Monthly Archives: August 2013

If You Get Near My Beignets, I’ll Probably Poke You With a Fork. {A guest post by Keri Grundstein}

Last week I came home from Kachina with a beignet in my purse.
I love Kachina.
This southwestern grill offering from Sage Hospitality has a menu of food and drinks I could (and do) get lost in over and over again.
There have been moments in the middle of a conference call, or during one of my math-is-hard spreadsheet deciphering sessions, when the thought of a Navajo Taco from Kachina carries me away and shuts down all ability to think of anything else.
Anything.
Answering the call of one of these cravings led me to lunch with Christine.
Christine led me to the beignets.
Outwardly, I remain natural about the concept of dessert.
I am the “oh, if YOU want something I will share it if you’d like,” type, and I always mean to mean it at the time.
Get two bites of chocolate- bomb-something-or-other into me, however, and if you go for the same whipped cream blob as me, I *might* poke you with my fork.
Control escapes me.
The beignets at Kachina are filled with chocolate, kissed with just a hint of chile and served with a cajeta (caramelized sweetened milk) sauce for drinking by the bucketful, or dipping.
I kept hold of myself and ate just two, and did NOT pick up the sauce and kiss it like the French folks do in order to get every last drop out of the container, or scarf down the whole order while glaring across the table, powdered sugar rimming my snarl.
Not this time – I kept it in check.
My shameless longing must have been apparent, however, because the last of the little pockets of perfection was planted on a bed of cajeta and sealed up for me to take home.
I walked out of there clutching my purse containing that confection like I was smuggling a lock of Prince George’s baby hair out of England.
This little bundle of sugary perfection would be the perfect late night bite before laying my head on my Pillow Pet, for what I just KNEW would be the sweetest dreams ever, and I could enjoy the secret anticipation for the rest of the day.
Except.
Except that my tiny edible trinket was going to have to go it alone in the wild, wild west that is The Family Fridge.
A thousand horrible could-be fates awaited it in that crowded, lawless land of beverages and condiments and leftovers (oh my).
It could be crushed under a carelessly placed growler of beer; or tipped to create a sticky pool of goo on a shelf, leaving me with the distasteful decision “do I scrape the delicious off the shelf and into my mouth while glancing around nervously to assure I’m not caught?” (Yes. Yes I do.)
Or, the WORST fate of all, where I walk into the kitchen just in time to see my husband licking the powdered sugar off of his fingers after cramming the whole thing into his face at once.
I stare in horror and disappointment as he gulps “I ate that doughnut hole. Pretty good. Do we have ice cream?”

:::Shudder::::

NOT THIS TIME, TASTY TREAT!!
To maximize my treasure’s chances, I stash it in the butter compartment on the door, behind my son’s Boo Boo Bear and underneath a dish of teething rings we never have to use any more.
Oh, how I watched that appliance all evening, eager to protect my little chunk of fried heaven.
Finally, 17 days later, (ok, so it just felt like that long) my husband climbed the stairs to bed and I was alone.
I recovered my precious from the toddler equipment wasteland and unsealed the lid to gaze upon it.
Hello, friend.
In the soft glow of the over-stove light, I made two bites into ten, savoring shamelessly.
(I cannot say that this container was spared the French treatment, like its counterpart at the restaurant. The sauce is just THAT good.)
Kachina is celebrating its first anniversary over Labor Day weekend, and I plan to celebrate and wish them MANY happy returns of the day.
If you join in the celebration, I have one tip to make your experience truly enjoyable:
Don’t touch my beignets.
Seriously.

{Find more of Keri’s writing on her hilarious blog, Reluctantly Suburban : http://www.reluctantlysuburban.com}

I Didn’t Think I Could Love Izakaya Den More, But My Love Is as Big as the Sky Now

Most of us in the food world agree, one of Denver’s biggest food stories this year is the opening of the new Izakaya Den space on Pearl Street.
Though they’ve been open in the new space for a couple of months, I was invited to attend a private party there last night to highlight and celebrate the spectacular 2nd Floor Cocktail Lounge, Ten Qoo.
I have to say, though I’m an inclusive person by nature, it was fun to walk in, give my name, have it checked off a list and be invited upstairs to experience a space I’d only heard gushes and raves about.
It felt special, because it was.
A wide, wooden staircase leads you there, past live bamboo growing lush and tall from the main floor, and a lovely, traditional stone and bamboo fountain on the landing, as you make your way up.
I loved the old space.
And it wasn’t even that old, having opened in 2008.
But, as they say, nothing is certain, but change.
They got an offer they couldn’t refuse – and it must have been a hefty one indeed – for them to take on the large task of conceptualizing and constructing yet another space to house, what I consider to be one of the best – and most exciting – restaurants in Denver.
I was introduced to Elizabeth Kizaki, a kind and warm woman, and Yasu’s wife, by our hostess, who then introduced me personally to her husband.
I got to hear from him directly, as he gave me an impromptu, personal tour of the Ten Qoo space, which he explained, means Open Sky in Japanese.
That makes sense, since the centerpiece of it is the gorgeous, substantial skylight – retractable, no less – above the bar.
The light fixtures are all lovely in their own right, but the oversized wooden spheres above the booths and bar seating area, make such a stunning impact, I could hardly focus on the conversations I was having.
Yasu went on to explain the new space is 300 seats, as opposed to the previous one, which seated 220.
With over a 25% increase in ability to accommodate diners, this is a definite upside.
The word Izakaya, is the Japanese equivalent of a pub, but Izakaya Den is so very much more than that.
It’s an elegant, sophisticated restaurant, while retaining the charm and approachability I want anywhere I dine.
It is not like me to write this much and not make mention of one item of food or drink.
That’s how mesmerizingly gorgeous the space is.
But, of course we have to talk food, and I could wax poetic about their Lobster Ramen Bowl for paragraphs.
My enthusiasm for that dish is just that deep.
But, on this evening, we were introduced to some new things from Chef Toshi’s exceptional food vision.
Executed by their new Chef de Cuisine, Daniel Bradley – an Alice Waters alum, who Toshi and Yasu had the smarts to snatch up almost immediately upon his arrival in Denver – these were exquisite bites of food.
Black truffle arancini – 3 of the best words I’ve ever heard, and best bites I’ve ever tasted.
Miso cod.
If this was strictly a post about the food, I would consider writing just those two words as the only sentence and whole post, and let you understand the full gravity of how delicious this is.
I tried to retain some sense of decorum and dignity and only go back for seconds – but what I really wanted to do was pull up a chair to that area of the buffet and make myself at home.
There was sushi, of course, and sweet and sour fried shrimp.
The other bite – or should I say, slurp – that really stood out, was the pine nut gazpacho, with carbonated plum puree.
I’m not typically a bells and whistles kind of food lover.
But you can ring my bell and blow my whistle any day of the week about the idea, taste, and genius of plum puree, carbonating it, and then pairing with pine nut gazpacho.
The drinks were no less exciting.
Izakaya Den/Ten Qoo is specializing in sake based cocktails [though, of course you can get others] and my favorite of the evening was the Lost in Translation: Asian pear sake, lychee, fresh muddled strawberries – I could have had 5 more of those.
Seriously, 5 more.
It’s the one I highly recommended to Kris Browning Blas when she arrived – but did so with the caveat that she should take her straw out of it, because of the sheer velocity she’d want to use it to get the drink into her mouth [she never did give up her straw] – and this is a real concern when people are operating motor vehicles and driving back to places like Westminster and Ft. Collins.
I don’t know what else to tell you.
Just get there.
As soon as possible.

Words.

I’d like to explain why you’ll see just one photo on this blog – to the right [on tablets, at the bottom] – and always the most recent Instagram photo I’ve taken.
There are many, many blogs with incredible photography – @goutaste and @gracefullplate are a couple you should check out – but my medium is words.
I know, I know – a picture is worth a thousand of them – but words matter greatly.
How we can paint a picture with them, is a challenge for a writer, and I love accepting that challenge.
So, the choice for no photography here is a deliberate one.
It allows you to focus on the word story, and not the visual one.
I’m active on Instagram, and appreciate its ability to allow us to capture images and experiences in real time.
Because that’s where my images live, this is where my words do.
Everything is captured by image in real time there, and everything is captured in words, once pieces are written, here.
If you’d like to follow along visually, we’re at http://www.instagram.com/forksociallab.
Not only on blogs, of course, but in our daily lives, we’re bombarded with images.
The book, Data Smog [Shenk], says we encounter over 3000 [!] advertising messages a day.
A majority of those are visual; it’s exhausting reading that number, let alone viewing them.
And, this is just advertising messages.
Think of all the other images you see on a daily basis.
In a world of visual overwhelm, here I want to get back to the beauty, utility and clarity of words.
In the words of Tom Stoppard:
Words…They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos.
But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good anymore…I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are.
They deserve respect.
If you can get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little…

Leigh Sullivan’s Denver FIVE is a Gift and a Legacy.

Leigh Sullivan makes food things happen in Denver.
And Aspen.
And New York City.
And the best food thing she’s made happen – which is no small thing, given she’s helped conceptualize restaurants like Tag and Tag Raw Bar, and the beloved, and sorely missed, 975 – is Denver FIVE.
Each year, for the past 6, Leigh has hand-selected the city’s best chef talent to represent Denver in 5 local dining events [each hosted by one of the five chefs in that year’s group], at Aspen Food & Wine, and with the year culminating having the group represent Denver – a city Leigh was born and raised in, and one she truly loves – to cook a serious, multi-course dinner at the esteemed James Beard House in New York City.
Leigh is a friend of mine, so there is bias I can’t deny, but our friendship grew out of a mutual respect for what we each were doing with our work, and so I can write this with a fair amount of impartiality, because I already had a deep respect for her contributions.
The majority of chefs in our city, and across the country, are men.
The restaurant culture is decidedly masculine.
And yet, Leigh has managed to bring a woman’s sensibilities to rally the area’s talent, and also build a successful consulting business in the process – LSE, or Leigh Sullivan Enterprises.
I admire this in a woman, friend or not.
Last night I attended a FIVE Event – a Luau – held in the spectacular space having housed District Meats, at 16th and Wazee.
We got a lei as we entered, which was playful and set a relaxed tone.
This year’s five are: Ian Kleinman, Brian Laird, Jorel Pierce, Matt Selby and Sean Yontz.
Bar talent includes Jonathan Greschler, Brian Smith and Travis Plakke.
Part of the fun of attending a FIVE event is getting to see such talented chefs and bartenders, up-close and personal.
They’re not hidden back in a kitchen or stuck behind the bar all night – they’re on the floor, engaging and interacting too – which is a special thrill.
The bar was fully stocked, with 2 stations and bartenders at each, making tropical drinks [complete with cocktail umbrellas], and a wine station offering a couple of roses and a Riesling.
There was a whole roasted pig as the centerpiece of the buffet, which was quite a sight, and one I’d never seen before.
There was spam, by the ridiculous talent, Ian Kleinman, that people thought was pork belly.
It was that good.
There was an array of stunning, fresh fish dishes like poke, and sushi grade tuna and salmon.
If the true definition of feast is to eat and drink sumptuously, this was a literal feast.
Lavish. Grand. Gorgeous.
The FIVE James Beard Dinner is coming up, on September 12.
The menu is exhaustive – as it should be when representing such an incredible food city as Denver has become.
It includes 5 hors d’oeuvres and 5 courses, all with wine and cocktail pairings.
It highlights many of our beautiful Colorado products, including: morels, honeycomb, lamb sweetbreads, newsham pork, rabbit and bass.
It’s a way for the rest of the country to see what we’re made of, and to take seriously, the contributions this area of food and cooking talent has to make.

For more information on the James Beard House event, visit here [even if you can’t attend, a look at the menu is great reading regardless!]:
http://www.jamesbeard.org/events/fabulous-denver-five

Helliemae’s Caramels Will Take Your Badassery to a Whole New Level

Ellen, the Caramel Mastermind [capitalized to give proper respect] behind Helliemae’s is Texan, and the bottom line is Southerners know how to do sweets like no other region of the country.
The Northeast has their goodies too, but most of those – as delicious as they are – are family and cultural recipes from Europe and many other areas outside the United States.
My Grandma Sally used to make butter caramels, and caramels in general have become a nostalgic candy for me.
Helliemae’s specializes in salted caramel, and this is an important distinction, since salt adds the needed balance to the sweet, and is a trick all bakers worth their salt [had to] know.
But, they’re not a one-trick caramel pony.
They offer 4 other year-round flavors: cardamom, chili palmer, coffee, and their newest addition: caramelo regular.
They also offer a seasonal apple caramel, whose season is almost upon us, blessedly.
With a line of 3 spoonable, pourable caramel sauces – because sometimes you just don’t want to have to chew – these come in salted, no-salt and chili palmer.
A friend gifted us a jar of the chili palmer for Christmas last year, and she will be a lifetime friend, for her good judgment in food alone.
There’s even a Caramel of the Month Club, which makes me feel all is right in the world.
Recently, Chipotle put on their annual Cultivate Festival here in Denver, and had an Artisans Tent featuring Colorado made products.
Helliemae’s was there, not only with her caramels and sauces, but with the most incredible banana pudding with salted caramel sauce.
In pint-sized Ball jars.
I bought three.
Their tagline is:
Stoking your inner chingona one ridiculously intense caramel at a time.
I had to look up the word chingona – and Urban Dictionary defines it as “the most badass girls in the world”, but I think she lets guys eat her caramels too.

http://www.saltcaramels.com
http://www.facebook.com/helliemaes

Bonanno Has A Denver Restaurant Family and Lou’s is Like The Sweet Aunt

With 11 distinct restaurant concepts under his chef apron strings, there’s no one who’s made as large an impact on Denver dining as Frank Bonanno.
Love him or don’t love him – and people seem to have strong feelings either way – you cannot deny he’s done a great service to our beloved city.
My sense of him – through stories I’ve heard firsthand and ones I’ve read – is he’s a man with heart.
You could not build, deliver on and sustain the kind of quality his restaurants do, without it.
If the personality – or, the ego – is at all hard to take, all is forgiven when you eat his food.
As you know, I feel the environment, service and hospitality are equally important to a great dining experience.
His wife, Jacqueline, is known to be the creative force behind the restaurants.
Her Twitter profile reads: Sounding board to the food obsessed. Creative Director of a really great group of restaurants. And a couple of bars.
I like her already.
The philosophy of the company is straightforward, but not simple:
Bonanno Concepts is a chef driven restaurant family dedicated to satisfying meals, outstanding service, education and community.
If you can believe it – as much time as I spend in restaurants in Denver and Boulder – I’d never been to a Bonanno restaurant before going to Lou’s Food Bar the other night for Happy Hour and twEATDrink*.
I was immediately charmed and it was a nice, low-key introduction to his family of restaurants.
Like visiting the sweet aunt, before you meet the parents.
The place is a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll.
The country is in the handled mason jars, silverware rolled in cute French countryside linens and the overall casual, homey feel.
The rock and roll is in the menu – filled with pates, sausages, fried chicken and more meat-centricness than this flexitarian likes to see on a menu.
But, what I’ve come to learn is an unequivocal truth: chefs love their meat.
Still, the roast beef sliders were so appealing, I actually ordered 2 [!] to go with my $4. Happy Hour Colette.
My only other hearty option was a fish sandwich, and I just wasn’t in the mood.
At just $2. each, it was an easy financial choice, and I have to say, they were the best sliders, of any sort, I’ve ever had.
A side of fries arrived at the table steeped in charm, in their own mini tureen.
What can I say?
I love details like this.
And an incredible, no-filler, $4. blue crab cake completed the meal.
I left there feeling like you do when you’ve been nurtured.
It may sound overly romantic, but this is the power places have [and food has].
I’m a fan of Lou’s and I’m looking forward to being introduced to the rest of the family.

*twEATDrink is Sarah Gore’s brainchild, getting the food-loving community together monthly to support independent restaurants in Denver.
Read more in my post about it here:
https://hungryinboulder.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/supporting-independents-means-supporting-what-makes-your-city-special-tweatdrink

Lou’s Food Bar
1851 West 38th Avenue
Denver
303.458.0336

Cheese is Essential to a Good Life. Eating Cheese in France? All the Better. Denver’s Truffle Cheese Shop/Truffle Table Assure We’re Well Supplied Here and Abroad.

If you’re going to France, you have my attention.
France has a special place in my heart, since I was engaged in Paris.
I’ve spent time there on a few European trips since, and each time I leave, I immediately long for it.
It’s a true love affair that retains all its mystery, sensuality and beauty, no matter how much time or many times we get to spend together.
Though I like to think I’m France’s only lover, the country itself, like many of its men, have multiple lovers.
That includes Karin and Rob – owners of both The Truffle Cheese Shop and The Truffle Table – the former, a 6th Avenue landmark they bought in 2007*, and the latter, a casual restaurant they opened in the Highlands earlier this year.
The cheese shop is known to be the best in Denver, with every kind of cheese you can imagine, and authentic, knowledgeable customer service.
They also offer a myriad of events and classes, including a monthly beer and cheese tasting, which involves 4 artisan cheeses, 4 craft beers, fruit and local, fresh bread for only $20.
The restaurant offers cheeses [of course!], cured meats, and fine foods.
Cheese is important to a good life.
The French know this.
In that country alone, there are 350 – 400 types of cheese in 8 categories – and some say the number is closer to 1000.
But, you know the French – they aren’t the best at specificity.
You hear “plus ou moins” – more or less – a lot there.
In the early 1960’s, French President Charles de Gaulle said, “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six varieties de fromage?”
[How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?]
You could spend a lifetime just becoming an expert in French cheese alone.
Last Sunday, Rob and Karin did a smart thing, and that was to invite the community to the restaurant for a complimentary brunch, while they allowed people to meet and mingle, then explained the trip to Southern France that Rob, and restaurant manager, Miguel, will be hosting October 19 – 26.
The Languedoc region, to be exact.
On the brunch buffet – in order of importance – peach bellinis, more cheeses than I could count or name here, kale frittata, currant scones, fresh coffee and more.
Why this was such a smart idea, is that it created a sense of generosity and camaraderie, that allowed people to be truly receptive and engaged to learn more about this wonderful trip, and future trip possibilities [Vermont was mentioned, as was Italy].
I’m not a group trip person by nature.
I like to make my own itinerary decisions when traveling [and in everyday life], and tend to rebel against other people’s agendas or potential rigidity.
The tone of the whole itinerary is easy, heartfelt and the furthest thing from rigid as you can imagine.
For example: “Day 7 – Friday, Oct. 25: About ten minutes from our maison is a farmstead goat cheese maker that has agreed to let us scratch their goat’s ears and try their cheese. It would be nice to put their cheese together with some truffles, possibly from Maison du Truffle du Languedoc”.
Yes, that would be nice.
They explained each excursion is optional, and there may be times you just want to stay at the maison and cook – which is what I’d want to do often.
All breakfasts and dinners are included, as well as a stocked pantry.
You can join for the entire stay, or just a day or two.
If you’re interested in the trip, they’re taking reservations through August 19, with payment due on or before that day [airfare not included].
$3600. per person, double occupancy
$2100. single
$350. per night, double or single
You can contact Rob or Karin directly for reservations, at karinandrob@denvertruffle.com.

Truffle Cheese Shop
2906 E. 6th Avenue
Denver
303.322.7363

Truffle Table
2556 15th Street
Denver
303.455.9463

*open since 2000

I’d Like To Discuss Marinara for a Moment.

I am Italian.
Let’s just get that out of the way right from the start.
I have passionate feelings about marinara sauce, as well I should.
When I go to an Italian restaurant, I have 3 criteria I use to determine legitimacy.
Those are, in no particular order:
1. The marinara sauce [key]
2. The bread [few things lend more of an air of suspicion for me at any restaurant, than bad bread]
3. House red wine [if you’re putting the house’s name on it, it should represent you well]
Marinara sauce – also known as ragu, or simply, red sauce – as DiFranco’s* here in Denver calls it – is a staple in Italian cooking and a go-to for many cooks, Italian or not.
Interestingly, the tomato isn’t indigenous to Italy, and in fact, wasn’t even introduced into Italian cuisine until its appearance in a cookbook in Naples in 1692.
That seems like a long time ago in America years, but in Europe years, it makes it a relative newcomer.
There are bad ingredients and techniques when making marinara, that result in a disappointing plate, but one of the worst things is not having drained the pasta well enough, so that too much of the pasta water gets into the sauce, making it runny, or worse, the noodles themselves are sitting in a pool of pasta water on the plate, when the sauce is added on top.
I get chills just thinking about how sad that is.
That said, a 1/4 cup or so of the starchy pasta water, adds body to the sauce, and gives it a smoother taste and texture.
When I make it at home, I start with a variation of sofritto – sofrito in Spanish, mirepoix in French, refogado in Portuguese – which traditionally is onions, garlic and celery, but I also add carrot, to lend sweetness.
And usually, just to gild the lily, a couple tablespoons of natural sugar.
I like my marinara, like my men, sweet.
Sautéed in olive oil and butter, I get the mixture soft, and then add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, seasonings of basil, oregano and dried shallots, red wine [on a good day] – which reduces to an incredible, rich flavor – salt and pepper.
I like to let it simmer all day if I’ll be at home – it’s good for the sauce, and for the soul.
Mixed with al dente pasta in the pan, so they can marry – I want them to have a real commitment to each other – before being plated, this is one go to meal I make in my house regularly.

*Ryan DiFranco, the owner, is an East Coaster, and claims Denver’s best red sauce.
Having won the nod from Westword this year for Best Italian Restaurant, he’s earned the chops to claim this.

Pacific Ocean Marketplace is A Mecca of Asian Food.

A friend was on the hunt for noodles.
Ramen, soba – any noodle she could get her fork on.
I suggested a visit to Pacific Ocean Marketplace, as I’d heard it was a noodle resource – a place just down the street from my house, a place I’ve driven by for 9 years, a place I’ve always meant to visit – and it took her noodle quest to get me there.
We met up and took the adventure together.
There was literally an entire aisle of noodles.
Cellophane, egg, rice, wheat, pulled – you name it – they had it.
Imagine if a conventional grocery store devoted an entire aisle to noodles; it wouldn’t happen.
As the world’s largest continent, and home to a majority of its people, it’s no surprise noodles are aplenty.
They’re versatile and create a perfect base for all kinds of vegetarian and meat-centric dishes.
Modern Asia is considered to include: China, Hong Kong, Japan, North and South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Though delineated by being called South Asia – still these countries are a true part of the Asian culture and cuisine as well: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Burma, Iran and Tibet.
Though we didn’t see foods representing all of these countries – the overwhelmingly diverse selection of products, coming primarily from China, Hong Kong and Japan – there was a large part of an aisle devoted to Indian foods.
Of course, with such an amazing array, we shopped for more than noodles.
The produce section alone offered things I’d never even heard of before, let alone seen in person.
The most interesting item, and one I have eaten, but had never seen whole, was jackfruit.
Easily two feet long, and a cactus-like texture [without the pricks; which I always try to stay away from in men and fruit], it made for an interesting welcome to the marketplace.
Live lobsters and roasted whole ducks are available.
You can even get fresh chicken feet, which I walked right by.
It is impossible to enumerate everything you can find there – when I say it’s an adventure – it is truly that.
Go.
Explore.
Your world will expand, and that’s always a good thing.

Pacific Ocean Marketplace
6600 W. 120th Street
Broomfield, CO