Category Archives: Denver

Small Plate Delights at Denver’s New Amuse

I recently wrote about the coming of Amuse by Michel at 5 Degrees in Denver. Now it’s here, and on Tuesday, I attended a preview for media and other guests. The 5 Degrees part is a big bar/lounge in front, geared for the LoDo evening social crowd, while the Amuse part is the eatery that occupies the back. The restaurant is small and very cool-looking. It reminded me of a house of mirrors, with mirrors set in white frames against black walls, antique-white chandeliers with robin’s egg blue shades (right) that could have come from Cinderella’s castle, birchwood table tops, black armchairs and wood floors. An expansive patio in back looks inviting for a summer evening but was not open for the preview for media and guests on Tuesday evening.
The wine list was imposing, but I selected a sparkling Micheltini to start, and it was so good that I had another during the progression of a dozen small plates, each one attractively presented. IMHO, the best were:
  • The mixed Mediterranean olives with fresh herbs, lemon, orange, spices and garlic. I doubt that Wahaltare cures his own olives, but they displayed variety and marinade was terrific.
  • Seasonal Pacific oysters (right) with Maui onions mignonette. The oysters were “gentle,” not assertive, thereby not competing with the onions — and vice versa.
  • The lemon buerre blanc that blanketed the potato gnocchi was delicious.
  • Even better was the saffron mustard cream sauce for the PEI mussels. Understandably, given so many dishes to try, there was no bread on the table, but if there had been, I would have been tempted to sop up every drop. As it was, I made sure that ever mussel was well coated.
  • The Mountain Meadow Colorado lamb loin was tender and sweetly lamb-y, and the cassoulet of beans and balsamic emulsion was a lovely counterpoint.

One of Michel’s marketing minions came around and asked what we thought of different dishes, so if I was not alone in my opinions, the following dishes might change in the future, but as of last Tuesday, the least successful were:

  • The Red Bird Farms chicken drumettes confit with home-made ginger and sun-dried apricot barbecue disappointed. The chicken was tender enough, beneath a coating of a tempura-like batter, but I couldn’t taste the ginger, just the apricot, and the “barbecue” component mystified me.
  • The lightly fried citrus almond-crusted calamari served with spiced tomato sauce featured tender enough calamari, but the crust bore no taste of citrus or of almond, and the tomato sauce packed no flavor punch other than the tomatoes.
Too full for dessert, I lumbered back to the Market Street station and rolled back to Boulder on the bus.

Amuse at 5 Degrees is at 1475 Lawrence Street, Denver. It is open from 4:00 to 10:00 p.m. except Sunday. For reservations, call 303-260-7505.

Cooking Class at Maggiano’s

I’m normally not a fan of chains, but Maggiano’s Little Italy (two locations in Denver, 20 other states) is one of the best of the lot. Maybe it’s nostalgia. The ambience mimics East Coast Italian neighborhood restaurants, though the ones I have been to ramble from room to room and seem as big as some entire East Coast Italian neighorhoods. Maybe it’s because relatively few locations thinly spread across not-too-many states (only four in excessively chainified California) makes it feel less corporate. Maybe it’s because the food is really quite good — heaping platters of filling southern Italian-style favorites, served family-style.

In any case, on Monday evening, I attended a small cooking class put on by George Poston, chef at the downtown Denver Maggiano’s. Normally when the restaurant invites some media friends, the classes are hands-on in one of their kitchens, but this time, every dining room was packed, the kitchens were all occupied and we were exiled to the very pleasant patio where the class ended up being a demonstration. (Poston is above right, with his “assistant,” 7News consumer reporter Bill Clarke)

I’ve never been to a cooking class — hands-on or demonstration — where I didn’t learn something. This time, I learned that there are better ways to make buschetta than my never-quite-totally-successful oven-toasting. Poston took very good Italian bread (from Whole Foods, he said, which makes better stuff than Maggiano’s generally puts on the tables) grilled it over very low heat (200 to 250 degrees) in a cast-iron skillet with a bit of olive oil and garlic until lightly toasted and then topped it with chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and fresh basil, seasoned with salt and pepper.

Denver Chefs to Food & Wine

I’ve been deadline-crazed lately and haven’t had/found/made time to blog for several days. But I just found out which Denver chefs will be at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, June 15-17 and can resist sharing their names with you.

I don’t have a schedule so don’t know exactly what each one will be doing or when. Speaking generally, some chefs go to Food & Wine to cook for admiring crowds in the Consumer portion of the event, which is truly an honor, but others quietly attend seminars and panels in the Restaurant Trade portion of the event and network with their colleagues. The combo makes it a chef fest of the highest order. The Front Range chefs heading for this toniest of food events, which is billing itself as “the height of good taste,” are:

Matt Anderson, Bistro Vendôme
Jennifer Jasinski, Rioja
Carl Klein, Corridor 44
Ian Kleinman, O’s Steak & Seafood at the Westin Westminster
Curtis Lincoln, Ellyngton’s at the Brown Palace
Christian “Goose” Sorensen, Solera
Tyler Wiard, Elways

Article for the Street Food Lover in You

Local reporter highlights favorite street food from a recent trip

If you love Asian street food as much as Kelly Yamanouchi and I do, be sure to pick up today’s Denver Post and read her long feature in the food section called “From the Street to the Table.” You can link to it from this blog, but do get today’s paper so you can see the photos too. Fresh from a trip to Asia where she crammed one last “steaming bowl of noodles topped with fresh vegetables, slow-cooked beef and ladles of broth” in her final half-hour in Taipei before leaving for the airport, she sought similar tastes in Denver.

I remember my own last-minute food frenzies — scooting around the corner from a fancy hotel in Shanghai, where my bags were packed and ready to go, for one last portion of dumplings from a stand, or making time for one more order of chicken skewers with a divine peanut/chile dipping sauce before leaving Bangkok. Unlike me, however, when Kelly, a Post staff writer, returned to Denver, she researched places to get similar food here.

She wrote, “Taipei is known for its night markets, which bustle with tourists and locals jostling for food sold from dozens of different stalls. Street food throughout Asia appears in an array of places – at storefronts along the sidewalk, at festivals and in outdoor markets. While the American notion of street food tends to focus on hand-helds like hot dogs and pretzels, in Asia the selection runs the gamut — almost anything that can be prepared quickly and simply, from noodle soup to deep-fried stinky tofu to oyster omelets. In metropolitan Denver, street stalls aren’t prevalent and there’s no Taipei-style night market or Singapore-style hawker stand, but I found some selections at Asian restaurants and groceries that reminded me of the originals.”

She recommended:
Lao Wang Noodle House, 945-D South Federal Boulevard, Denver; 303-975-2497
H Mart, 2751 South Parker Road, Aurora; 303-745-4592
Spice China, 269 McCaslin Boulevard., Louisville; 720-890-0999
J’s Noodles & New Thai, 945-E South Federal Boulevard, Denver; 303-922-5495
US Thai, 5228 West 25th Avenue, Edgewater; 303-233-3345

A further resource if you love ethnic foods is The Gyro’s Journey (left)by Clay Fong. This guide to ethnic eateries on the Front Range is new from Fulcrum Publishing. I haven’t seen it yet, but it is described as “guide to authentic and affordable ethnic dining experiences in the Front Range. Written for the adventurous diner, this book describes family-owned businesses found off the beaten track that hold true to the traditions of their native lands.” Fong is now a restaurant and food writer for the Boulder Weekly.

From-The-Heart Thai Food Prepared in a Home Kitchen

A few weeks ago, when I wrote about the Denver family that introduced Thai restaurant food to the US, I didn’t know that I would be privileged to enjoy a home-cooked meal by Nita Chittivej (left), who runs Chada Thai with her son, Peter. The home where Chef Nita performed her magic belongs to Holly Arnold Kinney, owner of The Fort. The Arnolds and the Chittivejs, two foodie families, have been friends for a long time, beginning when the Holly’s parents took their children to the ChittivejsChao Praya Thai Restaurant. Holly recalls the her favorite childhood dessert was Thai custard prepared by Nita’s late mother-in-law, Lilly.

Nearly 10 years ago, my husband and I spent two weeks in Thailand. The dishes that Nita prepared were the equals of those we oohed and ahed over at a dinner in the fanciest Bangkok restaurant we went to, and better than any others we had in the country and at Thai restaurants here. The reason that I was able to sample Nita’s fantastically fresh Thai fare in a matchless home setting setting is that Holly, the current president of the Colorado chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a group of culinary professionals, invited the chapter to her home. Holly’s husband, Jeremy Kinney, poured champagne, and we watched Nita cook.

In Holly’s spectacular kitchen, Nita prepared the following dishes:

Appetizer
Roll-your-own green lettuce leaves to be filled with a selection of dried shrimp, fresh garden mint, fresh lime pieces and fresh Thai ginger, with a tangy-sweet vinegar/chile dipping sauce

Second Course
Lemon Grass Soup (the best I’ve ever tasted)

Main courses
Chicken Thai Curry
Mee Crop Thai (crispy rice noodles with a deep fried crispy shrimp and a tangy tamarind sauce, right)
Rice

Dessert
Thai Jasmine Custard (which Holly remembers so well)

Nita cooked specially for Les Dames on Tuesday evening, her one night off. One of my good LDEI foodie friends and I plan to go to Nita and Peter’s restaurant, Chada Thai (2005 East 17th Avenue; 303-320-8582).

Nita, the food was a-roi. Khawp khun kha.

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.