Tamayo Unveils Makeover

Downtown Denver restaurant’s swank new style + a tweaked modern Mexican menu

P1010714Tamayo, downtown Denver’s original “modern Mexican” restaurant and the city’s first from Richard Sandoval, closed for a million-dollar makeover and recently emerged from its month-long chrysalis state with a vibrant, contemporary look. The layout remains largely unchanged — bar on the left, long row of window tables on the right overlooking 14th Street, tables snugged up against the divider between the bar and dining area, more tables in the back and a rooftop (partially tented for all-weather use) with killer mountain views.

Shelves of tequila bottles in front of the Rufino Tamayo tile mural
Shelves of tequila bottles in front of the Rufino Tamayo tile mural.

Remaining is the mural (above) on the “bar wall” by tile artist Rufino Tamayo, after whom Sandoval named the restaurant, but it is partially obscured by a display of scores of tequila bottles from the big list. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but Semple Brown, the renowned design firm, didn’t consult with me. I just hope they didn’t drill into the tile in case they change their minds during a future redo.

Richard Sandoval Restaurants is understandably so proud of the redo – from a blond/beige/white tablecloth palette to a medley of rich dark woods, muted orange banquettes, heavy carved chairs pulled up to bare tables on the 14th Street and stellar light fixtures — that they have invited folks for a look and a taste. On Thursday evening, a mostly downtown crowd (mostly hospitality people, I think) was invited to an upstairs cocktail event showcasing its seven fabulous margaritas and a selection of appetizer/small plate dishes, some new and from the earlier menu. I only got brief glances of the new dining area while passing through  — enough to be impressed by the new look.

Of the available margaritas, the Tamayo marg (tequila blanco and tamarind in a glass whose rim was dipped into a salt/chile pequin mixture) was so good that I never tried one of the others. Servers came around with Chinese soup spoons cradling mahi mahi ceviche, and the other items were put out in serve-yourself steam trays.

Outstanding mahi ceviche -- fresh fish from Hawaiian waters prepared in an inspired Latin American style.
Outstanding mahi ceviche — fresh fish from Hawaiian waters prepared in an inspired Latin American style.
Squash blossom quesadillas -- each one a corn masa turnover encasing sqash blossoms, pobalano chile, cihuahua cheese, corn and tree chile salsa.
Squash blossom quesadillas — each one a corn masa turnover with squash blossoms, poblano chile, soft white chihuahua cheese, corn and three-chile salsa.
Rock shrimp quesadilla in a flour tortilla with
Rock shrimp quesadilla in a flour tortilla with smoked bacon, tomatillo-chipotle salsa and a taste of avocado.
Condiments set out for the taco selections (tacos al pastor, chicken tinga and smoked brisket) set out in quickly emptired and therefore instantly unphotogenic steam trays
Condiments set out for the taco selections (tacos al pastor, chicken tinga and smoked brisket) set out in quickly emptied and therefore instantly unphotogenic steam trays

Hee’s my photo resolution: Unless I’m in a very formal restaurant, I am going to stop being considerate of my fellow diners and start using a flash. This time, like on so many other occasions, the images are two dark and not always sharp. No more Ms. Nice Girl!

Price check: At dinner, guacamole (now four kinds), $10-$16; other starters, $9-$13; soups and salads, $9-$11; tacos, three for $13-$16 + $4 for rice and black beans; enchiladas, $19-$24; entrées, $19-$24; desserts, $9.

Note: The Urbanspoon reviews and evaluations linked to from the box below reflect diners’ pre-makeover experiences.

Tamayo on Urbanspoon

Affordable Valentine’s Day Eats in Denver & Boulder

Romantic restaurant meals, anti-Valentine eats & even a cook-it-at-home option

(Cross-posted to MileHighOnTheCheap.com, the metro Denver-Boulder area site for info on values, bargains, deals and freebies.)

ValentinesDinnerAlong with Thanksgiving, Easter and Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day is the occasion that restaurants often use to offer special dinners at specially high prices. Here are some suitably festive and yet affordable ones that I have found for Thursday, February 14 (plus tax and gratuity): The 5th Sun Cafe & Lounge” Valentines 2 Day” special on February 14 & 15 is a healthy, scratch-made 3-course Mexican dinner with a bottle of wine, a choice of soup or salad, a special entrée and dessert for $60 per couple. 3024 N. Speer, Denver, 303-433-6935. ♥ The Blue Bonnet Café, a favorite Mexican restaurant since the 1930s, is putting on an even more affordable Valentine’s Day dinner for just $25 for two. Start with one of six specialty margaritas, then have a choice of two soups, follow with a choice of seven taco or vegetarian poblano combinations with rice and beans, and finish with sugar/cinnamon-dusted sopapillas with honey and whipped cream. 457 S. Broadway, Denver, 303-778-0147. ♥ Super-cool Crave Dessert Bar & Lounge is doing a $30 three-course dinner that bears explaining. The first course is a selection of specialty cheese, fresh seasonal fruit and a brioche, followed by seared scallops, buerre blanc, lemon, parsley, farfalle pasta and fresh vegetables, or fried eggplant, wilted spinach, tomato bruschetta, roasted red pepper couli and basil for the second course, and then for the dazzling dessert, strawberry mascarpone cheesecake and hibiscus foam; passion fruit mousse, fresh lime coulis, chocolate ganache, roasted berries and pink peppercorn; or chocolate flourless cake, white chocolate mousse, cherry gastrique, candied hazelnut, malted milk crème Anglaise, caramel-vanilla bean French macaron and Luxardo cherries. 891 14th St., Denver, 303-586-4199. ♥ Gaetano’s “One Love,” a $30 three-course dinner, from February 14 to 16 includes a choice of arugula salad or lobster bisque as first course, sautéed Hawaiian fish or house-made ravioli as an entrée, and a choice of house-made chocolate cake with Nutella or classic cheesecake with amarena cherry for dessert. Head to the bar after dinner to enjoy a complimentary glass of Prosecco from Denver’s only on-tap Prosecco. 3760 Tejon St., Denver, 303-455-9852. ♥ At Phat Thai, the “third wheel” dines at 50% off. 2900 E. 2nd Ave., Denver, 303-388-PHAT. ♥ For those immune to traditional sentimentality, the Pub 17 on Welton has an “Get Messy Anti-Valentine” menu featuring their Barbeque Rib Platter — perhaps an opportunity for couples to celebrate with their own “Tom Jones” moment, and then top it off with a Sweet Action Chocolate Stout Ice Cream Float for dessert. This prix fixe menu in addition to Pub 17’s à la carte selections is offered on Valentine’s night only for $18 per person. In the Grand Hyatt, Denver, 1750 Welton St. Denver, 303-295-1117. ♥ Along the same vein, start the evening at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) for a complimentary chocolate & champagne reception for the launch of their latest exhibit, the Museum of Broken Relationships, starting at 6:30 p.m. Later, Boulder’s Kitchen [Next Door] hosts its 2nd Annual Anti-Valentine’s Day 80’s Dance Party with  DJ Jahsonic spinning songs from the ’80s from 9 p.m. to close. 1039 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-544-5973. ♥ Flights Wine Cafe, with locations in Morrison (116 Stone St., 303-697-0492) and Arvada (10475 W. 64th Ave., 303-432-7553), has a menu for $125 per couple, which seems pricey until you consider that it includes a welcome glass of bubbly, a $50 bottle of wine, a full evening of “loving tapas” and desserts. ♥ Another option is the Heat-n-Serve Valentine’s dinner from Tony’s Markets for those who want chef-made fare without the restaurant experience or cost. The $79.99 feast for two includes an Goat Cheese and Sweet Pear Phyllo Purse appetizer, a first course of Lobster Ravioli in Basil Cream Sauce, then Pear, Lemon and Vanilla Salad with Spring Greens and Candied Pecans, Beef Tenderloin Filet Mignon with a Wild Mushroom Demi-Glace with Herbes de Provence Roasted Potatoes for the entrée, dinner rolls and for dessert, Chocolate Dipped Strawberries & Killer Brownie Bites. Save more by buying your own wine or bubbly without the retaurant markup –and there’s not tipping. You do have to handle the clean-up, but it’s economical trade — especially for couples who don’t also don’t want to pay for a sitter. Order online, in person or by phone at any Tony’s location. Orders must be placed by 2 p.m. on Monday, February 11 and are ready for pick- up after 12 noon on Thursday, Feburary 14.

The Fort at Fifty

Landmark restuarant celebrates a half-century of frontier-inspired food and history

Holly Arnold Kinney and hthe late Sam Arnold, creator of The Fort.
Holly Arnold Kinney and hthe late Sam Arnold, creator of The Fort.

“Every museum worth its salt has someplace to eat. When you visit The Fort south of Morrison, you feel as if you are dining in a museum.  Within the thick adobe walls are eight dining rooms decorated with Southwestern antiques, artifacts and artwork from the region’s intertwined Native American, Spanish and Anglo traditions.” That was my lead paragraph to a feature in edibleFront Range magazine several years ago.

The Fort is a restuarant like no other – an adobe recreation of Bent’s Old Fort, a fortified garrison and trading post along the Santa Fe Trail. The restaurant was the fulfillment of the dream of the late Sam Arnold, ad man, history buff, culinary historian and passionate advocate for the frontier West. Sam’s saughter, Holly Arnold Kinney, runs it now, doing honor to her father’s vision. This is The Fort’s 50th anniversary month, and the Denver Post’s Kristin Browning-Blas told the story as well as anyone. She started her piece. “The Fort Tuns 50” by writing, “The Fort might be the only restaurant in the country that can say it has served world leaders, American presidents and a bear.” Tomorrow evening, The Fort celebrates with a house concert featuring the legendary Ian Tyson, a singer who captures the era evoked at The Fort.

The Fort on Urbanspoon

Cochon555 Returning to Colorado

Vail is one of 10 stops for peripatetic pork competition and tasting event

Cochon555-logoI attended the Denver visit of the first year of the COCHON 555 tour and was blown away by the butchering, the food, the wine and the restaurant biz collegiality for many of the guests were chefs or others in the local hospitality business. (Click here for my report.) Alas, the event has never returned to the Mile High City, but Vail is the third of 10 stops in 2013 — the fifth anniversary of this event that was created to promote sustainable farming in general and heritage-breed pigs in particular.

It takes place at the Four Seasons Vail on Sunday, March 10 and features five chefs, five pigs and five winemakers. The chefs — Alex Seidel of Fruition, Hose Rosenberg of Blackbelly Catering, Jason Harrison of Flame Resturant in the Four Seasons Vail, Kelly Liken of Restaurant Kelly Liken and Lon Symensma of ChoLon — are challenged to prepare a menu from the entirety of one 200-pound family-raised heritage breed of pig, nose-to-tail.Bill Greenwood of Beano’s Cabin is doing the butchering, and Julian Smith of Bol Vail is preparing a “family meal” of barbecue. el

Twenty judges who are described as “culinary luminaries” and 400 guests help decide the winning chef by voting on the “best bite of the day.”. The winner will be crowned the Prince of Porc (or presumably Princess of Porc) and will compete at Grand Cochon event at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Sunday, June 16.

New additions in 2013 — some just for VIP level guests — include the launch of a cocktail competition called “Punch Kings” featuring Breckenridge Bourbon, prepared by six local bartenders, plus the new TarTare Bar round out the exclusive VIP hour. All attendees can watch butcher demonstrations, inhale sustainable oysters, taste creative pork dishes from all the chefs, pay a visit to the Manhattan Bar or new Chupito Bar featuring Mezcals, the amazing Cheese Bar, ice-cold brew from Anchor Brewing, pork-spiked desserts and cold-brewed coffee to close out the evening. Tickets are $125 to $150 plus a $10.38 to $14.75  service charge and can be ordered online. The Four Seasons Vail has lodging for those too comatose to go elsewhere!

Reserve Now for Denver Restaurant Week

Top restuaurants are booking up now for two-week culinary “week”

DenverResturantWeekI know they can be a hardship for many restaurants, but “restaurant weeks” like November’s annual First Bite Boulder, upcoming Denver Restaurant Week and numerous others in cities, states, toruist areas and even neighborhoods are fantastic for diners. For a modest fixed price per person, participating restaurants serve a limited menu that enables diners sample their cuisine. Three courses are typical. Some restaurants offer four or add a no-charge amuse before the meal and/or an intermezzo between courses. Some also offer wine specials or even include wine or other beverage in the price.

The majority of the specific menus are up for Denver Restaurant Week, which runs February 23 through March 8. I have long believed that it should be called Denver Restaurant “Weeks” since it does run 14 days. More than 200 restaurants are participating. Each offers a multi-course dinner (usually three courses) for the “mile high” fixed price of $52.80 for two or $26.40 for one, plus tax, tip and beverages. Some offer other optional popular dishes for an upcharge. The fun of this two-week food fest is checking out all the menus and then nabbing a spot at that restaurant you have always wanted to try, but couldn’t afford or hadn’t gotten too yet. Many of the city’s hottest spots are on the list but word on the food street is that many booked up as soon as reservations opened (about three days ago), but many many neighborhood bistros are on the list too. I suppose I should note than many chains have also hooked onto this concept, though it was designed for independently owned restaurants.

We’ve already made out Denver Restaurant Week reservations, but I’m not saying where. I’ll write a blog post after we’ve been there. Please do note that “Denver” in this case stretches from Longmont to Littleton. And an aidditional tip: Make your reservations through OpenTable.com and collect 100 points every time you dine. Points can be converted into gift certificates good at any OpenTable restaurant.

Dine Out Vancouver Fest Starts Today

British Columbia’s biggest city is also a food mecca especially during food fest

DineOutVancouverI love Vancouver. I love its green spaces and skyline. I love its urban sophistication coupled with open-hearted Canadian friendliness. I love its location on the water with mountains as a backdrop.And of course, I love its varied food scene, from modest, authenic ethnic eatiers to restaurants The 11th annual Dine Out Vancouver Festival, a 17-day city-wide celebration of eating out is Canada’s largest restaurant festival. From January 18 to February 3, diners can sample menus from some 200 restaurants around the city, at prix fixe lunch or dinner costs of $18, $28 and $38 per person. Many feature BC VQA wine or Granville Island Brewing beer pairings (of course, at an additional cost). The home page lists participating restaurants by name, cuisine, menu price and neighobrhood.

Dine Out also features special hotel room rates and packages, plus a full menu of unique food-themedevents, seminars and activities. Throughout the festival, diners participate in voting in the Best Bite Awards.Voters are automatically entered to win the Dine Out for a Year contest. Dine
Out Vancouver
Festival 2013 runs from

Bellagio Hosts Elaborate Chinese Feast

A feast inspired by the pinnacle of Chinese VIP hospitality  in America’s gambling mecca

DiyouotiGuesthouse-logoA gambler can lose 500 bucks in Las Vegas in minutes, or a culturally curious foodie can spend it on an evening feasting on a spectacular Chinese banquet, the likes of which is typically reserved for royalty, heads of state and other world leaders visiting the Chinese capital. The cuisine of Diaoyutai State Guesthouse of Beijing will be showcased in celebration of Chinese New Year next month in Las Vegas.

Bellagio’s Tuscany Kitchen will be transformed to host a three-day Chineces culinary event with exclusive prix fixe dinner menus from Thursday, February 14 through Saturday, February 16 at 7:30 p.m. nightly. The Bellagio says that the eight-course meal features “a collection of historic dishes modernized from ancient menus, will be prepared and served by the Diaoyutai culinary team, dressed in traditional Chinese attire and led by executive chef Hao Baoli, who has hosted more than 1,000 world leaders in his decades at the Guesthouse. From décor and tradition to dishes showcasing rare and exotic ingredients, the Guesthouse experience will be transported to the luxurious Bellagio.”

Chef Baoli, a celebrity chef in China to celebrated guests, has more than 30 years leading the Diaoyutai culinary team. The Bellagio continues, “Chef Baoli’s celebratory menu will feature a diverse selection of dishes showcasing rare ingredients and skillful techniques. In addition, strict nutritional requirements ensure all dishes are low in both sugar and sodium and high in protein.  The result is cuisine that is visually stunning, legendary and nutritionally holistic.”

Guests will enjoy traditional presentations, including Diaoyutai’s Dragon Bearded Noodle ritual and extraordinary fruit carvings. The Diaoyutai team scrupulously executes what it calls the “Four Beauties” in every meal: food, service, tableware and environment. Celebratory décor includes tableware shipped from Beijing to Bellagio for the event to capture the essence and spirit of the Diaoyutai Guest House.

Curious about what $500 will buy?  Click here for the menu, whose simple graphics belie the intricate cuisine and ceremonial ambiance. To To purchase tickets, call the Concierge at 866-906-7171  or 702-693-7075.

Cross-posted to www.travel-babel.com.

Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news.