Category Archives: Sustainable Agriculture

Well-Priced Prix Fixe Features Fresh Colorado Herbs

Restaurant 1876 chef creates well-priced three-course menu with local accent

Chef Tom Baranoucky of Restaurant 1876, the fine-dining restaurant in the Grand Hyatt Denver Downtown, has created a three-course dinner with a local accent. Featured dishes are flavored with Colorado herbs, in recognition of the Denver Botanic Gardens’ current Urban Nature Exhibit. After dinner, guests leave with one of his recipes and also tips on growing herbs from Denver Botanic Gardens’ director of horticulture, Sarada Krishnan. They also leave with a ready-to-plant herb (at least now, during the introductory period for this dinner). Happily, they don’t leave with a much lighter wallet, because the dinner is priced at only $52.80 for two (or $26.40 per person), like the popular Denver Restaurant Week that takes place each February.
The prix fixe dinner offers a choice of two items for each course. There were four of us, and among us, we ordered both items for all courses, along with a bottle of Fish Eye Pinot Grigio, the restaurant’s house wine from Napa.
The first course was a Tango and Lola Rosa, a piled-high green salad surrounded by half-rounds of tomato and cucumber with with fines herbes vinaigrette, or half a dozen roasted baby beets with Haystack Mountain goat cheese foam, a few mâche leaves and a bit of truffle oil. When Chef Baranoucky came out to make the rounds among the evening’s guests, I asked how one foams goat cheese. He said that he reduces cream, tempers in the goat cheese and then foams it. The result was a light chevre-flavored, frothy pillow. Yesterday’s version included only red beets because the purveyor didn’t deliver the gold ones that he likes to use for contrast with the red. If he hadn’t told us, I never would have realized that one color was missing.

For the second course, the choice was either crispy-skin Colorado striped bass atop rich tarragon-tomato risotto with fava beans and touch of leek vinaigrette, or sage and rosemary-smoked pork tenderloin with creamy corn-studded polenta, charred vegetable coulis and a taste of rosemary apple syrup. The moist and flaky bass was was ringed by the beans and flavored vinaigrette. The tender pork tasted subtly of the herbs with which it was lightly smoked and was accented with a jaunty sprig of rosemary.
Dessert was either a rose brulée topped with a rolled rose petal tuile, or a dense glazed chocolate cake with honey lavender cream. A hint of rose petal nicely enhances a lovely little crème brulée. The rich cake had been individually baked in a small fluted brioche pan, with the stiff cream providing contrast in color, texture and taste.

Chef Baranoucky, who grew up in Wisconsin, came to Colorado to attend the Colorado Mountain College’s culinary program, which included apprenticing at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa. He came to Denver to work with the locally legendary Bryan Moscatello first at Adega and later at Mirepoix, both now closed. After a stint at California’s Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel, he returned to Colorado, briefly working at Whole Foods to immerse himself in the ingredients realm before joining the Hyatt and Restaurant 1876.
Price Check: As confirmation of the excellent value this special dinner is, consider that on Restaurant 1876’s à la carte menu, starters are $7-$13, entrées are $18-$26 (with half-portions of some at $9-$16) and desserts are $7-$10. Most wines are under $40 by the bottle, which adds to the affordability of this fine prix fixe dinner offering.
This fine dinner also wraps nicely into the Herbal Garden Package, which includes an overnight beginning at $159 nightly per room, two passes to the Botanic Garden and a $10 gift certificate to the restaurant, which in turn would bring the cost of the dinner to just $42.80 for two.

The Grand Hyatt Denver is at 1750 Welton Street, Denver; 303-295-1234.

Zero Carbon Footprint Dinner at Jill’s

Ambitious concept to minimize negative environmental impact while maximizing taste

Boulder’s St. Julien Hotel has proactively embraced green hospitality practices, cutting down energy consumption, recycling and reusing wherever possible and in other ways being environmentally responsible. Jason Rogers, the talented executive chef of Jill’s Restaurant, is similarly committed and uses organic, natural, seasonal and local products whenever possible. Last Thursday (which seems to have been International Earth Day), he created the Zero Carbon Wine Dinner to see how much he could do, even during waning winter, when “fresh” and “local” don’t exactly compute. It was a courageous menu, and a successful one. Not surprisingly, he included lots of root vegetables and winter greens.

The five-course dinner was created on a foundation of ingredients from a 100-mile radius of Boulder. It was paired with Benziger wines, an exception to the 100-mile principle because the Benziger Family Winery and its biodynamic wines are such a leader in green viticulture and wine-making. The St. Julien offset the carbon foot required to bring in the food and wine, as well as that created by the guests. The hotel didn’t have to buy any offsets for me, because I walked.

Here are some of the dishes that were served:

Parsnip sformato with chioggia (an Italian heirloom beet) and whole roasted beets

Hoppin’ John with house-cured ham and black-eyed peas, and also braised leeks, Hazel Dell shiitake mushrooms and Tuscan kale

Slow-roasted, macerated Tribute beef flatiron studded with garlic and rosemary and with root vegetable mash and natural jus

De Vries Bitter Choc0late Tart with ricotta white chocolate gelato and Disaronna orange caramel
Jill’s is located in the St. Julien Hotel at 900 Walnut Street, Boulder; 720-406-7399. The main number for the hotel is 720-406-9696.

Global Warming, the Food Supply and Victory Gardens

I have long written about skiing, a sport and an industry where changing weather patterns are upfront obvious. I also write a lot about general travel, where much attention is paid to shrinking glaciers including places I have been in the past several years — the Alpine regions of Switzerland and France, southeast Alaska, Antarctica, Kilimanjaro in equatorial Africa, the Andes from Ecuador to Chile and the northern Rocky Mountains from Colorado’s own Rocky Mountain National to Montana’s Glacier National Park and beyond into Canada.

And of course, I write about food and cooking and restaurants. It is increasingly obvious that climate change is also affecting agriculture, both what is grown and harvested locally and how the world food supply is impacted. Currently, because Americans are becoming increasingly conscious of the cost of transporting food, buying locally when possible makes environmental sense. Even though many of us are hooked the year-round availability of seasonal produce, whether it comes from the southern US, Mexico or Chile, we are also buying more from our own farmstands and farmers’ markets when we can buy food grown nearby. And once we try natural and organic foods, we have discovered that they do taste better too.

In today’s New York Times in an essay called “The Olive Tree Doesn’t Lie,” Mort Rosenblum put into sharp and personal focus these issues that I’ve been vaguely thinking about. Rosenblum, a reporter, foreign correspondent and author who, like writer Peter Mayle, bought and restored an old farmhouse in France. He also restored the ancient olive trees on his property, which inspired his award-winning book, Olives. All of which leads up to the opening paragraph from his piece in today’s Times:

“It is a little weird to be getting briefed on the state of the world’s
climate by an olive tree. And yet the Olea europaea has been telling it straight
since long before ancient reporters scratched dispatches onto pounded bark.
Watching my gnarled old Mediterranean tree season by season, I see the bad news
fast getting worse. Our future food supply is at risk, olives and most
everything else besides.”

Like the canary in the mine, olive trees are harbingers of big problems. (The image above, right, is of an ancient olive tree at a winery near Lisbon that I visited earlier this year.) His own olive trees date back to Roman times and therefore have survived through centuries of natural climate cycles. He writes that the issue is not merely average temperature and average rainfall, noting that “most food we eat relies on rainfall cycles and defined seasons. The point is not how much rain falls but when. And annual temperature averages hide a new reality: the patterns of hot and cold are changing.” He continues, “A warming trend with freak cold snaps confuses plant metabolism and emboldens killer pests.” Olives are harvested in December, and Italy’s olive 2007 crop is predicted to be 17 percent less than last year.

It is not just olives from the Mediterranean region or precious Italian truffles but more mundane produced that is affected. “At the Saturday market in Draguignan, farmers who know each of their turnips personally see the signs in their fruit trees, wheat fields and vegetable gardens. Crops ripen too early or not at all. One grower I respect saw his cherries bloom too early and die in a cold snap. Underground streams are tapped out by mid-summer.”

In the US, where agribusiness still reigns supreme, manufacturing-scale farms tinker with mother nature. Early snows, killer summer hailstorms and hurricanes can wipe out crops. So can wildfires, like those in southern California that devastated the avocado crop. But otherwise, large-scale growers irrigate and rain pesticides on crops to try to save them each year. What may work in the short term can be long-term harmful.

I loved Rosenblum’s Olives, a culinary and cultural book. I have not yet read his more recent Escaping Plato’s Cave: How America’s Blindness to the Rest of the World Threatens Our Survival. From his perspective derived from that work, he concludes: “As it has routinely since 1988, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has sounded the alarm. Fortified with a Nobel Prize and alarming new evidence, it has dropped ‘ifs’ and ‘buts.’ Some argue that a few seasons do not define a trend. But each morning, my trees tell me the
hard truths.”

I’m not as smart or as knowledgeable as Mort Rosenblum, but next summer, in addition to putting a few herbs in a couple pots and walking down to the local farmers’ market, my husband and I might consider putting in a small vegetable garden too. Americans planted victory gardens during World War II. Perhaps it is another small step many of us can take toward combating climate change.