Category Archives: Cocktails

Tasting Iceland’s Reyka Vodka in Denver

Made of Iceland spring water and made for great cocktails

ReykaVodka-logoI’m obsessively watching the Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, so vodka is on my mind. I’m eagerly awaiting the schedule for the upcoming Society of American Travel Writers Convention in Reykjavik, so Iceland is on my mind. And I know that Tom Coohill, owner/chef of Cohills, a fine restaurant overlooking Cherry Creek on the fringes of LoDo, has been selected as one of the 13 international guest chefs to compete in Iceland’s Food and Fun Festival in Reykjavik from February 26 to March 2.  The Coohill-Iceland connection first surfaced with a special Taste of Iceland menu offered for just a few days in September 2012; click here for my post.

Little wonder, then, that I jumped at the chance to meet Daniel Brancusi, the brand ambassador of Iceland’s Reyka Vodka to the US. Reyka is an heir to the great tradition of distilled spirits from Scotland. William Grant & Sons, a giant in the world of Scotch, went on a mission to create a perfect vodka. They installed a rare CarterHead still in the village of Borgarnes, adding a botanical basket for the distinctive Icelandic herbs that imbue a unique flavor. In the geo-thermal-powered facility, Reyka’s master distiller Thordor Siggurdson hand-crafts the small-batch vodka filtered through ancient lava rocks and made from the purest Icelandic spring water. Click here for details on the process. Bottom line is that Reyka captures a clean taste with a crisp, smooth finish.

The Reyka Vodka still in a small town near Reykjavik, Iceland.
The Reyka Vodka still in a small town near Reykjavik, Iceland.

Coohills serves Reyka vodka, as do Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder and Acorn at The Source in Denver, where I tried a cocktails made with it. Bryan Dayton, the creative beverage director at both Oak and Acorn, devised those two Reyka-bearing cocktails.

Acorn's lusty, flavorful bloody Mary is made with Reyka Vodka,
Acorn’s lusty, flavorful bloody Mary is made with Reyka Vodka, “the real dill” bloody Mary mix and Demitri’s spice mix with Old Bay liberally coating the rim and a stalk of celery and a lemon wedge.
Crossing the Tracks is a more subtle, but no less flavorful cocktail. Reyka vodka, aperole, St. Germain. aloe, and grapefruit are served in a stemmed cocktail glass.
Crossing the Tracks is a more subtle, but no less flavorful cocktail. Reyka vodka, aperole, St. Germain. aloe, grapefruit juice and a floating lemon wedge are served in a stemmed cocktail glass.

With its small-batch artisanal commitment, I don’t imagine we’ll ever see see Reyka on every cocktail menu in town, but I’m guessing the Oak-Acorn and Coohills’ mixologists won’t be the only ones around using the clean, distinctive vodka.

Redo of Boulder Rio’s Menu

P1040030The downtown Boulder location of the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant has embarked on a redesign. The first phase is a revamped rooftop bar and the addition of a cozy, low-ceilinged (and therefore very loud) new mezzanine bar. In this repurposed storage room, the new Shift Bar was named to recognize the building’s earlier role as an auto-body shop. The walls are decorated with the likes of an arrangement of wrenches evoking the past.

Traditionally, people haven’t gone to the Rio primarily for the food, though it is scratch-made and reliably consistent. They go for the margaritas (a limit of three per person, whether a petite woman or a big guy with a linebacker build). The service always seems to depends on the server and can be anything from off-handed to efficient. And it has not been a place for cleanliness freaks, because the table might be sticky or the floor sprinkled with crumbs and other food remnants — or maybe not. But for potent drinks, a party atmosphere and moderate prices, it can’t be beat. In a previous post, I wrote about the Rio experience — and it has better food images too.

The menu has been tinkered with to bring it very much up to today’s tastes in food and drink. In addition to the potent margaritas (rocks or frozen, salt or not, lime or strawberry), the Rio has now cocktailized its drink menu. New on the menu are the likes of Ranch Water (El Tesoro silver, soda water and fresh lime), Paloma (the Rio’s introduction of Herradura silver plus soda, fresh grapefruit juice and a slice of lime) and the Perfect Storm (Herradura reposada, fresh lime, ginger beer and cassis). In addition to the tequila cocktails, the new cucumber mojito is the only rum-based item.

The Perfect Storm, one of the Boulder Rio's new cocktails.
The Perfect Storm, one of the Boulder Rio’s new cocktails.

Executive chef Nate Booth has developed a new bar menu of scratch-made small plates to go with the new drinks. Some samples:

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Rio Grande Mexican on Urbanspoon

Divine Sips & Bites at Restaurant Kevin Taylor

P1020901Restaurant Kevin Taylor might just have to be renamed Restaurant Kevin & Ryan Taylor, because chef/restaurateur Kevin’s son Ryan is now executive chef in his dad’s fine-dining restaurant in Denver’s classy and dramatic Hotel Teatro. Ryan is only 24, but his style is mature and deft.

It doesn’t seem to have been nepotism but talent and the same sensibility for refined and creative dishes with balanced flavors and artistic presentation. Ryan’s dishes display his father’s high standards and instead of culinary school, he staged in Europe and now is top toque In the Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group’s flagship.

Executive chef Ryan Taylor popped upstairs to a private room on the mezzanine to explain each dish, then returned to the kitchen on the main floor.
Executive chef Ryan Taylor popped upstairs to a private room on the mezzanine to explain each dish, then returned to the kitchen on the main floor.

The restaurant invited a group of Front Range bloggers to sample microcosmic versions of items from the new menu. Each tasting portion was accompanied by a shot glass of a special cocktail. The event was cocktail party-style with all of us crowded around small tables as the waitstaff brought course after course, drink after drink.

Silky foie gras mousse with turnip marmalade (yes!) and miso gastrique on an amaretti socca cracker, a gluten-free cracker made with chickpea flour.
Silky foie gras mousse with turnip marmalade (yes!) and miso gastrique on an amaretti socca cracker, a gluten-free cracker made with chickpea flour. Cocktail: Van Gogh apple vodka, DiSaronno and Lucien Albright rose.
Lamb and eucalyptus soup with lime, pine nuts and a glaze of EVOO. Cocktail: Hendricks gin, limocello, mint and lemon verbena..
Lamb and eucalyptus soup with lime, pine nuts and a glaze of EVOO. Cocktail: Hendricks gin, limocello, mint and lemon verbena..
Lobster tartar with mustard seed, blood orange, basil and horseradish on an endive
Lobster tartar with mustard seed, blood orange, basil and horseradish on an endive “boat.” Cocktail: Bloody Mary martini made with pepper vodka, orange juice and micro-basil.
Scottish salmon rillettes on a sweet potato cake base with buckwheat granola and apple Earl Grey compote, the first of two tastes served on Chinese soup spoon. Cocktail: Stranahan's whiskey, grapefruit juice and muddle cucumber,
Scottish salmon rillettes on a sweet potato cake base with buckwheat granola and apple Earl Grey compote, the first of two tastes served on Chinese soup spoon. Cocktail: Stranahan’s whiskey, grapefruit juice and muddle cucumber,
Braised bison shortrib with cumin, oolive beet relish and prune puree, pictured here with the paired cocktail: rye whiskey, Campari bitters and, of all soft drinks, root beer.
Braised bison shortrib with cumin, olive- beet relish and prune puree, pictured here with the paired cocktail: rye whiskey, Campari bitters and, of all soft drinks, root beer.
Dessert was Restaurant Kevin Taylor's version of Snickers (peanut butter powder, burn caramel and nougat in a chocolate mantle.
Dessert was Restaurant Kevin Taylor’s version of Snickers (peanut butter powder, burn caramel and nougat in a chocolate mantle.
The dessert cocktail merits space of its own. This chocolate
The dessert cocktail merits space of its own. This chocolate “martini” combines Godiva liqueur, Frangelico and Baileys in shot glass whose rim was dipped into molten chocolate and sugared.

No Price Check here, because this was a special event, but know that Restaurant Kevin Taylor is a pricey place. Then again, you get what you pay for: interesting food, often in unusual combinations, exquisitely plated and meticulously served. One of Denver’s finest, for sure.

Restaurant Kevin Taylor on Urbanspoon

Testing Zengo’s ‘Test Kitchen’

Latin-Asian fusion restaurant blends two cuisines at a time for special menu

Zengo-logoZengo, which means “give and take” in Japanese takes aspects of Latin culinary traditions and gives them to Asian cuisines and vice versa. This broad cross-fertilization has been further refined by chef/restaurateur Richard Sandoval and chef de cuisine Clint Wangsnes who developed new dishes melding flavors, and preparation techniques to create new combinations — I should write, interesting new combinations. Several of these dishes are featured as Test Kitchen specials, designated as TK on the menu.

The first TK dishes offered from October through early January combined Korean and Mexican. The current menu, which is available for three months, combines Filipino and Argentine elements, and the result were unusual and delicious dishes. The large restaurant is cleverly divided into smaller spaces via different ceiling heights, partial room dividers and great colors.  I didn’t get a chance to sample the first combo, but my husband and I were invited to try the current menu. From our window table, we could have watched the passing foot traffic, but we were more focused on the food set before us.

Cocktails

  • Guava Mate. Broker’s gin, guava, yerba mate and lime. The guava flavor dominated. Yerba mate is a beverage made from a rainforest tree that grows in South America, including Argentina.
  • Calamansi-Papaya Punch. The citrus-forward cocktail is made with Castillo rum, Midori that makes it green, a citrus hybrid called calamansi and papaya.

Ceviche

  • Mahi Mahi Ceviche. Small bites of mahi mahi  and charred pineapple in cured in coconut milk, along with bonito flakes and red onion on top.

Antojitos

  • Filipino Lumpia Spring Rolls. Crisp-fried, open-ended spring rolls filled with minced, cumin-spiked shrimp and chicken, with a pile of julienned carrots and red cabbage and watercress leaves. The dipping sauce is somewhat reminiscent of Chinese duck sauce.
  • Oxtail Humitas. From Argentina, a single tamal — a corn husk overstuffed with masa, topped with boneless chunks of oxtail and served with a peanut sauce that reminded me of the Thai sauce the comes with satay and tamarind cocnut milk.

Main Dishes

  • Bacolod Filipino BBQ Chicken. Moist and tender skin-on chicken breast with a wing section attached. Chicken was marinated in a lemongrass-chile mixture then grilled as served with coconut ride, pickled papaya strips and a wonderful red chimichurri.
  • Tagalog-Style Churrasco Steak. Churrasco isn’t a cut of meat but refers to grilling. Here, thick, boneless steak was steeped in a calamansi citrus-soy marinade, served with sweet potato tostones (dense twice-fried sweet potatoes),  lemongrass mojo and green herb chimichurri.

 Dessert? No thanks, we’re full.

The pictures that follow are the first taken with a new smart phone — and some are too dark to inflict on you. We dined lavishly on items from the Test Kitchen menu, but I’m only including images that are not too painful to look at.

Continue reading Testing Zengo’s ‘Test Kitchen’

Lucky Rum Recipe

Colt & Gray mixologist develops 12/12/12 cocktail

Ron Abuelo Rums asked 12 mixologists throughout the U.S. to create signature cocktail as a toast to the 2012 holiday season — especially to commemorate the 12/12/12 date, the lucky likes of which won’t happen again for a long time. Kevin Burke of Colt & Gray is one of thechosen dozen to mix a special cocktrail for one of the luckiest days of the year. Kevin created “Catherine’s Cup,” t0 be featured on 12/12/12 and throughout the holiday season. He used Ron Abuelo 12 Años, a fine dark aged rum from Panama, and took further inspiration from the Chinese Year of the Dragon. Frankly, I have no idea where the name Catherine’s Cup came from, but here’s what it is:

Catherine’s Cup
Created by mixologist Kevin Burke of Colt & Gray (Denver)

2 oz. Ron Abuelo 12 Años
1/2 oz. Orgeat Syrup
1/4 oz. orange liqueur
1 dash Angostura Bitters
sprig of fresh mint
1 whole coffee bean

Add the Ron Abuelo 12 Años, syrup, orange liqueur and bitters to the base of a julep tin.  Stir briefly to combine, then fill with crushed ice.  Using a bar spoon begin to churn the mixture thoroughly chilling and diluting the cocktail. Add more crushed ice to top over the tin and briefly place the cocktail in the freezer to set the ice and frost the glass. Garnish with a generous mint sprig and a fine grating of a coffee bean and serve with a straw.

Election Day Cake & Election Night Cocktails

Cake is traditional, but now, also celebrate the end of the Election season with a drink

Food historians tell us that an Election Cake recipe first appeared in print in Amelia Simmons’ 1796 American Cookery cookbook. In the 1800s, the cake was served at election time (at least in New England) and was commonly called Hartford Election Cake. From Nourished Kitchen, a site devoted to “reviving traditional foods,” comes this:

“Like a bite from American history, [Election Cake] makes its rounds every November. I make it every year, but only once a year – just before the election. Preparing Election Cake is a celebration of love, of patriotism, of politics and of history….In early America, the electoral process brought communities together in festivity and revelry. Families traveled from the far reaches of their region to town centers where they enjoyed a holiday – visiting neighbors homes, dancing at balls, drinking, carousing and mustering for the local militia. Indeed, for a time before America revolted and became a nation in her own right, these celebratory spiced cakes that we know (or used to know) as election cakes were called muster cakes.

“After the revolution, mustering for the occupying forces no longer proved a necessity, but festivities still surrounded the electoral process and these spiced and fruit-studded cakes were renamed for the annual elections. Election cakes commissioned by local government could often command several hundred dollars by today’s standards, as they were massive – intended to feed an entire community of voters.”

Election Cake is sort of a light, aromatic fruitcake, a version of which I made once long ago in the cantankerous oven of my New York apartment when I would invite friends over to watch the returns. Sustenance was required for the long haul of ballot counting across four time zones. I haven’t hosted an election party in years, and the renaissance of the cocktail seems to lead to going out somewhere for a drink, whether to  celebrate our candidate’s victory or mourn his defeat — or more likely out of relief at the end of “…and I approved this message” season.

The mixologists at the Tap Room at the Omni Interlocken Resort & Spa in Broomfield have devised several enticing and beautiful cocktails to mark the end of this divisive and ugly campaign season:

Mudslinging Mudslinger from the Omni Interlocken’s Tap Room.
  • Swing State. A non-partisan Cosmo with Belvedere vodka, Grand Marnier, white cranberry juice and lime.
  • Mudslinging Mudslide. A creamy  combination of Belvedere vodka, Baileys and Kahlua served with a shot of  espresso.
  • Red Rush. A martini  mixed with Belvedere vodka, pomegranate and grapefruit juices and a “conservative” splash of Grand Marnier.
  • Blue Crush. Blueberry lemonade refresher made for the adult voter with a “liberal” pour of  Belvedere vodka, a splash of lavender and soda.
  • The Thin Margin. A skinny cocktail made with Belvedere Lemon Tea vodka, fresh mint and a splash of  soda (less than 200 calories).
  • Hail To The Chief! Sparkling champagne cocktail made with Chandon Brut, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, and a dash of Belvedere vodka. 

Which would you choose? I like the sentiment behind the “non-partisan” Swing State, but I’m afraid the Mudslinging Mudslide is a more accurate acknowledgment of POTUS 2012. Meanwhile, if The Tap Room had a suggestion box, I would urge them to get the hotel’s bakers to begin perfecting an Election Cake at this elevation so that four years from now, they might actually give a slice to each election day guest. They might start with Nourished Kitchen’s recipe.

Like Mother Like Son On Tequila ExpressTrain

Extra-special Herradura tequila available in Colorado + distillery visits

I rode the Tequila Express from Guadalajara into the Jalisco hill country around the town of Amatitán, where blue agave is cultivated. My trip was part of the Society of American Travel Writers 2009 Convention. My son Andrew is there now and the Tequila Express is on the itinerary. He is a sales rep for a wine and spirits distributor, which is sending him as a performance reward — in his case for, among other things,  selling a case of a premium Herradura tequila such as double barrel añejo, and along with his customer (Durango’s El Rancho Tavern, I think), having a say in the way it’s made. It sounds as if his distillery visit following the train ride will be more VIP than ours. I can hardly wait to

I believe that Boulder’s West End Tavern previously purchased a barrel not long ago. When my husband, our friend Dave and I went there for a bite to eat on a recent Sunday afternoon, we didn’t spring for a super-pricey premium adult beverage, but the West End’s beer is cold and the margs tasty, and that’s what we were after as we waited for our meals. Continue reading Like Mother Like Son On Tequila ExpressTrain