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)

Upcoming Food Events – One in Town, Two on the Snow

I expect a fundraiser featuring four top chefs to live up to its name, “Night of Excellence.” Chefs Mark Fiorentino of Daniel Boulud Restaurants (New York), Mike Morehead, Gourmet Fine Catering (Denver), Christian “Goose” Sorensen of Solera Restaurant (Denver) and Bradford Thompson of The Phoenician (Scottsdale, AZ) will pull out all culinary stops in a fundraiser for the Brian Thompson Memorial Scholarship Foundation, which supports aspiring young chefs in undertaking a formal three-year program at a local culinary school. Brian Thompson, a young chef with Whirled Peas Catering which is instrumental in putting on the event, died accidentally and tragically on February 28, 2006. He was not related to The Phoenician’s Bradford Thompson.

The “Night of Excellence” is scheduled exactly one year later, on February 28, 2007, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm at the Cable Center, 2000 Buchtel Boulevard, Denver. The program includes cooking demonstrations, wonderful food, paired wines and a silent auction. Tickets are $100 per person. For reservations, call 720-335-2718 or visit the foundation’s website.

The annual Crested Butte Nordic Council Progressive Bonfire Dinner combines a distinctive four-star, four-course, four-fire dinner with cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Locals and visitors alike share the warmth and camaraderie around crackling fires, with good food and warm drinks along the way. The dinner starts at 5:00 pm on March 17, at the Town Ranch trailhead with a cup of hot wine or cocoa to sip while sitting on straw bales around the first fire.

Skiers and snowshoers follow a path of luminarias along 4 kilometers of Nordic trails with appetizer, soup, entrée and dessert courses of Italian fare served around bonfires along the way. The dinner costs $30 for adults and $15 for children under age 12, with proceeds supporting the Gunnison/Crested Butte Junior Nordic Ski Team. Reservations are required; call 970-349-1707.

Various Vail charities benefit from the 17th annual Taste of Vail, from April 11 to 14, the perfect bridge from the end of the ski season to the beginning of the food-festival season. The busy schedule includes food and wine seminars, winemaker dinners at some of the Vail Valley’s top restaurants, the Grand Tasting (fine wine poured by winemakers and winery owners from around the globe, an abundance of great food, an auction and dancing), and my personal favorite, the popular mountaintop picnic extravaganza at 10,350 feet atop Vail Mountain. I can ski before the picnic, but I’ve never managed to ski afterwards!

The Taste of Vail is an a la carte production, with various ticket categories offered. It’s complicated, so check the website if you are interested. For tickets or further information, go to the Taste of Vail website or call 970-926-5665.

Tony’s Market to Close One Location

Saturday, February 17, will be the last day for Tony’s on Broadway (150 West Mineral Avenue at Broadway, Denver). This location is one of the family-owned, family-run fine-foods Tony’s Meats & Specialty Foods Markets in south metro Denver. They sell meats, produce, deli meats and cheeses, baked goods, prepared foods, pasta and more. It’s not that business is bad. It’s just that Safeway is expanding and upgrading in the same shopping center, and there is a sense in the Rosacci family that it’s financially wise to close now and seek another location.

Remaining retail locations are Tony’s Original Dry Creek Market, 4991 East Dry Creek Road, Denver, 303-770-7024; Tony’s Bowles Village Market, 7421 West Bowles Avenue, Littleton, 720-377-3680; and Tony’s Castle Pines Market, 874 West Happy Canyon Road, Castle Rock, 303-814-3888.

Michael “Chef Mick” Rosacci’s cooking segments air Sunday mornings at 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. ABC 7 News. Click on the Tony’s Market website for some of his recipes.

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.

Fondue? Fon-don’t

If you go to Tamarack, Idaho, you’ll love the skiing (I did, which you can read on my travel blog) or the golf, rafting, fishing and other activities on the Lake Cascade. But don’t sign up for fondue night. Set in the high-ceilinged Grange function room, the atmosphere is meeting-and-convention, not fondue-and-raclette. But I’ve had really good fondue in a sparsely decorated, modern restaurant in a shopping and dining mall in St. Mortiz-Bad, Switzerland, so it’s not the atmosphere that’s a problem.

Rather than sitting around a table chatting while waiting for a burbling fondue pot to be set in front of guests, this dinner was set up bufffet-style — odd because the Grange’s round tables really lend themselves to traditional fondue. Everyone got in line, cafeteria-style, picked up a large dinner plate, and moved slowly along the table.

First you come to an assortment of very cold vegetables — steamed and then refrigerated broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and more. Next, you get to three baskets of bread cubes. Then, you reach three catering-service-style stainless steel chafing dishes with a trio of fondue flavors: plain cheese, garlic cheese and pepper cheese. Next is a bowl filled with unappealing chunks of pre-cooked meat (!!!!), with yet another chafing dish of au jus, a bowl of horseradish sauce and some other condiment.

As you slowly work your way through this dispiriting buffet, you load up your plate with veggies, bread and meat and then top it with the hot sauces. I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think the cheese fondue might have come from a mix, and I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the provenance of those meat knots. In any case, the formerly hot components are cool by the time you return to the table, which does nothing to warm up the cold vegetables or meat. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s not fondue.

You return to the buffet for dessert, an assortment of fruit (slices of apple, pear, banana; orange segments and strawberries). Take some fruit and ladle out a puddle of hot chocolate sauce onto your plate. Again, I won’t swear to it, but it tasted like warmed-up Hershey’s chocolate syrup. With this comes one (1) glass of wine (Cabernet or Chardonnay).

Bottom line is that none of the “fondue” selections included congenial dipping and sipping, and there wasn’t a fondue pot or a fondue fork in sight.

At present, Tamarack charges $45 for a monthly full-moon ski or snowshoe guided excursion, use of equipment, pre-hike wine and appetizers and a “special” dinner afterwards. It would be a good value if the food is good. Last night’s offering was fond-don’t. I was told that other theme nights are Mexican, Thai and sushi. I don’t know what they are like, but I’d be wary and ask for details.

R.I.P., Sharon Tylor Herbst

When I need to check food terminology, spellings (including accent marks in other languages), definitions or ingredients or cooking and baking techniques (no matter how exotic), I turn to my little bible: The Food Lover’s Companion. Its creator, Sharon Taylor Herbst, passed away on January 26 after battling ovarian cancer for three years. Sadly, the cancer won. I never met her, and yet I mourn her.

The first edition of the Food Lovers Companion took her three years to research and write, and was published in 1990. The three editions printed thus far have sold more than a million copies. I bought two of them for myself and others for foodie friends. The current edition contains nearly 6,000 entries, organized alphabetically, like a dictionary or encyclopedia. Several on-line food sites use The Companion for their definition of terms sections. The fourth edition is due out in September.

Tara Duggan, the reporter who wrote Sharon’s obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, noted, “Part dictionary, part encyclopedia, the current edition of the book defines almost 6,000 food and wine terms. Many publications use it as a reference, including The Chronicle, for answering such questions as whether to capitalize Caesar salad or what goes into devils on horseback, for which the book provides two definitions. One is ‘wine-poached prunes stuffed with a whole almond and mango chutney, then wrapped in bacon and broiled.'” I sense that Duggan wrote that both with awe and admiration.

Her husband, Ron, wrote The New Wine Lover’s Companion. Individually and together, the Herbsts wrote 16 books on food and drink. They lived in Bodega Bay, CA, in the northern reaches of Marin County, but Sharon was born in Chicago, grew up in Denver and met her husband when they both worked at Denver hotel restaurant. She attended Colorado State University.

Valentine’s Day Alert: Terrific Truffles

Over the holidays, we became the fat and happy recipients of several boxes of candy from several sources. Belvedere, See’s, Godiva all landed under our tree or in our mailbox. Thanks (I think) to Santa and everyone else. Rationing ourselves to just one or two sweet treats each per day, we are just finishing the last of the lucious loot. It has been a great run.

Of all the wonderful candies we ate, the truffles from Joseph Schmidt Confections of San Francisco stood out. Their thick chocolate mantle (milk, to-die-for dark, two-tone) encase a silky smooth ganache. And did I mention that they are generously sized? It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but trust me, this picture doesn’t do justice to the taste of these award-winning treats.

These fabulous truffles are made in the European tradition of fine confections, so it surprised me to learn that although Joseph Schmidt, the man (seen left, relaxing at his desk), was born in 1939, Joseph Smith Confections, the store, has only been around since 1993. In addition to the original retail location at 3489 16th Street in San Francisco, there’s now a second store in San Jose at 356 Santana Row. If I lived within striking distance of either, I’d be the size of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. But I don’t, but luckily for the rest of us, Joseph Schmidt does ship.

Valentine’s Day is coming right up, and with it, the opportunity to treat someone special to candy and flowers and a romantic champagne dinner, the trio of classic Valentine’s Day indulgences. If you love someone enough to get the very best candy you can, consider Joseph Schmidt’s.

Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news. For address of any restaurant, click on the Zomato icon at the end of the post.