Good Greek & Italian Food — in Greece

Popular foods at popular prices deliver taste.

GreekFlagWe’re spending a few days in Greece, a country I’ve long wanted to visit. This isn’t a culinary trip of any sort — just making some of the regular tourist rounds. No fancy restaurants. No high culinary fare. House wines are just fine. But everything we’ve eaten has been fresh and good.

I thought eating in Greece would be more of a problem for my husband, who does not like much in the way of seafood, many vegetables or feta cheese. But Greece’s abundant Italian dishes more than save many a meal. They appear on every menu, and he said that he likes them better than the Italian food he had in Italy last fall. I keep ordering Greek dishes. Here’s a sampling of what we’ve encountered thus far:

I learned how to make Greek coffee at the DIY breakfast buffet at the Polis Grand Hotel in Athens. Truth be told, I didn't care for it too much, but perhaps I didn't do it right.
I kind of learned how to make Greek coffee at the DIY breakfast buffet at the Polis Grand Hotel in Athens. Powdered coffee, sugar and hot water are stirred together in those little copper pots, which are placed on hot sand for 5 or more minutes, then poured into espresso cups I liked the ritual, but in truth I didn’t care for it too much, but perhaps I didn’t do it right.
Heaps of beautiful cherries and strawberries on a vendors' cart.
Heaps of beautiful cherries and strawberries on a vendors’ cart on Monastiraki Square.
Rice-stuffed grape leaves, which menus list as vine leaves.
At Metro Restaurant, also on Monastiraki Square, rice-stuffed grape leaves, which menus list as vine leaves.
Greek salad topped rakishly with a generous slab of herbed feta cheese.
Greek salad topped rakishly with a generous slab of herbed feta cheese.
Chicken skewers, simply grilled and moist -- not unlike chicken satay but without the peanut sauce.
Chicken skewers, simply grilled and moist — not unlike chicken satay but without the peanut sauce.
Fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil with a ramekin of pesto on the side.
Fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil with a ramekin of pesto on the side.
Spinach salad with tomatoes and a local shredded semi-soft cheese.
Spinach salad with tomatoes and a local shredded semi-soft cheese.

 

There's more to the Greek breadbasket than only pita. Here, wine bread and to spread on  it, olive and tomato condiments.
There’s more to the Greek breadbasket than only pita. Here, wine, bread and to spread on it, hummus, olive tapanade and tomato. Ignore the ashtray. Ubiquitous, but used less than I had expected.
This salad has greens, cucumber, red onion, olives an fennel
This salad has greens, cucumber, red onion, olives an fennel
At Niko's, a beach restaurant conveniently across pizza our hotel, the
At Niko’s, a beach restaurant conveniently across pizza our hotel, the “special” pizza, loaded with meats and vegetables.
“Fried small fish” is the way the menu describes this plate of floured and lightly fried sardines, heads removed.
Green salad with chopped fresh greens, cucumbers and of course, fresh lemon.
Green salad with chopped fresh greens, cucumbers and of course, fresh lemon.
Honey cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Honey cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Niko's serves its wine from a lined copper beaker, probably to keep it cool.
Niko’s serves its wine from a lined copper beaker, probably to keep it cool.

 

The grill is in an open-sided shed.
The grill is in an open-sided shed.

 

Skordata, a square of fried regato cheese with lettuce, tomato and lemon.
Skordata, a square of fried regato cheese with lettuce, tomato and lemon.

 

Vegetarian pizza for two -- green peppers, mushrooms, red onion under a thick mantle of melted cheese.
Vegetarian pizza for two — green peppers, mushrooms, red onion under a thick mantle of melted cheese.

 

Another lunch set-up at a harborside restaurant. I never get tired or such views -- or, if seems, of rose wine.
Another lunch set-up at a harborside restaurant. I never get tired of such views — or, it seems, of rose wine.

There was more wine (mine, usually), beer (my husband’s always) and more food, but this is a sampling — so far.

New Orleans Food & Wine Festival

Big tastes in the Big Easy.

NewOrleansFoodExperience-logoBon Appétit declared Boulder to be America’s “foodiest” town, and New Orleans is certain a top contender as the foodiest city. Coming right up from May 21 to 24 is the annual New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. The festival brings together food lovers, chefs, wine aficionados and wineries for an unforgettable series of events that anyone with taste buds would want to experience. I’m getting ready to leave for Greece, so I’m taking the efficient, if not creative, way out and pasting information and images directly from the NOWFE website.

Wine Dinners

A series of wine dinners across the city kick off the festival Wednesday night. Each dinner pairs the food of a premier New Orleans’ restaurant with wine from world class winery.  Tickets are going fast, but I’ve heard that some restaurants like Antoine’s, Café Giovanni and Restaurant R’evolution still have spots left. Contact the restaurant directly if you’re interested in joining one of these exceptional dinners.

Royal Street Stroll

Eight blocks of one of the most fabulous streets in New Orleans are transformed into a one-of-a-kind wine tasting. Royal Street shuts down and festival goers are given exclusive access to wines from all over the world, food from exceptional local restaurants, and fantastic shopping. Enjoy your wine as you browse through antique shops, art galleries, clothing boutiques and many other shops.  Who knows, you might even see the Krewe of Cork parading down the street. It’s a true New Orleans celebration of food and wine. The Royal Street Stroll is Thursday night, May 22. Tickets are $89 in advance or $109 the day of the event.

Grand Tasting

Not just one day-of wine and food tastings, but two: Friday, May 23 and Saturday, May 24. On both days, wine and food take over the convention center for unprecedented tasting events. Glasses are  filled with select wines from across the globe, and some of the best chefs in the city share tasting size samples of their best dishes. On Saturday, 10 Louisiana chefs compete to be crowned the King of Louisiana Seafood. Tickets are $99 in advance, $119 the day of the show.

Denver’s Dueling Tacos

National and local lists name top Mile High tacos.

TacoI recently wrote a post about La Calle being cited on Zagat.com as serving Denver’s best taco — part of a national roundup of top tacos in each town. Then Thrillist.com came up with “The Seven Most Important Tacos in Denver.” Tacos, tasty for sure, but important? Then, TheDailyMeal.com published “The 50 Best Tacos in America” slideshow and didn’t even name one from anywhere in Colorado. What’s with that? Eater Denver doesn’t seem to have published  recent taco list. I expect one or both any day now.

M-M-Mexican Spiced Coffee

Mexican coffee available on Colorado shelves.

CafeDeOlla-packageAt a recent dinner at The Fort, dessert was accompanied by a sweet, spicy coffee from Mexico. Turns out that this is one of the few items that this landmark restaurant does not make from scratch. They served Coffee de Olla, a balanced blend of Arabica coffee, an unrefined cone-shaped brown sugar called piloncillo, cinnamon, anise, cocoa and some other unnamed spices.

Wimpy coffee drinker that I am, I loved it. Traditionally, café de olla is made in a small clay or earthen pot called an olla. It involves grinding the coffee beans, dissolving the piloncillo, mixing, stirring and such. How much more efficient to make the prepared mixture in a French press.

The Fort sells the brand called Coffee de Olla, but I don’t even have to go that far. Piece, Love & Chocolate, which is right around the corner, also carries it. When we use up the gift bag that I brought back from dinner, I know just where to find it. It is also available by calling 720-236-8008.

Seasonal Variations on The Fort’s Menu

Landmark restaurant subtly introduces new spring & summer menu.

001The Fort is arguably the Denver area’s most immutable restaurant. This brilliant recreation of Bent’s Fort has actually been around longer than the original that protected travelers and served as a trading post along the Santa Fe Trail. The original existed for only 16 years in the first half of the 19th century, while the restaurant south of Morrison opened in 1963 and has been serving foods of the Old West and more contemporary adaptations for more than half a century.

Holly Arnold Kinney grew up in this adobe landmark overlooking Denver, Her late parents, Sam and Elizabeth Arnold, opened the restaurant in 1963. Holly is now the
Holly Arnold Kinney grew up in this adobe landmark overlooking Denver, Her late parents, Sam and Elizabeth Arnold, opened the restaurant in 1963. Holly is now the “proprietess,” with an office in what had been her childhood bedroom.

 

Executive chef Matt Crow, who introduces new items carefully and always with regard to The Fort's culinary traditions.
Executive chef Matt Crow, who introduces new items carefully and always with regard to The Fort’s culinary traditions. I got a kick out of Chef Matt’s choice of kitchenwear — instead of traditional chef’s whites, he wears crow black.

The spring/summer menu features the game, the bison (aka, buffalo) and Southwestern dishes that long-time guests expect and that first-timers anticipate, as well as new dishes and lighter seasonal versions of on-going items. Among the new dishes: wild Scottish salmon;  Tlaxcan’s Tamal Nuevo, a vegetarian dish;  roasted game hen with huckleberry gastrique, and ancho chile-orange duck, plus a new variation on the popular theme of macaroni and cheese that, while not really light, is shareable and also seems to go with virtually everything. Even with these additions to the menu, it does remain meat-centric, and that means that many specialties are brown –the buffalo boudie (sausage), duck breast and various cuts of beef, bison and lamb — that taste a lot better than they photograph. Trust me on this. At a spring menu preview the other night, these were some of the items served:

The Historian's Platter is a sharable sampler of starters. Sam's Famous Guacamole; Sam's Buffalo Boudine (the French trappers' word for sausage); bison tongue on toast wutg caper aioli; Rocky Mountain oysters with cocktail sauce, and peanut butter-stuffedjalapeno escabeche with mango-sweetened whipped peanut butter. My fave? The stuffed jalapenos.
The Historian’s Platter is a sharable sampler of starters. Sam’s Famous Guacamole with the corn tortilla chips in a basket off to the side; stuffed jalapeno escabeche filled with mango-sweetened peanut butter; Sam’s Buffalo Boudine (the French trappers’ word for sausage); bison tongue on toast with caper aioli; and Rocky Mountain oysters with cocktail sauce.. My fave? The stuffed jalapenos.
Buffalo sirloin with chef's selection of mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
Buffalo sirloin with chef’s selection of mashed potatoes topped with seasonal vegetables.
Tlaxacan's Tamal Nuevo is a wonderful layered vegetarian offering made of yellow corn masa and oyster and shitaki mushrooms, with Anasazi bean puree and sautéed zucchini alongside. A drizzle of Dixon red chile sauce and a squiggle of avocado crema complete the dish.
Tlaxacan’s Tamal Nuevo is a wonderful layered vegetarian offering made of yellow corn masa and oyster and shitaki mushrooms, with Anasazi bean puree and sautéed zucchini alongside. A drizzle of Dixon red chile sauce and a squiggle of avocado crema complete the dish.
The name of this, President Jefferson's Favorite Mac N' Cheese, gives a clue as to how long it might have been around. The Fort's version adds red chile powder.
The name of this dish, President Jefferson’s Favorite Mac N’ Cheese, gives a clue as to how long it might have been around. The Fort’s version adds red chile powder.
The Fort now uses wild Scottish salmon for its fish dish. It is served atop Miller pilaf bathed in a skill-carrot broth and topped with a bit of orange-red onion salad with Balsamic vinegar.
The Fort now uses wild Scottish salmon for its fish dish. It is served atop Miller pilaf bathed in a skill-carrot broth and topped with a bit of orange-red onion salad with Balsamic vinegar.
It is difficult to find room for dessert after a Fort feast, but several, like this Campfire S'mores Custard slide down easily to fill whatever gaps might remain. On top, light house-made marshmallows.
It is difficult to find room for dessert after a Fort feast, but several, like this Campfire S’mores Custard slide down easily to fill whatever gaps might remain. On top, light house-made marshmallows.

I’d love to include my customer price check, but I’m afraid the online menu does not include prices, and the menu for the summer preview was literally “priceless.” Suffice it to say that dinners at The Fort do not come cheap, but the restaurant offers a true value for the dining dollar — unsurpassed ambience, excellent service, generous portions and a glimpse into Western history that you’ll find nowhere else. And come summer, have a drink — perhaps outside on the patio — gaze at the views down toward Denver.
The Fort on Urbanspoon

Big Changes at Vail’s Larkspur

Fine dining restaurant at Golden Peak changing its tune.

Larkspur.logoChef/restaurateur Thomas Salamunovich, a long-time rock star on the Vail culinary scene, and his wife, designer Nancy Sweeney, say that have decided to discontinue nightly á la carte dinner service at Larkspur and reinvent their idea of fine dining, focusing on customized gatherings and private celebrations. That means private events, winter lunches, après-ski and the Larkspur Market to keep the Larkspur inspiration at the forefront of creative and memorable fine dining experiences. Larkburger, of course, is thriving, serving excellent burgers an sides.

Denver’s Top Taco at La Calle

National site picks low-profile taqueria as Denver’s best.

Zagat-logoZagat.com’s latest best-of list is “The Best Tacos in 15 US Cities,” of which Denver is one. Surprisingly Pinche Taqueria wasn’t it. The again, the winner was also Westword‘s 2013 honoree for Denver’s best tacos, so there was a hint in the air even before the Zagat.com list came out.

Here’s what Zagat.com posted:

Denver: Cochinita Pibil at La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas

Why We Love It: Housed in a comfy little two-room cottage along the Valverde stretch of Alameda, this absolute gem gives new meaning to the word “sumptuous.” We wholeheartedly recommend every taco on the menu, but since you’ve got to start somewhere, try the cochinita pibil – pork slow-roasted in citrus-achiote marinade (pictured left below the also-amazing chivo, or goat). With one bite, the depth of its rich and tangy flavor seems almost boundless; slivers of pickled onion add sharp contrast should you want it, but the stew-thick mixture is perfect as is. (And don’t fret about those lemon wedges – we’re sure the lime shortage will be over soon.)

Insider Tip: While the wall-mounted menus are entirely in Spanish, a printed menu at the order counter offers moderately helpful English translations.

Price: $1.50 or $6.95 for five

There were all sorts of indignant comments about the inclusion of northeastern cities, far less known for the Mexican and/or Tex-Mex than, say, San Antonio or San Diego. Those folks seem not to understand the title of the roundup. It is “the best tacos in 15 cities,” not “the 15 best tacos.” There is a difference.

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.