Category Archives: Restaurant & multiple restaurants

The New York Times Discovers Boulder Dining

The New York Times Travel Section today contained a short article on Boulder dining titled “Fine Dining With a Hippie Past.” Writer Michelle Auerbach rounded up the usual recent suspects: Frasca Food & Wine, The Kitchen and Mateo. She observed, “The new kitchens are refining the town’s hippie past, with an almost obsessive focus on organic ingredients, brand-name boutique farms and eco-friendly practices, like composting, recycling and renewable energy.” True enough. However, I think that she falls into a “stereotrap” when harking back to Boulder’s hippie days, which were ascendant a long time ago. I’ve lived in Boulder for nearly 18 1/2 years, and that hippie heyday had already waned by the time I got here. Now, you have to look hard to find what’s left of that ’60s and ’70s counterculture in Boulder itself, though it is alive and well living up the hill in Ward.

Fabulous as the “new kitchens” are, there’s also a lot to be said for some of the “old kitchens” — John’s Restaurant (established in 1969), the Flagstaff House (1971), Laudisio’s (1986), L’Atelier (owner/chef Radek Czerny opened his first Boulder restaurant in 1988). I know that there were space constaints to this assignment, but it always pains me when the media — especially the New York- and California-based media — are so fixated on the newest, hippest, trendiest restaurants that they ignore those that have been carefully preparing and graciously serving fine, sophisticated food for a long time.

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)

NY Times on Restaurant Blogs

In a feature called “Sharp Bites” in today’s New York Times, reporter Allen Salkin noted that fast-drawing, quick-trigger restaurant blogs are changing the New York restaurant landscape. “There is a new food game in the city that never stops grazing, “Salkin wrote. “A proliferation of blogs treating every menu revision, construction permit, clash of egos and suspiciously easy-to-get reservation as high drama is changing the rules of the restaurant world and forcing everyone from owners to chefs to publicists to get used to the added scrutiny.

“Diners hungry for the next, the newest, the best, and with no patience to wait for the annual Zagat Guide, are benefiting.

“Unlike an earlier wave of food blogs focused on home cooking, recipes and basic restaurant recommendations, the new breed is gossipy and competitive; it trafficks in pointed restaurant criticism and tidbits of news — Craftsteak has installed a new stove! Emmerite beans have been added to the menu at Tasting Room! — and is unsettling the ground of the restaurant industry.

“’Food blogs have reached a critical mass with readers in the last six months,’” said Phillip Baltz, owner of the restaurant public relations firm Baltz & Company.”

Salkin cites several New York restaurant blogs: Grub Street affiliated with New York Magazine (itself an edgy weekly), Restaurant Girl, Midtown Lunch, Diner’s Journal by Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni, Augieland and Serious Eats. Dnver + Boulder + occasional out-of-town excursions do not equal New York in terms of foodiness, and this blog, even in conjunction with the “Dining Diary” on my website, doesn’t purport to reach the influence of level of those Big Apple blogs. But I hope it’s useful — and I welcome comments.

Honolulu Dining Writer Seconds My Rumbi Comment

Back on October 11 — long ago in this blog’s lifetime — I posted my observations on Boulder’s newly opened Rumbi Island Grill, part of a Salt Lake City-based chain, and contrasted it with Rhumba, locally owned and very distinctive. Let’s just say I wasn’t enchanted by the Rumbi “concept” — neither the non-Hawaiian food nor the stereotypical decor.

It was truly gratifying to receive an E-mail from Erika Engle who covers restaurants for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. “Inspired” by a less-than-accurate press release about the newest Rumbi down the road from here in Westminster, she devoted today’s column, “TheBuzz,” to everything she finds wrong with the place. In that column, titled ‘Hawaiian, schmawaiian,she took umbrage at the chain’s gratuitous confusion of Hawaiian, other Polynesian and even Caribbean foods and traditions, as did I. She was particularly irked by Hawaii “stereotypes [that] are usually exploited by outsiders with little to no understanding of the cultural and often spiritual origins of Hawaii icons. In other words, they know not what they do.”

Engle quoted some of the observations from my blog in her column and in letting me about it, she E-mailed that “a news release Rumbi sent out ‘raised eyebrows’ in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newsroom,” adding that she came across my blog entry while researching Rumbi. There’s satisfaction in learning that she agreed. She certainly should know.

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 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.

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!

The Alpine Epicure

Earlier this month, I joined a group previewing three European mountain resorts in three countries in three days that are being offered by a tour operator called Baobab Expeditions. Problem was, there was hardly any snow. The skiing ranged from pathetic to non-existent, but the food was first-rate. I promised to share some of those meals, and I am finally getting around to doing so. Most hotels offer a half-board plan that includes breakfast buffet and table-service dinner in each room charge, so people tend to eat in a lot. Here are a few highlights:

Dinner at the Hotel Schweizerhof in St. Moritz, Switzerland, was a tad formal — starched white linens, immaculate flatware and glassware, a candle on each table, a very young but very correct waitress — and I note this as a comment, not a complaint. A slice of venison sausage with goat cheese came out as an amuse bouche. The scallop carpaccio consisted of sliced scallops atop a mixed salad with red and yellow peppers and eggplant on the side. A long-braised beef dish called Tafelspitz is a Viennese specialty popular throughout central Europe. The Schweizerhof’s version consisted of two generous slices beef with parsleyed potatoes, spinach and a pitcher of smooth horseradish sauce on the side. The black potato gnocchi was braised, along with a touch of greens and moist prawns. the assemblage was mounded into a pyramid shape, napped with mild pesto and garnished with whole basil leaves and finely chopped tomatoes. We sipped Schloss Salnegg 2002 chardonnay with our dinner.

The mountain known as the Corvatsch provided the only even vaguely decent skiing of the whole trip on a handful of runs accessed by the first stage of the cable car. The second stage was also operating just so that guests could take in the grandiose views and eat lunch in the Stuebli Panorama Restaurant. Warm bread and sweet butter were the prelude for and accompaniment to the local air-dried beef that is known as Buendnerfleisch in Switzerland and bresaola across the border in Italy. it was followed by a choice of a hearty vegetable soup with barley or a tomato soup with croutons and a float of olive oil and cream. The entree choice was fabulous spaghetti either Bolognese or marinara, each with a pesto frill around the rim of the soup plate. Dessert was a to-die-for chestnut cake (photo top right) with
sliced star fruit and Chinese gooseberry as garnishes.

The Chesa Veglia, now in the heart of chic St. Moritz, was built
as farmhouse in 1770 — six years before the Declaration of
Independence. It is now an stylishly rustic restaurant where a dozen of us sampled a procession of specialties, encouraged by flowing Malanese pinot grigio. Every single offering was well prepared, so I present only a list — those items that I managed to jot down, in any case.

To start: Arugula salad. Sliced Salmon with artichokes. Tomato-mozzarella caprese. Polenta with wild mushrooms. Buendnerfleisch.
Pizzas (hand-tossed and cooked in a wood-fired brick oven,
photo, center right): Margarita (tomato-mozzarella-basil,
photo, bottom right). Cheese and black truffles (not as photogenic as the margarita but about the best pizza I’ve ever
had; despite the bounty, I ate two slices). “Napolese” with
mushrooms and anchovies. Quattro staggione (cheese, mushrooms, olives, sausage). Vegetarian (eggplant, zucchini, yellow peppers). Entrees: Entrecote. Grilled lamb chops. Small roasted chicken. Side dishes: Baked potatoes with rosemary. Roasted vegetables. Dessert: Tiramisu. Panacotta. Fresh fruits. House-made ice cream. Little baked things. Burp!
The next day, because it was raining in St. Moritz and wet snow was falling in the mountains, three of us who opted to stay in town had lunch at the Cafe Hauser, a classic European patisserie, confectionary shop, coffee house and restaurant. Soups, sandwiches, light meals and children’s selections dominated the lunch menu. The fennel soup was rich and creamy. Roesti, the classic Swiss specialty of pan-cooked slivered potatoes, cannot be considered a light dish, even with warm sliced salmon on top (photo left). Round ricotta- and herb-filled We shared a charming little stainless steel dish of panacotta for dessert. Most of our selections weren’t light, nut the cafe did have light fare for those who wanted it.

Livigno, just across the border in Italy, not surprisingly puts more emphasis on Italian classics and no Austrian specialties — and Buendnerfleisch has become bresaola. We ate a big square table at the Hotel de La Posta’s dining room, where the food was house-made and simple but quite good. The salad bar was outstanding, with an array of produce and condiments and a fleet of olive oil and vinegar bottles so that every diner could select his or her favorite combination. No bottled French or ranch dressings here! The skiing in Livingo was so marginal that the lift company didn’t charge for the three little lifts and two short runs that were open. The intrepid skiers and snowboarders toughed it out on that one run, barely covered with hard snow, with a occasional drizzle. I wandered around town and met my colleagues for a casual al fresco lunch before heading across another border to Austria.

I knew that dinner at the Hotel St. Antonerhof would be extraordinary when I saw the table covered with a lace cloth and illuminated by white tapers, and each place set with four forks, four knives and two spoons (photo left). My documentation compulsion failed me somewhere along the way. The dinner began with an appetizer of sushi-grade tuna, chopped and sliced, with horseradish sauce served on a glass plate with a frosted rim. It finished with an obscene tower of dark chocolate filled silky mountains and surrounded by delicious nibbles.
Throughout, the Austrian wines flowed, the conversation hummed, and my notebook, pen and even camera didn’t see much action. In hindsight, I wish I had taken more notes and more pictures. I guess I’ll just have to return.