Category Archives: Award

Colorado Chefs in the Running for High Honors

State is well represented on TV’s ‘Top Chef’ and for Beard Foundation honors

Boulder’s Hosea Rosenberg (Jax Fish House) is still in contention for “Top Chef” honors on the highly rated Bravo TV reality show. The first part of this season’s programs that winnowed the field from 17 (including Centro’s sous-chef Melissa Harrison) to four was shot in New York. For the final episodes, the show moved to New Orleans. Three days ago, the Daily Camera’s Cindy Sutter wrote a front page feature called “Jax cook Hosea Rosenberg in ‘Top Chef’ Final Four“about his climb to the upper reaches of the program’s pyramid. Tune in on Wednesday to see how he continues to fare.

Meanwhile, the James Beard Foundation unveiled its preliminary list of semifinalist nominees for 2009 chef and restaurant honors. Colorado contenders are:

Boulder’s Frasca Food & Wine has previously been multiply honored by the Beard Foundation, as reported here. My fingers are crossed that Colorado chefs and restaurants are similarly favored this year. These Beard honors (even the nominations) are huge in the culinary world — and winning “Top Chef” is equally big in popular food-oriented broadcast entertainment.

Monday Menu at Fabulous Frasca

Perfection is practiced at Boulder’s most acclaimed restaurant. On Mondays, choices are simplified & prices are lower

On my (too) few previous visits to Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder’s award-winning restaurant, I’ve had a devil of a time deciding what to eat. The menu has always been written with several courses of seasonal enticements. The restaurant’s Monday night prix fixe menu removes the agony of decision, because only one dish is offered for each of the four courses — and the choice of supplemental starters is also limited. Frankly, I was a bit relieved not to have to narrow down the selection from the usual array of enticing options when my husband, my son and I dined there yesterday evening.

I tried to remain unobtrusive in this refined restuarant and therefore did not use the flash, so please do not hold the quality of the images against Frasca. The plates and linens really are bright white, and the food shows more color than these flash-free photos convey.

Frasca’s quiet elegance, perfect service, meticulous northern Italian cuisine from the talented chef/partner Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and exemplary wine list overseen by master sommelier/partner Bobby Stuckey have been lauded over and over — and honored again and again. The food, the wine, the service and the ambiance were as polished as always. Last year, while writing a roundup of Boulder resaurants, I spoke with Stuckey and asked how they keep their many honors from going to their heads. “It makes us work even harder to surpass expectations,” he told me. Frasca describes itself as a “neighborhood restaurant,” but few neighborhoods in the US are as fortunate as ours. For us especially, Frasca really is a neighborhood restaurant — just a short walk from our home.

Dinner at Frasca has a quiet rhythm. Water (tap or bottled) is poured into goblets, and two hefty slices of artisanal bread are placed on each bread plate. A modest bit of wine (called a tajut) is poured of while guests browse the menu — and this lovely welcome gesture is made even when there is no decision-making involved but, rather, only a quick read of the evening’s limited offerings. On Monday, the kitchen also sent out complimentary canapes of smoked salmon topped with sweet grilled onion (below) Our only real decisions were whether also to have a “pre-antipasto” and whether to order glasses of wine, a bottle or wines Stuckey had selected to pair with each course — and we all decided on the wine pairing.

The additional starters included a salumi plate (prosciutto and speck, both from northern Italy, and a Tuscan-style salami from California); a plate of spiced almonds, peanuts and cashews, or cole slaw. The salumi looked wonderful, but when I wondered out loud whether we would have room for the dinner that followed if we filled up first, our waiter suggested a half-order (below), with pencil-thin breadsticks called grissini and a horseradish sauce called rafano. And that’s what we did.

Then we launched into the Monday menu, starting with an antipasto consisting of frico caldo, a small brick of bits of potato, onion, nutmeg and Parmigiano Reggiano cooked in oil until golden brown. I can only irreverently describe them as perfect hash browns with a Friuli accent, but what a difference that accent makes, elevating a simple dish to something worthy of a fine-dining restaurant. This is one of Mackinnon-Patterson’s seasonal dishes, and his recipe has been published serveral times. The frico caldo came with two disks of house-made mortadella, bologna’s very rich cousin from Italy, and a crown of crisp shaved cabbage.

The pasta course, called Primo on the menu, was Riso Vialone di Nano (below). This sinfully rich risotto studded with small pieces of diver scallop and celery root was made autumnal with sage. The presentation of this dish, like all those at Frasca’s, was simple, but adornment for the sake of adornment is not Mackinnon-Patterson’s style.

Secondo was grilled veal with fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions and broccoli (below). The last time I had veal is lost in the mists of pre-history, but this veal was grass fed in Oklahoma and showed red center when prepared — more like healthy baby beef than the anemic pallor of caged calves.

The dessert was a slim wedge of faulous rich and crunchy cranberry walnut tart with a hefty chunk of gorgeous Gorgonzola huddled up against it.

Price check: The Monday night dinner is $45 for four courses, including the tajut. A paired wine flight is an additional $43, but there is no requirement to order it. Yesterday’s wine flight consisted of three paired wines from Colle Duga of Friuli: a 1996 Tocai, a 2007 Bianco and a 2005 Merlot. On other evenings, the four-course prix fixe dinner is $62, but it does offer a selection of dishes for each course.

Frasca is located at 1738 Pearl Street, Boulder; 303-442-6966.
Frasca Food & Wine on Urbanspoon

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.