Category Archives: Denver

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.”

Dining When There’s No "There"

Gertrude Stein famously observed, “The trouble with Oakland is that when you get there, there isn’t any there there.” In today’s Denver Post, restaurant critic Tucker Shaw turned his attention to La Sandia. This nuevo Mexican restaurant in the Northfield shopping area is operated by the talented Richard Sandoval whose Tamayo is a Larimer Square favorite. Shaw wrote that he was surprised to hear a 9:00 p.m. last call from the bar on one Friday night, his party of four being immediately seated on another Friday evening and an again empty restaurant in the middle of March Madness that he speculated might been because basketball addicts stayed home or visited places with big-screen TVs. “Each time, the discernible lack of clientele was a bummer,” he wrote.

I had lunch at the also almost-empty La Sandia a few months ago. Like Shaw, I thought the food was terrific and the decor appealing. “It was easy to lose myself in these dishes,” Shaw wrote of La Sandia’s beef barbacoa sopes and beef skewers (with and without bacon and sausage), “and forget about the cavernous space, which, if it were a little more busy, would be quite beautiful.”

One topic on which Shaw and I disagree is the mix-it-yourself guacamole. He thinks that for $6.95, someone should mix it for you, but if you are dining — as I did — with fussy eaters, the notion of mixing your own has a lot of appeal. If someone can’t eat onions, doesn’t like anything spicy or doesn’t care for cilantro, it’s OK. The table can still share an order of guac.

For my part, I was sad, but not surprised, by the emptiness when we ate there. Like Stein’s Oakland, Northfield doesn’t have much “there” yet. The attempts at a New Urbanism town center are sincere, but the curvy streets, the back-of-beyond parking lots and the total cleanliness and “managed-ness” of the place have an Stepford quality to them. The designers and managers have certainly tried, planting street trees, installing attractive street furniture and creating all the Disney-ish trappings that try to tap into nostalgia. Boulder’s 29th Street has a little of this same quality, but it benefits from being surrounded by Boulder. Northfield is at or near the northern end of the old Stapleton Airport’s runways and is surrounded by a lot of emptiness. I prefer more authenticity, vitality and grit to my environment.

I hope La Sandia survives, because it does dish up good food (and the parking out back is free), but I think I’ll return to Tamayo or try Zengo, which I’ve never visited, next time I want a hit of Sandoval’s cuisine.

Farewell to Mel’s

Mel’s to Close in Cherry Creek North

Singers planning retirement frequently book a farewell tour. Athletes announced their final season of competition. But too often, even treasured restaurants close abruptly, with no time for one, last nostalgic visit. Not so with Mel’s Restaurant and Bar (originally, Mel’s Bar and Grill), a Cherry Creek North eatery at 235 Fillmore Street that is closing on April 28 after 12 years as a favorite in Denver’s toniest shopping/dining district. Real estate issues are the reason that Mel’s owners Mel and Janie Master are shuttering the restaurant, but real estate isn’t what this blog is about. It’s about food.

I’m looking forward to one final visit to Mel’s with a couple of friends for lunch on April 24. If we had deeper pockets, we might have reserved spots for the $90 grand finale dinner that evening that will be prepared by past and present Mel’s chefs: Frank Bonnano, now owner of Mizuna and Luca d’Italia, Goose Sorensen, owner/chef of Solera, Tyler Wiard and Corey Treadway, now at Elway’s, and Chad Clevenger, currently the captain of the kitchen at Mel’s. The 24th is the Masters’ 42nd wedding anniversary, which somehow fitting. On the 28th, Chef Chad prepares popular dishes for Mel’s final curtain. If you want to attend one of these specials, or just wish to have a private last meal at Mel’s, call 303-333-3979.

Instead of going into deep mourning, the Masters, including their son, Charles, have already opened instant-hit Montecito at 1120 East 6th Avenue and plan Montecito South at Orchard and Holly. Executive chef for Monty North and Monty South, which is how the Masters refer to this California/Mediterranean eatery, is Chef Adam Mali. He was previously owner/chef of the sadly short-lived Restaurant Kody in Evergreen and more recently executive chef at Aspen’s Ajax Tavern. For reservations at Montecito, call 303-777-8222.

In the works, and also under Chef Mali’s culinary supervision, is Annabel’s, projected to open in May at 5960 South Holly Street in Greenwood Village. It will serve “American comfort food.” Annabel’s is named after Mel and Janie’s granddaughter and Charles’ daughter. I’m happy that I’ll have one more opportunity to eat at Mel’s and even happier that the Masters will be keeping Colorado foodies happy and well fed even after it closes — and if naming a restaurant after a grandchild is an indicator, hopefully for years to come.

Brioche in Boulder and Beyond

I received a message directly from fairly new Boulderite, and since I presume that my correspondent is not the only one around who likes this classic French specialty, I’ll answer here. The question is: “Since moving to the Boulder area a year ago I’ve not found a bakery who makes real Brioche. Any suggestions?”

The first flip answer is, you came too late to enjoy the Continental baked goods at Le Francais and from the Belgian Bakery, respectively at the BaseMar Shopping Center and on 28th Street, south of Iris. I seem to recall having had a wonderful brioche at each at least once, and I’m glad that I did because both, alas, are gone.

Other than those two dearly departed bakeries, the only local place I know about is Breadworks at 2644 North Broadway (the same strip mall with the Boulder Wine Merchant, Moe’s Bagels, etc.; 303-444-5667). when I called to inquire, they told me that they bake brioches daily. When my husband made a Breadworks run, I asked him to pick one up for me. It turns out that they bake brioche bread, not individual brioches like that shown above. When he said that we wanted the smaller individual brioches, the woman behind the counter said, “Oh, you want a popover.” And that’s what he came home with. It’s a good popover, but it’s not a brioche.

You might have more luck elsewhere if you are willing to commute to find the brioche of your dreams. There are other French bakeries around to try. Calling in advance seems to make sense before undertaking an expedition, even if you have another errand in the general vicinity.
I have heard (or perhaps read) really good things about Daniel’s of Paris at 12253 East Iliffe (303-751-6084) in Aurora, especially about their croissants (my particular favorite when they are flakey rather than bread-y), but I don’t specifically know whether they do brioches. Another place is Katherine’s French Bakery (303-695-5000) at 2832 South Havana near Yale, also in Aurora. I’ve never been to either.

In Denver, Cook’s French Market, which recently relocated to 1600 Glenarm Place on the 16th Street Mall (303-893-2277), bakes brioches. I haven’t had them, because I’m never in downtown Denver in the morning, but I’ll bet they are good. Also, Denver’s Trompeau Bakery at 1717 East East Evans (303-698-9682) and Les Delices de Paris at 5303 Leetsdale (303-320-7596) are worth trying. The Denver Post just wrote of Tompeau, “As close as it comes to a neighborhood French bakery in Denver, Trompeau has an ever-present aroma of yeast and flour, and baguettes constantly coming out of the oven.” I wouldn’t be surprised if they both make brioches — and probably good ones too. Both have excellent word-of-mouth reps, but I haven’t been to either. Emogene Patisserie and Cafe at 2415 East Second Avenue in Cherry Creek North (303-388- 7900) is a also possibility. They make to-die-for pastries, but I don’t know about their breakfast goods, although I know that they do serve breakfast.

Babette’s Feast, a lovely little French bakery and cafe in Fort Collins, recently closed their original location, and according to their website, is taking catering orders until it reopens on April 1 at 1200 South College. I am not sure whether there will be a cafe, but you can call 970-223-0172 and ask.

Breadworks is evidently not alone in baking bread with brioche dough. I’ve seen brioche French toast and sandwiches on bread made of brioche dough on the menus of several area restaurants. However, for no reason at all, I assume that you are looking for indvidual breakfast brioches — the kind that resemble cupcakes or muffins in shape but a jaunty topnot. Good luck. Let us know what you discover — and what you thought when you tasted them.

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)

Denver Restaurant Week Coming Up

Coming up a mere month from now is the second annual Denver Restaurant Week, from February 24 to March 2, 2007. This year, 150 restaurants are offering multi-course dinners for two for the mile-high price of $52.80 ($26.80 for one), plus tax and tip. That’s 59 restaurants more than in 2006. Each restaurant decides what it wishes to include in the offer. Many make up a special menu for the week, and 30 are including a glass or even a bottle of wine for that set-menu price.

Restaurant-goers use it to get a good deal at a pricey place they might not usually try. Some like to have a value dinner at a favorite eatery. Others just feel it’s a way of stretching the dining-out budget.

You can now check out menus of participating restaurants at the www.denverrestaurantweek.com website. The Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau has counted and discovered that participating eateries include 21 Italian restaurants, 10 Mexican and Latin restaurants, eight seafood houses, 16 steakhouses, six Asian fusion places, four brewpubs and three Indian restaurants.

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.