I admit it. I'm a planner. Even if I end up entirely breaking the plans, I tend not to be happy if I haven't put something on the schedule.
However, sometimes the best things happen when you just don't schedule them in.
Yesterday, we had planned to go see an early evening movie before a nice dinner at a restaurant we like near the theatre. Unfortunately, the movie theatre neglected to update its schedule; the movie we had planned to see was sharing a screen with another film, and we (not alone among people in the lobby, it turned out) had missed the only showing. We considered seeing another movie, but one in which we were only mildly interested had already started and was nearly full, while another would have required we go to dinner pretty much immediately and then return -- and between having just had coffee (so not being hungry) and my not even knowing if I wanted to see the later film, it didn't seem worth it.
"We could go buy groceries and go to the restaurant tomorrow instead," I suggested.
"Sure," he agreed.
Bzzzt -- the restaurant is closed on Sundays.
"Well, how about we go to the wine store, then sit and read at the coffee shop?"
A pause, then a considered nod. "Well ... I guess that's why we brought the iPads."
A half-case deal later, we began to chat with the friendly, helpful clerk as she rang up our purchases. A comment about the 2010 Bordeaux led to a joke about my friend the sommelier ... and that's when our luck began to change.
"Oh, who's the somm?" asked the clerk.
"Ah, not out here -- back in DC," I replied. "Although, boy, I wish I could get him out here. The Springs would be just the kind of place he could open the sort of spot he'd like."
She half-laughed. "I moved here from San Diego and L.A. ... our food scene here is not all that."
Ed and I exchanged looks.
"Oh, I don't know," I said. "He thought that too before he moved back, but we've found some things to change his mind."
She stopped putting our bottles into the bag. "Well, if you want to support good, local food, and chefs doing interesting things--"
Another look between us. Did she just read our minds? Yes, please!
"--Go down to Kiowa, and turn left off Tejon. You can't in a car, because it's one way. And there's a little place, just opened, doesn't even have a sign. The Conscious Table. Three young chefs doing local and sustainable, farm-to-table stuff. I helped them do their wine list -- I'm a wholesale rep, just work in the shop one day a week for fun -- they are doing awesome, creative stuff. Only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays ... you have to check it out."
Our eyes got wide. "I think that description used every buzzword that generally indicates a restaurant the two of us would love," Ed finally replied.
"Great!" she smiled. "Tell them Stacy sent you. It's fantastic. Enjoy!"
After putting the wine in the car, we headed for the restaurant. Sure, locavore and farm-to-table have become marketing speak that might make the jaded gourmand roll his or her eyes, but the actual practices lend themselves to the kind of cooking we both seek out and savor. If that's really what they were doing, we absolutely had to check it out.
And there, in a mostly-unmarked storefront, sat an adorable space with exposed brick walls, a working fireplace, and the menu of the night on a huge chalkboard. Country paté? Xocolatl yardbird? Red curry shrimp pho? Too many choices! While we tried to decide, an amuse of pickled beets atop a slice of lemon cucumber from an heirloom garden of a neighbor gave us the first indication that we were in for a treat.
A plate of dense-crumbed fennel-studded bread with excellent salted butter and olive oil helped get us through the decision process. The (yes, actually) well-priced wine list yielded a nicely drinkable Côtes du Rhone that went wonderfully with the Butternut squash tarte tatin we shared to start. The tatin was amazing, with caramelized pineapple bringing out the natural sweetness of the squash, and the puff-pastry crust adding flaky, buttery crunch to each bite. We also had a small Sencha salad, mixed greens, candied walnuts, apples, goat cheese -- a perfect fall combination, and one of the best vinaigrettes I've had in ages (and I wish I knew what it was).
For his main course, Ed chose the Lamb bolognese, mashed potatoes, a slow-cooked dish of rich, deeply-flavored comfort if ever there was one. And I had to go with the Seared scallops, sweet potato purée, arugula, and beet molasses: four perfectly cooked giant scallops, caramelized on the outside but tender inside, over wilted greens, with little hits of sweetness from the root vegetable elements -- everything I could want in each lovely bite.
By this point, we knew this had to be the best meal we'd had in Colorado Springs, and on the list of the best meals we'd shared anywhere. The kind of place we want to bring people, just to see their eyes widen when they take their first bite and realize the talent that went into creating their food. The kind of place we want everyone to go, so the place succeeds beyond its wildest dreams.
We opted to bring home leftovers in favor of trying the Cranberry chocolate frangipane for dessert ... and asked the waitress if the restaurant would consider doing a semi-private event in mid-January.
"Sure!" she said brightly. "Here, I'll go get Chef."
And so, mid-bite of the excellent dessert -- tart cranberries mitigating what might otherwise have been a sugar-bomb of chocolate and almond paste -- Chef Brent Beavers pulled up a chair to chat with us.
And, full disclosure -- that "sencha" in the salad was a clue. Ed had already begun to notice the staff looked familiar; several of them hail from a restaurant of that name, now closed, that he used to visit and quite liked. It's like when your favorite actors show up in an indie movie you hadn't even planned on seeing ... just a little extra treat.
The restaurant is already offering chef's tables with multiple courses and pairings, so we talked to Chef Beavers about doing an event there, which seemed to be right up his alley. He seemed as excited as we were to plan a mid-winter celebration, and I can't wait to go back and taste what he's got in store.
Sure, the movie would have been fun. But stumbling into a restaurant that could have been created with us in mind? Plans, shmans: I'll take that any day.
And another one of those squash tarts. Oh, yes, please.