Category Archives: Award

Stop at This Light for Stellar SW Cuisine

Award-winning Taos chef Joseph Wrede’s Old Blinking Light brings a Southwestern spark to Highlands Ranch

Colorado has spawned five Food & Wine Best New Chefs, but not all of them remain in the state. Therefore, it seems like a bit of culinary neighborliness that Joseph Wrede, a Best New Chef in 2000, has imported his Southwestern flair from New Mexico to suburban Denver. When he established Joseph’s Table in 1995, he was an innovator on the Taos restaurant scene and an early adopter of sourcing seasonal, local ingredients whenever possible. He was sole owner/chef there when he was named to F&W’s top ten list and is now director of culinary operations for (and also a partner in) the Taos Restaurant Group, including one, the Old Blinking Light, in the Denver area. Lucky us.

The group currently operates three restaurants in Taos. Joseph’s Table, a fine-dining restaurant, relocated from its original, modest quarters to the classy La Fonda Hotel on the town’s historic Plaza. They also took over the former Tim’s Chile Connection at mile marker 1 on the Ski Valley Road and renamed it the Old Blinking Light (and wine shop) and recently purchased Lambert’s of Taos from Zeke and Tina Lambert. Wrede’s plan is to retain the 19-year-old restaurant’s traditional American cuisine and, as he diplomatically puts it, assure that each dish is “executed properly.” Lambert’s has always been good and is getting better, but with refinements rather than dramatic changes. And then there’s the Taos catering company that fed the guests at Julia Roberts’s wedding.

The original Old Blinking Light, a barn-like red and green chili cantina, is set amid sagebrush outside of town. The name makes sense to Taoseños, who know to turn to the restaurant “where the old blinking light was” before the highway department removed it. There, the name has meaning. Here, it elicits of shrug of incomprehension in the context of a mega-subdivision where nothing is old. The Colorado namesake, opened three years ago, serves a more sophisticated and refined brand of Southwestern cuisine. It was easy to get over the disconnected name and the charmless locale as soon as I tasted the superlative Southwestern and Southwest-accented dishes.

While committed to Taos, Wrede also has Colorado ties. A graduate of Regis University, he went to New York for culinary training and returned to Denver where he worked with Sean Kelly at Aubergine and with Pat Perry at Highland’s Garden Cafe until he answered the siren call of northern New Mexico. Wrede (below left), who spends about a week a month in Colorado, is indeed the “director of culinary operations,” not the “dictator of culinary operations.” He sets a general style and price level as guidelines for each restaurant’s chef, but he doesn’t write the menu or create the dishes. Wrede believes that it is important for chefs to “have ownership” of their food, and that is just dandy for executive chef Tony Cahill (right), who was born in Texas, raised in Denver and graduated from the Art Institute of Colorado’s restaurant program.

I’d previously heard of the Old Blinking Light, but until a press dinner there yesterday evening, I had never eaten there. Cahill and his kitchen crew prepared a tasting menu derived from their regular menu. As we gathered, we sipped Gruet Brut from New Mexico and nibbled on carbonated red grapes before proceeding to the table for a small-plate feast. In sampling a number of dishes, we found recurrent themes from the Wrede & Co. respertoire: stuffed chiles, risotto, Mexican crema, tomato butter sauce, avocado and no beans. Partway through the sampling, we shifted from bubbly to still wines. From Washington State came a Dr. Loosen “Eroica” Riesling and from Sonoma, a Pedroncelli “Mother Clone” Zinfandel.

Flash-Fried Avocado

A plump pillow of delicately fried mashed avocado on a crisp green chip with a bit of pico de gallo on top.

Warm Beet Salad Two disks of purple beets alernating with two disks of golden ones on one end of a rectagular plate and a lovely little mixed-green salad with purple onions, toasted pecans and a honey-jalapeño vinaigrette the other.

Cheesy Grit-Stuffed Jalapeños

I’m not wild about the name of this dish. It reminds me of recipes from old community cookbooks or winners of a recipe contest sponsored by Kraft. Still, I really loved every bite. Large fire-roasted jalapeños stuffed with white cheddar grits (a phrase I find more appealing that the word “cheesy”) came with the OBL’s signature tomato butter sauce with some added seasonings.

Paprika Risotto-Stuffed Relleño

This dish is similar to the stuffed jalapeño. Both are composed of starches stuffed into chiles, baked and served with tomato butter and crema. I liked the opportunity to try them one after another to discern the similarities and the differences. On the regular menu, this is served as an entrée with the traditional cheese relleño and ratatouille.

Ceviche Tostada

A crisp tortilla, set on a rice foundation, displays a ceviche of King crab and tiger shrimp that were marinated in citrus and then served with sliced avocado and a squiggle of crema, with lime wedges on the side.

Pork Tamale
Masa and pork go together like peanut butter and jelly. OBL’s comes open-faced and bathed in red and green chile. The salad on the side is a combination of tomatillo, tomato and purple onion with lime dressing and crema.

Grilled Wild King Salmon

Gently grilled salmon was balanced on top of a crisp-fried risotto cake and served with a fine orange-chipotle hollandaise. The risotto cake is a cross-cultural staple at Joseph’s Table that is an exemplary base for the salmon.

Chocolate Soup

A sinfully rich, superlative chocolaty dessert soup served with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Sorry. No picture.

Price check: At dinner, appetizers, $7-$13; salads and stews, $5-$9; entrées, $15-$18 (plus a couple of dishes at market price); sides, $1-$6; desserts, $5-$0, plus a $12 cheese platter.

The Old Blinking Light Kitchen & Cocktails (the full name) is in the Highlands Ranch Town Center, 9344 Dorchester Street (off the Lucent Drive exit from C-470), Highlands Ranch; 303-346-9797.

More Category Leaders from Gayot

Cheap eats, new restaurants, steakhouses and chefs are recognized

A week ago, I posted Gayot’s choices for the top 40 restaurants in the US — one of which is Boulder’s Frasca Food & Wine. Here, as promised, are the rest of the Gayot lists for 2008. Three Denver restaurants and chefs appear in red on this list, as does one in Albuquerque, in our neighboring state to the south. It would be useful if they had added the names of the communities to such general locations as “Central Coast,” “Hawaii” (there are four major islands, for goodness’ sake), “Monterey/Carmel,” Napa/Sonoma,” “Northern New Jersey” and “San Francisco/Bay Area.” Of course, it is easy to find the locations by clicking on any of the links, which include addresses. The links lead back to Gayot reviews, not to the restaurants’ own websites.

Top 40 Cheap Eats

BOSTON• Ten Tables
CHICAGO• Urbanbelly
DALLAS/FT. WORTH• Toulouse Café & Bar
DETROIT• Antonio’s Cucina Italiana
DENVER• Vesta Dipping Grill
GREENWICH, CT• Papaya Thai and Asian BBQ
HARTFORD• Ambassador of India
HAWAII• Ono Hawaiian Foods (I wonder whether Gayot thinks that Hawaii is a city!)
HOUSTON• D’Amico’s Italian Market
LAS VEGAS• Lotus of Siam
MIAMI• Islas Canarias
MINNEAPOLIS• Brasa Premium Rotisserie
NEW ORLEANS• Parkway Bakery & Tavern
NEW YORK• Fatty Crab
NORTHERN NEW JERSEY• Azucar Cuban Cuisine & Cigars
ORLANDO• Hot Dog Heaven
PALM SPRINGS, CA• Jake’s Ready-To-Eat
PHILADELPHIA• Shank’s & Evelyn’s
PHOENIX/SCOTTSDALE• Matt’s Big Breakfast
PITTSBURGH• The Café at the Frick
PORTLAND, OR• Toro Bravo
SAN ANTONIO• The Sandbar Fish House & Market
SAN DIEGO• Vincent’s
SANTA BARBARA• La Super-Rica Taqueria
SEATTLE• Tamarind Tree
ST. LOUIS• Frazer’s
TAMPA BAY• Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant
WASHINGTON, DC• The Hitching Post

Top 10 New Restaurants in the US (Gayot organizes the top 40 lists by location but alphabetizes the Top 10 and Top 5 selections that follow by restaurant or chef name.)

Allen & Delancey, New York
Aubergine, Carmel, CA
Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, CA
Christopher’s Restaurant & Crush Lounge, Phoenix
Forté di Asprinio, West Palm Beach, FL
4th & Swift, Atlanta
Gordon Ramsay at The London West Hollywood, West Hollywood, CA
L2O, Chicago
Restaurant Charlie, Las Vegas
Ubuntu, Napa, CA

Top 10 Steakhouses

David Burke’s Primehouse, Chicago
Doe’s Eat Place, Greenville, MS
Elway’s Cherry Creek, Denver
Finn & Porter, Austin, TX
Gruet Steakhouse, Albuquerque
Kevin Rathbun Steak, Atlanta
Mastro’s Steakhouse, Beverly Hills, CA
Peter Luger, Brooklyn, NY
The Prime Rib Restaurant, Baltimore
SW Steakhouse, Las Vegas

Top 5 Rising Chefs in the US

Nate Appleman, A16, San Francisco
Adam Horton, Saddle Peak Lodge, Los Angeles
Gavin Kaysen, Café Boulud, New York
Jonathon Sawyer, Bar Cento, Cleveland
Sue Zemanick, Gautreau’s, New Orleans

Top 5 Pastry Chefs in the US

Heather Chittum, Hook, Washington, DC
Ethan Howard, Murray Circle, San Francisco
Yasmin Lozada-Hissom, Duo Restaurant, Denver
Neil Robertson, Canlis, Seattle
Adrian Vasquez, Providence, Los Angeles

Best Restaurateur in the US (There may be 40 of something, 10 of something else and five of something else again, but according to Gayot, there’s only one in this category.)

Sirio Maccioni, Le Cirque, New York

Best Restaurant Design (Ditto)

Park Avenue, New York

My E for Excellence Award Choices in the Food Blogosphere

I am passing along a blogger-to-blogger award that brings the culinary blogging community closer

Gloria Chadwick, whose fine blog, Cookbook Cuisine, is directed at people who are interested in cooking and cookbooks, and perhaps want want to write one, recently awarded this blog an E for Excellence. I was flattered to get this informal, round-robin honor that food bloggers bestow on their peers. It may not be a Pulitzer or a Beard or anything else widely known, but it is amazingly gratifying to be recognized by a fellow blogger whom I respect. When she wrote to alert me about having honored Culinary Colorado, I spent a wonderful couple of hours following links through her blog to other food-related blogs. I resisted the temptation to add most of them to the links list on this blog, but what a good time I had.

Now, I’m passing the E for Excellence on to some other culinary blogs that I like to visit. The loose rules suggest that the award be bestowed to between three and ten blogs. My own amendments are that I am bestowing it on bloggers who post frequently (preferably several times a week), and only to independent bloggers and not to paid bloggers who post under the imprimatur of newspapers or any other major medium. Here, in alphabetical order, are eight blogs that I’d like to recognize as E for Excellent:

  • Christie’s Corner, a Canadian writer’s terrific food blog that has already won some other impressive honors.
  • Cooking Bouchon by a Denverite tackling every single recipe in Thomas Keller’s Bouchon. Because through-cooking is expensive and time-consuming, this is the only exception I am making to my self-imposed rule of several posts most weeks.
  • Denveater, a smart, sassy, snarky blog that’s mostly about Denver restaurants, written by an expat Bostonian foodie determined to find good eats here. Clever illustrations punctuate many of the posts.
  • Elana’s Pantry, clear, beautifully photographed recipes for gluten-free cooking using natural, organic ingredients. Boulder-based Elana has been blogging since 2006, though at the moment, the blog host seems “stuck” and won’t click through to the blog’s archives.
  • 5 Second Rule with lots of good recipes and images by Silicon Valley-based food writer.
  • Super Chef about famous chefs, fabulous cookbooks, recipes and insider news in the culinary world.
  • The Kittalog, frequently updated blog about food, gardening, books, neighborhood travel and a lucky standard poodle named Sophie — illustrated by wonderful, imaginative photographs too.
  • The Leather District Gourmet covering the Boston food scene and interesting foods, and also beats the drums for sustainable agricultural and fishing practices.

Gayot Names Frasca as One of the US’s Top 40

Boulder restaurant ranked with the best by prestigious tastemaker/taste-tracker

André Gayot, who with Henri Gault and Christian Millau, coined the term phrase “nouvelle cuisine” in the early ’70s, that made them and the Gault-Millau Guides almost of famous as the revolutionary counter-classical cuisine they identified. Gayot, more recently joined by his children plus the team that run Gayot Guides and have kept their eyes on the world’s best restaurants, hotels, shops, sightseeing and cultural attractions for more than 45 years. The just-released 2008 “Cream of the Crop” feature lists Gayot selections for the top 40 restaurants in the US — and of course, you can guess which one is in Boulder. The links are to Gayot reviews, not the the restaurants’ own websites. The list:

ATLANTA• Georgian Room
BOSTON• L’Espaliero ya
BOULDER, CO• Frasca Food & Wine
CHICAGO• AlineaCharlie Trotter’sEverest
HONOLULU• Chef Mavro
LAS VEGAS• AlexJoël RobuchonPicassoRestaurant Guy Savoy
LOS ANGELES• MélissePatinaProvidenceSpago Beverly HillsUrasawa
LOS GATOS, CA • Manresa
NEW ORLEANS• Restaurant August
NEW YORK• DanielEleven Madison ParkJean GeorgesLe BernardinLe CirqueMasaThe ModernPer Se
OGUNQUIT, ME• Arrows Restaurant
SAN ANTONIO• Restaurant Le Rêve
SAN FRANCISCO• The Dining RoomGary DankoMichael Mina
WASHINGTON, D.C.• CityZenMichel Richard Citronelle
WASHINGTON, VA• The Inn at Little Washington
WESTCHESTER, NY• Blue Hill at Stone Barns
YOUNTVILLE, CA• The French Laundry

Gayot’s review of Frasca is, of course, glowing. “Effortlessly polished and affable servers help guests navigate their way through Mackinnon-Patterson’s seasonally changing menu, a tribute to the Friuli region of Italy that also pulls from a bumper crop of foodstuffs from local farmers, ranchers and purveyors,” Gayot writes of the food and the service. Of the wine, the unsigned reviewer lauds “master sommelier Bobby Stuckey’s show-stopping wine list, a 36-page tome that’s heavy on Italian varietals.”

Another honor for Boulder’s most heralded restaurant. Congratulations — again.

Culinary Colorado Honored

Food blogging community honors its own — including this blog

When I was a pupil at Tracey Elementary School in Norwalk, Connecticut, grades were not given on the more common, A, B, C, D and F scale. Our report cards came out with E for Excellent, G for Good, F for Fair and U for Unsatisfactory. So when my fellow food blogger Gloria Chadwick alerted me that she had awarded this blog an E for Excellenct in food blogging, I recognized it immediately. And I was thrilled.

This honor is an informal, round-robin award that food bloggers bestow on their peers. As Gloria noted, “The rules for this award are a little blurry. But then most excellent recipes are created without exactly following the recipe. That’s what makes excellent recipes–tweaking them to suit your taste. Some foodies award it to three deserving bloggers, others award it to ten. You have to link to the person giving you the award and also post it on your sidebar, choose the excellent blogs you enjoy and give them the award.”

Gloria’s very fine blog called Cookbook Cuisine is a how-to for people wishing to write and publish their own cookbooks. She wrote that she selected me and my food blog: “Claire, at Culinary Colorado, because she writes excellent posts about local restaurants and the foodie scene, as well as documenting her travels and offering occasional recipes. Besides that, she’s an ASJA colleague and comments on some of my other blogs.”

I will check out some of the other blogs that Gloria honored that I’m unfamiliar with, and I’ll also give the award to other food bloggers whose efforts I respect. Thanks, Gloria.

Foodie Mag Honors MBA’s Seafood Watch Program

Bon Appétit magazine recognizes aquarium’s pioneering sustainability evaluation of seafood

Ever since I first heard about Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, I’ve been a fan. The aquarium helps chefs, home cooks and diners select seafoods with regard to their viability and sustainability. From the days when the public was made aware that dolphins and porpoises were being killed as “bycatch” of tuna fishing practices, and that halibut, once a dominant Atlantic Ocean fish, had all but disappeared, many of us have been concerned that in enjoying the seafoods we love, we were destroying them and the oceans that nurtured them. For nearly a decade, Seafood Watch has helped us put those concerns into everyday action.

It evaluates both wild-caught and farm-raised seafoods and assigns each type to a list of whether it is a fish or shellfish that is a “Best Choice,” a “Good Alternative” or one to “Avoid.” The list is handy because the choices are not always self-evident. For instance, farmed Atlantic salmon is a fish to “Avoid,” but farmed catfish is a “Best Choice.” Imported caviar is the type to “Avoid,” while farmed caviar from sturgeon is a “Best Choice.” All imported shrimp, whgether farmed or wild-caught are to be “Avoided,” while domestic farmed shrimp is the “Best Choice.” Seafood Watch also includes health alerts and suggests better alternatives for endangered or threatened seafood species that home cooks can use.

I cheered Bon Appétit magazine’s selection of the Monterey Bay Aquarium for its 2008 Tastemaker of the Year honors in recognition of “the aquarium’s Seafood Watch program for its influential role in transforming seafood buying habits across the United States….Bon Appétit magazine selected the aquarium for its work in communicating the message of sustainable seafood at a time when many commercial fisheries are collapsing or in decline around the world.” The honor will be presented at the 11th annual Bon Appétit Awards ceremony in New York City on September 15, and the October issue will feature more details about the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s accomplishments in promoting sustainable seafood.

Seafood Watch began in 1997 as an informal set of recommendations intended for the aquarium’s own food service and animal food room operations. It has grown to a research team that produces and updates six regional pocket guides (above right) highlighting seafood items available in different parts of the United States, a national pocket guide, three Spanish-language pocket guides and a mobile version available instantly on Internet-enabled phones and PDAs. Since 1999, the aquarium has distributed more than 24 million consumer pocket guides nationwide to help individuals make seafood choices that protect the long-term health of ocean ecosystems.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, a leader in this area, is now also working with two other conservation organizations, the Blue Ocean Institute and Environmental Defense Fund, to release new consumer guides to sustainable sushi. Sushi pocket guides and new online content will be available in mid-October. Seafood Watch is a model for consumer pocket guides produced by other institutions, including the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Here in Colorado, Denver’s Downtown Aquarium, which is owned by Landry’s Restaurants, belongs to or partners with Earth Share, the National Marine Fisheries Service, The Nature Conservancy, the Ocean Project and other conservation organizations.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has also partnered with North America’s two largest food service companies, Compass Group and ARAMARK, which have both “made commitments to shift their purchases of millions of pounds of seafood annually to sustainable sources.” Its outreach and major buyers teams have developed partnerships with leading food service companies and restaurants, as well as more than 175 aquariums, zoos and other organizations that follow Seafood Watch guidelines and distribute pocket guides in their regions. Nationwide, more than 2,500 people have signed up as Seafood Watch Advocates, promoting sustainable seafood activities in their communities.

Bon Appétit’s recognition of Seafood Watch’s role in helping protect the health of the world’s ocean is a richly deserved honor.

Non-Existent Restaurant Wins Wine Spectator Award

Virtual restaurant reportedly wins real honor

Just yesterday, one of my recent posts received a comment from “Anonymous” taking me to task for not doing all of my own original research but rather using other media sources for some of my posts. I suspect that Anonymous does not understand how media works, and I took some time to try to explain that publications in general and individual writers rely on press releases and other sources as the foundation for some of their own work — particuarly when it is something to which the writer would have no immediate direct access.

A case in point is a post called “Fictitious Restaurant Wines Wine Spectator Award of Excellence” on a wine site called Dr. Vino. This exposé never would have fallen into my lap, but I believe it is of enlightening for anyone who dines out and admires the plaques on the walls of restaurant foyers. If wine or restaurants or the shady side of awards interests you, I urge you to read the entire post and follow the links. Here’s how it starts:

“If you decided to get a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for you
restaurant wine list, what would you need? The answer according to Robin
Goldstein is $250 and Microsoft Word. Restaurant not actually required.

“Goldstein, the author of The Wine Trials, has a posting up on a new web site
describing how he invented a restaurant name, Osteria l’Intrepido [di Milano], a riff on ‘fearless.’ Then he typed up a menu (‘a fun amalgamation of somewhat bumbling
nouvelle-Italian recipes’) and then put together a wine list, and submitted both
to Wine Spectator–along with the $250 fee. The list was approved and given an
Award of Excellence (see screenshot). “

I searched the Wine Spectator website for “Osteria L’Intrepido” or just “Intrepido,” and there are no matches on the site — nor did I see any prominent correction or acknowledgment. Dr. Vino provides a link to Goldstein’s blog about unearthing the scam, and so do I. If it were April Fools Day, I’d suspect that the outing of the scam was itself cyber-prank, but Dr. Vino has wine road cred. Written by Tyler Coleman (the Dr. referring to his Ph.D.), it won the 2007 Best Wine Blog and Best Wine Blog Writing Awards and was nominated that same year for a James Beard Award in the category of Best Website Focusing on Food, Beverage or Nutrition. I think those awards are legit.