Category Archives: Colorado

The New York Times Discovers Boulder Dining

The New York Times Travel Section today contained a short article on Boulder dining titled “Fine Dining With a Hippie Past.” Writer Michelle Auerbach rounded up the usual recent suspects: Frasca Food & Wine, The Kitchen and Mateo. She observed, “The new kitchens are refining the town’s hippie past, with an almost obsessive focus on organic ingredients, brand-name boutique farms and eco-friendly practices, like composting, recycling and renewable energy.” True enough. However, I think that she falls into a “stereotrap” when harking back to Boulder’s hippie days, which were ascendant a long time ago. I’ve lived in Boulder for nearly 18 1/2 years, and that hippie heyday had already waned by the time I got here. Now, you have to look hard to find what’s left of that ’60s and ’70s counterculture in Boulder itself, though it is alive and well living up the hill in Ward.

Fabulous as the “new kitchens” are, there’s also a lot to be said for some of the “old kitchens” — John’s Restaurant (established in 1969), the Flagstaff House (1971), Laudisio’s (1986), L’Atelier (owner/chef Radek Czerny opened his first Boulder restaurant in 1988). I know that there were space constaints to this assignment, but it always pains me when the media — especially the New York- and California-based media — are so fixated on the newest, hippest, trendiest restaurants that they ignore those that have been carefully preparing and graciously serving fine, sophisticated food for a long time.

Brown Palace Food Sampling

The other night, it was just great to be a travel writer. To showcase its lovely new spa, Denver’s historic Brown Palace Hotel hosted a reception for local travel media. Rather than put everything in the hands of the events catering department, the organizer invited chefs from all of the Brown’s restaurants to prepare something special. The graceful event was held in the small, elegant second-floor Brown Palace Club, located at the “prow” of the triangle-shaped hotel. White-gloved servers welcomed guests with champagne, wine or mojitos — and a bar prepared other drinks on order.

In addition to hors d’oeuvres passed by other white-gloved servers, each restaurant had set up a station. I had eaten in various Brown Palace restaurants over the years, but never was I able to sample all of their dishes at once. This was what the chefs presented — and I had no favorites among these excellent offerings:
PALACE ARMS (the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant)
Foie Gras Torchon Canapes
Scallop & Potato Gratin with Champagne Caviar Beurre Blanc and American Caviar
Caesar Salad Prepared to Order

SHIP TAVERN (Denver’s answer to waterfront traverns, open since 1934 and the repeal of Prohibition)
Mini Crab Cakes with Tropical Fruit Salad
Seared Ahi Tuna on Crispy Won Ton and Asian Slaw

ELLYNGTON’S (the hotel’s gracious main dining room where its legendary Sunday brunch is also served)
Yogurt Panna Cotta with Mango
Souvlaki Taquitos
House Made Flat Bread, Tzatziki, Romaine, Tomatoes and Red Onion, Baba Ghanoush and Tabbouleh

LOBBY TEA (afternoon tea in the lobby, a Brown Palace tradition, replicated a portion of the offerings for this reception)
Tea Pastries, Tea Sandwiches and Canapes

BROWN PALACE BAKERY (pastries and desserts fit for royalty and served in various restaurants at the Brown)
Mile High Chocolate Shot (Arriba Grand Cru Chocolate Shots with Grand Marnier Foam and Chocolate Spikes)
Chocolate Cocoa Nibs
Fruit Bellini Shots
Arriba Grand Cru Chocolate Shots
Black Currant Puree and Passion Fruit Puree
Creme Brulee Cheese Cake
Candied Pineapple

BROWN PALACE CATERING/BANQUETS (serving individually shaken seafood martinis, prepared fresh by a catering cook)
Seafood Martini Bar (Fire Grilled Rock Shrimp, Lobster, Lump Crab, Ginger Citrus Glaze, Brunoise Vegetables and Pickled Green Beans)

Upcoming Food Events – One in Town, Two on the Snow

I expect a fundraiser featuring four top chefs to live up to its name, “Night of Excellence.” Chefs Mark Fiorentino of Daniel Boulud Restaurants (New York), Mike Morehead, Gourmet Fine Catering (Denver), Christian “Goose” Sorensen of Solera Restaurant (Denver) and Bradford Thompson of The Phoenician (Scottsdale, AZ) will pull out all culinary stops in a fundraiser for the Brian Thompson Memorial Scholarship Foundation, which supports aspiring young chefs in undertaking a formal three-year program at a local culinary school. Brian Thompson, a young chef with Whirled Peas Catering which is instrumental in putting on the event, died accidentally and tragically on February 28, 2006. He was not related to The Phoenician’s Bradford Thompson.

The “Night of Excellence” is scheduled exactly one year later, on February 28, 2007, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm at the Cable Center, 2000 Buchtel Boulevard, Denver. The program includes cooking demonstrations, wonderful food, paired wines and a silent auction. Tickets are $100 per person. For reservations, call 720-335-2718 or visit the foundation’s website.

The annual Crested Butte Nordic Council Progressive Bonfire Dinner combines a distinctive four-star, four-course, four-fire dinner with cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Locals and visitors alike share the warmth and camaraderie around crackling fires, with good food and warm drinks along the way. The dinner starts at 5:00 pm on March 17, at the Town Ranch trailhead with a cup of hot wine or cocoa to sip while sitting on straw bales around the first fire.

Skiers and snowshoers follow a path of luminarias along 4 kilometers of Nordic trails with appetizer, soup, entrée and dessert courses of Italian fare served around bonfires along the way. The dinner costs $30 for adults and $15 for children under age 12, with proceeds supporting the Gunnison/Crested Butte Junior Nordic Ski Team. Reservations are required; call 970-349-1707.

Various Vail charities benefit from the 17th annual Taste of Vail, from April 11 to 14, the perfect bridge from the end of the ski season to the beginning of the food-festival season. The busy schedule includes food and wine seminars, winemaker dinners at some of the Vail Valley’s top restaurants, the Grand Tasting (fine wine poured by winemakers and winery owners from around the globe, an abundance of great food, an auction and dancing), and my personal favorite, the popular mountaintop picnic extravaganza at 10,350 feet atop Vail Mountain. I can ski before the picnic, but I’ve never managed to ski afterwards!

The Taste of Vail is an a la carte production, with various ticket categories offered. It’s complicated, so check the website if you are interested. For tickets or further information, go to the Taste of Vail website or call 970-926-5665.

Inauguration Dinners, Redux

On January 10, before Gov. Bill Ritter’s inauguration dinner, I posted what I then knew about the festivities. Denver Post food writer Ellen Sweets hovered around the cavernous kitchens of the Denver Convention Center to tell us more. Her story, “Cooking for 7,000,” appeared in Wednesday’s paper. In addition to the Ritter banquet, meals had been ordered for one group of 2,500 and one of 300 meeting there. The convention center’s catering staff plus hired guns from out of town, culinary schools and the occasional retiree who comes in to help for such “monster events” prepared something like 7,000 meals for the Ritter banquet and for two groups, one of 2,500 and one of 300, who were meeting there.

In my earlier post, I wondered what non-meat-eaters would be served. “We usually figure that in a gathering this large, about 5 percent of the diners will be vegetarians,” executive sous-chef Carmen Callo told Sweets. Vegatable Wellingtons were available for them.

The paper also published recipes for the entree (Governor’s Beef Wellington with Cabernet Sauvignon Demi-Glace Sauce) and for the dessert (White Chocolate Winter Wonderland Parfait of Blackberry Swirl Mousse Topped with Biscotti Crunch). Mercifully, the beef Wellington recipe is broken down to serve six and the parfait serve three.

The Perfect Meal

New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni wrote a feature for today’s paper on the mythical perfect meal in New York, in which he fantasized a mix-and-match menu from restaurants all over the city. I’m not going to give this too much thought, but off the top, my perfect Colorado meal from the past year might be something like this:

For the appetizer, chef Kevin Taylor’s remarkable Home Made Soft Egg Filled Ravioli with Ricotta, Parmesan and Truffle Oil, a signature dish served at his Prima restaurants in Boulder and Denver — and perhaps others in his culinary empire as well.

The soup course would be a tossup between The Kitchen’s renowned tomato soup, a signature at this divine Boulder eatery, and the Jerusalem artichoke soup at Mel’s in Denver that was as gorgeous as it was delicious.

The best salad, hands-down, was the Caesar salad prepared at tableside at the elegant Penrose Room in The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

In addition to flawless, thoughtful and careful service and drop-dead views, the Flagstaff House’s triple-header Ruby Red Trout, King Salmon and Diver Caught Scallop with Crisp Polenta Cake, Shiitake Mushrooms, Leeks and Caviar Butter Watercress Sauce, a one-plate feast, is my entree of choice for ’06.

Dessert is a toughie. Again because it recently passed my palate, the Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake with Ginger Ice Cream, Passion Fruit Creme anglais and Nutmeg served at Boulder’s Black Cat Bistro was a particularly memorable dessert. I actually ordered another wonderful choice but tasted this one, which was even better. Or, the top dessert might have been the Crisp Dark Chocolate Dome with blackberry filling and blackberry sauce (photo right) at Q’s in Boulder’s Hotel Boulderado. A toss-up indeed.
Special mention has to go to the cioccolato caldo con frittelle, a glass mug of of hot chocolate (a blend of French and Mexican chocolates into a dark brew, not thick but extremely flavorful) topped with whipped cream and accompanied by small sugar-coated fritters, sort of Italian beignets. Boulder’s Trattoria on Pearl serves this unusual and totally fabulous drinkable dessert.

I can hardly believe 2006 passed without a visit to Boulder’s award-winning Frasca or to L’Atelier across the street. Both of them would surely have served contenders for every course. For wine choice, I’ll put myself in the capable hands of sommeliers at Frasca, The Penrose Room (or its sister restaurant, Summit, across the street from the hotel) or the Flagstaff House anytime — budget permitting — to recommend the perfect wines to go with the perfect meal.

For more on these and other restaurants I was privileged to try in ’06, go to my website and click on ‘Dining Diary.” Bon appetit!

Pre-Theater Bites in Denver

Patrons of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts don’t exactly have a vast choice of places to grab a bite before a show. There are full-service restaurants as far afield as the 16th Street Mall and Larimer Square, and I’ve written about a number of them on the “Dining Diary” portion of my website, but quick-bite places right there? There haven’t been too many, but now there are three.

Today, Backstage Coffee opened in street-level space on 14th Street, just beside the steps that go up to the complex’s arcade. It has good pastries, coffee drinks, ice cream, burritos, soft drinks, wines by the glass and more to come. We grabbed to-go fare on the way to a 6:30 curtain — a ham and cheese croissant for my husband and a burrito for me. It’s the first coffee-teria in the complex since funky, spacious Pablo’s closed months ago to make room for a real estate sales office.

In the arcade is the Theatre Deli — hard to find because it’s tucked in behind the parking garage elevators. We’ve only bought stuff there once and were underwhelmed by the sandwiches. A better bet is the Hot Ticket Cafe in the lobby of the Helen Bonfils multi-stage building. It offers a limited menu of quality items, operated by the owner of Jay’s Patio Cafe in the Highlands East neighborhood.

It isn’t always practical to have a full dinner before a show, but I’m grateful when rumbling stomachs don’t compete with the actors.

5.8 Million Calories — But Who’s Counting?

Keystone has long been one of Colorado’s most food-oriented mountain resorts. The Chocolate Village crafted annually by chef Ned Archibald takes 10 months to create and assemble. This year, Keystone celebrates its 36th anniversary with 36 Days of Chocolate, culminating with the unveiling of the 2006 Chocolate Village on December 15 in the lobby of the Keystone Lodge. That’s 5.8 million calories! Not surprising considering that it includes an enormous chocolate mountain with a working chocolate gondola, a cascading chocolate waterfall and a tall white-chocolate Christmas tree with spun-sugar ornaments. The village will be on display through January 2, so don’t miss seeing it if you ski Keystone between now and the end of the holidays.

The chocolate fest actually kicked off on November 17, but I was too busy eating at First Bite Boulder restaurants to notice. But there are still several weeks of chocolohia during which Keystone restaurants feature signature dishes, appetizers, desserts, drinks and even salads with a sweet chocolate twist. Examples: The Edgewater Café‘s chocolate raspberry pancakes at breakfast, Ski Tip Lodge’s chocolate bread and Der Fondue Chessel’s rich pumpkin-spiced chocolate fondue. The resort also is giving a complimentary tin of chocolate cookies to each dinner sleigh ride guest, and the Keystone Lodge and Spa introduces a sublime Wake Up and Smell the Chocolate Package through December 23.

Think snow. Think chocolate.