Tuesday, January 31, 2012

everyone's in the kitchen

This past weekend, Ed and I went up to Boulder for a little getaway weekend. Boulder is just the right distance to be able to do that kind of thing pretty much on a whim: there are enough little hotels nearby (because it's a college town) that you can grab a cheap room and then spend the afternoon shopping, drinking coffee in local cafés, and browsing in the independent bookstore before heading off to a fantastic dinner at a spot that's completely hopping at 8, 9, even 10 p.m. -- you just get that excited-to-be-there vibe, even if the 8 p.m. reservation is a bit past your own bedtime (note to self: when did you get so old?).

I'd been looking forward to trying The Kitchen, about which I'd heard only good things. We arrived about twenty minutes early and managed to hover until we got seats at the bar to wait for our table. The bartender was immensely helpful, despite being slammed; when Ed ordered the whiskey flight, he talked through all four pours (the first being a millet whiskey from Chicago, something neither of us had seen before, and very intriguing). I stuck with a Barbera, which I had a feeling would carry me through the meal -- and it did.

We were seriously tempted by the tasting menu, but instead put together our own. To start, we shared the Escarole Saladblue cheese, walnuts, parsley & pedro ximenez dressing and the Long Farm Pork Belly – frisée, cure farm duck egg & saba. I love a winter greens salad like this one, the hearty escarole standing up to rich cheese and nuts, and the sweetness of the dressing pulling it all together. The pork belly was outsanding, four slices crisped perfectly on the edges but succulent inside, and the soft poached egg, when pierced, lent an unctuousness just cut by the bitter frisée and a bit of sweet saba. I could see making a meal of these two dishes and some of the garlic fries, which we did not order but saw go by frequently enough that I said, "OK, we're just going to have to come back for those."

"Oh, yeah," he agreed.

Next, we asked to share the Hand Rolled Celeriac Gnocchi black trumpet mushrooms, haystack chèvre & thyme. These were outstanding -- "Awesome!" I said to the server, when he came to retrieve our plates. The dumplings were small and on the denser side, which worked so that they could carry the mushrooms and delicious, creamy goat cheese, all tied together in an herb-redolent broth. On a cold night, a big bowl of this and some of the good bread to wipe up the rest would be heavenly.

For an entrée, I had the Pan-Roasted Red Trout Ingrid's mussels, root vegetables, saffron (this one isn't on the online menu so I'm doing the best I can from memory). The fish reminded me a bit of salmon, meaty but flaky with a very crisp strip of skin, with a mild flavor boosted by the saffron broth. Several plump mussels and tiny dice of local root vegetables, cooked through but not mushy, created a great textural interplay as well. This was both delicate and satisfying.

Ed went with the Koberstein New York Strip Char Grilledceleriac gratin, kale & green peppercorn jus. The juicy, medium-rare meat reminded of a bistecca alla fiorentina, with an exterior salt crust sealing in its flavor and just enough bite from the peppercorns. The gratin and kate rounded out the plate visually as well.

Since it was a treat weekend, we shared two desserts, the Pot au Chocolatwith heavy cream and the Potato Doughnutswith spiced hot chocolate. The latter came with three traditional-shaped doughnuts that were sugar-crisp on the outside and light as air inside, just right for dipping into the not-too-sweet chocolate. Even darker and more molten was the pot au chocolat, really a molten cake, presented like a soufflé with a pitcher of cream for drizzling. Decadent, for sure, but worth it? Absolutely.

The meal did run a little long for us, particularly since on this Saturday night, the place was crowded -- a six-top next to us turned and began anew at nearly 9:30, and I saw at least one two-top seated at 10 -- but the warm exposed brick, loft-like ductwork, and funky old glass and crystal chandeliers make the room a warm, welcoming place to spend a few hours. The staff gives the impression that they truly enjoying working there, which adds to the overall pleasant nature of the experience. 

We headed out into the quite chilly night after a fantastic meal, pleased and already discussing when we might return -- always a good sign. If I lived closer, I could see hit the bar (called "Upstairs," which should give you an idea of its location) for cocktails and garlic fries as a precursor to a movie or even dinner back home. In the meantime, I'd love to return as the seasons change to see what else the main space is putting out, and it would be a wonderful location to meet up with a few friends for a leisurely, excellent meal. After all, doesn't everyone always gather in the kitchen?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

secret in a stone bowl

OK, so in the future, I should try not to let my birthday fall on a Monday (when many restaurants are closed) that doubles as the federal observation of New Year's (when ever more are closed than usual). After running down the list of every possibly option for a low-key birthday dinner, we settled on what I might have wanted to suggest all along: sushi.

I haven't been out for sushi in the Springs since moving here, and while I didn't expect or even necessarily want something transcendent, I did want to enjoy a night out with Ed to celebrate my birthday. Over to Tejon we went, seeking sake and seaweed to ring in my -- and the -- new year.

The sushi I had ranged from good (competent sake sashimi and hamachi maki) to excellent (the Hawaiian poke maki and tuna tataki over daikon threads in a spicy sauce -- aka the unfortunately named* Screaming Orgasm maki), but maybe the best thing about Fujiyama is that they keep a few stone bowls around. If you know to ask (almost no one does -- some of the staff didn't even know the bowls existed), they'll use one for your authentic** bi-bim-bap -- and if it's your fiancée's birthday and you give her some of the delicious crunchy rice from the bottom of the bowl, well, it just might be a really great birthday dinner.

And to the two couples at the table next to us when we sat down: the Ninth Doctor? Really? I sure hope that conversation was about to get into the awesomeness of Ten and Eleven

*I think I missed the genesis of the trend of putatively outrages names for sushi rolls. I guess it makes waves among the teen-and-twenty-something-set -- I've seen it more in college towns than anywhere else -- but it's really just very silly.
**We had a long discussion over the intersection of Korean and Japanese food, particularly in the states in restaurants owned by Koreans in places where serving only a Korean menu might not be as successful. Whatever the reason, this place does a great Korean rice bowl; I highly recommend it.