Monthly Archives: October, 2010

Il Mondo Vecchio – It’s Where to Go This Friday

October 29th, 2010 Posted by Chefs, Culinary Connectors, Denver No Comment yet

Every Friday Il Mondo Vecchio hosts “Loading Dock Fridays”. From 2:30 – 6:30 p.m. Mark DeNittis, chef, owner and culinary school instructor, opens his doors and allows the general public, local chefs, and salumi lovers into his facility for tours and tastings. While you can find IMV salumi at several restaurants in Denver – at Vesta Dipping Grill and the Village Cork – the only other source for home cooks is to order online from Mondo Foods. This is your chance to experience first hand the small-batch cured meats crafted with old world techniques.

Il Mondo Vecchio is the only salumi producer in Colorado that has a FDA approved and inspected facility for curing meats. In fact an inspector is on site every day they are in operation – he even has his own reserved parking spot out front. What you really need to know though is that Il Mondo Vecchio offers true regional artisanal cured meats, without nitrates or nitrites. Mark is very proud to produce his award winning salumi, made using longtime family recipes. “Food is important to us, important to you and important to the people raising and rearing the food we consume.”

Hang out with the IMV team, Mark, Gennaro and Adam as you taste and sample the IMV line as well as new products under development. The pork guancie baciate and the duck breast prosciuttini are two of my favorites. Geek out on salumi and pick up “da goods” for your tailgate, Halloween, cocktail or dinner party you have planned for the weekend. While you are there check out IMV’s class schedule. Mark is teaching a Tur-duk-en class, just in time for Thanksgiving.

This Friday’s small batch salumi includes: Felino di cinghiale con porcini (wild boar Felino style) and Charolais sirloin tip bresaola.

Il Mondo Vecchio – 1174 South Cherokee St., “Denvah”. 303- 744-MEAT.

What Makes a Good Restaurant?

October 25th, 2010 Posted by Chefs, Culinary Connectors, restaurants, Uncategorized No Comment yet

I’m in Florida. I’m not familiar with Florida. In Miami I know where I would go and eat but I’m not in Miami, I’m in Naples. I threw myself on the mercy of the concierge at my hotel. “I’m a foodie,” I confessed.  “Tell me where to go.” She sent me to “the best” seafood restaurant. It seemed promising. The location was great, the ambiance was nice and the service was attentive. The chef sent out an amuse bouche. It was a perfectly cooked scallop with pork belly. Yum, I thought. But then everything went down hill.

The waiter was too attentive. I could feel his beady eyes staring at me while I read the menu  – which was composed of a  very long list of seafood, salumi, cheese, pasta, steak, chicken, and cupcakes. Alarm bells went off in my bed because usually when a restaurant is trying to do too much they can’t do anything very well. The gimmick at this restaurant (second set of alarm bells went off as a good restaurant doesn’t need a gimmick) was that the waiter brought us whole fish on a tray to show us how fresh they were, and how they looked. I don’t care. Just tell me what is fresh. Furthermore I don’t need to watch a waiter parade dead fish all over the restaurant. How many times are those fish handled in one night and are they actually served? Makes you wonder.

My girl friend ordered the stone crab claws and truffle fries. I went with a Caesar salad and polenta with parmesan, truffle and shrimp. She won – the stone crab claws are sweet and succulent, the fries crispy and perfect. Let’s just say my choices were not well executed.

The dessert menu consisted of cupcakes, chocolate and ice cream – not a well composed list of choices, I thought. Alarm bells went off again. Surprisingly the chocolates were amazing. The milk chocolate with Tahitian caramel truffle was “close your eyes good”. The cupcake was average and we didn’t bother with any ice cream.

So what makes a good restaurant? Seemingly at first this place had everything right. I think a good restaurant, even while they may make mistakes, has service that is attentive not intrusive, a space that is warm and inviting, a chef that tastes each dish as it leaves the kitchen, a menu that is well thought out and executed and a staff that wants each guest to have a good experience.

I don’t think I am asking for too much, do you?

Fuel Cafe – It’s Where to Eat This Week

October 23rd, 2010 Posted by Chefs, Culinary Connectors, Denver No Comment yet

About a year and a half ago I met my bff for lunch at Fuel.

Joel – “Meet me at the Taxi Development.”

Me – “Where is this place? What’s RiNo? Where is Ringsby Court?”

Long story short – RiNo stands for River North and Ringsby Court is the home of Fuel Café, a funky, hip restaurant that is wedged into an industrial triangle formed by Interstates 25 and 70 and the South Platte River. After a fabulous lunch and several glasses of wine I promise you, we should all know the way to Fuel Cafe.

Fuel’s chef, Bob Blair, has done a great job of creating a venue that serves what he feels like making. The menu reads – due to the season, weather or mood of the cooks, all menu items are subject to change. And they do change – sometimes on a daily basis and sometimes because of the weather. Bob regularly checks the forecast to see what people may feel like eating if it’s snowing, or if it’s 90 degrees outside.

Check out Fuel Café this week for a quick lunch, or small plates and drinks during their Thursday- Saturday happy hour, or an evening with friends for dinner on one of the best patios in Denver. Lunch items on the October menu include banh mi, grinders and lamb wraps. You can’t go wrong with the gnocchi, house made pasta or roast chicken for dinner.

Named by 5280 as one of Denver’s top 25 restaurants, Fuel Café should be on every foodie’s “to try” list.

Fuel Café – Open for lunch during the week and dinner Thursday through Saturday,  3455 Ringsby Court, 303-996-6988, www.fuelcafedenver.com

Cafe Aion’s Dakota Soifer and Eric Lee

October 20th, 2010 Posted by Boulder, Chefs, Culinary Connectors No Comment yet

Over sweet potato chips and beers at the West End, Dakota Soifer and Eric Lee hatched their plan to open their own place. Together the former chefs from The Kitchen transformed the old Burnt Toast location into a charming and intimate spot they baptized Café Aion. “We drew our ideas for the restaurant build out on a cocktail napkin,” laughs Eric.

Officially open for 6 months they recently had their most profitable week yet. When asked what their biggest challenge has been they both quickly responded – patience. “Coming from The Kitchen, which has been open for five years, we were expecting the same crowds. The Kitchen is well established and we had it in our heads that it would be like that.”

Neither Dakota nor Eric attended culinary school. They learned their trade in kitchens from Boulder, to San Francisco, to Napa, to England and back to Boulder. Each chef boasts an impressive resume.  Dakota having worked at the Zuni Café and Julia’s Kitchen and Eric at The Smoking Dog and the Bell Hotel – the oldest operating hotel in England. Luckily their paths crossed in Hugo Matheson’s place – The Kitchen. Now the two chefs work together at their own place – Café Aion.

On the Build Out: Once we decided on the location for Café Aion there was a huge construction project ahead of us. Among the biggest challenges was working together. We  are all alpha males. We did all the work ourselves. Eric got acid burns from rusting out the corrugated metal that wraps around the bar. At the last minute we had to customize the bar stools as we had designed the height of the bar without realizing that our bar stools were too short.

On what we would change: We would start with more money, Dakota laughs. However, not having a huge cushion forced us to make adjustments. We made changes quickly, like offering all night happy hour on Tuesdays and opening for breakfast and lunch in addition to  dinner.

Our identity: At Café Aion we’re very into preserved lemon, cumin, coriander, dried fruit and red wine vinegar macerated shallots. This is our toolbox, our skill set to take a seasonal ingredient and think about what it will look like on our menu. This is our place to start – our identity.

On making everything in house: We don’t make our own Dijon and we order cheese, although we do make our own ricotta. We tend to have a long prep time on our menu items and a quick pick up. Two chefs work the line on busy nights. During the day there is only one. Sometimes there is a dishwasher and other times we do the dishes. Pickups have to be easy because it’s a small kitchen.

From the sour dough starter, the housemade charcuterie, preserved lemons and canned and pickled vegetables, Dakota and Eric work at least 65 hours a week. But it’s not without its fun. When they first opened they were enjoying a bottle of sake that Hapa Sushi had sent over as a gift. It was the middle of service and as they were downing sake they suddenly stopped. Is this ok? Who’s the manager? Are we going to get in trouble for drinking during service? And then it hit them that Café Aion is their place and they make the rules.

Favorite cookbook: Moro, La Mere Poulard, River Café, and the Zuni Café cookbooks are at the top of the list for both Dakota and Eric.

Favorite Kitchen Utensil: “My messermeister knife,” says Eric. “Eric’s knife,” jokes Dakota. “My favorite is actually my fingers.”

Chefs we admire: Kelly Whitaker at Pizzeria Basta. Kelly is a super talented chef. Eric Skokan at Black Cat, he’s just a really nice guy. Bobby Stuckey from Frasca has been so supportive and open about communicating information in a really cool way. Hugo Matheson,  from the Kitchen. He’s been a fatherly figure. In the beginning he was in here all the time. The paella pans are from him.

Best Meal Ever: Eric: I ate at Chez Panisse and it was great. Also breakfast at a tiny bed and breakfast in England. Sometime the best meal you have has nothing to do with the food, it’s about whom you are with.

Dakota says his favorite meal was the night he and Eric invited friends over and cooked them the first Café Aion menu. “We wrote the menu on chalkboards and had a great time. It was the best dinner party ever. “

White Trash Food: Eric – frozen pizza. Dakota – Ben and Jerry’s.

Kitchen Disaster:

Eric – I hit a line cook in the face with a frying pan. He kept snapping me with his towel.  It was coming to him.

Dakota – during my first Meadowlark Farm dinner I was making porchetta on a spit. As the fat dripped into the fire the flames went crazy so I caught the fat drippings in hotel pans. The hotel pans filled up with fat and caught fire. The fire burnt the string on the pork and it fell into the hotel pans. I was using tongs and towels to grab the porchetta out of the fire. I finally did, scraped it off, retied it and put it back on the spit. Later people told me it was the best pork they ever had.

Advice for Home cooks:

Eric: Don’t burn the toast. My mother burned my toast. Don’t do that.

Dakota: Don’t be nervous and taste as you go.

Advice for culinary students:

Dakota: give yourself at least two weeks to get used to a new job. Then you will get the rhythm down.

Eric: Get out now. Just kidding! Work in the industry before you go to culinary school. Stage first.  There is a lot you can love about working in a kitchen, and there is a lot you can hate.

On their location: The hill – it’s the new Brooklyn. There are beautiful college girls that walk by!

Café Aion – 1235 Pennsylvania Ave., Boulder. 303- 993-8131. Breakfast and lunch – Tuesday through Sunday 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. Dinner – Tuesday through Saturday 5:00 – 11:00 pm. Happy Hour daily from 5:00 – 6:30 and again from 10:00 – 11:00pm. Tuesday Happy Hour all night long.

Strings – It’s Where to Eat This Wednesday

October 18th, 2010 Posted by Chefs, Culinary Connectors, Denver No Comment yet

Located in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood, the newly redecorated Strings has long been a Denver Institution. Owned by Noel Cunningham, the driving force behind several charities that have raised more than a million dollars, Noel is a genuine, straightforward, warm and hardworking man.

Lance Barto, is the Executive Chef at Strings. He was promoted back in February following the departure of Aaron Whitcomb (who’s now at Yia-Yia’s Euro Bistro). “A lot of people with way more experience than I have aren’t where I’m at, so I feel really lucky and blessed by the opportunity,” he says. Lance is doing just fine. He recently revealed his brand new fall menu and check out what he has planned for next Wednesday.

A Dinner for Sinners
MENU FOR THE EVENING
1st Course: “Angels On Horseback”
Watercress Pistou, Scallops & Guanciale
Wine: G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge
2nd Course: “Surf and Turf”
Duck Egg Custard, American Caviar & Chives
Wine: Nadal Grand Reserve Cava
3rd Course: “Crabby Patty”
Maryland Lumb Crab Cake, Asparagus with Aerated Hollandaise
Wine: Chamisal Vineyard Chardonnay
4th Course: “Meat and Potatoes”
Braised Short Rib of Beef, Truffled Potatoes & Thumbelina Carrots
Wine: Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Red Blend
Dessert: “Sinners Delight”
Foie Gras Creme Caramel, Persimmon, Sauternes Gelee
Nicolas Sauternes

Fois Gras Crème Caramel? Really? $65 a person? We should be lining up at the door. The event is Wednesday, October 20th, 2010 starting with a Champagne reception at 6:30pm and dinner at 7:00pm. The price will be $65 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity. Reservations are requested. Please call Kris Lykins and reserve your spot today at 303-831-7310.

Strings – 1700 Humboldt St., Denver 303-831- 7310. Monday – Friday 11:00 am – 10:00 pm. Saturday 5:00 – 10:30 p.m. Sunday 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. Weekend brunch 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.

Strings – It’s Where to Eat This Weekend and Next Wednesday

October 16th, 2010 Posted by Chefs, Culinary Connectors, Denver, restaurants No Comment yet

Located in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood, the newly redecorated Strings has long been a Denver Institution. Owned by Noel Cunningham, the driving force behind several charities that have raised more than a million dollars, Noel is a genuine, straightforward, warm and hardworking man.

Lance Barto, is the Executive Chef at Strings. He was promoted back in February following the departure of Aaron Whitcomb (who’s now at Yia-Yia’s Euro Bistro). “A lot of people with way more experience than I have aren’t where I’m at, so I feel really lucky and blessed by the opportunity,” he says. Lance is doing just fine. He recently revealed his brand new fall menu and check out what he has planned for next Wednesday.

A Dinner for Sinners
MENU FOR THE EVENING
1st Course: “Angels On Horseback”
Watercress Pistou, Scallops & Guanciale
Wine: G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge
2nd Course: “Surf and Turf”
Duck Egg Custard, American Caviar & Chives
Wine: Nadal Grand Reserve Cava
3rd Course: “Crabby Patty”
Maryland Lumb Crab Cake, Asparagus with Aerated Hollandaise
Wine: Chamisal Vineyard Chardonnay
4th Course: “Meat and Potatoes”
Braised Short Rib of Beef, Truffled Potatoes & Thumbelina Carrots
Wine: Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Red Blend
Dessert: “Sinners Delight”
Foie Gras Creme Caramel, Persimmon, Sauternes Gelee
Nicolas Sauternes

Fois Gras Crème Caramel? Really? $65 a person? We should be lining up at the door. The event is Wednesday, October 20th, 2010 starting with a Champagne reception at 6:30pm and dinner at 7:00pm. The price will be $65 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity. Reservations are requested. Please call Kris Lykins and reserve your spot today at 303-831-7310.

Strings – 1700 Humboldt St., Denver 303-831- 7310. Monday – Friday 11:00 am – 10:00 pm. Saturday 5:00 – 10:30 p.m. Sunday 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. Weekend brunch 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.

Food Photo Contest

October 15th, 2010 Posted by Chefs, Culinary Connectors No Comment yet

All of you know by now that I have more food pictures on my Iphone than anything else. Today I learned about Jordan Winery’s food photo contest and I am intrigued enough to share this information with you. This is, after all, my chance to win an induction cook top or other fun kitchen gadgets. Entries are being accepted from October 5 – November 3rd. They must be submitted on the  Jordan Facebook Page Contests Tab or via email. For official rules click here. Now I just need to determine which picture to submit. Decisions, decisions………

Best of luck to you!

A Saucey Affair

October 14th, 2010 Posted by Chefs, Culinary Connectors, Denver No Comment yet

October 21st you can be part of the crowd voting for the best sauce prepared by a Denver chef. “A Saucey Affair”, sponsored by EatDenver and the 9Health Fair, kicks off at 6:00 p.m. in Infinity Park.

With an array of unique small plates and decadent sauces from 19 of Denver’s finest locally-owned restaurants, guests will taste and vote for their favorite sauce in the Best of Show-People’s Choice category. Additionally, you will have a chance to bid for more than 45 fabulous experiences and prizes in the silent auction, and enjoy top-notch beverages all night!

Participating Restaurants Include: Black Pearl, Elway’s, Encore, H Burger, Jonesy’s Eat Bar, Locanda Del Borgo, Opus, Root Down, Steubens, Table 6, Tarbells, the Avenue Grill, the Crushery, the Lobby, Vesta Dipping Grill and Wynkoop Brewing Company.

A panel of local judges ranging from chefs to food critics to 9NEWS’ talent will cast their votes to award honors for Best of Show-Judges’ Choice. Last year Table 6 and Jonesy’s Eat Bar took home the honors. Who will win this year?

Proceeds will support 9Health Fair, Colorado’s premier volunteer-run health fair program, which offers free and low-cost health screenings and education to more than 100,000 people each year. Tickets are $65 per person.

For tickets please click here.

How do chefs make sure everyone’s dishes are finished at the same time?

October 11th, 2010 Posted by Culinary Connectors, Denver, restaurants No Comment yet

This is a job for the expediter, with help from the the front of the house. Sometimes the executive chef will expedite and sometimes he won’t. Expediting can go flawlessly some nights and terrible others. Once an order is placed a ticket is printed in the kitchen. The chef will determine which dishes need to be started first. He “fires” those tickets. Then as certain components are close to being done, for example a piece of fish, he will call for the garnish to be “fired”.  In a perfect world the fish and the vegetable garnish will be finished at the same time, plated, tasted by the chef and sent out to the floor. It gets tricky when you are firing dishes for a table of 10. The chef/expediter must know how long each station (grill, saute, pantry) will take to finish a component as well as what they are already cooking. Typically, each station gets “crushed” as dinner progresses. For example, pantry where salads and desserts are plated, gets busy first and then again at the end of a turn. Grill and saute get busy as first and second courses get fired.

Problems arise when line cooks run out of “mise” or have problems cooking an item properly. That throws the entire system out of order.  Sometimes the expediter will jump on the line to help a cook catch up – or the other line cooks will step in and help out.  Servers in the front of the house also help communicate to the kitchen if a guest is away from the table or if a table hasn’t been marked properly (silverware put down), or if there is a delay with the wine pairings for a course. Between the bar, back waiters and kitchen staff, working in a restaurant is very much a team sport.

Some nights service goes perfectly and some nights it doesn’t. I have found that certain restaurants pay more attention than others. In my opinion Table 6, ChoLon, Fruition and Frasca Food & Wine do a nice job of ensuring that courses arrive in a timely manner – which makes dining so much more enjoyable.

ChoLon – It’s Where to Eat This Weekend

October 8th, 2010 Posted by Culinary Connectors, Denver, restaurants No Comment yet

What is there not to love about ChoLon? The space is gorgeous, the chefs are hot and the food is delicious. As I dined at the community table for the second time in five days I gazed into the open kitchen at the line cooks moving gracefully and quietly. Above the sound of the restaurant I could hear Chef Lon Symensma fire tickets and watch him taste and wipe plates before they were sent out to the floor. This Iowa native and former New York Chef had dreamed of opening his own place with a close friend ever since they attended the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) together. Their dream has come true and Denver is lucky for it.

At ChoLon the food is the star. Make sure to try the soup dumplings; they’re a little bite of French onion soup for the soul. The curried duck spring rolls, and the kaya toast with soft egg and coconut jam are delicious as well. The papaya salad with tamarind sorbet has just the right amount of spiciness in the dressing and the presentation is beautiful.

The chicken, made using an enzyme that binds proteins together, is moist, perfectly seasoned with crispy skin on both sides! The tamarind glazed lamb shank was my table’s favorite – until we tried Lon’s fried Brussels sprouts, the green curry tofu and the chicken fried rice. My mouth is still watering.

The desserts are good too. Lon is serving Malaysian shaved ice with palm syrup and mango noodles, creamy citrus custard and a decadent chocolate cake with salted peanut butter ice cream.

ChoLon officially opened this past Tuesday. I usually wait a few months to recommend a new restaurant, but even on friends and family night the kitchen was turning out flawless food, courses came at just the right time and the servers appeared very much at home.

So I say go and checkout ChoLon this weekend. Watch Lon Symensma conduct his symphony of fine dining as he takes the helm of his kitchen and propels the Denver dining scene upward.

ChoLon – 1555 Blake St., Denver. 303-353-5223. Open Mon-Thu 11am-10pm; Fri 11am-11pm; Sat 5pm-11pm.