Category Archives: Colorado

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.

Go, Joe!

tokyojoes-logo-jgThere is not much I like about chain eating places — most of which don’t deserve the name “restaurant.” But yesterday evening, despite my skepticism and principles, I ate at the rare Colorado-spawned and -owned, healthy, reasonably priced example of the species. A shopping area called The Village distributes a coupon book that included a two-entrees-for-the-price-of-one voucher for Tokyo Joe’s — and there is a Tokyo Joe’s just a few blocks from the theater where my husband and I were planning to see a movie.

I ordered a small salad and a noodle bowl that came piping hot and filled with chicken breast and a load of vegetables in a just-right spicy sauce atop well-cooked noodles. I didn’t know that there would be so many vegetables, which is the reason I had ordered a small salad to start. My husband asked for yakitori chicken with rice. Including a big iced tea, with the two-fer coupon dicount and Joe’s no-tipping policy, we spent less than 10 bucks on fast, tasty dinner for two. It’s no substitute for home-cooked and especially not for chef-prepared, but I had no complaints.

When we sat down a little before 6:00, only three tables were occupied. When we left, 15 were taken, and there was a fast-moving line. The service was efficient. We put in our order, paid, took a number to our table and waited just a little bit for a freshly prepared meal to be brought to us. We even got to the theater early, and that rarely happens. I won’t pretend that this positive experience has converted me to the chain way of eating, but this one brand is far superior to most — those that I’ve forced myself to try, anyway.

I did a little research about Tokyo Joe’s and found that it was started a decade ago by a man named Larry Leith. Although he launched the first one in ultra-suburban Centennial, Leith is a Boulder-type guy, who was convinced that cyclists, mountain bikers and skiers like himself would be receptive to a place serving fast, healthy food inspired by Japanese dishes. He was right.

Tokyo Joe's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cornbelt or Winebelt — and Colorado Too

I was intrigued by a piece in today’s New York Times about the small, but mushrooming, wine industry in Iowa and elsewhere in the Midwest. Intriguingly titled “Iowa Finds Itself Deep in the Heart of Wine Country,” it reported on Iowa and other mid-country farmers who have discovered the pleasure and profits in growing grapes and making wine.

The lead reads:
“Stan Olson used to grow corn and soybeans on hundreds of acres here on the Raccoon River west of Des Moines, but no more. These days, Mr. Olson’s empty grain silo is useful only as a rustic image to promote his new vineyard and tasting room.

“Mr. Olson’s Penoach Winery is a tiny operation in a red barn behind his family’s farmhouse, next to a small grape nursery. It does not have much of a customer base yet or any vintages that go beyond last year, but Mr. Olson is thrilled nonetheless.

“ ‘I will make as much selling grape plants off of two acres this year as I did many years on 1,000 acres of corn and raising 3,000 head of hogs,’ ” said Mr. Olson, who makes much of his money selling cuttings to other aspiring vintners.”

In the wine business, production from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa is collectively known as “New World Wines.” Iowa and neighboring states might have the newest of the new, but they are not all that far behind Colorado’s burgeoning wine industry. When I moved here in 1988, the first vineyard had just planted its first grapes. Now, according to the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, there are upwards of 60 wineries here.

As in the Midwest, Colorado vineyards have planted hybrid grapes that can take cold weather. Most of Colorado’s vineyards are in the Grand Junction area, with wineries scattered throughout the state. BookCliff, for instance, has its vineyard near Palisade, just east of Grand Junction, but its winery and tasting room are in Boulder. The beautiful Winery at Holy Cross Abbey grows some grapes on the grounds of the former Benedictine monastery in Canon City, west of Pueblo, where the winery is located and also buys grapes from other growers. Due to a change in state law, multi-winery tasting rooms are now legal. When you come across one while traveling through Colorado, stop in and sample some of the state’s wines. You might be surprised at their quality.