La Vie en Rose: Paris is known as the City of Light. But it’s also the city of waiters, and neither the Eiffel Tower nor the Arc of Triumph nor Notre Dame Cathedral — and its gaggle of roofline gargoyles — is more identified with Paris than the garçon de café.

This black-and-white terror serves croque-monsieur, a coupe de champagne, café crème and a whole lot of attitude on almost every street corner in the city.

But he may be at his most formidable at the classy corner cafe, Les Deux Magots, on Boulevard Saint-Germain in the sixth arrondissement. With its dramatic terrace view of L’Église Saint-Germain, this go-to cafe is the perfect spot from which to muse on this often-misunderstood Parisian serveur (waiter) and his unique contribution to French culture.

Can the garçon be arrogant? Yes! Even nasty? Mais oui. Nevertheless, in all his guises through three centuries of French cafe history, this fellow is always efficient, knowledgeable and never boring. He is often as satisfying as the food and beverage he serves (or more so).

But, le garçon, or at least his persona, is in jeopardy. As reported on Feb. 19, 2015, in the Wall Street Journal, the City of Light’s official tourism office is bent on making this paragon of professionalism “nicer.” To what end? To please tourists, bien sûr (of course).

Garçon lite

If the garçon is destined for an attitudinal makeover, it will be, it seems to me, a more fraught transformation of Paris than Baron Haussmann’s demolitions and reconstructions in the mid-19th century under Napoleon III. With Haussmann in charge, Paris lost, tragically, much of its medieval heritage and charm, but gained much more, I believe, in the way of hygiene (a new sewer system) and urban splendor — the grand boulevards, broad sidewalks, parks and the elegant stone apartment blocks we know and love today.

With the proposed sweetening of the garçon, the traditional Parisian cafe may gain tourist lucre, but at the risk of losing its Gallic sizzle, in no small part the gift of the garçon’s trademark sass.

When the dandy meets the butler

The cafe garçon is, after all, intentionally monstrous. A clever, almost Frankensteinian construct, he combines the self-absorbed fastidiousness of the Parisian dandy and the haughty solicitousness of the British butler. The garçon’s costume is no accident.

Cafe French Note

It was designed in the early 19th century to both function and impress. His many-pocketed black vest holds money, les additions (cafe checks), pens and service accessories such as corkscrews and crumb scoopers. The still-popular bow tie adds a touch of fin de siècle panache. With his spotless white apron (less common today), the garçon appears simultaneously hygienic and striking, even sexy, like a chef de cuisine in his crisp whites.

The mastery of this well-trained professional — of his body, of his trays piled high and of his affect — impresses and, yes, intimidates, but at the same time, seduces. He is better dressed and knows more than his customers about classic French food and wine, and he knows it.

The gargling gargoyle

Is there not, in fact, something about the cafe garçon that evokes that other fearsome Paris “gar,” the gargoyle (gargouille in French, pronounced “gar-GOO-ya”) Think about it: Both are “in service,” one to the secular cafe and one to the sacred church. Both guard their respective terrains jealously. And like the garçon, the gargoyle is a construct, a combination of hoary Gothic chimera and drainage technology — the first deflecting the devil, the second the rain.

Both the French and English words — gargouille and gargoyle — derive from the Old French gargole, which means gutter or waterspout and throat. Which is how gargoyles function at the roofline of large, usually religious, structures: Water from the roof flows through gargoyle’s body, exits the throat and is dumped on the ground several feet away from the structure’s foundations. This protects a church’s mortared stone walls and spiritual purity from the ill effects of “dirty” water.

Rabelais’ literary giant, Gargantua

There is no direct etymological connection between garçon and gargouille. “Garçon” appears in French sometime between 1100 and 1300 — as the Old French garçun, from a proto-Germanic word — and refers to a boy of low class or a young servant. The lowly garçon becomes a waiter in the late 18th century with the rise of the Parisian cafe and restaurant.

The “gar” of gargoyle is from the Latin root and means chatter, or the sounds that come from the throat or gutter. This gives us “gutteral” and “gargle.” And, of course, Gargantua, the young giant in Rabelais’ 16th-century novel. At birth Gargantua cries out for “drink, drink, drink.” His father, Lord Grangousier, noting his son’s huge anatomical features, exclaims . . .

Que GRAND TU AS & souple le gousier;” that is to say, “How great and nimble a throat thou hast.” — “The Works of Rabelais” (Bibliophilist Society, 1950)

And so he becomes Gar-gan-tu-a, and the basis of our English word, “gargantuan.” It takes the milk from 17,913 cows to satisfy the giant baby’s thirst.

When Rabelais’ epic satire takes the growing giant to Paris, Gargantua is irritated by the swarms of people gathered around him as he leans up against Notre Dame Cathedral. The young giant proceeds to relieve himself and drowns 260,418 Parisians. Protective gargoyles notwithstanding, Gargantua then steals the bells of Notre Dame, which he uses for a necklace around the neck of his giant horse before returning them.

Hommage au Garçon. Credit: Copyright 2015 L. John Harris

Hommage au Garçon. Credit: Copyright 2015 L. John Harris

Hommage au garçon

If after 500 years we are still amused by the outrageous exploits of Rabelais’ trouble-making Gargantua, why can’t we embrace, after 300 years of evolving French cafe culture, the classic, snooty garçon de café as he is? Instead of softening the garçon, let’s cast him in hard, eternal bronze.

Sitting on the terrace at Les Deux Magots, sipping on a coupe or nursing a crème, one can imagine a statue of the garcon de café, a gargantuan vertical gargoyle, spouting water into a broad pond located in the place just outside the entrance to L’Église Saint-Germain. Vive le garçon! Vive le café! Vive la France!

Main illustration: The garçon de café and the gargouille d’Église. Credit: Copyright 2015 L. John Harris

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Hungarian Cherry Pie, cseresznyès lepèny, served with whipped cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

You open an old cookbook and out flutters a fragile, stained piece of notepaper. On it there is some spidery handwriting in fading blue ink for a long-forgotten cookie from a long-forgotten aunt in a long-forgotten language. Or perhaps, like Budapest-born Tomi Komoly, you have a carefully bound journal filled with exquisitely rhythmic italic notations. Hastily scribbled or meticulously inscribed, old family recipes are a gift from the past. But bringing them back to life in modern kitchens can present today’s cook with some unexpected problems.

Unforeseen problems: handwriting, culinary shorthand

Tomi Komoly’s grandmother’s recipes were handwritten in old-fashioned German  and Hungarian. Credit: Copyright Tomi Komoly

Tomi Komoly’s grandmother’s recipes were handwritten in old-fashioned German and Hungarian. Credit: Copyright Tomi Komoly

When Komoly, who now lives in the United Kingdom, took the task of painstakingly transcribing, testing and updating many of his Austro-Hungarian grandmother’s recipes, he encountered a number of unforeseen problems. Not least, the recipes were written in a narrow, cursive script in old-fashioned German and Hungarian often using the shorthand style of a culinary expert for whom the manuscript was more aide-memoire than intended manual. It took him more than six years to translate and edit — and enter the mindset of his late grandmother to identify the many details and techniques she would have assumed needed no explanation. Sometimes, with heirloom recipes, it is what is left out that is as important as what is included.

Concessions to modernity

Modern labor-saving devices such as food mixers or electric grinders -- unheard of in prewar Budapest -- can also have an effect on a recipe. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Modern labor-saving devices such as food mixers or electric grinders — unheard of in prewar Budapest — can also have an effect on a recipe. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

The aim of recipe rescuers is always to be as authentic as possible but, as Komoly found out, there have to be concessions to modernity. Today’s cooks may not have the stamina of their ancestors, but few would want to turn back every clock. As Komoly says, “Granny used to laboriously beat the egg whites with a little whisk or large fork, but I use a machine except for rising dough, which I prefer to feel by hand.” Ready-made noodles, dried yeast and strudel dough are also innovations that prove that progress can mean just that.

Advances in cooking equipment

Gugelhupf, or "Kuglof," made in a traditional mold with tapered sides and a funneled center. Credit: Copyright Tomi Komoly

Gugelhupf, or “Kuglof,” made in a traditional mold with tapered sides and a funneled center. Credit: Copyright Tomi Komoly

Technical advances can also affect the success of updating recipes: Even the material out of which cooking tins and utensils are made may alter cooking times, and when all the cooking and baking was done on a wood-fired, cast-iron stove with hot plates, as with Komoly’s family, oven temperatures and timings can be another source of error. As he says, “How do you interpret instructions such as ‘Do it on a high flame’ or ‘Bake until it is ready’?” In addition, in quite a few recipes I had to work out the sequence of adding ingredients by patient trial and error. Luckily, on the whole, Granny was very reliable, so I didn’t have too many disasters.”

Our kitchens today also boast luxuries unheard of in prewar Europe, or available to only a few, such as refrigeration. As Komoly recalled, “We would get great blocks of ice delivered, we never had a fridge. Or we would keep food in winter on the floor of the freezing, unheated bathroom.” Restoring old recipes in light of the “new” technology means you may have to expect new timings, new procedures, new methodology.

Account for changing ingredients, tastes

In baking, varying egg sizes can often make a difference in the end result. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

In baking, varying egg sizes can often make a difference in the end result. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Family recipes often are short on details, especially when orally transmitted, but even when written, many instructions can be vague to the uninitiated. Often, cooks would vary the way they cooked and baked according to whim, the weather and whether or not certain items were available.

“Although many recipes had quantities, in those days they didn’t specify things they would take for granted, such as the size of eggs. I came to the conclusion, for example, that over-egging a cake really doesn’t hurt too much,” Komoly said. “I’ve also had to play around with sugar quantities; there’s a massive difference in our tastes these days. I found I only needed about two-thirds of the original amount.”

Short on details

Fresh cherries are particularly popular in Austro-Hungarian baking. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Fresh cherries are particularly popular in Austro-Hungarian baking. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

A rose is a rose is a rose, but the saying does not always hold true. Take a cherry, for example. There are sweet ones, sour ones, red ones, black ones and unique regional varieties that add different dimensions to a dish. Fresh produce was usually a given: In Hungary, Komoly’s grandmother would assume the fruit and nuts were there for the taking from the family’s own trees, but a stale supermarket walnut or hazelnut can turn yesterday’s delight into today’s disaster.

Cooking vs. baking

Many heirloom recipes are imprecise in their instructions, dealing mostly in "handfuls" and "pinches." Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Many heirloom recipes are imprecise in their instructions, dealing mostly in “handfuls” and “pinches.” Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

There’s many a recipe handed down from generation to generation that involves good old-fashioned instructions such as “Take a pinch of this” or “Add some of that.” In many Italian-language cookbooks, recipes often include qv (quanto vale — how much you want) or qb (quanto basta — as much as it needs) in the instructions. The size of a “handful” may not matter too much in general cooking, but baking is more of an exact science than a free-form art.

A century of changes

Even basic ingredients, such as this widely used variety of Italian flour, can vary from era to era, country to country. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Even basic ingredients, such as this widely used variety of Italian flour, can vary from era to era, country to country. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman

Another problem, common to all who undertake the rescue and restoration of heritage recipes, are ingredients. Soft cheese, butter, flour, chocolate and so on may not always be the same as those used a century ago. Take flour, for example. Italian heritage recipes use different types of flour to those we are accustomed in the United States and United Kingdom. Komoly encountered the same difficulty, “The flour we used in Hungary was quite different, but most UK flour is highly refined. Eventually, I found that if I made a cake with a large percentage of flour, it was best to use a ‘strong’ Canadian flour.”

Komoly is also fortunate in that he can still recall helping his grandmother in the kitchen — always rewarded with a lick of the spoon or bowl — as well as being able to hold in his memory the taste of the end products.

Having survived the Holocaust, his grandmother, Vamos Kathe, relocated to Nairobi. Her recipe book was a precious reminder of a lost world, inscribed with the words, “With God’s Help.” He must have been listening.

Hungarian Cherry Pie (cseresznyès lepèny)

Recipe taken from “My Granny’s Gift: 55 Delicious Austro-Hungarian Dessert Recipes” by Tomi Komoly, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014, 124 pages.

Prep time: 30 to 40 minutes

Baking time: 50 minutes

Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons (15 grams) plain flour

9 tablespoons (125 grams) butter or margarine

1 whole egg

6 tablespoons (80 grams) superfine sugar

About 4 cups (500 grams) cherries, unpitted

4 egg whites

2 tablespoons (15 grams) powdered sugar

1 cup (70 to 80 grams) bread crumbs

Directions

1. Mix the flour, butter and egg with 4 tablespoons (60 grams) of the superfine sugar and roll out to about 1/4-inch (7 to 8 mm) thick and transfer into a 12-by-8-inch (30-by-20-cm) baking tray. Alternatively, just place in the middle of the tray and “pat” until it is spread evenly over the whole area.

2. Bake in a moderate oven 350 F (175 C) for 35 minutes. (It may take less time, so if it smells like it is burning, it may well be!)

3. Pit the cherries and drain the fruit of all excess juice and spread evenly after scattering the bread crumbs over the pastry. Sprinkle the remaining superfine sugar on top. (If the cherries are very sweet, then you may not need the extra sugar. CH)

4. Beat the 4 egg whites with the powdered sugar until very firm, spread over the cake, and bake for another 15 minutes or until lightly browned and semi-hardened. Allow to cool, cut into squares and serve with whipped cream.

5. Instead of the bread crumbs, ground walnuts or hazelnuts could also be used.

Main photo: Hungarian Cherry Pie, cseresznyès lepèny, served with whipped cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman 

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Chocolate-dipped Watermelon slices sprinkled with sea salt. Credit: Copyright 2015 Zester Media

Watermelon’s dribble-down-your-chin deliciousness adds an exclamation mark to any summer picnic. Memories of seed-spitting contests followed by a run through the sprinklers are the essence of childhood.

But there is so much more to love about watermelon. It is summer’s most versatile food. Dress it up or keep it simple. Soups, curries, salsas and salads; watermelon’s savory sweetness deserves a place at every meal. Let your imagination go!

Whether you use the fruit in cocktails, healthy smoothies or a simple Mexican agua fresca with watermelon juice and a squeeze of lime, drink in the goodness of watermelon.

Check out these 10 killer ideas; you will never see watermelon the same way again.

More from Zester Daily:

» Watermelon salad heaven starts with the right melon
» Watermelon + seeds
» Japan’s fruit fetish
» Ring in the new year with simplicity and health

Main photo: Chocolate-dipped Watermelon slices sprinkled with sea salt. Credit: Copyright 2015 Zester Media

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Fruit Salad Cocktails with espresso spoons. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Walk the farmers markets and enjoy a grand show of summer’s bountiful harvest. Leafy greens have reappeared along with all manner of beans and peas. Stone fruit, including peaches, nectarines, cherries, plums and pluots, are available in abundance. They are perfect to make fruit salad cocktails, a delicious way to celebrate summer’s bounty.

Sun-loving Spaniards created sangria, probably the best-known alcoholic-fruit beverage. The inspired combination of wine (tart), fruit (sweet and acidic) and spirit (sharp) creates an umami of flavors that delivers a satisfying punch.

Getting creative with fruit infusion

Bing and Rainier Cherries at the Sunday farmers market in  Pacific Palisades, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Bing and Rainier Cherries at the Sunday farmers market in Pacific Palisades, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Infusing spirits is another way to complement the heady flavors of vodka, gin, tequila, scotch and bourbon. Taking a familiar spirit, say vodka, and layering on fresh-from-the-farm ingredients adds unexpected brightness.

Some enjoy an edgier infusion, using vegetables, herbs and greens such as cucumbers, rosemary, basil and lavender, and those are all good. But my palate prefers sweet to savory when it comes to cocktails.

Walking past farmers stalls and seeing mounds of Valencia oranges, pink grapefruit, tangerines, Blenheim apricots, doughnut peaches, Santa Rosa plums, white and yellow nectarines, and Bing cherries, I begin thinking about throwing a party and inviting friends to have my favorite cocktail that celebrates the season.

Choosing fruit flavors and textures for cocktails

Peaches and yellow nectarines at the Sunday farmers market in  Pacific Palisades, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Peaches and yellow nectarines at the Sunday farmers market in Pacific Palisades, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Use any fruit you enjoy. The goal is to create a flavor-texture contrast that combines acidity with sweetness and soft with crunchy as in a mix of grapefruit, cherries, apples and peaches. Experiment and be bold when you choose fruit for your cocktail. Mangos, papayas, pineapples, guavas and persimmons are also good.

Adding a pinch of cayenne gives the cocktail an appetizing heat.

Peel and section all citrus, removing the peel, pith and membranes to create what are called suprêmes.

Stone fruit should be firm but ripe enough to eat. Do not use overly ripe fruit. Cut and discard any brown or damaged areas.

Getting the most flavor into your fruit salad cocktails

Sections of a grapefruit for Fruit Salad Cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Sections of a grapefruit for Fruit Salad Cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Stone fruit should be pitted, except for cherries. With peaches and nectarines, using a pairing knife, cut away the dark areas around the pit and discard.

Peeling the fruit is a matter of taste. Personally I prefer to peel apples, peaches, apricots and nectarines to maximize the flavor transmitted from the flesh of the fruit to the wine or spirit.

Cut all fruit into dime-sized pieces.

Because the fruit flavors dominate the cocktail, there is no need to use premium wines or spirits.

Using just the right timing and sweetener

Fruit Salad Cocktail in a large blue pitcher. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Fruit Salad Cocktail in a large blue pitcher. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Using sugar is a mater of taste. If the fruit is especially sweet, sugar may not be needed. Artificial sweeteners should not be used. Taste and decide at the end if the cocktail needs the added sweetness of sugar.

Red wine is preferred, but white wine can be used. Because the fruit adds sweetness, use a dry wine.

Add the fruit one hour before serving. Any longer and the fruit will turn unpleasantly soft.

Put an espresso spoon or other small spoon into the glass when serving the cocktail so the fruit can be eaten before, during or after consuming the wine or spirit.

Summer Fruit Salad Cocktails

Prep time: 30 minutes

Infusion time: 60 minutes

Total time: 90 minutes

Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients

1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine (or white)

1/2 cup brandy or vodka

Juice of one lemon or two limes

Pinch cayenne (optional)

2 tangerines, washed

3 oranges, preferably Valencia, washed

1 large grapefruit (pink or white), washed

2 Fuji apples, washed, peeled, cut into quarter-sized cubes

2 nectarines or peaches, washed, pitted, peeled, cut into quarter sized cubes

12 Bing cherries, washed, stems and pits removed, quartered

1/4 cup white granulated sugar (optional)

Directions

1. In a large pitcher, mix together the wine, brandy, lemon juice and cayenne (optional). Cover and refrigerate.

2. Using a sharp knife, peel the tangerines, oranges and grapefruit, removing and discarding the peel and rind. Cut the sections free from the membrane. Hold the peeled citrus over a bowl to catch the juice. When all the sections have been removed, squeeze the membrane to capture the last bit of juice. Discard the membrane.

3. An hour before serving, cut up and add the orange and grapefruit suprêmes, citrus juices, apples, nectarines and cherries to the wine and spirit mixture. Stir well.

4. Taste and add sugar (optional) if needed. If sugar is added, stir well to dissolve.

5. Refrigerate and serve ice cold.

6. Use a ladle to fill glasses with a good amount of the fruit. Top off with the wine and spirit mixture. Place an espresso or small spoon in each glass.

Main photo: Fruit Salad Cocktails with espresso spoons. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Oysters on ice with lemon. Credit: Copyright Serhiy Zavalnyuk/Thinkstock

“Oysters are the canaries in the coal mine,” a fourth-generation oysterman once told me as we slogged across the mud flats of Willapa Bay in Washington. The grower was giving me a tour of his vast oyster beds that emerge as if by magic during every low tide. Oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, and the quality of the water they process affects their health … and their flavor. Healthy oysters mean a healthy environment, and when they struggle, they can indicate something dire for the habitat as a whole.

The oyster I swallowed had the precise taste of a clean, deep breath of Pacific Ocean air. It was what a gorgeous coastal landscape photo might taste like were it a flavor of ice cream. I understood why M.F.K. Fisher wrote that they were, “more like the smell of rock pools at low tide than any other food in the world,” and why that is a good thing. Then as I grew to understand that these creatures seemed specifically designed by nature, a benevolent creator or both for the task of pairing with splendid wines, I was hooked.

The only thing that remained was how to open the damn things. If you’re daunted by the process as I was, then this quick-start guide to oysters and wine will help you find, pair, unlock and swallow a magical taste of the marine environment, and then chase it with a sip of the best flavors that terrestrial geography has to offer.

Where to find oysters

Whoever sells you oysters is required to keep the tags documenting their origins on hand. Ask to see it and snap a photo to capture the details. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

Whoever sells you oysters is required to keep the tags documenting their origins on hand. Ask to see it and snap a photo to capture the details. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

You can find them at your local supermarket seafood counter. You buy them live, but given the complexity of unlocking them from their secure and encrusted boxes, how do you tell if they’re fresh and have been handled with care?

By proxy.

“Look for a place that sells fresh fish,” says Jaret Foster, chef/owner of Oyster Social, a pop-up mobile raw bar in Portland, Oregon. Look for a counter that sells fish that look and smell fresh, with no fishy odor or bruised flesh. Whole fish should have clear eyes and bright red or pink gills. If the owners take pride in their fish, then the odds are good they’re selling quality oysters.

Restaurants and seafood purveyors buy oysters in mesh bags that are marked with the date of harvest and the location. Ask to see the tag and snap a phone picture for reference. Like great wines, oysters taste like where they come from, so explore the regional differences. The Pacific Northwest, the Atlantic and Gulf are three broad domestic regions to check out, and there are dozens of locales nestled within these.

Finally, shells of fresh oysters should be sealed tight. No gaps or openings. A good proprietor won’t sell you oysters with open shells. If they’re difficult to open, you’re on the right track. This, of course, presents another problem that we’ll tackle later.

Gather the gear

Everything you need to tackle oysters: a dish towel, mignonettes, an oyster knife and a bottle or three of your favorite wine. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

Everything you need to tackle oysters: a dish towel, mignonettes, an oyster knife and a bottle or three of your favorite wine. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

If you’re serving oysters raw, you can do the work of opening them for your guests or share the fun. A good oyster knife is critical, but a screwdriver will work in a pinch (and the experience will drive you to find a good knife all the sooner). Crushed ice is important: From the moment you buy them at the market to when they’re waiting to be shucked and served, oysters should always be kept cool or on ice. Carry a small cooler bag to the market with you. Your vendor will provide the ice.

Mignonettes — fresh dressings — should be prepared in advanced and ready to roll. They can be as simple as lemon juice or your own creative dressing. A dish towel will help you hold the shell and protect your receiving hand from the dull knife blade. Work gloves on your receiving hand are an option to help you grip the shells, which can be both jagged and slippery.

Add a cutting board and a glass of wine and you’ll be geared up to swallow some sea.

A note on mignonettes

aret Foster, chef/owner of Portland’s Oyster Social, recommends eating the first oyster of the day unadorned, or with just a sip of wine to chase. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

Jaret Foster, chef/owner of Portland’s Oyster Social, recommends eating the first oyster of the day unadorned, or with just a sip of wine to chase. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

A good mignonette, a sauce or condiment for your oysters that is usually made fresh, can heighten the experience. I recommend avoiding jarred cocktail or hot sauces until you get a handle on the flavors of these slippery little critters as these sauces can overwhelm the freshness, but there’s no reason not to prepare some creative mignonettes. Recipes abound that feature rice wine vinegar, shallots, ginger, juniper, cucumbers, lime and more. A pair of options are included below.

Foster follows the rule of always eating the first oyster of the meal unadorned to experience its inherent flavor grounded in the region where it comes from.

And when it comes to oysters and wine, mignonettes are optional. In fact, a good wine sipped as a chaser can be considered a sort of mignonette in and of itself, and you may pick your wine style specifically for this task.

Find the right wine

Sommelier Jess Pierce of Brooks Wines and Jaret Foster of Oyster Social teach a seminar on pairing oysters and wine overlooking the Brooks vineyards in Amity, Oregon. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

Sommelier Jess Pierce of Brooks Wines and Jaret Foster of Oyster Social teach a seminar on pairing oysters and wine overlooking the Brooks vineyards in Amity, Oregon. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

If you’re eating the oysters unadorned, then a bracing Alsatian-style Riesling is hard to beat. The eye-watering brightness and acidity can act as a dressing. At a recent oyster workshop led by Oyster Social’s Foster, Jess Pierce of Brooks Winery presented the guests with a selection wines ranging from magnificent dry Rieslings to Pinot Gris and dry Muscadet.

“Oysters show their terroir well, so why not pair them with wines that do the same?” Pierce said as she poured wines framed by views of the vineyards where they were grown. More and more domestic producers are making Rieslings and Gewürztraminers in the dry, acidic Alsatian style, though they’re far from the only wine options.

Champagne and sparkling wines provide a lively way to begin any meal, and their acidity and effervescence complement the fresh earthy, tidal flavor of oysters. A transparent Chardonnay that really shows its minerality, like Chablis, is another great match. Laura Anderson, who runs Local Ocean Seafoods, known for its hyper-fresh menu and location directly across from the fishing fleet in Newport, Oregon, likes to pair half-oak, half-steel Chardonnays from Oregon’s Ribbon Ridge AVA: “I look for a crispness and minerality to balance with the wildness of the oysters,”she says.

The old saw is to drink white wines with shellfish, but there’s no need to limit yourself. Reds can work just fine. A light, slightly under-ripe Pinot Noir from a cool year in Oregon, New Zealand or Burgundy won’t break the bank and a bright, tart swallow is the perfect way to chase a glistening mollusk down your gullet.

Other reds to try include a cru Beaujolais or Gamay. Look for wines from places by the ocean, like Sicily,” Pierce says. Locals there drink their local reds and whites alike with menus largely driven by the sea.

Finally, it’s always good to look to the classics. M.F.K. Fisher claims that an Alsatian Pinot Blanc is the perfect wine match in her gorgeous treatise on bivalves, “Consider the Oyster.”

The art of the shuck

So you’ve got the gear, found your oysters and bought the wine: Now how do you unlock the things without slicing off a thumb or crushing the shell and spilling the flavor-infused liquor?
1. Wrap your passive hand in the dish towel. A glove will improve your grip. Oysters have a top and a bottom, so you want to hold the cup-side facing down.

2. Locate the hinge at the back of the shell if you can’t find a seam along the side. Insert your oyster knife into the hinge and twist like a key. It’ll take a try or three, but you should be able to create a gap and slowly work the two halves of the shell open by twisting the knife and working around the edges.

3. After pulling the top off, slide your knife along the roof of the top shell to cut the oyster’s adductor muscle.

4. Try not to spill the “liquor,” the silky juices inside the shell that pack much of the flavor. You’ll want to swallow that with the oyster.

5. Don’t worry about chips, cracks and bits of shell … you’ll make a mess, especially at first. Practice and plan to spend time tidying up. Study the process by hitting YouTube or state wildlife and extension offices in places where oysters are grown. They all offer plenty of advice to help get you started.

That’s pretty much everything you need to get started with oysters and wine. They’re both amazing natural products that have an unmatched ability to express flavors from where they are grown. Eating a clean, flavorful oyster is a small sort of tribute to ocean health. It is my hope that these tips lead you more quickly to your own oyster epiphany so that you aren’t required to pull on waders and slog after a spry oysterman through the drizzle … mud sucking at your boots until your hips and back ache, the stiff bay breeze whipping you … before you can appreciate the full glory of these tasty little bivalves and begin to care about where they come from.

Classic Mignonette Sauce

–Enrique Sanchez, chef, Local Ocean Seafoods 

Yield: One cup of sauce, enough for 5 to 6 dozen oysters

Ingredients

1 tablespoon course ground black pepper

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons minced shallots

1/2 cup sparkling wine

Salt to taste

Directions

Simmer wine in a saucepan to cook out alcohol; take off heat and stir in rest of ingredients; taste, salt, chill, serve.

Yuzukoshō Vinaigrette

— Jaret Foster, chef/owner, Oyster Social

Yield: One cup of sauce, enough for 5 to 6 dozen oysters

Ingredients

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 to 2 tablespoons yuzukoshō (Japanese fermented chili-citrus paste, available at Asian grocers)

2 tablespoons finely diced daikon radish

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a quart jar and just before serving shake well to emulsify; keeps well in the refrigerator for two weeks to a month.

Main photo: Oysters on ice with lemon. Credit: Copyright Serhiy Zavalnyuk/Thinkstock   

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A bowl of muesli with fresh fruit and yogurt. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

May’s massive avian flu outbreak and the resulting egg shortage have many of us scrambling for breakfast alternatives. Those who don’t eat meat yet rely on eggs for protein are particularly hard-hit by this deficit. So, too, are fans of the fast and nutritious simplicity of cracking open a soft- or hard-boiled egg first thing in the morning.

To them and anyone wondering how to keep protein in their breakfasts without the use of eggs or meat, I suggest trying these global dishes.

Rugbrød

Hearty rugbrød. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Hearty rugbrød. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

A staple of Danish cuisine, rugbrød is a hearty, rectangular-shaped, oat- and seed-flecked brown bread. Although usually featured in smorrebrød or an open-faced sandwich, it also makes an appearance on the breakfast table. When served with cheese, smoked fish, fruit preserves or even on its own, rugbrød offers a filling and protein- and fiber-rich start to any day. It contains as much as 9 grams of protein in each slice.

Cheese

Many types of cheese work well for a protein-filled breakfast. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Many types of cheese work well for a protein-filled breakfast. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Imagine you’re in continental Europe and do as the Europeans do: Indulge in some cheese with your dawn coffee or tea. High-protein cheeses include such familiar favorites as Parmesan, goat, mozzarella, Gruyere and cheddar. One ounce of these cheeses provides between 8 grams and 11 grams of protein. Pair your morning cheese with slices of rugbrød for an especially lavish treat.

Kippers

Kippers. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Kippers. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

If you’re fond of either the United Kingdom or seafood, you may want to start your day with a plate of savory, protein-filled, omega-3-rich kippers. Known as the king of the English breakfast, the kipper is the mildest of all smoked herring. It has starred in British breakfasts since the mid 19th century. Cooked and then served on buttered toast, kippers are an inexpensive yet nutritious way to kick off the day. A 2-ounce serving has 14 grams of protein.

Gravlax

Gravlax. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Gravlax. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Not of fan of smoked foods but still crave a flavorful protein for your morning meal? Reach for Scandinavian gravlax. Similar to smoked fish, this salt-cured salmon was born from the need to store seafood in a time when refrigeration did not exist. Thanks to 24 to 48 hours of macerating in salt, sugar and dill, gravlax possesses a velvety texture and luxurious taste. It also has a long history of feeding the hungry in the wee hours of the day. A 2-ounce serving of gravlax contains 10 grams of protein.

Muesli

Muesli and fresh fruit. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Muesli and fresh fruit. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Less common but no less delicious than granola, muesli consists of rolled oats, sliced nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts, dried apricots, raisins and bran, wheat germ or seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower. With 8 grams of protein in a 3-ounce serving, this Swiss creation provides a wholesome, protein-packed breakfast with every bite. If you want a bit more complexity, add fresh fruit or honey to your muesli. You can also replace the usual milk on your cereal with yogurt.

Beans on toast

Beans on toast. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Beans on toast. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

The British Council reports that the United Kingdom consumes more than 90 percent of the world’s canned baked bean supply. Thus, it’s not surprising that another quintessential English offering consists of baked beans spooned over toasted bread. Warm, tartly sweet and with 7 grams of protein per half-cup, beans on toast is a delectable and decidedly British breakfast dish.

Tofu

A quiche made from tofu and scallions with tapenade and greens. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

A quiche made from tofu and scallions with tapenade and greens. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

With 10 grams of protein per half-cup, the low-calorie soybean curd known as tofu affords not only healthful eating but also versatile cooking. Its benign, mildly nutty taste goes with countless ingredients, plus it performs well with a variety of cooking techniques. It can be scrambled; baked in a quiche; sautéed with vegetables, herbs or spices and served in a wrap; made into a spread; or puréed in a smoothie. The uses of tofu are almost limitless.

Nuts and nut spreads

Nuts and nut spread are a protein-filled breakfast choice. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Nuts and nut spread are a protein-filled breakfast choice. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

People around the globe consume nuts and nut spreads as part of their morning routines. At 6 grams of protein per 1-ounce serving, almonds and pistachios rank the highest in protein, followed by walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and Brazil nuts. As you may know, the familiar peanut is a legume and not a nut. Nonetheless, at 7 grams per 1-ounce serving, peanuts beat the aforementioned nuts for greatest protein content in a nut spread.

Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Cottage cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

Part of both British and North American cuisines, cottage cheese is unripened and unpressed cow’s milk cheese. While mild in flavor, it is surprisingly rich in protein. A mere 4 ounces of cottage cheese contains 13 grams of protein. Pair this subtle food with pumpkin seeds or chopped dried apricots for an especially tasty and nourishing repast.

More from Zester Daily:

» Celebrate breakfast with zesty polenta cake

» Live til 102: The secrets of Japanese breakfast

» How homemade pancake mix turns breakfast into a gift

» Try savory flavors for a gluten-free breakfast

Main photo: A bowl of muesli with fresh fruit and yogurt. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt

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The heat of the chilies in this Chili Peanut Relish is nicely balanced by the creamy, crunchy peanuts. This quick dish -- you can make it in about 10 minutes -- is delicious with fish and vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

Want a fresh way to spice up your summer grilling routine? Pair those grilled meats with Indian condiments.

While Indian foods are better known for their spicy heat, there are several Indian condiments that can cool off your summer table while appealing to a range of palates: sweet, spice, tart or savory.

Spices known for their cooling qualities include cumin, cayenne and black salt. The cooling spices are all part of the prescription for summer for Ayurveda: the thousands-years-old holistic approach to health and wellness.

Carrot and Cucumber Raita With Almonds

A raita is an Indian-style cucumber salad, paired with natural yogurt. In this version from my cookbook, “Spices & Seasons: Simple, Sustainable Indian Flavors,” I add freshly grated carrots and crunchy almonds.

This yogurt salad is colorful, refreshing and full of protein and vitamins. Serve it on crackers or grilled bread. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

This yogurt salad is colorful, refreshing and full of protein and vitamins. Serve it on crackers or grilled bread. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 medium cucumbers

1 medium carrot

2 tablespoons almonds, coarsely ground or sliced

1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, minced (optional)

3/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

A sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional)

Directions

1. Peel the cucumbers and grate into a mixing bowl, discarding any whole seeds.

2. Peel the carrot and grate into the same bowl. Add the almonds and mint, if using.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the yogurt, salt, sugar and black pepper until well mixed. Stir into the cucumber mixture.

4. Garnish with the red pepper flakes, if using.

Mint and Cilantro Chutney

Spicy, green and fresh, this classic condiment is found year-round on the Indian table and can be served with most any dish. Traditionally, it derives its tartness from unripe green mangoes. This recipe simplifies it by using lime juice instead.

Mint and Cilantro Chutney, a simple-to-make dish from the "Spices & Seasons" cookbook, is a classic condiment found year-round on the Indian table. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

Mint and Cilantro Chutney, a simple-to-make dish from the “Spices & Seasons” cookbook, is a classic condiment found year-round on the Indian table. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 10 minutes

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

1 bunch cilantro (about 3 cups)

2 bunches mint leaves (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 green serrano chilies

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon black salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons oil (mustard or canola)

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Directions

1. Place all of the ingredients into a blender.

2. Grind mixture until smooth. This chutney will keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator, but the color will darken because of the lime.

 

Tamarind and Date Chutney

This tantalizing recipe is a superb alternative to barbecue sauce. It’s great on chicken wings or mixed with mayonnaise and drizzled over your favorite protein. 

Tamarind and Date Chutney is another classic Indian condiment; this version from "Spices & Seasons" is what I call the Indian barbecue sauce. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

Tamarind and Date Chutney is another classic Indian condiment; this version from “Spices & Seasons” is what I call the Indian barbecue sauce. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

1 jar tamarind paste (I prefer Swad or Laxmi brands)

1 cup chopped, pitted dates

1/2 cup brown sugar or jaggery

1/2 teaspoon black salt

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 dried red chilies

Directions

1. Place the tamarind paste, dates, brown sugar, black salt and 2 cups of water in a pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile, place the fennel and cumin seeds in a heavy skillet and toast until the seeds darken and smell fragrant, about 20 to 30 seconds. Add the chilies and toast for a few more seconds.

3. Grind the seeds and chilies in a spice grinder until powdery.

4. Blend the tamarind mixture in a blender until smooth. Return to the pot, stir in the spice mixture and cook for another 5 minutes.

5. Cool and store in air-tight jars in the refrigerator for up to three months.

Indian Onion Relish

A popular feature in many Indian restaurants, this smoky, tangy condiment is a nice substitute for your usual relish on grilled hot dogs.

A popular feature in many Indian restaurants, this cumin-laced relish is a nice alternative to your usual relish on a hot dog.  Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

A popular feature in many Indian restaurants, this cumin-laced relish is a nice alternative to your usual relish on a hot dog. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 2 hours

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

2 large white onions, finely diced

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

½ tablespoon black peppercorns

1/3 cup tomato ketchup

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 1/2 teaspoons black salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons minced cilantro

Directions

1. Chill the diced onions in the refrigerator for an hour.

2. Lightly toast the cumin seeds and black peppercorns and grind to a powder.

3. In a mixing bowl, add powdered spices, ketchup, lime juice, black salt, sugar and the red cayenne pepper and mix well with the chopped onions.

4. Return to the refrigerator and chill for another hour (or up to 6 hours) before serving. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

Pear and Raisin Chutney

This chutney from my cookbook pairs well with grilled tofu, pork or fish — and is wonderful added to a burger. Or serve it alongside a basket of warm tortilla chips. 

This Pear and Raisin Chutney recipe from my cookbook pairs perfectly with grilled tofu, pork or fish -- or try it as a relish on a burger. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

This Pear and Raisin Chutney recipe from my cookbook pairs perfectly with grilled tofu, pork or fish — or try it as a relish on a burger. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 3/4 cup

Ingredients

4 to 6 medium red pears, cored and diced (not peeled)

1 lime

1 tablespoon oil

1 1/4 teaspoons fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons finely grated ginger

2 tablespoons malt or cider vinegar

1/3 cup sugar or brown sugar

1/3 cup mixed raisins

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped dried sweetened cranberries

2 long green chilies (young cayenne or Italian), minced

Directions

1. Place the pears in a colander and squeeze the lime juice over them.

2. Heat the oil on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the fennel seeds and wait until they sizzle and turn a few shades darker, about 20 to 30 seconds.

3. Add the red pepper flakes and stir.

4. Add the pears, ginger, vinegar, sugar, raisins and cranberries and stir. Let the sugar dissolve and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the raisins swell and the pears become soft — but not mushy.

5. Sprinkle with minced chilies before removing the heat.

6. Store and use as needed. This mixture will keep in the refrigerator for six to eight months.

Citrusy Roasted Beets With Tempered Spices

A cross between a salad and a light pickle, this healthy condiment adds a gentle tartness to tender young beets. This recipe is a lighter and healthier version of the traditional beetroot and cheese salad, and is dairy- and nut-free.

This healthy condiment, also from "Spices & Seasons," adds a gentle tartness to tender young beets, seasoning them with ginger, black pepper, Clementine juice and mustard seeds. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

This healthy condiment, also from “Spices & Seasons,” adds a gentle tartness to tender young beets, seasoning them with ginger, black pepper, Clementine juice and mustard seeds. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

3 medium red beets, greens removed

3 medium yellow beets, greens removed

2 to 3 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ginger paste

1/2 teaspoon black salt

1/2 lime

1 orange or Clementine, cut in half

Several grinds black pepper

1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Wrap the beets in foil and roast for 35 to 40 minutes. Allow beets to cool and then peel and cut into wedges.

3. Heat the oil in a wok or skillet. Add the fennel and mustard seeds. When they begin to crackle, add the garlic and ginger paste and sauté lightly until the mixture is fragrant.

4. Stir in the roasted beets and black salt and mix well.

5. Squeeze in the lime juice and orange or Clementine juice and mix well.

6. Stir in black pepper.

7. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

 

Slow Cooker Plum, Date and Rhubarb Chutney

This beautiful tangy ruby red chutney can be made with plums or any stone fruit of your choice. It takes a lot of cooking to obtain its deep jam-like consistency, which can be challenging during the summer, but I use the slow cooker in my recipe to keep my kitchen cool.

This  tangy, ruby-red chutney can be made with plums or any stone fruit of your choice. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

This tangy, ruby-red chutney can be made with plums or any stone fruit of your choice. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 3 hours in a slow cooker

Total time: 3 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: About 3 cups

Ingredients

1 pound of rhubarb, trimmed and cut into small pieces

4 pounds of purple plums, stoned and coarsely chopped

4 tablespoons minced ginger

3 to 4 star anise

1 large stick cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons red cayenne pepper

1 cup of chopped and seeded dates

1/2 cup chopped almonds (optional)

1/4 cup maple syrup

Directions

1. Place the rhubarb, plums, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, dates, almonds (if using) and the maple syrup in the slow cooker and cook on high setting for 3 hours.

2. Stir the mixture occasionally to help with the consistency.

3. After three hours you should have a fragrant, sticky and colorful medley.

4. Remove the whole spices and save the chutney in a clear jar and use as needed to perk up your meal.

Classic Cucumber Raita With Mint

Omnipresent on the summer table and year-round in India, this is the more traditional version of raita. I sometimes add dill instead of — or alongside — the mint and serve this as the perfect pair to salmon.

Omnipresent on Indian tables in the summer and all year round, this  Cucumber and Mint Raita is perfect with almost any dish. Try it with dill to mix things up. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Omnipresent on Indian tables in the summer and all year round, this Cucumber and Mint Raita is perfect with almost any dish. Try it with dill to mix things up. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 25 minutes, plus 1 hour for chilling if you prefer the raita chilled

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

2 medium-sized English or Persian cucumbers (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 1/2 cups of day-old natural yogurt

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

1/2 teaspoon black or Himalayan salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon sugar

Cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions

1. Peel the cucumbers.

2. Grate about three-quarters of the cucumbers and finely chop the rest, keeping the chopped cucumbers separated from the grated cucumbers.

3. Place the grated cucumbers in a mixing bowl.

4. In a separate bowl, add the yogurt and beat well.

5. Mince the mint leaves and add to the yogurt.

6. Add the black salt, cumin, black pepper and sugar and beat well. Gently fold in the grated cucumbers.

7. Top with diced cucumbers and sprinkle with cayenne.

8. Chill up to an hour or serve immediately.
Main photo: The heat of the chilies in this Chili Peanut Relish is nicely balanced by the creamy, crunchy peanuts. This quick dish — you can make it in about 10 minutes — is delicious with fish and vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

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Stoic & Genuine at Denver's Union Station. Credit: Copyright 2015 June Cochran

In the past few years, Denver — joined by its deluxe alter ego, Boulder, Colorado — has been at or near the top of so many national rankings, it would probably top the list ranking the lists themselves. It has consistently been named among the best (and fastest-growing) cities for millennials, for singles, for entrepreneurs, for outdoors enthusiasts, for beer lovers, you name it — and now that Denver is in the spotlight, its long-underrated dynamo of a dining scene is finally getting a chance to shine.

Here are just some of the kicks awaiting visitors in search of a Mile High culinary adventure. Or at least a cure for the munchies. Let’s face it: Marijuana legalization might have something to do with Colorado’s soaring profile.

Union Station

Denver's Union Station. Credit: Copyright 2015 Evan Simon/Visit Denver

Denver’s Union Station. Credit: Copyright 2015 Evan Simon/Visit Denver

It has stood at the edge of what’s now known as LoDo (Lower Downtown) since the fin de siècle — and Union Station‘s grand reopening in 2014 after a multimillion-dollar renovation marks the apotheosis of the neighborhood’s own comeback from late-20th century Skid Row into prime real estate.

Some of the city’s most celebrated restaurateurs have set up shop on all sides of the magnificent Great Hall. At the casual end, there’s funky daytime franchise Snooze — where buttered-popcorn pancakes meet Thai-chili Bloodies — and Next Door, an ethicurean pub known for its beet burgers and kale chips. At the splashier end, Stoic & Genuine revels in a seafood repertoire that skews both wildly original — think miso-cured uni over kimchi granita — and classic, from clam rolls to caviar. Anchored by a gleaming deli and exhibition kitchen, Mercantile Dining & Provision turns out an ever-changing array of contemporary creations: highlights include exquisite pastas and anything featuring products from co-owner Alex Seidel’s Fruition Farms. And The Cooper Lounge, overlooking all the action, is as swanky a setting for cocktails as you’ll find in this dressed-down town.

The Source

Acorn at The Source in Denver. Credit: Copyright 2015 Adam Larkey Photography

Acorn at The Source in Denver. Credit: Copyright 2015 Adam Larkey Photography

Think of it as Union Station’s flip side: a gritty-chic urban marketplace that opened in 2013 along a still-gentrifying stretch of Brighton Boulevard with a roster of rising culinary stars and cult vendors. Now arguably the hub of the RiNo (River North) district, The Source is a one-stop shop for extraordinary beans (Boxcar Coffee Roasters), breads (Babettes) and beef (Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe), among other goods, that prove the word “artisanal” hasn’t lost all meaning just yet. It’s home to two beloved restaurants — the globally inspired Acorn and Comida, a modern taqueria/cantina — and ultra-cool cocktail bar RiNo Yacht Club. Capping it all off is the taproom of Crooked Stave, founded by a brewer whose experiments with brettanomyces and barrel aging have put it at the forefront of Denver’s world-class beer scene.

Breweries, breweries and more breweries

Strange Craft in Denver. Credit: Copyright 2015 Ruth Tobias

Strange Craft in Denver. Credit: Copyright 2015 Ruth Tobias

Speaking of beer: If ever there were proof that statistics don’t tell the whole truth, consider that Colorado, with about 250 craft breweries (or 6 per 100,000 adults), ranks “only” third in the nation. After all, that figure comes from the Brewers Association, which happens to be located not in California (first) or Washington (second), but in Boulder — the outgrowth of an earlier organization started by association president Charlie Papazian, aka the godfather of American home brewing. Papazian also founded the nation’s largest craft-beer showcase and competition, the Great American Beer Festival, held annually in Denver. It’s worth noting, too, that a fellow local microbrewing pioneer, Wynkoop co-founder John Hickenlooper, is now governor.

Of course, the ultimate metric of achievement becomes evident to anyone who spends even a short time here: the presence of a taproom on every other street corner, each with its own niche. For the most up-to-date and comprehensive information on breweries large and small, check out Westword’s Beer Man column and the Fermentedly Challenged blog. But some of my favorites include Diebolt and Prost for traditional (read: Eurocentric) styles, Former Future and Coda for adventurous tastes, and Renegade and Station 26 for sheer high-energy atmosphere.

Boulder

The Avery Brewing Taproom. Credit: Copyright 2015 Courtesy of Avery Brewing Co.

The Avery Brewing Taproom. Credit: Copyright 2015 Courtesy of Avery Brewing Co.

One of Colorado’s most renowned (and widely distributed) envelope-pushing brands, Avery Brewing Co., recently opened a state-of-the-art, city-block-sized facility complete with sit-down restaurant and gift shop at the northern edge of Boulder. It’s a must for any suds buff — as are much smaller but no less superb breweries such as the chef-run BRU and the locals’ secret, J Wells — but it’s just the tip of the Berkeley of the Rockies’ gastronomic iceberg. To name some solid candidates for the connoisseurs’ to-do list: splendid sandwiches and specialty goods at gourmet shop Cured. Tea at the jaw-dropping Dushanbe Teahouse, an architectural masterpiece built by Tajikstani craftsmen. Genuine farm-to-table feasts at Blackbelly or Black Cat Bistro — both labors of love by chefs who really do run their own farms. Exquisite Japanese bites at the twinkling izakaya called Amu, wood-fired pies at the mod-rustic Basta, displays of Old World oenophilia at PMG. And as for Frasca Food and Wine — suffice it to say that chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey’s mecca of Friulian cuisine continues to earn the accolades it rakes in nationwide (and beyond).

Aurora, Colorado

Shredded pork in garlic sauce from China Jade. Credit: Copyright 2015 Ruth Tobias

Shredded pork in garlic sauce from China Jade. Credit: Copyright 2015 Ruth Tobias

If it’s teeming diversity you crave — admittedly not Boulder’s strongest suit — Aurora, on Denver’s eastern border, is your destiny (along with Federal Boulevard, thronged with Vietnamese and Mexican kitchens). Though it feels like a suburb, it’s actually Colorado’s third-largest city and a center of immigrant life. Here, sharp-eyed explorers will find Korean, Thai, Middle Eastern, Indian, Sudanese and Hawaiian restaurants lined up in strip malls one after the other; they’ll find ramen and barbecue and tacos galore — and they’ll encounter the most random of surprises to boot, like soul fast food (Kirk’s Soul Kitchen) and a biker bar that serves Chinese eats (Piper Inn).

Dive bars

PS Lounge. Credit: Copyright 2014 Beth Partin

PS Lounge. Credit: Copyright 2014 Beth Partin

On that note, long before Denver had a culinary leg to stand on, it boasted watering holes whose potent mix of Wild West grit and urban grime earned them a place in, variously, Jack Kerouac novels, Tom Waits songs and one particularly infamous Playboy article. It still does. And although a whirlwind tour isn’t for everyone, here’s the itinerary any counterculturalist at heart should follow. Start at Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill or My Brother’s Bar to hang out where Kerouac, Neal Cassady and other Beat legends once drank. Catch some live jazz at El Chapultapec, the 80-year-old remnant of an era when the Five Points neighborhood was known as the Harlem of the West. Or simply cruise East Colfax Avenue: Though in the throes of change, it’s still an embarrassment of divey riches. There you’ll find Pete’s Satire Lounge, where an as-yet-undiscovered Bob Dylan used to perform, as did the Smothers Brothers; not far away, PS Lounge illustrates the power of kitsch to bring all walks of life together. Meanwhile, situated at the western end of the 26-mile-long avenue, Casa Bonita may not be a dive, but it’s got cliff divers, among other carnival attractions parodied in a famous “South Park” episode.

Local ingredients

Green chile. Credit: Copyright 2015 Christopher Cina

Green chile. Credit: Copyright 2015 Christopher Cina

Casa Bonita is strictly a sightseers’ stop, but you’ll have no trouble finding terrific Mexican eateries on just about every corner of this city (to pinpoint just a few admittedly downscale gems: El Taco de Mexico, El Original Tacos Jalisco, Tarasco’s, Chili Verde and La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas on West Alameda Avenue). Many of them will offer green chile; the sauce/stew is as traditional here as it is in New Mexico, though the Colorado style is thicker and often includes tomatoes with the chiles, pork, onions, garlic and so on. Cruise down Federal Boulevard in summer and you’ll see the roadside roasting stands hawking Pueblo (as well as Hatch) chiles by the bushel. Of course, Colorado lamb and beef are even more famous, as is Rocky Mountain trout — but locals equally covet Olathe corn, Palisade peaches and Rocky Ford melons in season. For a taste of the bounty, head to farm-centric fixtures such as Beast + Bottle, The Kitchen and Old Major.

Worldly palates

Seasonal pasta from Italian destination Luca, one of the many establishments that has put chef-restaurateur Frank Bonanno at the forefront of the Denver dining scene. Credit: Copyright 2015 Courtesy of Bonanno Concepts

Seasonal pasta from Italian destination Luca, one of the many establishments that has put chef-restaurateur Frank Bonanno at the forefront of the Denver dining scene. Credit: Copyright 2015 Courtesy of Bonanno Concepts

Where a local focus and a cosmopolitan outlook come together, you’ll find Denver’s most distinctive dining and drinking spots. Take Beatrice & Woodsley, combining eye-popping decor designed to evoke a mountain cabin with a fascinating menu that simultaneously reflects the agrarian past and a global future. At Lower48 Kitchen, up-and-coming chef-partner Alex Figura takes a similar approach to yield some of the most exciting food around. Visionary restaurateur Justin Cucci is building an empire on extraordinary ambiance as well as consciously sourced contemporary cuisine, with venues housed in a former gas station, mortuary and brothel, respectively; the latter, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, emits a dazzlingly risqué vibe. Jim Pittenger of Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs has rightly garnered national attention for his reindeer, rattlesnake and other wild sausages, with wacky toppings to match. Same goes for Sean Kenyon, bartender-owner of Williams & Graham, a celebrated rendezvous for cocktail aficionados. And then there’s Work & Class: its exuberant yet intimate atmosphere and Latin-influenced comfort food will linger in your mind long after your visit.

The great outdoors

Civic Center EATS in Denver. Credit: Copyright 2015 Courtesy of Visit Denver

Civic Center EATS in Denver. Credit: Copyright 2015 Courtesy of Visit Denver

With its enviable high-desert climate (not to mention the Rocky Mountains in its backyard), Denver is an obvious draw for outdoors enthusiasts — and an ideal site for seasonal festivals and markets of all kinds. Food-truck chasers mustn’t miss Civic Center EATS, where mobile specialists in everything from pierogi to Popsicles gather in the namesake park twice a week from May through October. The Big Wonderful is its even-hipper counterpart, bringing to a vacant lot in RiNo not only trucks but also stalls selling gourmet pantry products and household goods, a live-music lineup and a full bar. The Denver Flea hosts similarly massive bashes with food, booze and arts-and-crafts vendors a couple of times a year. In a Larimer Square courtyard, the pop-up Le Jardin Secret proves as charmingly chichi as it sounds. And — to return once again to Denverites’ favorite subject — themed beer festivals are a near-weekly occurrence. But be warned: They often sell out in no time.

Main photo: Stoic & Genuine at Denver’s Union Station. Credit: Copyright 2015 June Cochran

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