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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.
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.
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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.
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
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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
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
In 2005, a group of seven Pinot Noir specialists from the West Coast banded together at the behest of their importer/distributor in Colorado to do a promotional tour of the state. The events they hosted under the irreverent banner of the Pinot Posse — motto: “No stinkin’ badges and no Cabs” — were such a smash the tour has become an annual tradition.
Granted, their success may have gotten a boost from a little movie called “Sideways,” released nationwide in 2005. Before it, mainstream America knew little about domestic production of the Burgundian grape; today Pacific Pinot Noir needs no introduction. But that doesn’t mean even savvy wine drinkers know everything there is to know.
After a dinner at Denver’s Table 6, I asked some of the producers to explain what they think consumers should understand about their signature grape.
How did you come to recognize the potential for Pinot Noir in your area?
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Dan Kosta, Kosta Browne, Sonoma County, California: I’ve been drinking Burgundy since I was 5 years old, so Pinot Noir has always played a big part in my life. However, in the late 1980s, I really started discovering the potential of Russian River Pinots, particularly in the wines made by Joseph Swan, Dehlinger, Rochioli, Williams Selyem and others. These were not the lean, soulless wines that many California producers were making at the time. There was complexity and elegance, and they inspired us to focus on Sonoma County Pinot.
Peter Cargasacchi, Cargasacchi and Point Concepción, Santa Barbara County, California: Since the late 1980s, I’d been drinking Pinots from Sanford Winery here in the Sta. Rita Hills. Richard Sanford was a neighbor, and over a period of 10 years, he convinced me that my high-pH, calcareous soils were similar to the great sites in Burgundy. So in 1998 I started planting Pinot Noir for him, Siduri and Babcock.
Ed Kurtzman, August West, Russian River Valley, California: When I started making Pinot Noir, in 1994, I was working with well-established vineyards: Bien Nacido, planted in 1973, and Chalone, planted in 1946. So I kind of walked into Pinot as it was already in motion. Then I began working with Santa Lucia Highlands in 1999, when it was still a young appellation with first-crop vineyards. Same thing with the Russian River Valley/Sonoma Coast: So many of the vineyards there were planted between 1997 and 2004. It has been interesting to have worked with both old vines and young vines. I wasn’t someone who recognized the potential for Pinot Noir so much as someone who gladly participated in its popularity.
Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi, Bonaccorsi Wine Co., Santa Barbara County, California: When my late husband, Michael, and I started making wine in 1999, our goal was always to go to the Russian River. But we had to keep our day jobs, and the closest wine region was Santa Barbara. We planned to learn there and move on at some point. Then we tasted some of Greg Brewer’s wines. They were phenomenal, and we could not figure out how this region was so overlooked. We made a very specific choice to stay. Of course, back then, Cabernet was king, and Pinot Noir was not very popular. We had to really talk restaurants and wine stores into purchasing it.
What don’t a lot of American drinkers know or understand about Pinot Noir that you wish they did?
Jim Prosser, J.K. Carriere, Willamette Valley, Oregon: I wish more people understood it from a classic, historical perspective: It’s basically a connoisseur’s wine due to its subtlety, complexity and movement. It’s the antithesis of an in-your-face wine; it’s more come hither, more about enticement, and its acid combines with, rather than overwhelms, food.
Kurtzman: That color is only important when it comes to high points from Robert Parker or Wine Spectator. Pinot Noir is naturally a thin-skinned, light-colored red wine. People will hold one of my Pinots up to the light, in their glass, and they’ll say, “Hey, what a light wine.” All they have to do is taste it — it’s full of aromas and flavors.
Bonaccorsi: I think we as Americans drink wine too young, especially Pinot. People understand about aging varietals like Cabernet, but they tend to drink American Pinots upon release. They may not need to be aged as long as Burgundies, but they can definitely benefit from a few years. At this point, my 2010 Pinot and 2009 Syrah are tasting well.
What’s your personal favorite food to serve with Pinot Noir and why?
Kosta: This, of course, depends on seasonality, but I tend to lean toward lighter meats and earthy vegetables. In the spring, rack of lamb with morel mushrooms is perfect. Chicken, salmon and pork dishes usually work great. One hint that I offer in the kitchen is to pay attention to the quantity and quality of salt — don’t be afraid to use it! Good salt can really bring out great flavors in Pinot Noir.
Kurtzman: Anything made with duck goes well with Pinot: duck breast, duck confit, duck burritos, duck with scrambled eggs, duck-bacon pizza.
Prosser: Maybe it’s because I’m from Oregon, but charcoal-grilled Columbia River salmon and Pinot is ridiculously good.
Bonaccorsi: The idea of white wine with fish and red wine with meat is very tired; food has changed in leaps and bounds since the days of beef Wellington, and the same is true of pairings. With that said, there is nothing better than a grilled steak and a glass of Pinot Noir.
What are domestic Pinot’s most distinctive qualities — what sensory clues should a wine drinker look for? How best to serve it to show off those qualities?
David O’Reilly, Owen Roe, Willamette Valley, Oregon, and Yakima Valley, Washington: In evaluating American Pinot Noir, I tend first to note the deeper ruby color. It is also more intensely aromatic and flavored than Burgundy, with a lovely, silky richness. The expression of domestic Pinot Noir varies along with the diverse growing areas: wines from the cooler Russian River sites, Santa Rita Hills and Oregon tend to be more fresh-fruited, while wines from the warmer Santa Lucia Highlands and Sonoma will have more power and richness.
However, one defining feature of all is immediate approachability, so I tend not to decant younger domestic Pinots. Only after some cellaring, when the wine is throwing a little sediment, do I decant. The perfect serving temperature is the same as for Old World Pinots: 55 to 60 F.
Craig Strehlow, Camlow Cellars, Russian River Valley, California:
Most domestic Pinots are very fruit-forward, with good acidity and softer tannins. Look for bright red fruit like cherry and raspberry and darker fruit such as currant and plum, as well as some spiciness and a cola finish. The use of new oak is judicious, to keep the wine in balance. Here in California, we don’t need to worry about ripeness, so the winemaker can pick at the time that’s ideal for them to get the flavor profile they ultimately want.
I believe that decanting all wines is a good idea. If they are young, this will open them up and encourage them to evolve in the decanter. For me the ideal drinking temperature is between 65 and 70 F.
What can consumers expect with respect to the wines you’re releasing this year?
Cargasacchi: Our wines will be ripe and dark, balanced by acidity, and will increase people’s vocabulary and singing ability!
Prosser: Well, from J.K. Carriere, you can always expect higher-acid, classic wines that are made for food and built for age. The wines from the 2012 vintage that are out now are gorgeous and will cellar as well as or better than any domestic Pinot. But I don’t make much, so it tends to move pretty fast!
Kurtzman: The 2013s from August West will be on the riper side, similar to the 2009s. Right now, they’re a little closed down, since they’re so young — but as the year progresses, they’ll open up to reveal the incredible growing season that was 2013.
Kosta: The 2013 wines are complex and luscious. Our Pinot Noirs are fruit-driven, with depth and structure that remind me of the intensity of 2005 and 2007. Hold them for a year, if possible.
Main photo: Pinot Posse members Ed Kurtzman, left, and David O’Reilly during an event at Table 6 in Denver. Credit: Copyright 2015 Ryan Olsen
Take it from this staunchly indoorsy Coloradan: You don’t have to ski here to drink as though you do. The following cocktails, all featuring local products, come straight from the bars of some of this state’s most beloved wintertime destinations. Just whip them up, serve them before a crackling fireplace and — voilà — your living room may as well be a resort lodge overlooking the snow-capped Rockies.
Courtesy of Bachelors Lounge, The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek, Colo.
The bartenders use bourbon made exclusively for the Ritz by Breckenridge Distillery, but any label will do.
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Prep time: 3 minutes
Total time: 3 minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce blood-orange liqueur (for example, the Solerno brand)
3 to 4 dashes aromatic bitters
1 sprig rosemary for garnish
2 blackberries for garnish
Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Stir and strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with rosemary and blackberries.
Feisty Winter Warmer
Courtesy of The BARLey, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
This one’s for the serious home bartender, as it requires a 3-liter mini-barrel for small-batch aging. You can purchase one online, but be sure to cure it according to the manufacturer’s instructions first. Feisty Rye, made in Fort Collins, may be hard to come by outside of Colorado, so feel free to experiment with brands you like. You can purchase the DRAM bitters used in this recipe on the Silver Plume company’s website.
Prep time: 3 to 4 minutes, plus 3 to 4 weeks for aging
Total time: Less than 5 minutes, once aging is complete
Yield: About 26 servings
2 bottles rye
1 bottle spiced-apple liqueur
2 ounces honey chamomile bitters
1 ounce sage bitters
Cinnamon sticks for garnish
1. Add all the liquid ingredients to your aging barrel and let sit for at least three weeks, sampling the rye mixture daily thereafter to taste. (Kara Kahn, assistant manager at The BARLey, finds that “it’s like dessert” after about four weeks.)
2. Once it has mellowed to your liking, store in a Mason jar. When ready to use, add a large ice cube to a toddy glass, measure in 3 ounces of the cocktail and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
Snow on the Fruits of Fall
Courtesy of Frost at The Sebastian, Vail, Colo. The CapRock Organic Pear Eau-de-Vie used here comes from Peak Spirits in Hotchkiss, Colo., which has some out-of-state distribution. If you can’t find it, though, many substitutes exist.
Prep time: 5 to 6 minutes
Total time: 5 to 6 minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
4 1/2 ounces apple cider
1 1/4 ounces whipped cream-flavored vodka
1 1/4 ounces spiced rum
1/3 ounce pear eau-de-vie
1/3 ounce butterscotch schnapps
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Whipped cream for garnish
1 thin slice of pear for garnish
1 cinnamon stick for garnish
1. Combine the cider, vodka, rum, eau-de-vie, schnapps and cinnamon in a small saucepan; set it over low heat until warm.
2. Use a small dab of whipped cream to adhere the pear slice to the cinnamon stick. Pour the cider mixture into an Irish coffee glass and carefully place the stick inside the drink so the cream does not touch the liquid (the garnish is more for visual and aromatic effect than flavor). Serve.
Courtesy of Modis, Breckenridge, Colo., which showcases Spring 44 vodka.
Prep time: 3 minutes
Total time: 3 minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
1 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce Branca Menta
1/2 ounce coffee liqueur
2 dashes chocolate bitters (for example, Fee Brothers, Scrappy’s or The Bitter Truth)
Candy cane for garnish
Combine the first four ingredients in a mixing tin over ice and shake. Pour over ice into a double rocks glass, add a splash of cream and serve with a candy cane for stirring.
Courtesy of St. Regis, Aspen, Colo. The resort has featured wine from Paonia’s Azura Cellars, but your favorite Cabernet will work just as well.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 45 to 50 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
1 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
8 whole allspice berries
1 star anise pod
10 cloves, whole
8 juniper berries
1 1/2 bottles Cabernet Sauvignon
Orange twists for garnish
1. Combine orange juice, sugar, cinnamon sticks, allspice and star anise in a pot with 2 cups water over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower to a mild simmer.
2. Cut the oranges in half and squeeze juice into simmering liquid. Stud the squeezed halves with the cloves and gently place into the pot. Add juniper berries. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the simmering liquid, then place the halves in the pot.
3. Reduce mixture to half of its original volume. Add the wine and heat until just below simmering. Ladle into glass mugs and garnish each with an orange twist.
Main photo: The Bachelor from Bachelors Lounge in Beaver Creek, Colo. Credit: Courtesy of Bachelors Lounge
For the past couple of years now, sherry has begun making a slow but steady comeback among wine drinkers in the know — as well as it should. Its long-suffering reputation as the cheap, cloying tipple of grandmothers notwithstanding, good sherry, made in a range of styles from dry to sweet, couldn’t be more elegantly versatile, especially when paired with food.
Just ask McLain Hedges and Mary-Allison Wright. As owners of The Proper Pour and RiNo Yacht Club, a high-end liquor shop and adjacent craft bar at celebrated Denver artisan marketplace The Source, they sing the praises of the Spanish fortified wine to anyone who will listen. And they practice what they preach; in fact, their own plans for showcasing it at Thanksgiving dinner are ones you’d do well to follow step by step if you’re looking to shake up the old Champagne-and-a-bottle-of-red routine.
Fino with appetizers
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“When your family’s arriving and you’ve got your snacks set out,” dry, chilled Fino Sherry — including the Manzanilla of Sanlucár de Barrameda — is the way to go, marked as it is by “bright acidity but also briny minerality and almond notes,” Hedges said.
In his view, Fino proper is a natural with salumi, salted nuts, crudités, even pickled vegetables, while Manzanilla “has a little more relationship with the sea” — think shrimp cocktail, oysters, smoked salmon and the like.
Two pet picks: Bodegas Grant Fino La Garrocha from the “really cool microclimate” of Spain’s El Puerto de Santa Maria Fino and La Cigarrera Manzanilla, which is “a little smokier, with a brinier effect, made so close to the ocean. And it’s fantastically approachable — about 16 bucks on the shelf.”
Amontillado and Oloroso with the main meal
“Look at Amontillado as the next step. You’re going from the flor stage, which protects oxidization, to the point where that starts to die. So you still get amazing notes of salted almond, but you’re also starting to see walnuts and hazelnuts — richer, earthier development,” Hedges explained. “It’s perfect with chestnuts, perfect with game birds — anything that flies, really: quail, duck, turkey. And mushroom soup is a super-classic pairing.”
He calls El Maestro Sierra’s 12-year bottling “phenomenal — it’s got depth, complexity and richness, but it’s also really elegant.”
Whereas Amontillado complements “anything that flies,” Oloroso is your best bet for “anything that’s walking on land.” Fully oxidized, “it’s gorgeous and luscious and almost comes off as sweet, but it’s bone dry, with enough acidity to cut through the fat of the meat and those rich sauces,” Hedges noted.
So if you’re eschewing the turkey in favor of “pork loin or rib roast or lamb or whatever it may be,” consider something like Hedges’ pet pick, Gutiérrez Colosia Sangre y Trabijadero.
Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel with sweets
“Moving into dessert, your choices are pretty obvious,” Hedges said. “First, you’ve got your PX (Pedro Ximénez). Sticky-sweet, with notes of dates and figs, it is dessert in a glass — though you could have sticky toffee pudding.” But for his money, Moscatel is a fascinating alternative. “The grapes are sun-dried for a few weeks, so it’s condensed and extracted, yet still vibrant, with honeyed and floral notes, as well as plums, pepper and a bit of citrus.”
He recommends serving it alongside poached fruit with a soft and creamy or blue cheese, again naming La Cigarrera as a producer of note.
To throw you one final curveball: How about kicking off your holiday celebration with a sherry cocktail or two? Both Hedges and Alexandra Flower — a bartender at Acorn, a nationally acclaimed contemporary restaurant in The Source — have whipped up just the things.
Acorn’s Smoked Sherry
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
3/4 ounce Laphroaig 10-year Scotch
1 ounce Lustau Pedro Ximénez San Emilio Solera Reserva
3/4 ounce grapefruit juice
1/4 ounce lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 disk cut from the peel of a grapefruit for garnish
1. Place all ingredients but the grapefruit peel in a cocktail shaker and shake hard and long. Strain into a coupe glass. Hold the grapefruit disk skin side down over the glass and squeeze it to express the oils.
RiNo Yacht Club’s Fino & Dandy
Prep time: 4 minutes
Total time: 4 minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
1 ounce Barsol Pisco
1/2 ounce Calvados
1/2 ounce Fino sherry
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
2 tablespoons spiced pear butter (available at gourmet shops, or make your own)
1 lemon wheel for garnish
1. Add all ingredients but the lemon wheel to a shaker tin; add ice. Shake and strain into an ice-filled double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with the lemon wheel.
Main photo: Sherry will complement every course at your Thanksgiving meal. Credit: Courtesy of RiNo Yacht Club/The Proper Pour
Jennifer Jasinski is a James Beard Award-winning chef with four acclaimed Denver restaurants, a cookbook and an impressive stint on “Top Chef Masters” to her name. Now she’s about to tackle a whole new challenge: cooking Thanksgiving dinner for American expats in Paris.
Jasinski knows a thing or two about the cravings that come with homesickness. The Santa Barbara, Calif., native admits to missing Mexican food mightily while training in France as a young Wolfgang Puck protégée. So the opportunity to treat the guests at Auberge Flora to a good, old-fashioned turkey feast isn’t one she’s taking lightly.
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Granted, “old-fashioned” doesn’t, in this case, mean the same thing as “down home.” Take this wonderfully rich and elegant chestnut soup, which I first sampled a few years ago at one of Jasinski’s Denver restaurants, Rioja, where it came in a tiny pumpkin “lidded” with a foie gras-topped slice of brioche. Though you can serve it in plain old bowls, squash vessels do make for an impressive flourish. In fact, having just reprised the appetizer at a charity event in New York City, Jasinski acknowledges, “I’d forgotten what a really cool dish it is, but people were freaking out about it!”
Though you’ll find the recipe in her cookbook, “The Perfect Bite,” she graciously allowed us to reprint it here as well. And she adds that gourds serve as equally lovely containers for soufflés, wild-rice salads and the like.
Savory Chestnut Soup
Prep Time: 10 to 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours
Total Time: 1 3/4 to 2 1/2 hours, including time for the optional step of making the bowls.
Yield: 8 servings
For the soup:
1/4 cup duck fat (preferred) or pure olive oil
1 1/4 cups sliced onion
1/4 cup garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 cups domestic mushrooms, sliced
10 sage leaves, destemmed
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
12 to 14 ounces whole, fresh, peeled chestnuts
1 1/4 cups white wine
6 cups chicken stock
1-inch cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon finely ground cardamom
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
For the assembly (optional):
8 mini pumpkins, 8 small butternut squash or 1 large pumpkin
Duck fat (preferred) or extra virgin olive oil, as needed
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
For the soup:
1. In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt the duck fat, then add the onions and garlic and sauté until translucent — do not let them color. Add the mushrooms, sage, peppercorns and bay leaf. Sauté a few minutes, until the mushrooms have softened.
2. Add the chestnuts to the pot and deglaze with the wine. Let cook until the wine has reduced completely, then add the chicken stock. Raising the heat as needed, bring the soup to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer on very low for about 45 minutes.
3. Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom and cream and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. The chestnuts should be very soft by now. Removing the cinnamon stick, take the soup off of the heat, transfer it to a blender and blend until smooth. Season with the salt, pepper and sugar, then strain the soup through a china cap. If you will not be serving it immediately, store it in the refrigerator.
For the assembly:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. If you are using mini pumpkins as serving bowls, cut off the tops, clean out the insides and then brush the hollows with the duck fat and season them with salt and pepper. Place the pumpkins on a sheet pan and roast in the oven about 20 minutes — until the flesh can be removed easily with a fork or spoon, but not so long that the skin becomes weak and fragile, as this will make it difficult to use as a serving bowl.
If you are using butternut squash as serving bowls, remove the tops so you are left only with the bulbous bases, then follow the instructions for the mini pumpkins.
If you are using a large pumpkin as a soup terrine, cut the top off and clean out the insides. Boil some water and ladle it into the pumpkin to warm the flesh, then pour it out.
3. Ladle the soup into the squash(es), or regular bowls if you prefer, and serve.
Main photo: Chestnut soup. Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Jasinski
“The worst thing to ever happen to the pork industry was the Other White Meat campaign,” Chipotle culinary manager Nate Appleman proclaimed at the sixth Chefs Collaborative Sustainable Food Summit, held this year in Boulder, Colo.
To that audience, he didn’t have to explain his point: Not only were the ads misleading, they heralded an industry trend toward lean, muscle-bound hogs you can likely thank (along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s old cooking-temperature guidelines) for every bland, dry piece of pork you’ve ever eaten.
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But Chefs Collaborative conference-goers who attended a breakout session titled “Eating Invasives” received a demonstration nonetheless, as Eric Skokan of Black Cat Farm-Table-Bistro and conservation biologist Joe Roman organized a comparative tasting of roasted loins from three hogs: one factory farmed, one a heritage breed called Mulefoot and one wild boar.
It may go without saying that the supermarket product paled in every sense of the word, but the starkness of its inferiority surprised even the hosts. As Roman observed later, “Since our tasting, I’ve noticed the consistency of industrial pork: lean, white, almost tasteless. There was a certain complexity of taste and color in the Mulefoot and the boar.”
Skokan agreed, viewing the meat samples along a spectrum: “At one end you have cardboard, at the other end, noticeable gaminess.”
But when it comes to both the heritage breeds and wild animals, consumer education and market availability are major sticking points. To learn more, I talked to the two gentlemen about their pet (so to speak) causes.
Once common throughout the Midwest as a prized lard pig, this black breed was “as close to extinction as you could get” less than a decade ago, Skokan said. Today, numbers are on the gradual rise through the efforts of advocates like Arie McFarlen of South Dakota’s Maveric Heritage Ranch. (Skokan calls her “one of the most important people in food you’ve never heard of in your life.”)
Chef-farmer Skokan decided to raise Mulefoots in 2007 after a lesson-filled first year on his Longmont, Colo., property. “I’d grown this huge number of turnips that were inedible — no amount of kitchen creativity could save them. I realized I could use pigs as a way of turning lemons into lemonade; they would eat up the failed experiments. But if I was going to do it, they had to be great,” he said.
That was when he learned about Mulefoots. “I literally Googled ‘what’s the best-tasting breed of pork?’ And the oracle told me that The Livestock Conservancy had done a tasting with a panel of judges, and Mulefoot won.”
Skokan wasn’t concerned only with its culinary advantages. Given Colorado’s high-desert climate, the pigs had to be able to tolerate intense sun as well as cold winters, and because he’s a father to young children, they had to have “a great disposition. Mulefoots are cuddly if anything.”
Still, as the owner of two restaurants — Black Cat and adjacent gastropub Bramble & Hare — he’s above all a fan of its “superb flavor. I like to joke that even terrible cooks can cook it well; it’s very forgiving.
“We haven’t bought pork in five or six years,” he added. “We use Mulefoots for everything but the squeak.” In his just-released cookbook, “Farm, Fork, Food” (Kyle Books, $29.95), you’ll find gorgeous examples from country pâté with turnip mostarda to plum wood-smoked shoulder.
Their upbringing has something to do with their deliciousness, of course. “They’re free range all the time. We have really big fields, and we actually require them to move, putting where they eat, sleep, drink and graze in opposite corners.” His animals also live at least twice as long as their factory-raised brethren (11 to 13 months versus about six), fattening up over time as the bone structure of their breed dictates.
Scrumptious, user-friendly, consciously raised — sign me up, right? Well, not so fast. Skokan explained that although Mulefoot breeders are beginning to sell their meat commercially, “it’s still very localized and very niche.” If you’re determined to get your hands on some, look for a farm in your area; otherwise, try different types of heritage pork from online retailers.
Feral pigs and wild boars
Given their anything-goes diet, there’s no question these omnivores pack a stronger, more savory punch than their domesticated counterparts; Roman called the meat “almost nutty.” At the same time, they’re even leaner than today’s factory-bred pigs, developing muscle naturally on the prowl. Generally, the younger the carcass is, the more tender and flavorful it is, rather than downright pungent.
Although you’ll find a swell profile on Roman’s website, Eat the Invaders, here’s his nutshell version: “Wild boar and feral hogs are both the same species, Sus scrofa, but they have different histories in the United States. Wild boar were released to provide huntable game, and feral swine were either released to forage on the open range by farmers and settlers or escaped from captivity.” Because they interbreed, however, “it is not easy to tell the three groups — wild, feral, hybrid — apart, even for experts,” he said.
It’s not easy to get ahold of them, either. “At present, there are just two practical ways,” Roman said. “If you live within their range, the best is to hunt it yourself, or get it from a neighbor who does.” If you’re OK with that, you’re probably in luck, because “many states encourage the hunting of wild boar, to reduce numbers. Florida, for example, has no size or bag limits, and hogs can be hunted during almost any season.”
If your state’s laws are more restrictive, however, or if you’re not a hunter, Roman recommends ordering the meat online through Texas outfit Broken Arrow Ranch.
Cooking the beasts may be the easiest part: You do it just as you would a domestic pig, with the important caveat that safe cooking temperatures are paramount. Yes, hitting that blasted 160 F mark is probably necessary to avoid potential illness — we’ll give the USDA this one.
Main photo: Mulefoot pigs. Credit: Kirsten Boyer Photography