Like many foodies, I was quite fascinated when New York restaurateur David Chang launched Momofuku, an epicurean ramen restaurant on First Avenue in the “Far East Village” a decade or more ago. He re-elevated the classic Japanese noodle dish from the depths it has sunk to as super-cheap cellophane-wrapped dried noodles to be mixed with a flavor packet whose operative flavor is salt. Sure, I’ve boiled up many a packet of those soulless ramen noodles for a quick, cheap lunch, but the only way I could stomach them was when enhanced with Chinese sesame oil. How I longed to have a Momofuku clone down the street.
Now there is one, at least at lunch on weekends, when the estimable Sushi Tora has a small ramen menu at lunch. On a cold, gray winter day, my husband and I and another couple could think of little better than hot, filling ramen that had never met cellophane. And it is down the street — just five blocks away. The ramen dishes are rated like ski runs, but instead of green, blue and black, Sushi Tora rates shoyu for guests with “a lighter palate,” miso for those with “a stronger palate” and tonkutsu for those with “a strong palate.” The menu goes with a more detailed explanation of what these all mean.
I’ve taken a holiday hiatus from posting, but not from eating or cooking, but now I’m back on duty with a New Year’s post that cites Denver’s oldest restaurant. Thrillist.com just put up a list of the “most iconic” restaurant in each of the 50 state s and the District of Columbia. Not only did the site pick the venerable Buckhorn Exchange for Colorado, but an image of the restaurant with its signature red-checked tablecloths and walls covered with framed pictures, awards and trophy heads. Here’s Thrillist’s post:
Denver (Est. 1893)
The Colorado dining scene has come a long way since the Buckhorn Exchange opened. There’s practically a brewery and a buzzed-about restaurant on every street corner in Denver these days. But the Buckhorn Exchange is a glimpse into what Colorado restaurants used to be famous for — giant portions of steak that will feed you, your friends, and your friends’ friends. Beyond the steak, there’s also the opportunity to eat practically every animal that was on Noah’s ark. And eating here puts you in good company, as Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower both dined here.
It’s New Year’s resolution time, and Slow Food USA has some suggestions for the coming year. I don’t generally do soapbox posts, but I do believe these points are excellent and timely, as American chefs and American foodies have learned to eat well — for the body and the planet as well as the palate. Here’s what Slow Food USA reminds us, linking the resolutions to the upcoming Super Bowl (which I like most card- carrying Coloradans hope will be won by the Denver Broncos):
“It’s 2015! No longer are we nibbling at the edges of the century. We are now deep into another one. Look around: There is much to rejoice! Evidence of a promising new world is everywhere: Be it the birth of craft beer, the morphing of school gardens into a full-fledged farm-to-school universe, and consumer concern for fast food workers. However, so too do the embers of this old and faceless world glow. Consider the buckets of agri-money poured into state referenda to squash GMO labeling and animal welfare. Or, how is it possible to purchase pork shoulder for 99 cents a pound? Amidst such turbulence and transition, we must be ever mindful of the decisions we make individually and collectively to shape our future. So, consider a few New Year’s Resolutions that might inch you closer to the bright new world.
Make a Resolution to Eat Better Meat: Serve your friends cleaner wieners and better burgers at the Nationwide Nose-to-Tailgate Super Bowl Party as we advocate for Better Meat in sports stadiums. Join the event and invite friends near or far to party with us for the cause.
Make a Resolution to Eat Less Meat: After a Super Sunday night fixating on pigskin, tackle Monday, February 2nd head-on by planning a year of Meatless Monday menus.
Make a Resolution to Eat Local: C’mon. Take the challenge. Channel the spirit of Jane Jacobs and her hunger for the principles of import substitution with your family, friends, and neighbors by taking the 10-Day Local Challenge.
Make a Resolution to Serve Local: If you’re a restaurant chef, you possess a lot of power in the equation for the local flavor/local economy. We want to hear from you. Raise your hand now to help create the new Slow Food Chefs Alliance.
Make a Resolution to Be Better Informed: Learn about the world around us. Study the Slow Meat playbook with these excellent coaches: Nicolette Hahn Niman’s Defending Beef, Patrick Martins’ The Carnivore’s Manifesto, Andrew Lawler’s Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?, Ted Genoways’ The Chain Never Slows, and Christopher Leonard’s The Meat Racket. My (re)reading list also includes some of the better food books published in 2014: Dan Barber’s The Third Plate, Paul Greenberg’s American Catch, Stefanie Sacks’ What the Fork Are You Eating? and William Powers’ New Slow City. And, of course, regular trips to the Slow Food USA Blog. Yes, I believe food is paramount, but it shouldn’t be all consuming. Explore economics, politics, music, art and fashion. The wider you explore, the more you’ll recognize common themes that link the food system to everything else.”
Son of Hapa Sushi’s slogan is “Fast. Healthy. Delicious. Japanese.”
I don’t know imagine that “motomaki” is a real Japanese word. But in the fast-expanding realm of “fast casual” eateries, all that seems to count is the “concept.” With two dozen or so guests coming for Christmas Eve, the holiday letter left to write and, yes, the tree still to be decorated, we needed to go out for something quick and, hopefully, tasty. We decided to try Motomaki, a Japanese “concept” in the Twenty Ninth Street row that already contains ModMarket and Noodles & Co. In fact, the Motomaki layout closely resembles that of ModMarket. Since it is not part of a chain but the offspring of full-service Hapa Sushi, I was hopeful about the food quality.
I was immediately confused by the menu board, which offered “rolls” and “bowls” that seem to have the same ingredient selection — but with such mystifying options as the Seared Tuna Club (on toast? I didn’t imagine so), Kalby (Korean-style beef, kimchi and more) and Salmon Pole accessorized with bacon, asparagus, cucumber and other items no Hawaiian would recognize). In desperation, I selected a pre-programed roll and my husband a bowl. There’s also an à la carte Make-Your-Own Maki menu that requires choices in five steps from white or brown rice to a sauce choice. Step Three invites guests to choose up to four from The food was tasty enough but unmemorable — just as it is with most fast casual concepts, and in fact, better than most. I mistakenly ordered a Chardonnay — the worst excuse for wine I’ve ever sipped. I couldn’t drink it. Maybe I shold have tried the sake. Plus, my camera stopped working before our food was delivered.
Price check: Big Rolls & Big Bowls, $7-$12; Make-Your-Own-Maki, individual ingredients, 50¢-$2.25; Greens, $5-$8; Poke, $12.
Now more than a “dessert bar” with the addition of savories.
Crave Dessert Bar has been a hip place since it opened — one of the few in Denver’s so-called “theater district” for a drink and a bite after the show. Having spent years in and around New York’s vibrant Broadway scene, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts with its attached parking garage doesn’t cut it, ambiance-wise.
Crave, which seems to have dropped the “dessert bar,” recently reopened as a full-service restaurant with “chef-inspired entrées,” and what the press release calls “whimiscal small plates, handcrafted plated desserts, wine bar and a cleverly curated, local beer list,” all in the upmarket high-rise Spire building at 14th and Champa, around the corner from the DCPA.
Again, according to the press release, Crave’s new menu features such sharable small plates as “green curry potstickers and bacon-wrapped dates with apricot goat cheese, plus charcuterie boards with prosciutto, in-house pickling and house-made mustard. Full entrées such as whiskey grilled salmon and chicken carbonara round out the menu. The Crave pastry team whips up a vast array of dessert delights, including banana cream cake and coconut milk scones. The whole pastry menu can be perfectly paired with lively cocktails, port wines, champagne, coffee or espresso.”
No word as to who this inspired and inspiring chef might be, but I look forward to trying it before or after a show. 891 14th Sreett, Denver, 303-586-4199.
Restaurant in the Hotel Teatro shines on a weekday morning.
I attended The Nickel’s opening party last summer. The restaurant in the Hotel Teatro was jam-packed. I could tell that it was interesting-looking, the bites and sips I was able to sample were promising, but I had no real sense of what it looked like or how day-to-day food tasted. In fact, I didn’t know enough to write a coherent post for this blog. But a friend and I had brunch there this past weekend, and now I have a true idea of what it’s like, and it’s all good.
The hotel is located in the 1911 Tramway Building, and the restaurant is named after the streetcar’s nickel fares from that era that were stored in the building’s vault. Today, the place is attractive with light streaming in from windows on two sides, lofty ceilings, commodious but unfussy tables, wood floors, large lighting fixtures and a choice of seats (banquettes, long communal tables surrounded by stools and upholstered chairs with winglets — not quite wingchairs but not straight ones either). Barrel-aged spirits are done in-house, and the barrels decorate the bar. The cocktail program looks divine, but it was too early.
Much is house-made, and many ingredients come from Colorado. Telluride-raised Chris Thompson is the talented executive chef who has a way with meat and brings butchering and charcuterie/salumi to the restaurant. Our waiter was professional, efficient and knowledgeable. And he didn’t address us as “You guys,” which is all too common these days, especially in the college town of Boulder where I live, and which always gets my back up.
The house-cured meats, cheeses, pickles such “goodies” as marcona almonds and house-made jams appear on a sushi-style menu and are priced by the 1-, 2- or 4-ounce portion.
Price check: At brunch, “To Start,” $8-$13; sandwiches, $13-$18; plates, $13-$16; sides, $3-$5; charcuterie, priced by the ounce.
The Hotel Teatro is at 1100 14th Street, Denver; 303-228-1100.
New shop for gourmet condiments, pasta and gifts at FlatIron Crossing Mall.
I have met the folks from Oil & Vinegar at food events in the last few months. They were congenial and enthusiastic, and they kept urging me to come visit their new store at Broomfield’s FlatIron Crossing Mall. Although I tend to prefer real downtowns to indoor malls, I promised that I would stop by — and now I have. And I was impressed. This light, bright store is filled with kegs of some 50 interesting olive and other oils and vinegars on tap, plus bottles of the exotic expensive stuff. Condiments, artisanal pastas, sauces, herbs, spices and beguiling tableware are temptingly displayed.
To further tempt, everything that comes in a jar or bottle is available for tasting. In fact, customers are urged to sample whatever they’ve stopped to look at. My downfall was the first item I tasted: Delizia al Barolo e Tartufo, a blend of vinegar made from Barolo grape, which many think makes Italy’s greatest wine, and blended with summer truffles. One seductive taste and I was in love with this vinegar that is as thick as syrup, a little sweet and has two of the finest flavors on the planet in one pretty little bottle. The Oil & Vinegar website suggests using it in salads, sprinkling it on grilled meats and adding to hearty vegetable dishes. I’m thinking more that I’ll use it with next summer’s caprese salad and pouring a bit on vanilla ice cream. It’s that good.
Olive & Vinegar is a Dutch company with hundreds of retail locations on the Continent. There are only about 20 in the US, and the FlatIron Crossing Mall location is currently Colorado’s only one. It is on the mall’s upper level, across from Williams-Sonoma, which is a bonus for foodies or those who are shopping for foodies for the holidays. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 12 noon to 6 p.m. It will be closed on Christmas, as it was on Thanksgiving. The franchise-holders want employees and customers to spend holidays at the table, not at work.
1 West FlatIron Crossing Drive, Unit 2253, Broomfield,303-404-1762.
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.