ll do my best to fit them all in one blog post. Sitting on an angle [smart!] at 14th and Champa – as it’s said, location is everything – they have themselves some exceptional restaurant real estate.

The thoughtful and masterful design of the space put me immediately at ease. With 5000 square feet and 160 seats [plus another 4000 sf and 100 patio seats], it could easily feel cavernous and sterile, but it feels just the opposite. Cozy. Warm. Welcoming. Considerate details, like a ledge added to the back of the large, high-backed entry bench, allow for those standing in the bar to have somewhere to put their drink when the rest of the tables are full. It’s design decisions like this – ones that truly consider the comfort of guests and not showiness – that get my attention.

The food. The food! I had the privilege of hearing directly from George Eder, Executive Chef and Owner, about choices made in dishes that set them apart in presentation and flavor, while staying true to tastes we’ve come to expect and crave in Italian food. This is a man who sincerely cares about the quality of ingredients he puts on the plate, with a commitment to local, seasonal and organic. Mozarella and buratta are made in house and the pure, clean taste of both trumpets this. Chioggia beets – with their beautiful concentric stripes – are sliced in 4″ rounds, making a pretty presentation on the plate for the Braised Beet Salad. Along with red and golden beets, goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and kale sliced in wide, tagliatelle-like ribbons, this is one stunning salad. Known for their wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, San Marzano tomato is the base for the red pizzas. This is a prized ingredient, but like anything, can overwhelm if too much is used. Thankfully, a deft hand is applied for the margherita pizza – appreciated, so the wonderful flavors of mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and basil can shine. The porchetta sandwich on housemade bread is a pork lover’s dream and was a highlight. Sided with au jus for dipping, this is a not-to-be-missed dish.

The meatballs get their own paragraph. The size of baseballs – and we all know there’s nothing more disappointing than a too-small meatball – the flavor was outstanding, but it was the marinara that stood out. As an Italian, I have three criteria I go by to determine the legit status of an Italian place: house red wine [you should be proud of the red wine you put the house’s name on and a watery red just won’t do], bread [I could write a book on the importance of good bread] and the marinara sauce. Pizza Republica’s marinara is not the typical red, but rather a deep burnt sienna. Just by looking at it, I knew something special was going on, and then I tasted it. Amazing. It took me a while to try and guess the secret ingredient, when George finally shared it. Cinnamon! Such a warmth and depth of flavor this adds and also explains the color. I’m already craving more.

Desserts came to the table in a triumvirate of delight. Tiramisu, chocolate ravioli [!] and lemon cheesecake with pistachio crust [there is a God]. Too many tiramisus are laden with alcohol, which interrupts the balanced flavors and makes them unpleasantly soggy. The cream can also easily go wrong and I’ve tasted many a bland cream or too-sweet cream, which are equal food crimes. Pizza Republica’s is perfectly balanced in all its flavors and the heavy sprinkling of cinnamon on top made me smile – having now gotten it in both a savory and sweet application. I think the two words – chocolate ravioli – speak for themselves. Just get some. And the lemon cheesecake was light and airy – with a subtle lemon flavor and creative crust that makes is seriously special.

I also appreciate their generous hours, since I’m often looking for a great meal mid-afternoon, only to find most places closed between 2-5p. An extended lunch from 11a – 3:30p, and early dinner service beginning at 3:30p, make this the perfect choice anytime.

I’m a raving fan and my admitted Italian bias has nothing to do with it. Pizza Republica stands soundly on its own.

Things That Will Change Your Life For The Better

In no particular order of life-enhancing delight:

The Kale Salad at Oak at Fourteenth. This is like no salad you’ve ever had. Ribbons of kale, slivers of red apple, togarashi, candied nuts. The lightest dressing and not overdressed, as sadly many salads are. An absolute must eat. 

The Sabroso sandwich at Spuntino.  Roasted sweet potatoes [on a sandwich! yes!] on housemade focaccia, with Haystack Mountain goat cheese, carmelized onions and organic sprouts [opted out on these].  It’s like no other sandwich you’ve ever had, but somehow familar and comforting too.

The S’more at The Bitter Bar in Boulder.  Cinnamon sugar graham crackers with a toasted brown vanilla bean marshmallow and an oversized square of Agostoni chocolate from the Italian chocolatier.  A s’more by its very nature is delicious, even with the cheapest ingredients you can find.  But made with these high-quality ingredients, it gets taken to a level of s’more happiness you must experience.

The soup dumplings at ChoLon in Denver.  A favorite soup of ours – French onion – miraculously and skillfully enclosed in a dumpling.  What?  I placed this morsel of delight into my mouth and the soft, but substantial outer texture gave way to a small river of soup.  I’ve never had anything like it and the flavor combined with the packaging, is such a joy to eat.

The Rice Bowl on the lunch menu at TAG Raw Bar.  A glorious layer of black sesame seed studded, cooked right rice [white or brown], topped with avocado, edamame, pea shoots, cucumber, string beans and protein [chicken or 3 kinds of fish, including ahi] with sweet and savory truffled soy.

Cavolini di Bruxelles at Panzano.  Fried Brussels sprouts with apple cider reduction [making it more of a syrup than a vinegar], pistachios, rosemary salt and sliced green apple.  Who knew Brussels sprouts could be so exciting and delicious?

The Mexican Chocolate Pancakes on the brunch menu [Sundays only] at Comida Cantina.  Made with Oaxacan chocolate, topped with slivered almonds and chocolate pieces with a side of cinnamon chile butter and maple syrup – this dish alone is worth a Sunday drive to Longmont.

The chocolate truffle cake from all-natural, Indulge Bakery in Lafayette.  Words cannot describe…

Jill’s at the St. Julien’s Bistro Tots

You’ve never had a tot like this.  Lightly Crunchy outside, Pillowy-Soft inside + Truffle aioli = Amazement.

Chuao Chocolate (pronounced chew-WOW)

Especially the Spicy Maya chocolate bar.  Chew WOW is right.

The caramel-ganache tart at SALT in Boulder.  Sprinkled with flaky sea salt, this makes all the difference and a lot of sense at a place named SALT.

The black truffle sea salt, fine Himalayan sea salt, black garlic and dried Geranium flowers from Savory Spice Shop in Boulder.  We especially like mixing the black truffle sea salt into butter to use on pasta or toasted bread.

Early Bird Granola from Brooklyn.  The best granola we’ve ever had.  Hands-down.

The bouillabaisse at Brasserie Ten Ten in Boulder.  In a word, yum.

The Black Muscat dessert wine – in a can! – from Infinite Monkey Theorem.  A cool urban winery in Denver.

Anything at Fruition in Denver.

The 55% cocoa dark chocolate bar from Chocolove.  It’s a reverie.