Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Denver Passport – A Thing of Joy and Beauty [and cheese!]

This summer, a handful of groups got together to bring our city one of the best ideas it’s seen in a while: The Denver Passport. Good through 9.2.13 for 2/1’s at 56 cool spots around Denver, purchasing this – at the silly, in the best sense of the word, price of $10. – is the definition of a no brainer. Recently, a friend and I built our night out around it. We looked at the spots in the area of town we wanted to hang out in, and then made our list. I’d been to a few of these spots already, but a lot of the fun is to go to places you’ve never been [like when traveling with a real passport!], getting your stamps [in this case, badges of drinking honor], and experiencing our beloved city in an adventurous way, no matter how long or short a time you’ve lived here. For me, having been in Denver since 1994 – the whole idea of a Denver Passport excites me – offering a real and true sense of exploration of a place I think I already know extremely well. I can only hope there will be a Denver Passport for the restaurant scene coming soon.

Our night, and drinks, included:
al Lado : A glass of red, white or rose on tap [read: eco friendly too] [I had rose]
Zengo : Signature mojito
Our Mutual Friend : Any pint [I had the chocolate stout]
Infinite Monkey Theorem : A glass of wine on tap [Another rose and one of the best wines they’re producing at the moment!]
The Populist : Any specialty cocktail [I had the Bee’s Knees]

Just this one night more than paid for the passport, and I have 51 more drinks to go! And just for a happy extra bonus, though you may think the page is just an ad for Whole Foods, there’s a passport stamp page for a free log of Haystack Mountain goat cheese from the Cherry Creek Whole Foods. For a food – and cheese – lover like me – this was enough to put me over the joy edge.

We should throw them a parade to properly express our thanks: CO Bartenders Guild / Colorado Brewers Guild / Denver Off the Wagon / Drambuie / Eat Denver / Imbibe Denver / IndiCard / Mattehue / Red Rocks / Uber / Whole Foods

Learn more at denverpassport.com

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A Day In The Country Is Worth A Month In The City : Fruition Farms in Larkspur

Through FORK Social Lab, we took a group to Fruition Farms on Saturday, to experience a personal farm tour by Alex Seidel, a detailed cheese making demo by Jimmy Warren [cheese maker and shepherd], as well as a fabulous farm lunch. We were there a full 4 hours, and that time was filled with interesting information, stories and clear passion from both Alex and Jimmy. One of the restaurant’s chefs, along with an intern, came down to cook an exciting menu for us: Grilled Vegetable Salad with Quinoa, Pulled Pork Sliders, Potato Salad and Ricotta Cheesecake [made with their own ricotta, of course!] topped with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote and Pistachios. We enjoyed this beautiful meal sitting on hay bales under the sheltering shade of a tree.

Most people know Alex is the Executive Chef/Owner of Denver’s gem, Fruition Restaurant, and has another fun feather in his cap – he was chosen as Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef in 2010. He’d been cooking for 20 years at that point, so the recognition of Best NEW Chef isn’t exactly accurate; perhaps because of his own restaurant being just a few years old then, this was the reason for the new nod. Still, it’s an acknowledgment of his greatness – a greatness he is humble about, which makes him all the more great.

Fruition Farms is a dairy and creamery and Colorado’s first artisanal sheep one. Laid out on 10 acres in lovely Larkspur, they consider it a community farm – encouraging visits and events of all kinds – from field trips and farm dinners to wine with cheese tastings and weddings. There is a full circle relationship between the restaurant and farm; the kitchen scraps come down for the pigs; each chef spends 4 days at the restaurant and 1 day at the farm each week.

They produce 3 incredible cheeses at the moment: Ricotta, Cacio Pecora and Shepherd’s Halo – the latter two of which are trademarked! Ricotta was where they began, just 3 days after their initial flock of 40 milking ewes arrived. In their first year of production, the ricotta won a blue ribbon in the open category for sheep’s milk and mixed milk cheeses at the American Cheese Society Conference in Canada. I’ve tasted this cheese, and it is, without question, the best ricotta I’ve ever had. I used it in a lasagna recently, and it made the dish. The Cacio Pecora’s translation is sheep farmstead cheese. It’s a raw sheep’s milk, pressed into 6 pound wheels, with a minimum 6 month aging process – though Fruition Farms likes to age theirs between 9 months and a year. Similar in texture to a parmigiano reggiano, it’s beautiful grated on a plate of pasta, or in chunks with crackers and a glass of wine. The Shepherd’s Halo is a soft-ripened cheese, comparable to brie, aged for 21 days and lovely on a cheese plate.

The farm is also growing herbs, edible flowers and vegetables, including arugula and heirloom tomatoes, for use at the restaurant; they have a few hoop houses and a greenhouse where the chefs can lovingly snip and gather. They have a handful of Heritage pigs, and we got to meet the sheep, who are so adorable, I wanted to take one home. To hear a flock bleat, is an amazing sound I will never forget. Alex and Jimmy share a humane philosophy in raising these beautiful animals and respect their need for plenty of space and nutritious feed. They’re currently milking 54, with the goal of no more than 100, and building genetics as the flock grows.

Throughout the day, everyone in our group had faces glowing with gratitude for having the opportunity to get such an up close and personal look into the minds and hearts of both Alex and Jimmy and hear directly about their passion for continual learning, sustainability and what gets on the cheese plate and how. We were all deeply enriched and left with a fuller understanding of a day in the life of a dairy and creamery, the exciting rural goings-on that support a thriving urban restaurant, and an appreciation of two people’s complete dedication to their work.

Note: You can find Fruition Farms cheeses in Denver/Boulder at:
Cured
Marczyk’s Fine Foods
The Truffle Cheese Shop
And soon – at Fruition’s new outpost at the new Union Station project

La Casa Sena in Santa Fe is a Magical Place

We’ve been traveling to Taos and Santa Fe for 15 years now.
There is a magical, spiritual, creative pull to New Mexico, and if I’m away from it for too long, I start to get antsy.
Because we’ve adopted it as a second home, we’ve come to know and love a number of special places there.
One of those places is La Casa Sena.
Tucked away in a gorgeous courtyard off of Palace Avenue, blocks from the Plaza, just entering the courtyard puts you in a certain state of mind.
It’s calming, beautiful and relaxing.
There is abundant restaurant seating in the courtyard, but we always prefer to dine inside, which we did again on this visit.
It’s a white tablecloth place, even at lunch, and that makes it all the more special.
The interior is understated elegant – pretty light fixtures, fireplace, art [of course].
The highlight – no matter how good the meal is – is the blue corn muffins.
They’ve been making these since the first day the restaurant opened, 30 years ago.
The manager came to check on our table, and asked if we enjoyed the muffins.
I explained we did and should they ever decide to take them off the menu, there will be a protest and he could look for me to be leading it!
They’re that good.
La Casa Sena approaches their wine list in a smartly uncomplicated way.
All glasses are $10.; all bottles are $40.
I ordered a California Cabernet, which was perfectly robust, just sweet enough, and a lunchtime treat.
I started with a beet salad, which I thought would be all beets, but was actually large, voluptuous rounds of beets laying on a bed of arugula.
Shredded English cheddar and a light vinaigrette, were all the extras needed to make a fresh, satisfying start.
I ordered the Seafood Sampler this time – though seafood isn’t something I think of when thinking of Santa Fe food.
The menu description just sounded so good, and I’d had my fill of New Mexican food to that point.
The plate came with a round of seafood sausage, pinon crusted shrimp and ahi tuna slices.
It was a fun mix of flavors and textures.
If you’re a burger lover, they do a Green Chile Burger, that will change your life for the better.
Instead of dessert there, I stopped in the adjacent chocolate shop, for one of the best chocolate, sea salt topped caramel truffles I’ve ever had.
Sometimes [most of the time], I just want a little bite at the end of a meal, not a full plate of dessert.
This hit the sweet spot perfectly.
I’ll be back next year, for my 16th annual visit to this amazing town and this amazing restaurant.

The Power of Wine and A Kick Ass Sommelier

When I write about a restaurant, or dining experience of any kind, I’m usually focused on the food.
I’ll mention a special wine or craft beer I’m enjoying, for example, and generally what I drank, but for this post, I want to shine a grateful light on the wine program and sommelier, Kendra Anderson, at Pasta Vino in Boulder.
A friend and I went last night, lured by the incredible half off food and wine offer they had going [hard to say no to].
When we sat down and the server came over asking what we wanted to drink, giving a couple of wine suggestions, I could tell she was professional and knowledgeable, but naturally wanted Kendra to guide us through the wine list.
She’s coined the phrase [and hashtag!] Drink Pink – for her love of and faith in rose.
No matter what I’m eating, or where I’m dining, it’s usually a big red for me, but it’s a good reminder of the life lesson to leave certain things to the professionals.
She brought out an Infinite Monkey Theorem rose [one I didn’t even know they produce!], which she accurately described as Jolly Rancher Watermelon, and I could smell and taste exactly that.
The next was a lighter rose, beautifully blush pink, and equally good.
Next, Kendra asked us questions about preferences and told us stories of the backgrounds of the reds we were interested in.
Though our main dishes would have probably been better suited to a white or another rose, she was gracious about not shaming us, even in a subtle way, about our want for red.
She said any wine in the glass is a win for her!
We then tasted a couple of bold ones – one, a malbec-ish, which I liked, but didn’t love – and the other, a Super Tuscan.
Let me put it to you this way – when my friend took her first sip of the Super Tuscan, she said, “Oh Hell Yes!”, which says it all.
Two glasses of that, please.
And hurry.
While we were trying to be good girls on this weeknight, and stick to just one glass of red, we had a rowdy group sitting next to us – who in good form, and with apologies for their rowdiness – offered to buy us another glass.
The answer was yes.
Because to have answered no, to a second glass of one of the best red wines I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking [and trust me, I’ve had a lot of red wine in my time], would have been borderline insane.
I appreciated Kendra’s expertise in helping us navigate the options, but what I appreciated even more, was that she’d made a selection for the list that goes down in my wine drinking history as an all-time favorite.
To give a diner – and wine-lover – that kind of experience, is the mark of a true professional who knows their craft deeply.
We were there for quite a while – almost 3 hours, in fact – enjoying each other’s company, catching up and taking each course in an unhurried way – which in itself, is a great luxury.
That whole time, I would observe as Kendra worked the floor with her balanced assertiveness.
She’d consult on, present and pour bottles, but I also saw her carrying plates to tables, answering questions for fellow staff, and generally being a solid presence on the floor.
It was reinforced for me how important both the front and back of the house are to a great dining experience, and while we enjoyed our food and the aesthetics of the space, it was the wine and Kendra who took our evening to a level of grace and delight.

Why Restaurants Are Such A Vital Part Of Our Communities

I’ve laughed at a great joke at a restaurant.
I’ve nervously met my interviewer at a restaurant.
I’ve joyfully accepted a job at a restaurant.
I’ve held the hand of my love at a restaurant.
I’ve listened as a friend has told me about her painful divorce at a restaurant.
I’ve cried when a friend has told me something deeply hurtful about their history at a restaurant.
I’ve felt vulnerable as I’ve told a friend something deeply personal about my history at a restaurant.
I’ve celebrated a friend’s promotion at a restaurant.
I’ve celebrated a milestone birthday at a restaurant [and many others].
I’ve celebrated the birthdays of many friends at a restaurant.
I’ve been shocked by the telling of a story at a restaurant.
I’ve been touched by a compliment given to me at a restaurant.
I’ve been enriched by all the company I’ve kept at restaurants.

This is why restaurants are such vital* parts of our communities.
They are where we feel things.
Sometimes we dine alone, but more often, we’re with others, engaging them and participating in community.
As human beings, this is essential.
Sharing stories, experiences, laughter, tears, joy, shock.
They are the third place** – the necessary social spaces – as Ray Oldenburg outlined in his book, The Great Good Place.
Of course the food, drink and hospitality greatly matter as well, and we’ll only return to places where all three are satisfying to us, so we can feel comfortable having human experiences there, while being nourished in quality ways.

*The word vital comes from vita, meaning life.
**The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book, The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place. [Wikipedia.org]

Corner House is a Wonderful New Addition to the Jefferson Park Neighborhood in Denver

Corner House is light-filled and approachable; not off-putting in any way.
There’s warmth from the wood tables and chairs, and an architecturally cool angular layout that’s unlike any other Denver restaurant I’ve been to. The bathrooms are unmarked, just handles sticking out from a wood wall [the door is flush; pun intended], and I like this.
It keeps things interesting.
Though I can only imagine how many times the employees have to answer the “Where’s the bathroom?” question.
I have a mild obsession [some would say not so mild] with Ball jars.
They have to be Ball.
For some reason, Kerr just won’t do. When my water, and beer! [Great Divide’s Colette on draft; a favorite], arrived to the table in Ball jars, well, let’s just say I was smitten.
There’s also a Ball jar chandelier in the space, which I find charming beyond words.
I’ve been on a deviled egg kick lately, so was thrilled to see them on the menu – but not just any – Horseradish Deviled Eggs.
6 halves of delight arrived at the table.
They were a fun start you just don’t see on many menus.
Next came the Grilled Avocado Salad.
When it arrived, I immediately looked around for a salt shaker, because it’s my experience that avocado never gets seasoned enough, but then I looked at the salad closely, to find flakes of sea salt glistening on the generous hunk of avocado.
This is the kind of attention to detail I need from a kitchen.
To grill an avocado is such a treat, and something I never think to do at home.
They could have put it on just a pile of greens and I would have been pleased.
Here’s what they did do: arugula + pickled fresno chile + julienned red apple + orange segments + red onion + citrus vinaigrette.
Creamy, peppery, sweet, spicy, crunchy, tart, sour.
I think they hit every taste profile with this one, and explains why it was so satisfying and fun to eat.
I then ordered the Lunch Special – which they have each day – 1/2 Panini with a cup of seasonal soup or pork green chile, along with a fresh baked cookie for $10.
I got the Gina’s Pear & Manchego – this comes with spinach, apple chutney and whole grain mustard.
Everything about this was a pleasure and the specialness was a lunch treat, again, you don’t see on many menus.
I also got the green chile chili, which had beautiful chunks of tender pork, in not-too-spicy-but-still-respectable-kick-of-flavor green chile goodness.
The chocolate chip cookie was still warm.
Enough said.
4.5 stars on Yelp.
5 on Urban Spoon.
They aren’t playing around here.
They’ve cornered this neighborhood market.

SALT Makes Everything Better

I’ve eaten at restaurants thousands of times over the course of my life so far. I’ve had thousands of dishes put in front of me. The plate that was placed in front of me this day at SALT, was nothing short of extraordinary, and one of the top 5 plates of food I’ve ever had. This is saying a lot, not only because of the sheer volume of dishes I’ve had, but the quality of restaurants I’ve had them in – from Babbo and River Cafe in New York City, to Le Frou Frog in Kansas City to Geronimo in Santa Fe. This is not restaurant-dropping, it is to illustrate the point that a mid-week lunch at a seemingly casual place in Boulder knocked me off my feet, unexpectedly and delightfully.

The plate. I am not a vegetarian. Sometimes I would like to be, but I love pork too much and don’t think I could live in a world without bacon, especially. So, I didn’t order an all vegetarian meal for this reason, but just because it sounded good and different and I was in the mood to try something outside of what I would normally order. SALT has a fun element to their lunch menu – Farm to Table lunches [$9.]. You select a 1/2 sandwich, a soup or side and a “tiny treat” dessert. I went this route and ordered the chickpea and quinoa fritters with an asparagus salad [$2. supplement]. More on the tiny treat in a minute. The fritters are their take on falafel and come sitting on a kiddie pool of their housemade yogurt sauce. Garnished with a few sprigs of grilled asparagus, they also kindly side it with fresh, local beets. What took this dish over the top, was the fresher-than-I’ve-ever-seen-or-tasted peapods. I bit into one and the outside had a nice crunch, while the individual peas began popping in my mouth one by one. They tasted fresh and real and honest. I was beside myself. The asparagus salad was a perfect composition of greens, grilled asparagus, a cheese frico, a light vinaigrette dressing it all with a perfect hand. And the absolute piece de resistance, a large, grilled shitake mushroom perched on top. The tiny treat changes periodically, and this day it was a lemon tartelette. A not-too-lemony delight – the perfect bite of a sweet – not too big and not too small.

It is my work here to give words to things, describe and help with a greater understanding of them, but sometimes there just are no words. And this is one of those times. My husband often makes fun of me, because when I take an especially good bite of food, I don’t even realize I go “Mmmmmmmm”, but I do. That’s not even a word. It’s a sound. But it says everything. The level of attention to detail, and skill to create each of these individual components to construct the amazing whole, is not lost on me. This is the kind of food we call art. Because, that’s exactly what it is.

The service was some of the best I’ve experienced in Boulder County. Informed. Gracious. Attentive. A special thanks to my server, Will, for delivering this service. He should be a trainer – he’s that natural and good. The food. Stunning. Detailed. Delectable. Another special thanks to the chef and cooks in the kitchen that day. And again, this was not a frou-frou dinner out with white tablecloths and valets. This was the corner of Pearl Street in an old Tavern space, on a weekday for lunch. It’s even more impressive to me they delivered this kind of quality, service and attention to detail, when many other places would have been saving their best energy and skill for dinner service and higher menu prices. Most of us know Chef Bradford Heap as a local food visionary – one of the first to nod to the names of the farms he sources from and that his other gem of a place, Colterra in Niwot, is worth the drive. He creates atmospheres that are comfortable and comforting, while delivering stunning food to the table. Having something of his in town in Boulder is convenient when craving this kind of food and environment. SALT is clearly a place of dedication to quality and one we’re lucky to call ours in Colorado.