Category Archives: Denver

Notes from the Local Dining Scene

Boulder sure is a food town. Just go to out to eat, and it’s clear that residents, people who work here but live elsewhere and visitors love to eat out from breakfast to late-night chow. The Daily Camera’s lead story in Monday’s Business Plus section revealed just how much the eating-out scene is worth. According to the piece by Camera business writer Greg Avery, diners in Boulder spend an average $808,347 a day (which he calculated to $561 every minute or $9.35 per second) “on someone else’s cooking.” My husband and I and our friends and guests are happy participants in the dining frenzy. Boulder currently has roughly 465 restaurants, which collectively raked in $295 million in 2006 — up 7 percent from the previous year.

Coming soon, he reported, in the 29th Street retail-plus mall will be the Railyard Restaurant and Saloon (the second location of a Santa Fe eatery), Cantina Laredo (a Dallas-based Mexican chain), A1 Sushi & Steak (that may or may not be related to one in Allentown, PA, which seems to specialize in Benihana-style theatrics), Ruby’s Diner (based, I think, in southern California), Boulder’s third Jamba Juice and Daphne’s Greek Cafe (a San Diego-based chain dishing up Greek fast food). Colorado’s first Daphne’s opened recently at 575 Lincoln in Denver). Thank goodness for Laudisio’s, a locally born and raised, one-and-only in a prominent space at 29th Street.

Thank goodness too for the Cafe Gondolier, which has been dishing up solid, very moderately priced, red-sauce Italian fare since 1960. Ravenous teens and college students fuel up during Tuesday and Wednesday all-you-can-eat spaghetti nights. The original location was at 1600 Broadway, where Khow Thai is now sequestered. Then it moved to a strip mall on 28th Street just north of Valmont (I think La Mariposa is there now). Seven years ago when The Harvest closed, the Gondolier moved again to 1738 Pearl, where it is now hip to hip with Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder’s most acclaimed high-end restaurant. The Gondolier is about to relocate once more, this time to 1600 Pearl, into a space quietly vacated by BD’s Mongolian Barbecue (a Michigan-based chain).

Meanwhile in Denver, Green: Fine Salad Co. has just opened a second store. It seems as if Green’s owns 16th Street as far as fresh salads go. The new one at 110 16th Street joins the original at 1137 16th Street (Skyline Park). Quality ingredients, light-handed grilling techniques turn fresh ingredients into tasty and nutritious food that makes a perfect lunch. In addition to Green’s 11 signature salads, it is possible to mix and match to assemble one’s own.

Something to look forward to is the imminent return of chef Michel Wahaltare to Denver. Amuse by Michel is set to open on May 25 in a private back room and patio of 5 Degrees, a trendy lounge at 1475 Lawrence Street in LoDo. Wahaltere is teaming up with Francois Safieddine, owner of 5 Degrees, to create an uban restaurant-lounge with an international culinary flair in the club.

According to the pre-opening announcement, “the inspiration is from the eclectic neighborhood restaurants, cafes, wine and tapas bars found throughout Europe. Amuse by Michel offers an array of appetizer-sized samplings aside wine and cocktails to allow patrons the leisure of enjoying both food and drink in moderation — there, smaller is better. Here, the traditions of European cuisine meet the flavors of the American market with a menu reflecting dishes from Chef Michel Wahaltere that focus on the simplicity of fine ingredients. Creating a perfect harmony of bold flavors, sophisticated textures and artful presentation, it’s not really dinner, yet it’s more than a snack.” In addition to seasonal dishes, Wahaltere promises such signatures as “grilled asparagus and smoked salmon; almond crusted calamari; potato gnocchi and rock shrimp; mushroom ravioli, ahi tuna tartare; and rigatoni duck pasta.”

As a chef, Belgian-born Wahaltare has a glittering resume, including (in Colorado alone) Campo di Fiore and Mirabella in Aspen, MODA in Denver and Seven Eurobar in Boulder. He is also a restaurant consultant with similarly impressive credentials in that specialty. Plans additionally include the Amuse by Michel Wine Club (no cost to join). Members can join such evenings as Sip Wine on Mondays (25 percent off all bottles under $70), Wine & Cheese on Tuesdays and a monthly tastings called Class in a Glass. For reservations, call 303-260-7505.

Wahaltare was in Boulder too briefly as the culinary force at Seven EuroBar, but his new venture’s name is giving me flashbacks. Amuse was the ambitious but ulimtiately short-lived restaurant that occupied the space 1430 Pearl Street between the long-running Little Russian Cafe and Cafe Girasole (and now the Trattoria on Pearl). James Mazzio was the executive chef at 15 Degrees, also in Boulder, when he was named one of the 10 Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs of the Year in in 1999. Like Amuse, 15 Degrees is no more, and neither is Triana, which Mazzio opened after that. Wahaltare is a fine, creative chef. I hope he is not superstitious about names.

Personal Chef Course

Switching careers sometime in mid-life — which can be from the late 30s to the indefinite 60s these days — is a hot trend. Many people who have burned out of whatever they have been doing and who enjoy cooking and baking gravitate to culinary programs, with the idea of becoming a professional chef or even opening a restaurant. Alas, these can be impossible or impractical dreams, perhaps in the case of the former because of the hours, intensty and rigors of working in a restaurant kitchen are too much, or in the case of the latter because the financing for a new business just isn’t there. Being a personal chef is another option for a career in the culinary field — one that can combine the creativity and satisfaction of cooking every day with the financial benefit of doing so in someone else’s kitchen.

To that end, Denver’s Cook Street School of Fine Cooking offers a personal chef course in its professional curriculum. I know it’s short notice, but an open house is scheduled for tomorrow to introduce the US Personal Chef Association personal chef course. The date is Monday, May 7. The time is 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The place is 1937 Market Street. If you can’t make it tomorrow but are interested, contact the school for more information on the course.

Jacques Pepin to Appear in Denver

Jacques Pepin, an eloquent, elegant French chef with true celebrity status in the culinary world, is coming to Denver for two intense days to promote his newest book, Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of a Cook ($45), published last month by Stuart, Tabori & Chang. This most recent of his 20 books is both a visual stunner and a sentimental journey. It is partly an art book featuring 200 photographs and some of the chef’s own paintaings, partly autobiographical and partly a cookbook with 100 of his favorite recipes. Even though he had been the personal chef to three fussy French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle, he became a public figure in this country when he co-starred with the late Julia Child on the award-winning “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” television series on PBS.

Denver has been high on M. Pepin’s radar screen, since his daughter, Claudine, moved to the Mile High City. She co-owns and operates a cooking school called A Cook’s Kitchen at 850 Ogden Street. In fact, she and her father will host a private cooking class on Monday evening at the school, but it is unsuprisingly sold out. Other Denver appearances on his calendar are:

Monday, May 14
Marczyk Fine Foods, 770 East 17th Avenue
10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Book signing
Marczyk will prepare a recipe from the book. Therefore, reservations are requested; call 303- 329-8979

Steuben’s, 523 East 17th Street
12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m.
Meet and Greet luncheon and book signing
Reservations at 303-830-1001
Tuesday, May 15
Strings Restaurant, 1700 Humboldt Street
11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Meet and Greet luncheon and book signing
Reservations at 303-831-7310

Tattered Cover, 2526 East Colfax Aveue
2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Book signing

Barolo Grill, 3030 East 6th Avenue
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Meet and Greet dinner and book signing
Reservations at 303-393-1040

What Makes a Great Food City?

Tucker Shaw, the Denver Post restaurant critic, posed that question today in an essay called “Do Clientele or Chefs Make a Good City? Weigh In.” He wrote about five foodies from five different cities (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Denver) chowing their way through San Francisco and discussing, among other wide-ranging topics, whether talented chefs or an appreciative, knowledgeable dining public that makes a city great for food.

He wrote, “It made me think about Denver, and I wondered: Are we, as an eating public, truly dedicated to food and restaurants? Are we demanding enough? Are we willing to spend the time and money that’s required to encourage our chefs to ever-higher heights? Do we have enough desire and commitment to spur our food scene to a nationally relevant level E-mail me and let me know what you think about the state of Denver dining, and what we, as customers, can do to improve it.”

I think I’ll answer here.

It takes good, creative chefs and talented restaurateurs, of course, but in my opinion, the people who go out to eat are the ones who make or break an individual restaurant and even a city’s collective restaurant scene. Denver has some wonderful chefs, and some really fine restaurants. But it’s a challenging city for talented chefs and fine dining. I think often of Sean Kelly’s poignant comment when he was ready to morph the exquisite Clair de Lune into the more casual Somethin‘ Else. On many weeknights, he remarked, there are more people in line for the restrooms at the Olive Garden than at the tables of his dream restaurant. He has now gone corporate and is no longer in any restaurant kitchen.

Kelly isn’t the only first-rate chef to have ridden the roller coaster of Denver’s highs and lows. Kevin Taylor has had some noteworthy successes (Restaurant Kevin Taylor and two Prima Ristorante locations) and some disappointments (Nicois and Dandelion). Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef Bryan Moscatello pulled up stakes when Adega closed and moved to Alexandria, VA, where I understand his Indigo Landing is packing ’em in — just as Adega did not long ago. Fellow Best New Chef James Mazzio left the Front Range for Illinois, but luckily for Denver diners, is now the top toque at Via Ristorante, where I hope he stays for a long time. Jon Broening cooked his way north from Colorado Springs to Denver, where he turned culinary heads at Brasserie Rouge, but it also abruptly shut. He now is entrenched in Duo, which I also hope lasts a long time with Broening at the helm.

As long as Kelly’s observation remains true, Denver will not be a first-rate dining city. There are too many national chain restaurants, especially outside of the downtown/LoDo core, Uptown, Cherry Creek North, northwest Denver and a very few other pockets of fine and interesting food. Some of those good-food enclaves have “parking issues,” and some people just won’t dine anywhere that doesn’t have a convenient parking lot (or perhaps valet parking). With sprawl comes an automatic dilution of good dining, because chains also value convenient parking.

Shaw and his foodie friends picked New York and San Francisco as America’s top two dining cities and bandied about what the others might be. New Orleans, Portland (OR), Miami, Seattle, and Washington, DC, seem naturals. Los Angeles and Houston were also suggested. LA, which benefits from cultural diversity and a lot of show-biz, show-off money, and Houston whose sprawl makes Denver seem compact, excepted, the contenders are all geographically tight. They feel sophisticated and lively, which Denver is also becoming, now that so many people live in urban neighborhoods.

If I could help speed the process, I would. If I could wave a magic wand and make every local outpost of a national chain evaporate, I would. Of course, if I could hypnotize the entire city to make Denverites and their visitors avoid these “concepts” where corporated-planned meals are served, I would do that too. And then, only then, would Denver have a shot at being a top food city.

That’s my opinion. Share yours, either here or at www.denverpost.com/foodcourt.

Buying a Raclette Machine

I just received the following question: “I am trying to find a place to purchase a raclette machine. I live in the Denver Metro area but have not been able to locate any retailers who sell raclette grills. Do you have any suggestions? I can order online, but it would be great to buy it and grill the same day!”

In Denver, The Cheese Company at 5575 East Third Avenue; 303-394-9911 sells raclette machines (“and the cheese to go with them,” said the guy I talked to).

In Longmont, Cheese Importers has both raclette machines and the cheese. They are located at 33 South Pratt Parkway; 303-443-4444.

In Boulder, Peppercorn has one SwissMar machine (right) that a salesperson told me comes with “eight little dishes for melting your cheese and a surface that you cook your meat on.” This seems to be some kind of a hybrid and not purely a raclette machine. I’ve been in Switzerland and France a lot and never had meat with raclette there. Cornichons, boiled potatoes, small onions and rustic bread but no grilled meat. In any event, Peppercorn is at 1235 Pearl Street; 303-449-5847.

My Own Farewell to Mel’s

When I learned learned that Mel’s Restaurant and Bar was closing, I posted “Farewell to Mel’s” as a euology to this wonderful Cherry Creek North restaurant, a genuine contemporary Denver dining institution. Two friends and I went there for lunch yesterday, expecting to be part of a real crowd. It didn’t happen. Most of the intimate booths, whose pink walls are decorated with framed menus and other graphics, were occupied, as were a few of the tables. None of the overflow space was used. Even the big bar was uncharateristically empty too. Granted, the restaurant was gearing up for last night’s last gala dinner before it shutters after Saturday service, but still….

I don’t usually drink wine with lunch (except in Europe or at the occasional press lunch), but a private farewell toast seemed called for, so I ordered glass of of chardonnay from Tortoise Creek in Languedoc. It was just $5. Mel’s hasn’t ever overcharged for wines by the glass and also offers well-priced bottles too. I chose a thick mushroom-lentil soup topped with a float of creme fraiche and a salad. My friends and I caught up on each others’ news and didn’t dwell on the “last lunch” aspect of this final Mel’s meal. The weather was icky (heavy rain, cold air, standing water on the roadways, low-lying fog), so we didn’t linger. No dessert. No coffee. Just a quick exit. Perhaps it was better that way.

But wait. There’s more!

My modest little farewell here coincides with greater ones in the Denver print media — I’m sure with more to come. “Mel’s Ever-Expanding Universe,” the lead story in today’s Denver Post food section, following “Casual But Elegant Mel’s is Bidding Adieu,” yesterday’s piece by travel editor and former restaurant critic Kyle Wagner. The illustration for today’s front-pager charts Mel’s influence on the Denver dining scene, citing the chefs who have cooked there and gone on to other places, as well as the local and national celebs who have dined there. The Post also ran half-a-dozen recipes from Mel’s chefs, past and present, should you wish to try to recreate a taste of Mel’s at home.

Meanwhile, this week’s Westword features critic Jason’s Sheehan’s complementary review of Montecito, the restaurant that Mel’s owners Mel and Janie Master opened a few months ago. My earlier blog posting on the then-impending end included information on Montecito, the Masters’ California-inspired restaurant, and other culinary projects they and their son Charles are undertaking.

New Chef, Special Offer at Denver’s Prima

Prima Ristorante at Denver’s Hotel Teatro has a new executive chef. Toby Prout comes to Denver from Arizona, where he worked at the Ritz-Carlton Phoenix and at Fox Restaurant Concepts, which operates several stylish eateries in the Grand Canyon State. He has assembled a $35 three-course dinner menu incorporating the dolci created by Jason LeBeau, one of Denver’s most talented pastry chefs. This Spring Special will be offered from April 20 to June 8. Here’s the menu, which looks terrific and tempting:

ANTIPASTI
Corn and Zucchini Chowder, Crab Salad, Opal Basil Syrup
Baby Greens, Grapes, Shaved Fennel, Celery, Crostini, Lavender Vinaigrette
Crispy Polenta, Sage, Cambazola Cheese, Balsamic Tomato Sauce
Fresh Melon Salad with Prosciutto, Figs, Port Wine Drizzle
Spinach Salad, Warm Pistachio Goat Cheese, Pickled Onions, Tomatoes, Tomato Vinaigrette

SECONDI
Veal Au Poivre, Black Pepper Linguine, Caramelized Onions, Demi Cream
Roasted Garlic Gnocchi, Hot Sausage, Fennel, Leek Fondue
Apple Wood Smoked Bacon and Shrimp Fusilli, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Vodka Sauce
Vegetarian “Lasagna”, Mushrooms, Spinach, Grilled Onions, Squash, Basil Reduction
Salmon, Artichokes, Confit Baby Carrots, Charred Tomatoes, Red Olive Vinaigrette
Scallops, Red Onion Marmalade, Butter Mash, Micro Salad, Carrot Mint Nage
Ribeye Steak, Gorgonzola Twice Baked Potatoes, Caramelized Shallots, Port Reduction
Marinated Lamb Loin, Caramelized Parsnips, Fava Bean-Mushroom Ragout, Truffled Demi
Cherry Rubbed Pork Tenderloin, Goat Cheese Risotto, Wilted Spinach, Cherry Torani Sauce
Oregano Chicken, Roasted Baby Potatoes, Zucchini, Squash, White Wine Pan Jus

DOLCI
Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Meyer Lemon Gelée, Cassis Purée
Honey Vanilla Cheesecake, Sweet Cherry Ragout, Piñon Cluster
Strawberry Cassata, Sweet Crème Fraiche, Rhubarb Purée, Torbinado Cookie
Chocolate Cocoa Terrine, Mocha and Milk Chocolate Cremeaux, Bittersweet Sorbetto
Toasted Hazlenut Budino Cake, Caramel Mascarpone, Frangelico Gelato

Call 303-228-0770 for reservations, and mention the words, “Spring Special.”