The weekend snows are something of a nightmare for participants in Boulder’s annual Dream Kitchens Tour to support the I Have a Dream Foundation of Boulder County. Those who bought the $20 tickets in advance might tough it out, but I’m afraid there won’t be too many same-day sales. Nine fabulous Boulder County kitchens are open to view today, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and tomorrow, 12 noon-4 p.m., with a demonstrator on duty at each and samples available.
Great DCPA location & terrific food marred by slow service
I have been wanting to try Epernay ever since I learned that Duy Pham, once chef at Tante Louise who left Denver to try to make a fine dining beachhead in Pueblo, returned and was the opening chef at this stylish lounge and sushi-plus restaurant at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. People I know who were there for the opening raved. My friend Claudia and I went to Epernay on Tuesday before seeing “Peter & The Starcatcher,” but I seem to have waited too long. Duy Pham is no longer in charge of the kitchen, except sometimes on busy weekend nights.
Michael Degenhart, who was Pham’s opening sous-chef, is now top toque and appears to be continuing the sushi-heavy but not sushi-exclusive menu. We arrived in plenty of time for happy hour, which features half-price drinks and a mostly-$5 small plates menu. Asian-oriented Epernay is mysteriously named after the capital of the Champagne region of France, so I ordered some bubbly. Happy hour is only available in the bar/lounge area, which is hip looking and energetic feeling. The look is jazzy, while the adjacent dining room is an oasis of elegant tranquility.
Despite a great location on the 14th Street side of the DCPA garage that should have theater-goers lining up before the show, Epernay’s signage is pathetic. You can read it if you are looking straight at the front of the building, but nothing noteworthy juts out over the sidewalk. The Four Seasons, The Curtis and the Hotel Teatro occupy three close-by corners, but I’m wondering whether guests who go out of the house to dine are heading straight for Larimer Square.
The lounge features high-backed, white booths surrounding knee-high can accommodate groups of 6 or 8. This design, while encouraging guests to lean toward one another, makes it virtually impossible for the servers to glance to see whether anyone wants attention, has empty plates or anything else that they ought to notice. Maybe that was responsible for the slow service, or maybe it was just our waitress who seemed to suffer from attentiveness deficit disorder. She didn’t look, she didn’t come over to check on us and consequently, she didn’t impress. The food, however, made a positive impression.
Price check: At happy hour until 6:30 p.m., most small plates are $5.
Seven talented chefs working on seven fantastic outdoor grills to produce summer fare with savoir faire
Mountain High Appliance carries grilling enthusiasts’ dream units — six swank stainless steel outdoor cooking stations and also the Big Green Egg, a ceramic grill and smoker whose provenance is the Far East. On Thursday evening, June 9, Mountain High turned its parking lot into a playing field where seven professional, amateur and student chefs competed in what has become an annual Grill-Off. They were each given an “assistant,” who in reality was a sales person for that brand. I was one of three judges evaluating what came off their grills. The variety and the quality were amazing, and once again, picking a winner (or two or three) was a challenge.
Not only were the dishes varied, but so were the chefs’ credentials. Out of the seven contestants (I’m counting the Brauns couple as one), there was a chef at one of the finest of Denver’s fine dining restaurants, three culinary arts students including one from the Western Slope (the
far Western Slope, in fact), an award-winning caterer and a couple who publish a magazine.
The Chefs, The Dishes & The Grills
Joe Christensen, McCormick’s Restaurant & Fish House, Denver; Grilled ribeye “crustini” with mushrooms, caramelized onions and horseradish cream sauce made on a DACOR grill with German potato salad on the side.
Ted Strauch, Epicurean Catering, Centennial; paella-style smoked meatloaf with saffron red pepper couli and also grilled S’mores quesadilla (sugar tortilla, hazelnut spread, marshallow, plantain tostones with cinnamon rum whipped cream made on The Big Green Egg.
The winners for the top entree were Soto and (honorable mention) Strauch. Best appetizer was Jones’s chicken wings. The People’s Choice winner was Christensen.
Mountain High Appliance, where you can see these outdoor appliances up close and personal, is at 1130 Pine St., Louisville; 303-665-6850. They also have Western Slope locations in Steamboat Springs and Glenwood Springs.
In Europe, I’ve had racelette made with cheese that was melted on an open fire, which is the old-fashioned way. I’ve had raclette from a maker that holds a half-wheel of cheese vertically, cut side up, with an electric heat element that melts it from above. I’ve had raclette made on one of those combination raclette maker/grill machines that are sold in the US. But I’ve never seen a raclette device like this orange octopus! I spotted it in an appliance store window in Adelboden (in Europe, a village of 3,000 souls can still support its own local appliance retailer). Designed for home use, it melts single portions of raclette cheese in six little individual trays. Like a fondue pot, it encourages diners to sit around a table, congenially melting and eating a cheese specialty.
Instead of the standard gas-fired grill, charcoal-burning kettle or even hibachi, my husband had been considering a Big Green Egg, a modern American rendition of an ancient Kamado cooker from Japan. Our brother-in-law, who grew up in a military family and lived in Japan, swears by it. It gets rave reviews on foodie message boards. With trepidation because it is expensive, I bought one for my husband for Christmas, and we finally tried it last night. Wow! We made simple chicken breasts that turned out perfectly: cooked through, still moist inside and, perhaps best of all, bearing some of that delicious char-grilled flavor that I hadn’t gotten in years.
Made of heavy, kiln-fired ceramic glazed in the green that gives it its trade name, the big Green Egg uses natural charcoal, lights without liquid starter and heats to cooking temperature in about 10 minutes. Adjusting top and bottom dampers controls the temperature, which is easily seen on an external gauge that shows both Fahrenheit and Celsius. The company sayd temperature accuracy is shown within within two degrees from 50 to 750 degrees. Closing both dampers kills the flame.
So far, we have only tried one cooking method and one food, but it seems that the Big Green Egg is a grill and a smoker and even an oven. Meats, seafood, veggies and pizza can reportedly all be cooked on (or should I write “in”?) a Big Green Egg.
Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news. For address of any restaurant, click on the Zomato icon at the end of the post.