A night of wine, food, the pink jersey & supporting young riders…

cycling, denver restaurants, wine news



A lot of people forget that was has become one of the world’s top professional cycling teams began as a youth development team about9 years ago with a couple of rackety cars and jerseys that matched. It was a team that offered young riders an opportunity to get into the European circuit by starting their careers here. As though overnight, a pro team was born in conjunction with this youth development team.

It certainly takes more to fund a professional team. But its cache and affiliation with such races as the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia make it a little more attractive to sponsors. In the meantime, the young cyclists need you. In fact, they need to raise nearly $30k to exist. Give in a way that gives back to yourself. Next Thursday, June 7th, and join us at Frasca Food & Wine as we come together to support the future of American cyclists. For $500 a seat, you not only get an incredible four-course meal with wine at one of Colorado’s top restaurants, you will also get the chance to take part in an auction of a signed pink jersey from Ryder Hesjedal’s recent victory at the Giro as well as a morning ride with team Garmin-Barracuda’s Christian Vande Velde and Tommy Danielson along with their CEO and former cyclist Jonathan Vaughters. This is a good cause that isn’t half bad for you, too!

The event is limited to 35 people, so reserve today with Frasca at 303.442.6966.

Just another Sunday afternoon?

cooking, denver restaurants, french wine

Sometimes it isn’t a matter of waking up on the wrong side. At times, a day will flop on its side several hours in, as my did a couple nights ago. This was without a doubt such a remarkable afternoon, it can’t live in my mediocre memory for long. It must see print and longevity. For it’s one for the books.

Sunday started quite swell, unaware was I that the universe was in the mood to play pranks. I went for a morning jog, baked a delicious quiche from scratch (beginner’s luck), had brunch with some friends over Camille Braun Cremant d’Alsace, then got a brief taste of Christmas by going to the mall for a few knit leg warmers and St. Nick gifts. It all started out so idyllic.

That should have been first sign.

But no, actually the first sign started with the meal itself– the meal that began the previous night with the purchase of short ribs. I shared the recipe I was eyeing to the butcher, to be sure he’d cut it correctly. Then as I went to marinade the meat in a bottle of wine and spices, it was all wrong. We had to return it for the proper cut. In the fridge and on my way, it wasn’t until the next afternoon—the ill-fated Sunday afternoon—about twenty minutes before I was to initiate braising, when it occurred to me: I forgot to turn the meat over in the entire 24 hour period it was marinating. Seriously? What a rookie mistake. I read up online about how awful this was for a thick, chewy cut like short ribs. But it was too late. I gave it a half hour on the other side and crossed my fingers.

I was cooking for my future parents-in-law. Two people who spent their first years of marriage eating short ribs for supper near nightly due to cost and availability. They knew how to make it in their sleep. I hadn’t even put it in the oven, and already it wasn’t looking good. You should know, I mysteriously screw up every meal they come over to eat. It’s incredible actually. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy perhaps.

Alas, I placed it in the oven and proceeded to prep the side dish: Aligot. This French-inspired regional dish of the southern Massif Central, is one of my fiancée‘s absolute favorites. He was begging for me to make it, so I looked up the recipe. I then felt my arteries clog as I read the ingredients. A few cups of Cantal cheese (substitute sharp cheddar), a couple cups of crème fraiche, a half stick of butter… All for a recipe that makes about 6 servings. ‘That’s it!’, he exclaimed, “That’s the recipe!” Alrighty then. In the name of love. Good grief. (Though I admit, my inner fat kid was cheering!)

After peeling the potatoes into the sink, I slowly put them down the disposal when all of a sudden… it stopped. Flash forward fifteen minutes, we were shoving the plunger down the drain. We then tried chemicals that put Drain-O to shame. Finally, flash forward thirty more minutes, the tough meat braising in the background, the water went down. It was clear! Hooray! What a relief.

But then…

Not one minute later, while rejoicing and reviewing the next step on the recipe, we noticed a small flood of water falling from the cupboard below. Shit.

We quickly removed everything we could, changed clothes to avoid touching the chemicals just poured down the now burst pipes, and began sopping up the potato skin mess that had blown through. At this point, I was wondering if JV was reconsidering the proposal, focusing instead on the ‘crash’ part of my nickname: crashley. I told him, I come with a disclaimer. But only then do I think he realized it.

We finally got the sink pipes working properly, so I went on with the meal. Transferring the meat from the casserole to the baking dish, draining off the fat, and pouring it back on top for the final glaze gravy, I was in the home stretch. By the handfuls I mounded the cheese on the whipped potatoes, and I ignored that I just spent 3 days eating turkey dinner and leftovers nonstop before this decadent meal. I checked on the broil braised short ribs, turning them once as it said, licking my chops. I had the feeling all the worry was in vain. This meal was pointing to a success after all. And I was satisfied.

I was whipping away, admiring the fatty potatoes, when all of a sudden a loud sound cracked the silence in the room. What the…??? The oven door blew open on my feet, smoke filled the room and glass shards skated across the floor. Oh… my… God. I instantly knew what happened. The Pyrex exploded. Just a minute earlier my face was a couple inches from the pan.

JV was quick to salvage the meat—‘Give me the tongs! I can save it! I got this!’ I furiously beat the potatoes, refusing to acknowledge the disaster below me. Refusing to mess up the Aligot as well. Are you serious, God?

JV scooped out the meat, sure it was unharmed by the hundreds of pieces of glass. HIs mom slowly shook her head, insisting that it was not safe.

As we sat down to eat our potatoes and brussel sprouts, JV munched away at the gravy-less short ribs, grinning wildly and exclaiming how great it tasted! I, out of sheer stubborn will, put myself on the line and forked out a piece. It was quite good, in fact. And there was no crunch that told me I was about to die.

Within a few minutes, we actually all put ourselves on the line. He and his folks munched through the remnants of the explosion. And I was touched, as I put a lot into the meal. That said, I also learned that I need to let go sometimes. I put such high expectations on a piece of cheap meat (relatively speaking). And not only that. It’s everything. I think we all tend to do that. We focus on the little parts of our day that fall apart, forgetting that it began with a jog, friends and a damn good quiche.

As we took the last couple sips of the 03 i Clivi Merlot and said goodbye to his folks (after extensive research and evidence of other pyrex kitchen catastrophes), we looked at one another, exhausted and certain we needed to walk away from the kitchen and end the night on a good note. We headed to the new speakeasy in town: Williams and Graham.

This Highlands hideaway was just the ticket. Just behind the bookshelf was a world that took you back in time. We enjoyed a Pisco Sour and an El Diablo. Damn, they tasted good. We had a nice laugh and reflected on the odds. Even a couple days later, I can say it already provokes a smile in hindsight. Life’s imperfections tend to make a greater impression sometimes.

But I am staying away from the oven for at least a week.

DU Vin Festival this weekend!

cooking, denver restaurants

Show your support for the upcoming 2nd annual DuVin, put on by students at the University of Denver. This is a wonderful opportunity to sample over 150 wines from around the world on Saturday, Nov 5th from Noon-4. Here are a few more details taken from their website:

“The Grand Tasting will be on Saturday, November 5th from 12pm to 4pm. This event celebrates scholarship, food, wine and music. Guests will have the opportunity to sample wines from around the world, while enjoying food prepared by the student culinary team from the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver. To complete the setting, music will be provided by students of DU’s Lamont School of Music. The Grand Tasting is a wonderful opportunity to experience superb wineries and support a top-ranked Hospitality Management program.

Cost: $52.80 per person / Special discount available for DU community $45, enter code at check-out: DUVIN11″

More information can be found on:   http://duvinfestival.com/2011/10/grand-tasting/

casting for deliciousness: a new eatery for Denver locavores

Bubbles, denver restaurants

Positive energy penetrates the newborn Wild Catch in Uptown on 17th and Ogden. Faces materialize from past restaurants, as servers and chefs from Frasca, Z Cuisine, Masterpiece Deli, Tag, Squeaky Bean and others come together with a new vision. Not only have they been bit by the epicurean bug that is buzzing through Denver and Boulder in the past few years, they seem to have a goal: to catch the big fish and win this horse town’s palate.

What stands out most to me is that in one room, some of the greatest local culinary talents coexist. One can almost feel their creative ions bouncing off one another. Even the menu is driven by local farmers and even winemakers (Infinite Monkey’s Vinaigrette is a lovely component in the grilled vegetable salad).

There is genuine excitement, hope and ambition bursting from within. And it doesn’t take much coaxing to feel the impulse to jump in and partake.

The wine list is one of the more inspiring I have seen come from a Denver restaurant in a while. Sommelier and General Manager Jonathan Greschler is clearly having a ball exploring the boundaries (and potential) of this city’s finest sippers. He notes that he was shocked that in the opening weekend when he unexpectedly sold through all his pre-2007 white Burgundy. That’s nothing short of phenomenal when I think of selling Burgs in my own shop. This economy just doesn’t see an eager AmEx like it did a few years ago. Plus, Burgs aren’t the easiest sell to someone that hasn’t been properly introduced. So it has me thinking, who is eating here?

Scanning the room, tattooed folk and blue haired people alike all want to drink the kool-aid. Wild catch has had considerable hype, and has evidently ‘caught on’. To see over time which demographic they net will be interesting. As I see it now, they have a little something for everyone.

The menu offers a wide array of options to appease both the veg head and the carnivore. I was under the impression it was mostly seafood, but there were plenty of other bites such as chicken 2 ways, Colorado rib eye, porky beans, and salads. However, the fruit de mers certainly take center stage. We shared some grilled lobster over fried green tomatoes (sensational), fried oysters and Arctic Char alongside ranch-kissed butter lettuce and the most sensational, addictive corn crab fritters I’ve ever tasted.

Anyone who has Sinsky Pinot by the glass wins brownie points by me. Anyone who deliberately seeks out incredible backvintages of Austrian and German wine wins my heart and ever returning palate. Kirchmayr Gruner from the ‘80’s tempt me to go back with my very next paycheck. I am so curious!

A good friend we ran into when we arrived gifted us a bottle of NV Selosse Blanc des Blancs— a legend until last night, I had never had the opportunity to really enjoy this wine beyond a taste here and there. NV or not, it blew the bubbles off most vintage Champagne I have ever held on my tongue. I reveled in its complex notes of day old apple, hazelnuts and baked bread all evening long, feeling so grateful.

If you want to feel passion pulsing throughout your entire dining experience, check it out while spirits are high and everyone seems ready to break out in the Smurfs theme song. The cuisine deserves it accolades, the wine list refreshingly unique, the servers top notch and Chef Brunson of Masterpiece Delicatessen coming to fruition in this Uptown eatery.

coercing cool weather with chinato.

denver restaurants, Italian Wine, Wine Blog

Ah, it has started…the subtle shift of the sun’s intensity. The almost imperceptible drop in degrees in the early morning hours. The beginning of Fall.

I was born for Autumn. I savor it from these first few sips all the way past Christmas, when I am told to put away the earth-toned apparel and welcome the drab gray tones of dreariness. Homemade peach pies are yummy, don’t get me wrong, but they only really serve as practice for my pumpkin and apple pies coming up.

I believe I finally know why I am so fascinated with this season. I am utterly addicted to sensual saturation. From the collage of colors, the rich smells of harvest, the layers of textured clothing to the flavors of warm spiced food and the marching of holidays, one after the other. I am in love with this nostalgic, sensually gluttonous season. It truly speaks to my choice career which allows me to revel in precisely that.

So when last week I was teased for pulling out the Christmasy Chinato too early, I couldn’t care less. I sensed a hint of harvest ‘round the corner, and I was ready to start sippin’ it up!

Chinato (pronounced Key-Nah-Toe) is one of my favorite post-dinner digestifs. But it was not always so. In fact, it was only about two years ago that I was introduced to this herbal concoction. At the time, even knowledge that the base was Barolo couldn’t convince me of its allure. My palate was only beginning to categorize ‘light wines’—basically your standard red, white and bubbles. Aperitifs, digestifs, liqueurs, cordials, spirits and fortifieds were in another category altogether. It was rather hit or miss. Admittedly, more the latter than the former. Everyone kept saying I would eventually develop the ‘taste’ for sipping wines. But for now, this fine crafted wine just seemed to be a Jagermeister imposter.

I am still a far cry from peaty Laphroag Scotch Whisky… but I am coming around slowly but surely.

I was at Colt & Gray a couple weeks ago when the bartender encouraged me to give it another shot. This time, it didn’t taste like Jager whatsoever. Rather, the Roagna was incredibly layered, complex and elegant. I was instantly hooked and had another glass at Frasca the following week after work by the producer Borgogno. I am anxiously awaiting the Cappellano’s arrival as the season progresses, for not only was that my first introduction to this sensational styled wine (or, at least, that’s what I think NOW), but it was the world’s as well.

Possibly more interesting than Chinato itself is its history.

What is now considered a fine fortified wine, was once the product of local alchemists in Serralunga d’Alba. Back in the early 1800’s, Dr. Giuseppe Cappallano, a chemist by trade and a wine lover by nighttime, was determined to unveil wine’s therapeutic qualities, for he felt them to be real. Before he became a pharmacist, he was a foodie. Combined with his natural interest in chemistry, he was fascinated in learning the effect various ingredients had on the body. Wine, he knew to have incredible health benefits in and of itself (in moderation of course). So his focus was to pull these three passions together and create a medicinal digestif.

Cappallano set about taking the best wine of the region, Barolo, and infusing quinine bark, cloves, wormwood, cinnamon as well as various other alpine and oriental herbs, whilst fortifying it with a local neutral spirit. Before long, it was a household cabinet item, as it cured stomach aches, common colds, headaches, flu and promoted healthy digestion post-dinner. It became appropriate as an aperitif on the rocks as well as a common token of regional hospitality when hosting a guest.


Unfortunately, the sheer cost of Barolo has made this digestif harder (and more expensive) to find. Few producers even bottle this for market anymore. But the several that do, really rock it. You need to go out and get a bottle. Now. Throw a chill on it, I don’t care. But join me in this effort to appreciate a rare art of wine production.

Here are the ones I can whole heartedly recommend:

Cappallano Barolo Chinato—Because you should always give credit where credit is due. Still Frasca’s all time favorite on the market. I am anxiously awaiting its arrival, as I know I will truly appreciate it this time around!

Roagna Barolo Chinato—A brighter style, most suitable for summer if you are going to be like me and just go for it. A blend of 33 herbs infuse these amber-hued sips of loveliness.

Borgogno Barolo Chinato—A bit warmer on the palate, the exotic spices really pop! The spices are actually divided into 3 categories and infused separately so as to not overpower one another and rather sing in unison once bottled. A blend of 39 different herbs.


seeking perfection in pairing: a night with frasca and kermit lynch.

cooking, denver restaurants, food pairing, french wine, Kermit Lynch, Uncategorized

White knuckled up 36 north to Boulder, I wonder sometimes what provoked me to be a stagiere at Frasca Food & Wine. I didn’t have much intention to ever work the floor as a practicing sommelier, but what I knew was that this restaurant would be the best place to improve my skills regardless. To become better at a job, even off the floor, as a writer and retailer, one must push him/herself into scary territory–territory that seems daunting, foreign… even humiliating at times. Every time I ate at this phenomenal restaurant, I cowered under the knowledge of the somms who direct the program. They truly know so much. And anyone who knows me know that once I locate a fear on fire within, I relentlessly seek to extinguish it.

Frasca has been a pinnacle for me. My fear told me that I needed that instruction, despite the humble pie I’d be fed (whether it was the best pie in the state or not).

Seven months later, nights like last Monday remind me that this apprenticeship of sorts is not finished. I have much to learn and gain from this experience.

We were pouring some of my favorite wines–those of Kermit Lynch. He is an important figure if you are just getting into wine. The concept of ’boutique’ or ‘small grower’ farms may not carry the intrigue or novelty it once did, as more organics and local goods are made available to an ever-curious, aware public. But this was not always the case. Back in the ’70s, a man named Kermit went to France with this mentality, shook the leather-worn hands and drank the wine of those farmers who were engaging in an honest days’ work, preserving the terroir of their land in the grapes they cultivated, and he brought a bottle of that work home with him to share. He now has one of the most successful wine importing companies in the USA, and works with many of the producers that so inspired him to begin this journey.

These wines have integrity. They have a soul. A story. A reason. Placing them alongside food that mirrors this intention just felt right. They were at home with one another.

The first wine has long since been a favorite of mine: the 2010 Hyppolyte Reverdy Sancerre. A wine whose label seems to have been designed by a team of hobbits, it recalls the lore of the Loire, medieval castles and the dense history that is so entrenched in this particular parcel of France. The wine region here is among the oldest  in terms of documentation, as it is so close to Paris, and therefore has had a prominent place in culture for centuries.

A smattering of likely scents greeted me: a sure squeeze of grapefruit, lime zest and the pure cold stony, steely minerality of a wet canyon. There was a curious hint of honeydew in there to soften the edges as well as that dependable note of fresh cut grass. The acid was rippin’, and its lean balanced structure spoke to a classic, satisfying vintage. 2009 may have gotten some high marks for its ripe, opulent bodice, but 2010 was a winemaker’s year–a true wine connoisseur’s vintage. That perfect balance of acid and body, minerals and fruit. Summer snap peas fell on the tongue. And God… did I mention that minerality?

This Sancerre couldn’t have been paired better, as it was met with the ‘Verdure d’Estate’–a field blend of mizuna/arugula lettuce, fresh radishes, carrots, peas and mint.

The next wine was a 2009 Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes— a term that translates to ‘old vine’ in French. If I had known nothing of this wine and had tried it blind, I would not have hesitated to think it Premier Cru quality. The wine was astounding for its (not so) ‘simple’ village status. Its brighter, youthful qualities were the first to jump the rim: green apple, yellow pear, lemon curd and the smell of sidewalks after a heavy rain. Seashells were prominent. The mushrooms subdued but persistent. There was a nuttiness about it that was confirmed by the leesy finish on the palate. This wasn’t your typical Chablis that sees stainless steel alone. It spent time in 20% neutral barrel on top of the lees ageing.

This wine was sexy as hell. A superb example of poetry bottled. It has been so long since I have had a pairing so exquisite, as they delivered up royal red shrimp and scallop sauce abed fettuccine to compliment this gorgeous selection.

Olivier Savary was a neighbor, friend and colleague to the famed Jean-Marie Ravenaeu, who introduced Savary to Lynch. Raveneau is known as one of the top producers in all of Chablis, another gem Kermit brought to our palates. Chablis is a question I can never answer–so saturated with surprises and missing words, these wines confound me.   I am endlessly intrigued.

And finally, last but not least, a lovely red to end the evening meant to accompany the ‘Agnello’–a lamb shoulder upon rancho gordo beans and mustard greens with pepper. The wine was no other than the well-known Vieux Telegraph ‘La Crau’ (2008) by the Brunier family. Established in 1898, this elevated site in Chateauneuf du Pape, known as ‘La Crau,’ has its history as being the site where the first telegraph was built to communicate messages between Paris and Marseilles in the 18th century. It still has a role in communication, as it has since then come to be one of the most revered vineyard sites for its ability to tell the story of the soil through wine.

Monday night this wine spoke of alpines, liquorice root, wet violets, cracked peppercorns both white and black, anise and garrigue. It spoke of sunshine, warm pudding stones and layers of stratified soils: limestone, silica, red clay and alluvial deposits. An almost silky wine on the palate, it managed to maintain the force these age worthy wines contain, whilst dancing with delicacy on the tongue. It carried a smoky, gamey scent so as not to blow its cover through purely soft-spoken attributes.

It’s incorrect to say the wines just got better and better. They were all so remarkably different from one another. What they shared was integrity and an honest sense of self. These wines were exactly what they should be considering their variety and terroir. And they all really showed themselves in their best light when paired with their soul mates.

That is what makes Frasca so distinctive–their ability to find a way to allow food and wine to realize their greatest potential. They put both into context. They make meals inspiring, meaningful and relevant.

And that, my friends, is why I will continue to drive up 36 north, white knuckled and ready for more.

Beyond the Beautiful Bite: Satchel’s on 6th

denver restaurants, Wine Blog

I used to live in Park Hill, when I heard of this little hole-in-the-wall foodie locale I had to go to: Satchel’s. I would peer in from time to time, but it was usually closed when I thought to give it a shot. Before I knew it, Satchel’s closed down completely, and I was left wanting for something I had never even tasted. No sooner had I mourned the loss when I learned that it was merely moving to a more central location. In fact, Satchel’s was finding its new home near my new home–on 6th, near other top notch eateries like Fruition and Table 6.

Just last week, I was able to finally find out what this place was all about. The entrance, just off 6th, was very quaint and welcoming. A diamond criss-crossed, barnyard red wooden door opened into a very simple, poetic kind of setting. The walls were a muted blue, red chairs accompanied the rustic wood tables and simple bulbs or antique light fixtures lit up the space. Some may find it a little too dim, but that’s just how I like it. It had a thoughtul, somber tone that made one feel compelled to move past surface chatter and actually create a moment, a real conversation, to remember.

I sat in my seat of choice: the bar. From here, I can sit back and observe, put my elbows on the table and recede into the background. As I dug into my poached egg that oozed without retraint upon my asparagus with ricotta, I noticed that, well, something was that something was just a teensy bit off. The food so far was incredible, so it was hardly that. No… It was, well, something I couldn’t yet put my finger on. The music was a perfect mix of Sinatra, swing and contemporary singer/songwriter. The waitress was incredibly friendly.

And then someone laughed.

And others followed suit. The acoustics made it so that I had to stop my own sentence, as my boyfriend strained to hear me…two feet away. We got over it quickly, but we immediately recognized that we couldn’t bring his parents here. Hopefully, we thought, they will find a way to better insulate the noise within.

Waiting between courses, I wanted a little something to chew on with my wine: a 2008 Isole and Olena Chianti Classico–a superb Sangiovese, but a grape that demands food with every sip (not the wine to reach for if you are on a diet). They had ‘artisan’ bread, which I am sure was delicous, but that was ‘extra’, which kind of put me off from ordering it. I don’t know why, but I just think bread should always be a given. I mean, if you have it in house, that is. If you don’t make any, then you simply don’t make any.

As we stared off at the hush-toned blue wall, we began to notice there were no paintings. I kind of liked the absence, but I could see how it might become unnerving. Like it was unfinished or something. It forces one to wander with no boundaries, nothing to fixate on, which subconsiously makes one anxious, not to mention blue is an appetite suppressant, as my manfriend pointed out. I had to admit, he had a point. Recalling my favorite spaces for grub, I am personally ravenous in a rustic, Italian setting, complete with reddish brown warm hues.

Our compulsion to pinpoint the details were quickly replaced with effusive compliments to the chef as we savored each bite of our meal. Jonathan had the meatloaf with smoky ketchup and horseradish potatoes while I had the Grouper with squash and hazelnuts. Satchel’s creates some serious, thoughful dishes–food that really pushes cuisine forward. It is balanced, flavorful and exciting! A truly great addition to Denver.

Watching as some other people left, I wondered if it mattered that there was no person to talk to them about their meal, their experience overall. Sometimes, there was not so much as a ‘goodbye’ called out as patrons shuffled to the door. I certainly need no parade or acknowledgment, but those ‘little’ touches can go far when you are trying to establish yourself as a business in a small neighborhood.

We ordered dessert, and I was slightly saddened that they had no ‘stickies’ on the list (or, at least, I did not see any), but again this was soon forgotten when I had a bite of the dense flourless chocolate cake with dark cherries and homemade ice cream. We fought for the last bite and couldn’t have had a more satisfying food experience.

This is not to ‘critique’ so much as to examine how those small things beneath the surface can contribute to the overall impression of a place. I want Satchel’s to make it. I really enjoyed their original take on classic dishes, their creative wine list and their adorable space. Tweeking is part of any business at the beginning. As many know, I rarely say anything negative about the places I eat. I wouldn’t do so with Satchel’s if I didn’t believe in its potential for long-lasting success in the Cherry Creek area. These were just a couple observations.

But go, if you haven’t yet. The food is divine. I will be back in no time without a doubt to continue eating through their interesting menu!

Pairing up Cho-Lon’s Asian-inspired cuisine with…Italian wine?

denver restaurants, Wine Blog

Took a time out from work Thursday to join a few others in the industry for a killer lunch at Cho-Lon on Blake and 15th, featuring 3 wines from the incredibly respected Master Sommelier and Restaurateur Bobby Stuckey and his partner (and Frasca’s Lead Chef), Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson, who together own Scarpetta wines. On my drive in, I thought, “Huh, Asian ‘fusion’ and Italian vino…Interesting…” But then I decided if any Euro wine could compete beyond the predictable Alsatian and German whites, Italy’s acid-driven selections were a pretty safe bet.

I have decided that Italian wine IS the ultimate foodie.

Cho-Lon rolled out just about the entirety of their menu. It was quite the showcase, and it left me more than impressed. I have been there twice before. And although it was good, I hardly had a chance to really experience the expansive talent of Chef Lon Symensma. We began with Bobby’s ‘Scarpetta Timido Spumante’–as it sounds, a bashful, blushing rose sparkling made in the Charmat method (just as Prosecco often is), retaining bright raspberry and strawberry fruit. It is a blend of Pinot Nero (Noir for the un-Italian) and Blaufrankish (an Austrian grape that isn’t too far from Pinot Noir in character). This marriage produces a peculiar bouquet for a rose that goes beyond the predictable fruit and floral by providing an almost earthy, savory, herbal note to boot. This gives the bubbly more than a aperitif purpose in life and can carry the sipper well into the first course, as it did for us.

We enjoyed this high acid, lean pink with pork stuffed pot stickers, Kaya Toast with an Egg Cloud (think the most amazing french toast you have ever had… and multiply it by 10), Lobster Shu Mai and Crispy Calamari. This fatty, salty spread made for a mighty match with the sparkling.

The next course was met with the 2009 Scarpetta Pinot Grigio. A grape that can often be perceived as ‘simple’, thanks to such quality jug producers as Bolla and Cavit, Pinot Grigio is overlooked and severely underestimated. Bobby explained that they thought so much more of this varietal, that they planted it in uniquely complex Ponca soils that consist of marine deposits and fossils: a broken down sea bed within the marl. This isn’t far from the profile of such famous regions as Chablis, Champagne and the Loire. Low yields in superb soil can only usually mean one thing for wine: high quality. This Pinot Grigio will astound you for the dollar! It has a broader palate than you may associate with PG, as it is evidently more complex, structured and sees time on its lees, allowing for a creamier texture. The PG was stunning with the Lemongrass Beet Salad, the Wok Brussels Sprouts and Cashew Snap Peas.

Finally, Scarpetta’s newest addition from the other side of Italy, the Piemontese-born 2008 Barbera del Monferatto. Only in neutral oak for a year, Bobby is striving here to retain the essence of Piedmont, not wood, to showcase this grape’s natural knack for incomparable fruit. Barbera is a high acid, low tannin, low alcohol, medium body youthfully expressed red. In short, this means its flexibility with food is hard to match. It is simply exactly what you want in a red for the widest range of foods. Hence, it fit in perfectly for an Asian-inspired lunch. The Barbera was a perfect match for the Steak Tartare log as well as the mini shredded pork sliders. The zesty flavors of the heavily sauteed brussels actually found a good tune to sing with this red as well.

So check’m out: the new exciting wines from Scarpetta and the mouthwatering scene at Cho-Lon, yet another restaurant that is making Denver’s culinary culture proud.

To feed a cold: Eating (and sneezing) my way through Denver this Spring.

denver restaurants, Wine Blog

Spring. A time of rebirth, regrowth…and allergies. I apologize to all two (is it 3 yet?) of you who religiously follow my blog. I have been beaten down, dragged by the heels and left for vultures with this year’s bloom. Suddenly the fuzzy little buds on the trees don’t have the same fuzzy-ing effect inside…unless you count fuzzy vision I get from bloodshot eyes when I opt to wear my contacts. The sweet perfume from the streets only work to corrode my nostrils and make me sneeze. And my lungs, they’re the worst. A night doesn’t pass without a few puffs of the inhaler.

I have taken a hiatus from wine, to be honest. I can’t smell the darn stuff, let alone describe it. I went from a nasty cold straight into allergies. All I’ve tasted is Nyquil, Mucinex, tea and Benadryl. Mmmm…

Well, that’s not completely true.

I have managed to find myself in a number of Denver’s finest new and old restaurants these past few weeks. Not because I love torturing myself when I’m nearly on a respirator gripping a Kleenex over stemware, but because there were friends in town and plans to follow through on regardless. Honestly, it lifted my spirits tremendously. For what I found is that Denver’s culinary scene is growing more exciting by the month.

It’s true, my schnoz may not be the best judge, but based on those with whom I dined, the service and the presentation, I am quite certain that I will be returning more than a few times to these spots:

Bittersweet (Alameda and Logan): A bottle of rose was the perfect way to start this warm spring meal. I reveled in a fresh herbal Alsacienne Tart of vegetables and Haystack goat cheese followed by a few nibbles of chicken before I was too full. I eyed the rack of lamb with English peas and mushrooms to my right and admit I was a bit envious. Alongside our entrees was an ’03 I Clivi Merlot from Friuli. Couldn’t have been more than $55. It was a thoughtful, soft-spoken wine from a rather harsh, hot vintage. A lovely red that did justice to their selective and clearly inspired, list. This artisanal eatery is a great addition to the Wash Park ‘hood.

Potager (Cheesman Park): In the wake of the ‘locavore’ movement, all the top restaurants proudly point out the meats they source from Niwot, their goat cheese from Longmont, their lettuce from Fruition Farms or their beef from the western slope. Unfortunately, it is also a trend that cuisine has found comfort in, well, comfort food. Duck confit, ‘gourmet’ mac and cheese and bacon wrapped limburger with blue cheese aren’t uncommon on so many menus these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love my fair share of guilty greasy gut-bombs…especially when it’s done right. But there is something to be said for clean, fresh fare—food that is purely a product of a local garden, with very little interference for deep-fried action. Potager is a place that continually finds a way to bring out the deepest notes in locally raised produce and meat: naturally. And what better than a crisp, dry pink like the Domaine Fontsainte to compliment such a meal at $38?

Ototo (Old South Pearl): I’m not a huge sushi fan, so I never got too into the Den. Nor was I so impressed with Izakaya that I’d make the trek from Congress Park. But I can tell you, since its opening several months ago, I have been to Ototo a good three or four times. From raw foods to cured meats, vegetarian fare to foie gras, there is a fresh market European feel to this eatery. The chef has his roots in the other two ‘Den’ restaurants on Pearl as well as Frasca, and it shows. I had one of the tastiest spring risottos with fresh peas and chutes following a delicious radish salad. We have watched this place grow more crowded by the month. It is finally receiving the attention it deserves.

Table 6 (Cherry Creek/Cheesman): Oldie but a goodie, this place has always feels like that first cup of coffee in the morning–natural, necessary, comfortable… and so damn good. Regardless of this city’s passing culinary trends, the hot spots that phase in and out, Table 6 is always there, keeping it real and catering to just about any diner. If you’ve never been, think: Midwestern comfort meets Southern France meets childhood nostalgia on a plate. Their new take now the classic ‘Little Phillies’ is ‘Little Italian Meats’ with a mozzarella stick on top, they have a better than Bessy’s southern fried chicken as well as one of the best chile verdes I have ever tasted north of New Mexico (only during their hipster Sunday Brunch).

Benny’s Mexican (Golden Triangle/Governor’s Park): When every other place closes on a Sunday night at 9p, you can always rely on this neighborhood cantina. My boyfriend didn’t realize quite what I meant by their ‘house’ frozen margaritas…until he had a little over one. A couple weird dreams later and a blurry recollection, I had him convinced it puts Rio’s ‘3 glass limit’ to shame. The food is solid, albeit still has me searching for the best Mexican in Denver (any suggestions?).

Bones (Golden Triangle/Governor’s Park): Can you tell where I hang out? This was one of the first Bonanno restaurants I went to upon returning from my time in New York, where noodle joints are neighborhood fixtures these days. I was giddy that there was a little piece of the city in our very own. It has since then come to be one of my favorite, laid back lunch spots–perfect for those who have trouble deciding what to eat, as there are only about 5 apps and 5 bowls. A couple weeks ago, I nursed my cold with the spicy soshito peppers and the chicken noodle bowl… okay, I also had rose. I am so lousy at being 100% good, even when ill.

Sushi Sasa…for the non-sushi diner (Downtown/Lodo): Been a while since I had been, but I paid a visit today, alongside three die hard sushi fans. Every now and again, the non-fan will find oneself in this setting. I am, ahem…one of ‘those’ people. Aside from the occasional fatty tuna sashimi, I am not into sushi. I know, you are all shaking your heads right now. See, it’s not just the ‘fish’ thing, clearly, or I wouldn’t be able to feel rather neutral if not altogether optimistic about sashimi. I have a real aversion to very pungent flavors like wasabi, fresh hunks of ginger, seaweed, kelp and even miso. Well, what I learned was that Sushi Sasa has some other very refreshing options for lunch. I enjoyed a gorgeous salad of roasted beats and asparagus upon a bed of blanched spinach as well as some pumpkin and zucchini tempura, a bit of my friend’s black cod French onion soup and, of course, a bowl of edamame to share. A great, light, clean lunch for all. Never feel like you are holding your partner’s sushi habit back ever again!

So these were the places that kept my morale high when I was too low to muster up the energy to cook. I’d love your feedback on other fun eats in Denver’s grand burgeoning foodie playground.

5280 Week: Picking a Restaurant by the Wine List.

denver restaurants, food pairing, Wine Blog

5280 Restaurant week. Foodies and food novices alike love it. Servers dread it (tip well folks!). So many restaurants, so little time. How do you decide where to go during 5280 week, a fourteen day foodie fair that makes a 3-course dining experience at even Denver’s most expensive restaurants accessible to anyone with $26.40 in pocket (or, $52.80 if you’re pairing up)? Some go to the fanciest, like Kevin Taylor’s at the Opera House; some want a safe, classic upscale American meal at Elway’s; others want hip, so they take it to the Highlands’ Root Down or Venue; still others pick a culture or region and go for a traditional meal at Bistro Vendome for French, Carmine’s on Penn for Italian or Cafe Brazil for a string bikini (and fabulous Brazilian cuisine).

Regardless of the location, the majority considers the quantity per dollar and how much it would cost if this were any other night outside the two-week promotion. For those like myself, though, I don’t think about how much less I am going to spend for multiple intercourses upon courses for two weeks straight. I think about how I will redistribute the funds for a really nice bottle of wine. So for me, the restaurants with the most impressive wine lists in town are the ones grabbing my attention.

Use this time as an excuse to live it up. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a 3-course fine dining experience. Support Denver’s burgeoning gastronomical scene. Here’s where I would go with $26.40 for food and maybe $20-40 more bucks to split a bottle of wine with a friend or a loved one:

Firenze a Tavola: Osso Buco was the dish that drew me to this quiet, Tuscan-inspired eatery tucked beneath the ever-bustling Parisi Euro market and casual eatery. The food is authentic, generously portioned and consumed amidst a simple room that is lined with (empty) bottles of collector wines: Gaja, Giacomo, Borgono, Conterno… More impressive than anything else, though, even moreso than the hilariously accurate ’80s Euro ballads that sang from the speakers (that is so Italy–love it), was the wine list. For those of you who think you have had some of the most esoteric Italians in the market, you haven’t seen anything yet. Extensive, comprehensive and peppered with so many back vintages it will make you giddy!

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Carciofi al Forno (wood oven baked artichoke), followed by the Paparedelle sul Cinghiale (rich stew of boar meat and vegetables) and finished with the classic taste of tiramisu on the tongue. If I had my way I would start with a funky fun Falanghina with an 03 Fattoria Paradiso Barbarosso from Emilia Romagna (if they still have it!).

Indulge French Bistro: This was my first choice, but my sister was intimidated by the menu. They won’t let you pomme frite your way through the experience without taking a couple French indulgences like tartare, mussels or  duckling. But really, there are so many choices, even for the faint of heart. It truly offers some of the best French food in the city in a diner-like, humble setting that is cozy, endearing and reinforces their serious focus on the food rather than the tablecloths. Plus, they work with small farmer wines that you won’t find in many other restaurants let alone shop shelves.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Cream of Roasted Butternut, followed by Boeuf Bourguignonne and a sweet finish of Pear ‘Belle Helene’ all washed down with 06 Domaine de la Boutiniere Chateauneuf du Pape.

Olivea: I first went here not long after a trip to Barcelona and Southern France. I was not only impressed by their culinary accuracy, but it had an upbeat vibe, a pulse if you will, that metered the meal with optimism and good energy. The wine list is limited but thoughtful. Daring for the novice, but engaging for the seasoned wine drinker.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Arugula salad with beets and pistachios, followed by Gargagnelli with white beans and tomato, finishing off with Pistachio Nougat with sour cherries. The wine(s): 08 Droin Chablis, 07 Tempier Bandol (decant it!) and/or 03 Marting Cendoya Rioja Reserva.

Table 6: Always been my favorite go-to restaurant in Denver, especially in winter to justify their hearty, decadent dishes. Everything from the front of the house to the back emanates friendly, comfortable yet upscale neighborhood dining. They are creative and playful with their food, recalling old childhood favorites and provoking nostalgia with every bite (on that note, don’t miss the tater tots!). Their wine list is always changing and, in my opinion, the most inspiring yet still affordable in town.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Asparagus, Lamb Loin Lomo, followed by the Shrimp Risotto and sweetening up the finish with the Meyer Lemon Cream Cake. As I said, the wine list always changes. If you can, grab Aaron Forman, the manager/sommelier. Tell him what you like, don’t like and price range. He has never steered me wrong.

Colt & Gray: I find myself going here way too often. Is it the burgers? The sticky toffee pudding? Kevin Burke, the incredibly talented mixologist that is single-handedly transforming Denver’s cocktail scene one concoction at a time? Regardless of the fact that I am not always wild about their wine list, the place has a happening feel. The food is sensational, daring and downright disgusting sometimes if you, like me, are not used to seeing head cheese, blood pudding and roasted bone marrow on menus (see my old blog entry). But I love it anyway and can’t get enough.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Winter Vegetable Salad, followed by the White Bean, Sage and Fennel Ravioli and made complete with Minced Meat Brioche Bread Pudding (oh yum). Wine list varies, though if you have the dough, they often carry wines by Bedrock and Smith-Madrone for an agreeable nod to new world wine. Otherwise, have Kevin mix up something special for you… and prepare to be amazed.

OTOTO: I am going to go ahead and say it. This is my favorite new restaurant to hit Denver in a long time! From the meticulous build-out of copper ceilings, Rejuvenation-style lighting, iron spiral staircase, wine crates and eye-catching oyster bar, OTOTO has done the Sushi Den family proud in its sophisticated fare and impressive aesthetic execution. Restaurants like these make me excited to be a part of the culinary scene in Denver. My only fear? Will their high end ingredients and brave global cuisine be understood enough that they can sustain such a vision? I have been there three times now, each seeming to demonstrate growing popularity as evidence by the patron numbers. I have high hopes for this Spanish/Catalan-inspired eatery.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Mussels, then the Daily Vegetarian Tasting Dish (he is so creative with this) followed by one of my favorite desserts in town right now with the Pear Almond Cake with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. I am really digging on their whites by the glass, but already they have had to remove a couple ridiculously awesome values (Ladoucette and Domaine Ott for under $12/glass), because they couldn’t go through the open bottles fast enough. So go in and show some support!  They have a passion for superior ingredients.

Barolo Grill: When I want a classic fine dining Italian experience, Barolo is where I go. The wait staff is informative, the wine list epic and the menu never ceases to make my eyes grow larger than my stomach in minutes. Luckily they have pared it down for you for 5280 week so decisions won’t be so difficult. As for the wine, why bother doing it yourself when you have one of the most talented sommeliers in the state to do it for you? Ryan Fletter is my go-to guy for unforgettable Italian wine. Plus, if I interpret correctly, you get 4 choices at this restaurant. Score!

My Ideal 5280 Menu: KISS method. Start with the Prosciutto con Parmigiano-Reggiano and Balsamic, followed by the Tagliatelle al Bolognese, the Brasato al Barolo (Barolo braised beef short ribs) and the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Winter fruit compote.

Squeaky Bean: If you haven’t checked out this hip Highlands full service daytime/nighttime coffee shop/lunch/dinner/bar crowd eatery, you are missing out big time. The perfect balance of serious food under a not so serious roof. For instance, you will find the dish ‘Parts and Pieces’ under the TV Dinner portion of the menu, which is a meal of marrow custard, Vitello tonnato sweetbreads, chicken liver meatballs and beef tongue ‘bourgignon.’ You can take down duck confit and seared hiramasa, all while staying in your jeans and Chuck Taylors, as most of the diners do when paying for their $100+ bill for two after cocktails and wine. The beauty of their menu for 5280 week? You choose the most ideal bites. Whatever you fancy, they have a pretty comprehensive list from their regular menu to choose from, which you can find on their website under ‘Restaurant Week Menu.’  Their wine list is small but their reserves wines are, as they call it, ‘geeky’ and therefore right up my alley.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: If it were me, I would start with the Italian Wedding Soup, followed by the ‘No Bake’ Shepherd’s Pie, finishing with the Bourboned Apples. I would have the 08 Venica and Venica Friulano, or, quite honestly, who am I kidding… just about any of their many Lopez wines will do. Lopez de Heredia is one of my favorite producers in the world.

Mind you, these are the ones I have been eyeing for myself. There are so many more restaurants that are worth it! Freshcraft (for the beer geeks), Arugula and Salt (if you’re from or willing to make the trek to Boulder), Venue, Il Posto, Mizuna, Duo… But these are the ones whose wine lists captivate me most. I am anxious to hear what you all think of the restaurants you decide to try. Ring in on the Comments and tell me all about it!