Category Archives: Cocktails

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

Jenna Johansen Goes Global in Denver

Colorado chef on “Around the World in 80 Plates,” new reality TV show

Jenna Johansen, until last fall partner/chef of delightful, delicious Dish in Edwards, is the latest Colorado chef to become a reality TV personality. She appears on Bravo’s “Around the World in 80 Plates,” which premiered on Wednesday evening. On Thursday (that’s yesterday evening), she was at Studio F, James Mazzio’s terrific new Denver Mecca for special food and wine events, preparing a five-course “Celebration of Global Cuisine” dinner that was inspired by countries she visited for the show.

Jenna Johansen & James Mazzio

It plays again this evening and and Saturday, and if you can afford $100 per person for a some great food, well-paired with cocktails and wines, and a congenial evening. Guests are seated at long tables, which lend themselves both to dining with a partner or friend, or solo, since people getting to chatting very quickly.

To start, gentle sangria made with Boraosa grenache rosé, San Pellegrino Limonata, fresh fruit and fresh mint. This and other cocktails were the handiwork of Brian Melton, beverage manager at Leigh Sullivan Enterprises.

Continue reading Jenna Johansen Goes Global in Denver

Sweet Stuff in Downtown Denver

New dessert bar & cocktail lounge fills a downtown Denver void

The team behind Organic Pizza Company are opening Crave Dessert Bar & Lounge on Monday. I jumped at the chance to preview it on Thursday evening. If you are in Colorado, you know that the snow fell hard and heavy on Thursday evening and traffic moved slowly. I took the bus from Boulder, and door-to-door travel, which under the best of circumstances is about an hour, took nearly tw0-and-a-half. I finally walked in the door just as the introductory speeches were winding down. I know that Allen Millham and and Darrell Naughton, who founded the pizzeria (which has its a location right next door), are also partners in the caloric crime called Crave, but there are a lot of other intros I missed — including the gifted pastry chef. I was there in plenty of time to try several cocktails.

If cared for rye whiskey, I would have loved this gorgeous Chocolate Kisses cocktail, made with Old Overholt rye, EVOO Chocolate Balsamic and raspberries. Even though I don't care for that kind of spirit, it liked this coctail -- but not nearly as much as Apples to Apples (Tanqueray gin, muddled apple, apple cider & Cocchi Vermouth di Torino) and the indulgent Dessert in a Glass (Absolut Vanilla, white chocolate-cinnamon suryp, espresso and a crown of cinnamon-infused whipped cream).

Crave was designed to be a sophisticated modern gathering place on the ground flour of The Spire, a sky-piercing downtown luxury apartment building a block from the Denver Performing Arts Complex and across the street from the Colorado Convention Center. I’m hoping that theater-goers and conventioneers quickly discover Crave, which plans to be seven days a week from early morning (try 6:30 a.m.) to well after the theater, it truly fills a downtown void. After one short preview visit, I’m already craving a couple of their pastries.

Thursday was a bizarre evening, bloggishly speaking. I was in such a hurry that I rushed out the door, right past my camera that was on the hall table where I couldn’t possibly forget it. Right! I walked through the near-blizzard to the bus stop, but the bus, which was late to begin with, then crawled much of the way from Boulder to Denver. Feeling and probably looking like Nanook of the North as I entered this swank place, I tried to be unobtrusive among well-dressed guests who actually heard the welcome speeches.  I arrived too late to hear them or even to learn who created those fabulous desserts. Still staying on the fringes of the crowd, I tasted and sipped and talked travel and food until it was time to trek to the bus station for the unpredictable ride home.

I started with a lovely glass of champagne, tasted three cocktails and sampled four desserts. Because I didn’t have a camera, I am relying on images professionally taken for Crave by Marc Piscotty. Problem is, what I ate and drank doesn’t match the images I have, and the images don’t match the menu. Examples? The Vanilla Dusted Donuts — donut holes, actually — are possibly the best I’ve ever eaten, with the Pomegranate Compote to dip them in being a nice extra. The 20-Layer Cake, an assemblage of architectural precision, reminds of a Viennese Doboschtorte — different flavors by improbably thin layers interspersed with luscious filling. The Pumpkin Cheesecake was interesting, but to my taste, a cheesecake filling texture and a mille-feuille texture aren’t the best combo. But that’s just me. In any case, I have images of none of the above, but I do have the cakes below, that I can’t visually match with the menu:

Simply beautiful cake -- like all that Crave offers. I didn't try it, and I can't find it on the menu, but it looks -- as the saying goes -- good enough to eat.


This is another tall, light and handsome cake that I didn't get to try, but isn't a beauty?

I only sampled a few of Crave’s offering, and I’m already craving another go at the donut holes and the 20-layer cake. We are theater-goers, so I hope to persuade my husband to stay for a bite to eat after a play….. Actually, he loves donuts, so I might be able to sell him just on the basis of those Vanilla Dusted Donuts for two. With its  charmed location, Crave plans for long hours. They intend to be open from early coffee and what I’m sure are sublime pastry choices, through a high tea-style mid-day meal through until late in the evening for decadent desserts, drinks and a selection of charcuterie and cheese plates for those who prefer savory to sweet. Since Denver tends to button down early, Crave will fill a vacant night niche. I just hope there are enough sweet-toothed night owls downtown to patronize it.

Price Check: In the evening, “Cravings” (desserts), $9 + Dessert for 2, $12; Chef’s Charcuterie Plates ($16-$20): Specialty Cocktail Menu, $7-$10; wine tasting flights, $10-$12.

Crave Dessert Bar & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Spring44 Vodka & Gin Local Launch at SALT in Boulder

Colorado-made all-natural spirits introduced to media and hospitality industry folks

The invitation to be among the first in Boulder to taste the new made-in-Colorado, all- natural vodka, honey vodka and gin under the Spring44 brand was irresistible. Part of the irresistibility was curiosity about in-state, sustainably produced artisanal  spirits. Part was because the local launch took place at SALT Bistro, whose food is great and mixology program creative — as I wrote about here when the restaurant introduced its DIY cocktail program that invites guests to concoct their own drinks. In New York, they launched at at Madison Square Garden and other high-profile venues that now escape me. In Colorado, where the brand born, the intro was lower key, at SALT, Denver’s Euclid Hall and perhaps some other venues that no one mentioned.

Spring44 premium spirits source their pure water at some 9,000 feet in what sounds like an inholding in the Roosevelt National Forest in Buckhorn Canyon, west of Fort Collins. In one order or another, they distill it and filter it several times through coconut fibers, letting natural flavors shine through. Spring44’s promotional materials and press kit arerather coy, so I am not sure whether the distillery is in Fort Collins, in Denver (where there is an office and/or mailing address) or elsewhere.

SALT beverage director Evan Faber consulting on a cocktail using a Spring44 product.
I had to leave before the intro event was over because I was on a travel panel that evening, so I only had one drink. My choice mango/honey vodka fizz (above right) was really tasty. Another guest's drink is on the left. I wish I could have stayed to taste the other two Spring44 items mixed with other flavors and made in other styles.

On the way out, I was able to snap a few images and nab a couple of the wonderful raw bar bites put out when the party moved up to the main floor from the basement where it started.

Oysters on ice.
Pretty skewered somethings. I took the picture but didn't want to spoil the preentation before anyone else had a chance to taste.
Smoked salmon-plus on left and shrimp-plus on the right. Again, I photographed -- and that was that.

And than, as I rued previously, I had to leave.


Two Arugula Spin-Offs Opening This Week

Tangerine opens June 4 and Amaro Drinkery premieres on June 9

This is going to be quite a week for Alec Shuler, owner chef of North Boulder’s wonderful Arugula Bar e Ristorante. Tomorrow, June 4, is the official opening day of Tangerine, a breakfast, brunch and lunch restaurant directly next door to Arugula, and in a few days, Amaro Drinkery Italia premieres. They might have prior soft openings, but those dates are “show time” for the staff and the public.

The press release describes Tangerine as “a fresh, playful, affordable, warm, and simple restaurant.” A lot of breakfast/lunch places are simple. Take, for example, the Village Coffee Shop, a morning geasery beloved by people who like to start their day their day with the hefty kind of food (breakfast burritos, fried eggs, bacon, sausages, hash browns, butter-slathered toast etc.) that only those who do heavy physical labor should even consider. In winter. And who are young and have waterhose-size arteries.

Tangerine will be the first in town to present food on the natural side. Shuler’s takes on traditional morning emphasize local items. I haven’t seen a full menu, but breakfast features such items as house-made corned beef, Long Family Farm bacon, Yukon gold potatoes and free-range eggs. Multi-grain pancakes are made with whole wheat, oats and corn and are served with cinnamon butter, poached mission figs. Even healthier is the house-made granola with dried fruits and nuts, and the oatmeal whole grain oatmeal mixed with dried black cherries and dark chocolate. And we all now know that dark chocolate is a health food. The website is still a shell, but Tangerine has a Facebook page with a conceptual drawing and some construction photos. Starting tomorrow, hours are 7:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily.

Starting on Wednesday June 8, Amaro Drinkery Italia opens next door. I’m unclear as to how this is all working. Tangerine’s address is 2779 Iris Avenue, which is where Radek Cerny ‘s Full Belly (later Radex) was located. Amaro’s address is 2785 Iris Avenue, which is where Arugula gets its mail. Arugula’s phone number (303-443-5100) and website are also listed for Amaro. I guess I’ll have to make a field trip or wait for the new places to open to find out whether Arugula has morphed into Amaro or whether Shuler has subdivided the original Laudisio space into three different operations. Arugula must still be there because they hosted a winemaker dinner on Tuesday evening. It too has a non-existent website but an active Facebook page.

In any case, Amaro is billed as a bar and lounge that will be serving a small plate menu, including salumi shaved on an antique style slicer (shades of Frasca), cheese and an extensive handcrafted cocktail program. Other Shulerisms include greens with sweet pickled cauliflower, raisins, pine nuts and capers, Italian sausage poached in olive oil with onion and seasonal veggies over creamy polenta or steamed rice. mixologists Dante Reesman and Bianca Huggins will be handcrafting cocktails. Salute!

Oak at Fourteenth’s Roller Coaster Week

Elation and agony at downtown Boulder eatery

It was the best of weeks. It was the worst of weeks at Oak at Fourteenth. The restaurant was all over the media: an ode to their shrimp and grits in the March issue of 5280 Magazine.The March issue of Food & Wine had  Oak on its list of the country’s seven best new bars, high praise for the place and for chief mixologist Bryan Dayton. The Denver Post’s Wednesday, March 9, edition rolled off the presses with a an “Eat Local ” piece about Oak called “Savor Its Sopshisticated Takes on Comfort Food.”  The ink was hardly dry when a fire broke out in the flue over the restaurant’s brick oven. I wrote about it here. In comparison with the earthquake in Japan and its aftermath, this fire hardly can be called tragic, but it is a setback for this popular new restaurant.

There are plans to rebuild as quickly as possible and to reopen as soon as possible, perhaps as soon as six weeks, with some design changes, which will be good news to its cadre of loyal patrons and to others who occasionally dine there. The most concrete piece of good news came yesterday when Oak at Fourteenth’s Rachel Ellenberger won the 303 Vodka Best Mixologist contest. The only requirement was that this Boulder-produced vodka had to be included in the cocktail. The competition among barkeeps from eight top local restaurants took place at the East Boulder distillery, and I’m assuming she didn’t get just a sympathy vote.

DIY Cocktails at SALT — or Not

Boulder bistro offers option of becoming your own drink creator

When Evan Faber, a trained sommelier and now beverage director at SALT Bistro, was at one of downtown Boulder’s many coffee shops not long ago, he listened customers ordered espresso drinks precisely to their liking: large or small; single, double or even triple shot; decaf or high test; non-fat, low-fat, whole milk, soy milk or no milk; lots of foam, little foam, no foam; this flavoring, that flavoring or no flavoring. His observation led to musing and then to some deeper thinking:

In this Mad Men-inspired culutral age when people are again appreciating classic, retro and even pre-Prohibition drinks. Faber (below left) began formulating an idea whose time has come. He began creating comparable cocktail customization. He realized that that people feel comfortable ordering drinks that they know but most haven’t dissected cocktails on their own to slot drinks into specific mix-and-match styles. He floated the idea of guiding customers. He took his idea to owner/chef Bradford Heap (right) who told him, “You’re free to fly.” So Faber took off with his idea.

Now, when customers are seated at SALT’s upstairs or downstairs bars or at a table, they receive the conventional menu and also a plastic card and a grease pencil. On the card are pictograms of different spirits that are the foundation of cocktails (vodka, gin, tequila, Scotch, bourbon, etc.), liqueurs or other flavor or sweetening agents (citrus, mint, cucumber, cardamom, tamarind, vanilla, lavender and more for summer, with some options to be switched in fall) and style (short, tall, rocks, neat, with soda water or not). Some combinations are suggested, but customers are encouraged to create their own. The bartenders, who have all enthusiastically bought into this concept, are happy to provide some guidance. Pricing is simple: $4 for a short drink, $8 for a tall one.

A very cool iPhone app (below) being developed starts out displaying an empty glass that fills up as each ingredient is added. When the glass is full, customers can save the combination, should they want to order it again. When it goes live, it will be accessible only in the restaurant, which I consider something of a technological trick.

SALT launched the concept quietly about six weeks ago, and I finally tried the DIY cocktails last night at a special tasting that also included flavor identification by sip and smell, and “error detection” by tasting cocktails that had too much or not enough of some element. I learned a lot during a couple of head-spinning hours. A “Daisy” was a popular drink in the 1920s, but when Prohibition hit, it migrated south of the border. The Spanish word for that flower is margarita, and that’s what the drink become, eventually after Repeal migrating back across the border with returning tourists and Mexican immigrants. Add soda water to a Cuban-rooted mojito and it becomes a sling — or is it a Rickey? There’s so much to play with and so much to remember.

My combination, which I dubbed a “TequilaRind,” was a short drink: tequila, Triple Sec and on the theory that more is more, all three of the “suggested” flavors (tamarind, vanilla, pomegranate) instead of just one, a splash of soda and an edible flower that I didn’t eat as garnish. It won’t win me an mixologist honors. but it was mostly tangy with vanilla tempering the fruitiness and soda as a refresher.

When I asked Evan whether anyplace else in the country was doing anything similar and encouraging customers to concoct their own cocktails, he said that the New York Times had recently written about “a bar in Tribeca”.that was doing something similar. The story, called “Name Your Potion: Bourbon, Cardamom, Twinkies?”, was about Ward III, whose “Bespoke Cocktails” operate on a similar principle. Frank Bruni wrote the Times piece, so of course,.he called his drink, which included strawberries, a “BruniBerry.” Click here for the recipe. My TequilaRind is lost to posterity.

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