August 11, 2013
I’ve been rather neglectful of my blog this summer, mainly due to the difficulties of eating with this body fat loss contest I’ve been doing all summer. But that’s kind of a lame excuse. I could be whipping up meals high in low-fat protein, vegetables and unrefined grains. Instead I’ve pretty much just been rotating the same stuff over and over for the past few months. My goal starting in late August is to get out of the food rut I seem to have gotten into.
But even with a mostly dull food summer, I still have a couple things to share. I went to the Farmers’ Market this weekend, and was greeted with a huge array of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes from Far Out Gardens. Every time I buy tomatoes at this stand I am nearly speechless when I eat them. They are so packed with flavor – and such a variety of flavor, at that. It always makes me wonder how these fruits can be related to the red-on-the-outside, pinkish-white-on-the-inside, flavorless orbs you find in supermarkets.
On the restaurant front, I recently went to Denver’s Linger with my book club for our non-book month event. Linger is the sister restaurant to one of my all-time favorite Denver restaurants, Root Down. It features Internationally inspired small plate dishes, in a fun, eclectically decorated environment (with a killer patio on the roof as well). Only four of my book club attended, so we didn’t get to sample as many dishes as we could have with more people, but what we did have was quite delicious. The only problem I had with the restaurant was that it was too difficult to narrow down your choices from the menu – everything sounded so great!
We all split a lovely ceviche to start. (I’ve forgotten what kind of seasonal fish was used. Oops.)
The picture doesn’t do the tacos justice – they were quite pretty. I wasn’t absolutely in love with the first one, but by the time I got to the last one the flavors had really grown on me.
Two of my dining companions got the Roasted Beet Salad, and had nothing but good things to say about it.
The Ginger-Chili Shrimp was very tasty. I probably wouldn’t have ordered it had I known it was lightly tempura-fried, but that didn’t stop me from eating all of it.
The French Onion Mussels were incredible. I only tasted one, but it was the single-most wonderful mussel I have ever had. Normally when you eat mussels you feel a bit of resistance when you bite into them. These mussels were so soft, they merely melted. Totally fresh tasting, no fishiness in the least. Definitely going to have to get that myself next time I go.
Ah yes, the Devils on Horseback. Wow. Dangerous to your diet, but oh so worth it. Again I only tried one, but it was so full of comforting savory and sweet flavor that it was actually what I remember most about the meal.
June 23, 2013
This past Friday my husband and I had the pleasure of attending a farm dinner at Three Leaf Farm in Lafayette. Three Leaf Farm is owned by Lenny and Sara Martinelli, owners of Three Leaf Concepts, which is responsible for an array of great restaurants in Boulder County (Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant, Aji Latin American Restaurant, the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, Zucca Italian Ristorante, the Huckleberry, the Naropa Cafe, and now the Chautauqua Dining Hall). The farm was established to provide local produce to the Three Leaf Concept restaurants. But the farm doesn’t just grow produce — they have several goats which provide milk for cheese, a large number of chickens for eggs, several bee hives on the property, and even a newly built barn with farm-owned as well as boarded horses.
The farm tour is one of my favorite parts of farm dinners. I love hearing about the different tactics used to control weeds and pests without pesticides, and how Colorado farms deal with the dry climate. Farm manager Chase Morris shared a wealth of information as well as some pretty amusing anecdotes about the day-to-day operations at the farm. It’s always very cool to hear how passionate the farmers on smaller farms are about their product. And the chefs at each restaurant have really embraced the produce from the farm as well. I loved hearing about a day when there wasn’t enough time to harvest what the chef from Zucca wanted for that night, so he harvested it himself! And you truly can’t beat the opportunity to hold a pygmy goat! (The picture above is of one of the owners of the farm holding the goat. As soon as I got the goat into my arms, he took one look at my hair and said – hey! STRAW! – and began eating it, therefore not providing a good photographic opportunity.)
The chef for this farm dinner was Rachel Best, of Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant (one of our favorites in Boulder). The food began with some wonderful appetizers: Avalanche Lamborn Bloomers Cheese on Flax Crackers with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote, Raw Broccoli Shooters with Macademia Nut Cheese, and Raw Sweet Pea Hummus on Baby Red Romaine with Radish Sprouts. The cheese was unbelievably good and the broccoli shooters were fantastic as well.
After appetizers and the farm tour, we and our fellow diners moved to the table for dinner. The table was beautifully set, and there was even a trio playing live music throughout dinner. I’ve mentioned this before when reviewing various dinners we’ve gone to, but it’s always so fun to have dinner with a bunch of people you’ve never met before, to talk and laugh through dinner, and then find that three hours have gone by in what feels like half that time. The group where we sat covered a wide range of food topics, as well as the Midwest climate compared to Colorado, water rights, college majors and dining halls, and travel.
But on to the food! The first course was Zucchini Fritters with Carrot-Hempseed Pesto and Pickled Golden Beets. The entire dish was great, but I couldn’t get past how awesome the pickled beets were. Yes, they seem simple, but I really think they were the best ones I’ve ever had. Very, very thin, with the perfect vinegary taste.
The bread served was Gluten Free Teff Rolls with Colorado Honey Butter. The rolls were so good that I bought some teff flour the next day to see how easy it was to bake with (haven’t tried it yet, though). I’ve actually been amazed lately with the great quality of a lot of gluten-free products I’ve tried, and these rolls were great as well.
The salad course was Farm Greens with Quinoa, Haystack Mountain Cracked Pepper Chevre with Basil Vinaigrette and Tempura Pearled Onion.
For the main course we had Seared Trumpet Mushrooms, Turnip-Cauliflower Puree, Roasted Radishes, Sautéed Kale, and Rosemary Pistachios. I thought this course was especially attractive.
By the time dessert arrived, it was so dark that I had pretty much no hope of getting a decent picture. So you’ll have to put some imagination into viewing the picture of the Brandy Custard with Apricot Puree, Lemon Pound Cake, Toasted Almonds, and Cocoa Nibs.
Three Leaf Farm has four additional dinners scheduled for this year. The price for the dinner we attended was $80, and included wine pairings for every course. This is considerably less than a lot of local farm dinners are lately, so was quite a great deal, in addition to being a wonderful time.
April 7, 2013
This past week I was lucky enough to attend an event previewing the concept and food of the soon-to-open Fresh Thymes Eatery. Natural Chef Christine Ruch shared her long-time dream of opening a healthy take-out market, as well as some incredibly tasty food. Fresh Thymes Eatery will be located in the former site of Elephant Hut, in the Boulder Steel Yards on 30th Street, between Pearl and Valmont. In addition to the take-out option, there will be tables and counter seating on-site.
By now, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a fairly household term. But Community Supported Restaurant (CSR), which is Fresh Thymes Eatery’s model, was new to me. I read about it, and thought it was a great idea – community members pay an up-front sum, which is used for start-up and operating costs, and throughout the year are given amounts to spend in the restaurant, as well as other membership perks. I love the idea of helping to support a local restaurant that serves natural, healthy food from local sources, just like you would support a farm through a CSA membership. (A membership is not required to dine at or purchase food from the restaurant.)
But it isn’t just the CSR concept that I like. The style and quality of the food is incredibly intriguing. Chef Ruch, who was diagnosed with celiac disease as well as other food allergies wants to provide a place where people with food sensitivities can eat without going through a litany of questions and substitution requests. She also wants to share her passion for natural, healthy, nutrient-dense food. But those who shy away from ‘healthy/natural/hippie food’ need not fear. The vegetarian items are full of bright, bold flavors that any carnivore would be hard-pressed not to appreciate, the gluten-free baked goods are excellent, and Fresh Thymes will also serve locally raised meats.
The food theme for the evening was late spring (using produce that will be in season in June, when the restaurant is due to open), with a Mediterranean influence.
We got to sample two lovely fresh salads. The first was a Sugar Snap Pea and Heirloom Radish Salad, and the second was Asparagus and Roasted Red Pepper Salad. Both featured fresh vegetables and bright, vibrant flavors.
One item I truly fell in love with was the Sweet Spicy Date Relish, served with Tangier Street Bread. The relish was a perfect combination of sweet, spicy, and salty. I snagged a small jar of that from the take-home sample table and nearly polished it off in two days.
I’ve always loved lentils, and the Arugula Spinach Pesto with Beluga Lentils was delicious. (I could see this being a perfect take-out item for lunch during the work week.)
Unfortunately I didn’t get good pictures of the Chicken Skewers with Chermoula Sauce, which were completely delectable. The chicken was flavorful enough on its own with lovely Mediterranean flavors, but the Chermoula Sauce was divine. (Chermoula is a Mediterranean sauce usually made with parsley, cilantro, garlic, lemon, cumin, paprika and olive oil). This rendition was wonderfully flavorful and demanded seconds. The final item was a dark chocolate tart, with a crust made of almonds and cashews.
After sampling the food, I decided to buy a membership to support Fresh Thymes. It’s like joining a CSA, but you don’t have to figure out what to cook each week (and there’s no risk of not using up all your vegetables before they go bad). Additionally the memberships, which are good from one year up to three years depending on membership level, provide food and perks year round, so it’s not just a seasonal venture. You can view more details on the Fresh Thymes webpage, and can purchase a membership via PayPal.
March 9, 2013
This past week a group of food bloggers/writers/media members were treated to some rather substantial samples of the food at Boulder’s Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria. The small order-at-the-counter restaurant is managed and co-owned by Cuban-born, Miami-raised Lourdes Sanchez, formerly of The Cream Puffery (a now defunct pastry shop/eatery near Liquor Mart, which my husband and I visited on occasion). Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria is associated with Cuba Cuba in Denver, and will be opening a new branch in the City Set development in Glendale this summer.
Lourdes was a very gracious host, bringing out a variety of sides, sandwiches, and a dessert I was a little devastated to find out wasn’t on the standard menu (but is a recurring special, fortunately). Many of the recipes for the food served at Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria are tweaked versions of family recipes, with the exception of Grandma’s flan, which needed no modification.
We started out with delicious Veggie Empanadas and Croquetas, but the Beef Empanadas that followed were my favorite of all the sides. I’m not a big red meat eater, but this was just too good not to fall for. The beef filling, while not spicy (Cuban food is generally not as spicy-hot as many other Latin American or Caribbean foods), was a wonderfully flavorful complement to the crispy pastry.
Next was the vegetarian Boulder Cuban Sandwich, served with a side of garlic mojo, also quite tasty.
The Cubano sandwich, with pork, ham and cheese led me to eat a bit more than I had intended to. There was something rather addictive about this one. Lourdes indicated that the authentic Cuban bread is an important factor in their sandwiches, and the pork they marinate overnight and then slow cook doesn’t hurt, either!
Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria also serves pork, beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetable plates with rice and beans, as well as other sides such as sweet plantains (which are fantastic), plantain chips, and Cuban fries. Their beverage selection is fairly extensive for a smaller establishment, with Cuban sodas, beer, mojitos and sangria, fountain drinks and several Cuban espresso drinks.
And then we closed with dessert. We each got a small piece of the creamiest Bread Pudding I’ve ever eaten. I’ve tried many a bread pudding, and I think this ties for top honors with the Chocolate Bread Pudding at Tortugas in Longmont, holder of the title for well over a decade. A gluten-free member of our group was given a piece of Grandma’s flan. Luckily for me, she couldn’t finish it, so I got to try some of it as well. And I couldn’t agree more with Lourdes — it would be pretty hard to improve on its beautiful texture and the taste, which was a sublime caramel. Later in the week, my husband and I got a piece of chocolate Tres Leches to go, and we can attest to that one being outstanding as well.
December 7, 2012
My husband and I recently made a trip to Westminster to try Kachina, the new restaurant in the Westin. I had been contacted with an offer to try it to do a review, and we were graciously treated to a full meal. Hotel restaurants are often somewhat tricky, as they have to appeal to a wide range of tastes to cater to travelers as well as locals. But you can find some jewels in hotels, as well – we ate at a great Yemeni restaurant in a hotel in San Francisco a few years ago. In fact, the Westminster Westin previously housed O, which featured Ian Kleinman, a local chef who specializes in molecular gastronomy (we’ve eaten his food twice, and loved it).
So I was quite excited to try Kachina, billed as a Southwestern restaurant (with some Native American inspiration as well). The restaurant space is well-appointed with lots of care to detail. I would describe it as a style that is vibrant, modern, and Southwestern. As we perused the menu, I was very happy to see that they source produce and meat from local farms (there were twelve mentioned on the menu). I always appreciate restaurants who support local farms and local food. The menu itself is a little overwhelming – there were 3 soups, 4 salads, 11 appetizer/small plates, 7 tacos, 20 entrées, and 8 in-house butcher shop specials. Overall it’s not a bad thing to have such a huge selection, but it left us with a slight impression of a lack of focus.
We started off with a gorgeous scallop ceviche with lime, spring onion, candied Fresno chile, heirloom tomato, radish, smoked salt, and olive oil. The scallops had just a hint of fishiness, but overall, I found the dish to have a nice, bright taste, and the candied chiles were a wonderful addition. This was also the only picture I got that truly did justice to how the food looked in person.
Next was the salad course, which was probably my favorite of the night. The first salad we had was the grilled romaine with a soft poached egg, shaved manchego, smoked trout, and citrus Caesar dressing. I absolutely loved this salad. The romaine could have been grilled a touch more, but I loved how the yolk of the soft poached egg ran to coat the salad when it was broken. The manchego cheese and smoked trout added to the complexity and richness of the salad, but the romaine base and the citrus caesar kept it from feeling too heavy. I was somewhat sad to trade with my husband at the halfway point, I was enjoying it so much.
Our other salad was the bright salad, featuring seasonal greens, mint, cilantro, sage, jicama, grapefruit, and red chile, with smoked tomato vinaigrette. This salad was quite good, too. The grapefruit provided just the right amount of bright, citrusy acid, avoiding the harsh contrast you sometimes find with salads that include grapefruit. All of the vegetables were nice and fresh, and the salad was very attractive.
Our first entrée was pan-seared Colorado striped bass with red chile popcorn crust, poblano pesto, heirloom tomato salad, and braised fennel. The fish itself was very good, and the pesto and heirloom tomato salad went nicely with it. The red chile wasn’t very spicy, however, and the braised fennel didn’t add much of a strong taste to the dish.
Our next dish, the slow-cooked porchetta, was from the section of the menu titled ‘The Chef and The Butcher’, which was explained as featuring meat purchased locally and butchered in-house. The dish also featured bourbon raisin-apple slaw, and mashed potatoes. The bourbon raisin-apple slaw was nice and fresh, but I couldn’t easily discern the bourbon component. While the porchetta was perfectly acceptable, I didn’t feel that it was really allowed to shine, as the potatoes kind of outweighed it on the dish. (My husband didn’t think the potatoes were particularly exceptional, but I found them to be a pretty solid, creamy version).
We also ordered a side of calabacitas, which were great (read ‘addictive’). I loved the touch (or maybe more than touch) of cheese in it – YUM! The picture I took – not so good, so we’ll just bypass that part.
We finished the meal with the chocolate chile beignets with cajeta dipping sauce (sweetened caramelized milk thickened into a syrup). We both thought that the beignets were good, but perhaps didn’t need the cinnamon sugar, chocolate filling AND the cajeta sauce. They also weren’t very spicy. What we really wondered at this point was, why the French term? Why not buñuelos, donas, or churros?
The waitstaff was very friendly, but at times our waiter seemed to be using buzz words without really thinking about what he was saying. (He was telling us about one of the chef and the butcher items, saying grass fed beef is really healthy, and then announcing in the next breath how it was topped with foie gras. That just struck us as kind of funny.) We also felt like the service was a bit too attentive, checking in with us extensively during the meal.
If you’re in the area, I think Kachina is worth checking out. I’d like to try the tacos, and I’d definitely go back for the grilled romaine salad. There’s a lot of potential there, and with some tweaking, I think it could be a solid choice.
1/12/13 Update: We returned with some friends for a second meal, and I’ve got a few more dishes to recommend. (First, I can confirm that the grilled romaine is indeed the salad you want to have – it was just as good the second time). The traditional pork posole rojo was outstanding, the Gaucho taco (lamb) was great, and the chocolate cola cake and the cookies and cream were terrific desserts. (I only tried a churro from the latter dessert, but it was so good I’m recommending it.)