Category Archives: Restaurant & multiple restaurants

Vegan Chinese Food in Boulder

Table Mesa Shopping Center ‘s low-meat eatery.

When visiting Chinese markets and asking for menu translations, I have joked that “in China, they’ll eat anything that doesn’t eat them first.” I’ve seen (but never wanted to try) some really weird stuff. I thought that if I ever stumbled across a vegan restaurant over there, I’d be relieved.

Legions of Boulder’s many vegetarians and vegans are presumably equally relived that Tsing Tao Chinese Restaurant has lots of vegan dishes on the menu as well as a vegan buffet on Mondays and Thursdays. I’m not sure how long this restaurant, named after a popular Chinese beer, has been around, but we just heard about it and decided to try it. It is spacious, happily is not too noisy and is staffed by efficient, accommodating servers.  But note – If you want an itemized bill, you might have to ask for it.

Sushi and fruit (some fresh, some canned) dominate one part of the buffet.
Vegan versions of popular Chinese dishes do a good job of mimicking the original. Nothing, however, is highly or distinctively flavored.

It serves lunch and dinner both off the menu and buffet-style. The menu features a page of vegan offerings, plus that vegan buffet, which features respectable vegan versions of beef, chicken and shrimp dishes, plus a couple of platters of sushi. For my taste, many of the items were a tad too sweet for my taste. My husband order his favorites (hot and sour soup, crab wontons, sesame chicken), which he pronounced “okay but not special.”

Tsing Tao under Snarf’s on the northeast part of the Table Mesa Shopping Center, 607 South Broadway, Boulder; 303-494-6228.

Santo Brings New Mexican Fare to Boulder

Top Chef alum and restaurateur Hosea Rosenberg’s latest hit.

There is still a temporary sign above the door.

On powder days, I’ve stood at the top of ski run, waiting for the patrol to drop the rope so I could score some turns in fresh snow. For the first time, I felt that familiar anticipation as I waited for a new restaurant’s door to be unlocked. The restaurant is Santo, the newest venture for chef Hosea Rosenberg, who grew up in Taos, became a genuine celeb chef after winning Top Chef, Season 5 and operates the popular East Boulder Blackbelly Market, restaurant and butchery. He has tapped into his northern New Mexico roots for decorative statements but mostly for the food.

The line was building for an anticipated 4 p.m. opening of the new occupant of the space next to Ideal Market. A paper sign on the door indicated that due to “technical difficulties,”  Santo would open at 4:30. When it did, we first customers felt like celebs, greeted by cameras and cell phones. What a hoot!

Eager diners in line at dusk for chef Hosea Rosenberg’s Santo, which brings the distinctive cuisine of northern New Mexico to Colorado’s Front Range.

The Santo space  is both familiar and new. Once Radda Trattoria, then Ella’s from the Zoe Mama team then Scott’s on Alpine — I’ve eaten at them all. The look, the cuisine and the vibe may have changed with each transition, but I’ve always known where to find the restroom without asking.

Santo’s  commodious square bar remains on the west part of the large dining room. A wonderful wooden zia symbol  chandelier floating above the bar was made by a New Mexican carver, as were the santos along the walls. I intended to take a picture, but I was so eager to get seated and order that I didn’t — and by the time we left, the bar area was mobbed — and loud. Framed B&B photographs decorate the dining area, but in truth, the focus is on the food, as  it certainly should be. Here’s what my husband and I ate on Day One (plus wine for me, a beer for him):

Wood Oven Queso is a blend of local cheese melted in the wood oven in a small cast-iron pan. It is topped with red pepper jelly and pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The portion looks small but the taste is big. And what’s the New Mexican word for ‘umami”? White and blue corn tortilla chips come on the side.
A trio of wild boar empanadas with cilantro crema, salsa with a kick and a bit of crunchy salad.
The smoky aroma of this thick soup rises from the table as soon as the bowl is set down. Smoked corn, huitlacoche (corn smut (an unappealing name for a specialty) and thin flavor ribbons of Christmas salsas (red and green).
Generous portion of Kale and Quinoa Salad, with slices of apple, jicama, grilled cactus queso fresco, piñon nuts and pomegranate seeds.
Apple and green chile pie backed in a cheddar crust with a generous scoop or vanilla ice cream on top.

Price check: At dinner appetizers, $6-$12; soups and sides $6-$12; entrées $16-$32; chile, side add-ons $2-$5; desserts, $5-$7.

Santo is at 1265 Alpine Avenue, Boulder; 303-442-6100.

Ramen Competition Coming Up

Five Denver chefs compete for a good cause.

Ramen — that cheap student staple that comes in a cellophane package with its own (usually salty) flavor packet– rises to ethereal heights when five gifted Denver chefs who do a lot with contemporary Asian cuisine prepare their versions from scratch. They compete for the title of Ramen Showdown Shogun on Monday, November 13 from 6 to 10 p.m. with guests slurping (or not) and doing the judging.

Departure Restaurant + Lounge hosts the event. Its own chef, Gregory Gourdet competes against Steve Redzikowski (Acorn, Oak on Fourteenth), Lon Symensma (ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro and others), Tommy Lee (Uncle, Hop Alley) and Corey Baker (Sushi Ronin). Guests attending the ramen showdown vote for a winner and watch the live results unfold on a 55-inch screen.

Each guest gets to try five ramen tasting bowls plus  Departure’s bite-sized Koji-Chestnut ice cream with persimmon and miso butterscotch dessert for $30 including tax and tip. There’s also an optional five-course sake pairing for $20.

A portion of the proceeds goes to Project Angel Heart, a fabulous organization that  has delivered 335,000 meals to more than 2,900 Coloradans living with AIDS or other life-threatening illness this year.

Departure Restaurant + Lounge is located at 249 Columbine Street, Denver. FoMoInfo or tickets, call the restaurant at 720-772-5020.

Daily Meal Picks Columbine for Affordable Steaks

Federal Boulevard classic gets national nod.

The Daily Meal’s selection of “The Best Inexpensive Steakhouses in Denver” features a Federal Boulevard standby that is not on everyone’s radar screen when it comes to Denver steaks. Anyone looking for less spendy places than Elway’s, The Capitol Grill, Ruth’s Chris, Guard & Grace and Shanahan’s, can go casual way south on Federal Boulevard (#300) for a super-affordable steak dinner with Texas toast. Here’s what the site posted:

Columbine Steak House & Lounge, Denver

This low-slung, no-frills Denver legend has been going strong since 1961, and its main claim to fame is how amazingly inexpensive it is. Fried chicken costs $8.75, a steak sandwich costs $7.95, pork chops $11.25. And most impressively of all, there are six steaks on the menu, and the most expensive one of the bunch, an absolutely massive porterhouse, costs just $20.75. As for the rest: the large fillet is $18.25, a T-bone is $16.25, sirloin and New York strip are $13.95, and a small fillet is $12.75. Tax is already included in the price, and all steaks also come with salad, potato, and toast.

Not a steakhouse but a old-style New Mexican restaurant that is also a Federal Boulevard classic is going away. Jack-n-Grill at #2524 is closing.

Kudos for The Kitchen

Boulder Restaurant cited by Food and Wine.

A Food and Wine magazine feature listed “The Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant in Every State.” For Colorado, The Kitchen in Boulder was honored. Here’s what the magazine thinks:

Colorado: The Kitchen

“Over the past five years in Boulder and Denver, I’ve noticed a big shift towards a vibrant restaurant scene with a palpable verve around sustainability,” said Toni Dash of Boulder Locavore. “Restaurants like Black Cat, Potager, and Fruition have really stepped up to the plate to deliver inspired seasonal cuisine.” Paving the farm-to-table way in Colorado is The Kitchen, which has establishments in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins and applies its strong eco-friendly philosophy—that includes everything from the locally sourced ingredients to wind power to composting—in each location. Founders Hugo Matheson and Kimbal Husk have also created a nonprofit that’s built over 200 Learning Gardens in schools in Colorado, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Memphis for 120,000 students to discover the benefits of growing and eating fresh healthy food.

Longmont’s Beguiling Bin 46

Guest post by my friend Melanie Mulhall.

When those of us who live on the Front Range of Colorado think wine bar on a Friday evening, we are usually also thinking Denver or Boulder, not Longmont. But Longmont is exactly where wine bar lovers will find the chic and very worthy wine bar, Bin 46. This is a comfortable, modern, hip place without pretense. Inside, the walls are covered with art, and there is abundant seating outside for those who want to enjoy their wine and eats en plein air. 

Over three trips, my friends and I have worked our way through many items on the happy hour menu including the PEI mussels, charcuterie, wild trout spread, Spanish anchovies, crab cake, diablo eggs, roasted Brussels sprouts, and brisket mac and cheese. We have also savored an Italian beef slider and fresh figs. Everything we had was several steps up from the usual happy hour fare. 

Bin 45’s smoked trout spread with accoutrements (cucumbers, celery, fresh dill and naan bread).

The smoked trout spread was made with Ducktrap (as in Ducktrap River in Maine) trout. Pleasantly singing with dill, it was served with cucumbers, celery, and naan. Gluten free crackers for the gluten free diner (me) were added cheerily and without fuss by the server.  

Roasted Brussels sprouts in with ale,  Applewood-smoked bacon and Balsamic vinegar.

The roasted Brussels sprouts seem to be a favorite, so if you go, try to snag an order before they’re gone. Made with Bootstrap Brewing Insane Rush Pale Ale and Applewood smoked bacon, they are great as a nosh or to accompany dinner. 

Swoon-worthy, but only available when fresh figs can be had, the figs were spread with goat cheese, wrapped in prosciutto and finished with a pistachio and honey drizzle. For those of us who love figs, this would have been heaven on a plate even without the drizzle, but the pistachio and honey drizzle took it to at least the seventh level of nirvana. The figs are an example of the thought and creativity that goes into the offerings, so even if you don’t manage to find them on the menu, know that you will probably find something equally imaginative and delicious.

 This is also a place worth visiting for dinner. The prices are reasonable and the choices range from beef stroganoff and Bolognese to Cubano sliders and spicy chorizo mussels.

 There are 150 wines in stock at Bin 46 served by the bottle, pour, and taste.  I loved the fact that they have a very nice Malbec as a happy hour house red. There’s also a well-curated list of craft beers. 

Owner Candy Campbell’s house rules are these: Love people, love wine, love food. Her execution strategy? Be kind. Be different. Be unpretentious. I think that she and Chefs Eric Dwyer and Marc Hernandez deliver on those promises.

[Here’s a very personal note from Malanie] It was great to see Candy A Campbell, and I had the pleasure of seeing her son, too . . . now pretty much grown up and not the little boy I remembered. But it was also glorious to know that she, the chef, and all the staff have made a place I want to return to again and again.

The Bin 46 rules are these: Love people. Love wine. Love food. And the execution strategy is this: Be kind. Be different. Be unpretentious. I think they deliver.

Price check: At happy hour, $3 for a street taco to $14 for a sizable portion of PEI mussels.

600 Longs Peak Avenue,  Longmont,  720-438-7410 .  

Exotic New Restuarant in Iceland

Top Nordic chef’s dramatic cuisine switch to North Africa & the Middle East. 

Sumac Grill + Drinks is a new restaurant in Reykjavik specializing in Lebanese and Moroccan cuisine. That’s kind of a gee-whiz piece of news, but what makes it really remarkable is that it is the brainchild of Þráinn Freyr Vigfússon, one of Iceland’s star chefs. He is former head chef of the highly regarded Lava Restaurant at the Blue Lagoon restaurant and coach of the national Icelandic cooking team.

Chef Þráinn Freyr Vigfússon in front of the steaming waters of the Blue Lagoon.

This is quite a departure for Vigfússon, who is known as a pioneer of New Nordic cuisine with really sterling creds — Iceland Chef of the Year (2007); One World Culinary Chef Competition, gold medal (2008); Nordic Chef of the Year, silver medal (2009); World Culinary Cup, two gold medals (2014). He and culinary partner and head chef Hafsteinn Ólafsson, Þráinn curated a savory menu that brings together Icelandic traditions and the exotic flare from the coastline of North Africa and the Middle East. What an interesting mix — and I report it here because I am very fond of Iceland.

Sumac Grill + Drinks brings a new flavor to the Reykjavik restaurant scene.  Related Lebanese and Moroccan cuisine are characterized by fried foods with exotic spices, yogurt sauce, marinated eggs, eggplant, hummus, pomegranates and more.

The name of the restaurant comes from the berry, Sumac, which when left out in the sun to dry, can be used as a fragrant spice that adds a “clean astringency and citrus tang to the dish.” Sumac’s bar also includes an extensive wine and cocktail list, naturally including drinks featuring Reyka Vodka, Iceland’s award-winning vodka brand. Click  here for the menu.

The restaurant is located at Laugavegur 28 in downtown Reykjavik.