Review: Coperta

17 May 2017

Thanks to the aforementioned drinking after that pretty good Acorn meal, I was running a bit slow. Not feeling well at all, but what’s new. Not much to do today except run a few errands, have lunch, and head to the airport for the flight home.

I got to lunch at Coperta at noon, and proceeded to enjoy some wine as I ordered. I asked them if the portion sizes are: “Italian, American or Colorado” — and my server said he’d like to think Italian, so I decided, with some doubt, going with all 3 courses. I enjoyed some wine before my antipasto arrived, and lo and behold it was a Colorado portion…

1-fritto misto

Fritto misto, done so-so to be honest. Not as good as the dish I had in Vilnius at Žuvinė, not by a long shot. The shrimp was nice, but the smaller items were overwhelmed by excessive batter and excessive frying. And it was rather acidic with whatever they had prepped this with. Sigh, not a good start, and way, way too big…

I tried to catch my breath, already kind of full despite not finishing that plate. When the pasta arrived I relaxed a little.

2-pasta

A more sensible size for this ‘nduja first, really nicely cooked. Excellent pasta, nice sauce — just enough bite. Very nice. But now I was getting really full thanks to that poor start. And when my second arrived my heart sank…definitely not “Italian” portions…

3-mixed grill

Yeah…mixed grill. The garlic sausage was not bad, but was the stuff that stuffed me at the end. I managed to finish the really nice lamb shoulder, which tasted like lamb and not some sanitised generic meat. The pork ribs were also quite good, though it took ages for me to be able to finish it…

I was stuffed beyond belief. If it wasn’t for the antipasto this would have been both an excellent and a sensible meal. So if I forget how it started, this was a really nice lunch. But I was so stuffed I feel ill… Thank goodness with my flight and all I won’t be eating again today…

I settled up and waddled back to my car in the intense Denver sun (unfortunately for me, I missed the snow by a day — it snowed the day after I left!) and headed to DIA. Not a great flight home, through surprisingly on time for Frontier, and was still stuffed by the time I got home just before 11pm…that stupid antipasto…

Coperta for me was very good, again, if I ignore how it started. I highly recommend it, but remember I took one for the team here…

Coperta
400 East 20th Avenue
Denver, Colorado

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Review: Acorn

16 May 2017

After the rather nice meal at Mercantile on Sunday evening, I headed north to Wyoming on Monday. I’ve not been back to Cheyenne since the early-mid 1990s when I used to stop there during my cross-country driving trips. I still remember one very knackering trip in 1994 that took me across the country in 3 days — Ithaca to Chicago, Chicago to Cheyenne, Cheyenne to SF… A pretty good dinner at The Albany just as a ugly thunderstorm hit.

Having spent most of the day around the south-east corner of Wyoming, the next day I slowly headed back towards Denver, going through Fort Collins and Boulder, as well as Golden. Despite a recurrance of very painful tendonitis in my right (driving) foot, I went hiking all afternoon, which was pretty dumb…

So I ended up driving to dinner, which was at a place called Acorn. It’s one of the businesses located in a rather hipster-style complex called The Source, which wasn’t easy to find with all the construction outside. But I chose the counter seat and I chilled out.

The menu is mostly small plates, but when they suggested 2-3 for one person I was quickly reminded of how different plate sizes are west of the Mississippi. So I ordered 3 and chilled out with a cocktail. I left it up to the kitchen on the order of the items, so the first item that came out were the arancini.

1-arancini

A trio of very nicely-made arancini, graced by blue crab meat and peas. A good dish, but the bearnaise was unnecessary and intrusive. Again, why slop sauce over things that don’t need sauce? Curse of the modern chef, who think they can one-up Mother Nature. Please, work with Mother Nature, not try to beat her every dish.

In any case, scrubbing off the gunk, the arancini were good. It took a bit before the next dish, the broccolini.

2-broccolini

Very nice, though dish was rather more broccoli than broccolini (we’re not stupid). The best part was the anchovies, which I love. Not sure I like the false advertisement but it was a good dish. Note: I noticed since then they’ve removed this item from the menu — I assume this may have been on the cusp of a supply issue, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

I enjoyed a little more wine before the last item arrived, the pork belly.

3-pork belly

I saw it sitting there a bit, so it was not a surprise it was drying out by the time it was served. This is more of a communications/firing issue, since the guy firing it — who was right in front of me — was not aware it was for me (and could see I was still eating my veggies). A bit of a kitchen management issue here, sadly. Not bad, but it could have been so much better. Oh well…

I was pretty full and tired, so I asked for a coffee and something to go. I ate it as a snack later after drinking too much at the hotel bar — the boudin blanc.

4

You can’t ask for much more than that for a late-night snack. Worked perfectly — after getting the gunk off… Overall I like Acorn and the stuff has a lot of promise. A little polishing and this place can be really good.

Acorn
The Source
3350 Brighton Boulevard
Denver, Colorado

Review: Mercantile

14 May 2017

After a few nice days spent in the lovely state of South Dakota, I sadly bid it farewell — tho not as fast as I thought, courtesy of the delayed (is there any other type?) flight from Frontier. But we made our way to Denver, a place I’ve not been in ages. Last time I was here I hooked up with a trainee mortician…

Anyway, after a very long day that took me south of the state and stuck in a stupid traffic jam in the middle of nowhere, I headed to dinner by the new airport train — albeit just from my hotel to Union Station. Mercantile is one of the popular eateries in the train station complex, and I was eager to check it out.

I got there about 20 minutes early and despite the early hour, it was not ready — Mothers Day glut I suppose. In any case, I parked myself at the bar and enjoyed a pair of well-made cocktails…

cockail - 01

Good stuff. I was then seated and as I was polishing off that second bevvy I placed my order. I chilled out and I switched to wine. But as the place was quite busy the food took awhile, and a surprising comp dish arrived.

0-farro

Farro salad with fava beans and various other things. Very west-coast stuff seemingly… Not bad, kept me going until my first course finally arrived.

1-shishito

A set of shishito peppers with pigs ears. Both done quite well, tho did not get one spicy pepper, which was disappointing. Most of the ears were done pretty well, but the sauce was probably not necessary… I keep wondering what is wrong with natural flavours? Why not just accentuate rather than adulterate?

In any case, a bit more wine and my middle course arrived, the pasta.

2-spaghetti

Ink spaghetti with squid and various chillies. This was quite nice, lovely spicy flavour. I really like when the chillies come out, and they actually flaked it to my specifications after the plate was presented. Nice touch, and gave me control over the spice. Nice, very good dish.

I was pretty happy with this dinner and with more wine my final course arrived — the short rib.

3-short rib

Now this was a hit-and-miss item. The rib was tender and nice, but the sauce was a bit intrusive. The ramps were okay but the morels were extremely salty. A line cook screwed up somewhere this Mothers Day Sunday… Anyway, an okay dish.

I was way full now, so just a liquid dessert. But they were getting busy again and the bar was full, so I just took one and settled up, knowing that with a reduced train schedule if I miss my train it’ll be a half hour before the next one, so…

But overall a rather good dinner. Denver, you are tasting pretty good.

Mercantile
Union Station
1701 Wynkoop Street
Denver, Colorado

Review: Parker’s Bistro

12 May 2017

One of the things I really wanted to accomplish since I began this travel barrage is to see my country as thoroughlly as I can, and one of those things mean visiting all 50 states. I flew into South Dakota, which is #48, for a short stay last week.

Immediately after landing I drove west, enjoying the beautiful views of this beautiful part of the country. I arrived at the state capital Pierre, which boasts one of the most beautiful Capitol complexes I’ve seen. Such a beautiful place, if it wasn’t so isolated I’d visit far more…

I stayed at an excellent B&B, Hitching Horse Inn, which had a very congenial host — a perfect way to end the long day enjoying a few drinks chatting. A good prime rib at the Mad Mary’s and a long walk around town I needed a good night sleep since I’ve had about 2 hours of sleep in the last 2 days…

But since my trip was so short I had to wake up early again, and was on the road by 6.30am. I headed south-east towards Yankton, the capital of the Dakota Territory. The views were different as I used more small roads, but were as interesting. I love the solitary long drive through new roads… I explored Yankton, Vermillion and then jut down to Iowa for a quick stop in Sioux City before cutting north into Minnesota, before arriving back at Sioux Falls just for dinner.

Dinner tonight was at Parker’s Bistro, which drew my attention as I was doing research for having the most interesting menu in town. I walked there from my hotel on a sunny warm day, and as I anticipated, everyone was sitting outside. I happily stayed inside, though it was still very warm.

I looked over the menu as I was served a nice cocktail. They have a good list here. Then I ordered and chilled out. The place seems to be very busy, as outside was packed. But as I was near the entry area, I was starting to hear of folks grumbling about not getting seats outside. Then the starter appeared…

1-chislic

Of course I couldn’t come to South Dakota and not eat chislic — the localised version of what started out as shashlik, brought over supposedly by immigrants from Crimea. These were pretty tasty, though the fries weren’t really needed. The chimichurri added a little interesting kick. Not bad, a good food start…

But that’s saying more than everything else. It looks like the bar got hit with a lot of orders from outside and are totally backed up, and my section has 1 overworked server. It is a sunny, warm, Friday night, so I was watching a shitshow getting worse as the night went along…

It took quite awhile to get that second cocktail, as well as my main course.

2-pork

This was supposed to be cooked medium-rare, but was closer to well-done by the time it arrived at my table. Friday night shitshow strikes again… It tasted interesting as it was bourbon and vanilla brined, but again it being overcooked kinda ruined the dish. And the horrible black rice and pistachio salad was just disgusting…yech…what were they thinking?

At this point I finished the pork and called it a night. I could have stayed for dessert and/or drinks, but with things looking as chaotic as ever, I decided to head back to the hotel. I can imagine this place being good, but really, avoid these places for weekends — especially after the college school year is over and the place is lacking servers.

Parker’s Bistro
210 South Main Avenue
Sioux Falls, South Dakota

PS: I ended up going back out later and seeing a really cool little place, so decided to park myself at Prairie Berry East Bank, and enjoyed quite a few surprisingly nice local wines. Yes, local wines in South Dakota. Mostly grape, but at the end I had a pear wine — notoriously hard to make without it being way acidic. Excellent.

Review: Noord

7 May 2017

I hadn’t planned on eating in Philadelphia for this quick overnight trip, as I was just in town for a memorial concert. But I decided to try Noord, a place my timing had never worked with. Lots of praise for this place over the years and I was looking forward to trying this much-loved neighbourhood Dutch cuisine magnet.

I swore when I sat down because I forgot it was BYOB. Damn it Philly, you have the most stupid licensing laws… So I just had coffee with my dinner…yeah… I ordered and chilled out. Very quickly my starter arrived.

1-mustard soup & scallop

Mustard soup with scallop and roe. Well, it’s pretty normal, nothing special. Scallop not bad, but the roe fell into the soup which wasn’t a bad thing to happen. So-so, but that’s all you can expect from the soup.

I chuckled at the menu as some of the Dutch items were interesting, but found it funny with addition of other things not quite Dutch — such as a Norwegian salmon dish written with its Finnish name. I guess only a very few would have caught that…

In any case my main, a traditional Limburg dish, arrived — konijn in het zuur — rabbit in sauerkraut.

2-braised rabbit

First of all this was the sourest sauerkraut I’ve ever had, I could feel my teeth. I’ve eaten sauerkraut in buckets over the years, from Stuttgart to hapukapsas in Estonia. Nothing like this. Was not edible to be honest. One of the probs is not having booze to help balance the acid. I picked off some of the less-damaged veggies and the meat. Overcooked for the most part, sadly. I ate it but with little joy…

I’m disappointed, but not surprised. I’ve had horrible luck with Philly places and this is no exception. I think it’s best I stay clear of this town, or just go have a cheesesteak instead…

Noord
1046 Tasker Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Review: EquiTable

2 May 2017

A very long afternoon wandering around Zürich and I was knackered. And tomorrow I head home after a long trip. I’m worn out. My hotel near the train station is a total joke. Apparently they did not have an iron that day… The room looked like something from National Lampoon’s European Vacation…

In any case I went to dinner at another of Zürich’s 1-Michelin restaurants, EquiTable. I was early, so I ended up in a gin bar around the corner called 4 Tiere, and was pleasantly surprised by their gin selection and their dedication to classic cocktails (including many that have fallen out of favour). I enjoyed the very floral gin in my well-made martini. But dinner calls, so I headed around the corner.

A chic little place, I immediately liked the place once I sat down. Friendly and efficient service meant things moved very well as the place got more busy.

bread service

First up was the cute bread service, including a cut-your-own-sprout thing. I happily went with the full tasting and pairing and I felt good about this already.

AB1a-spinach root

The first amuse is a cute spinach root. Tasty too, a nice presentation certainly and delicious. Next up some freshly cooked asparagus.

Ab2a-asparagus

Mmm, in season as it’s on the menu everywhere. Some linseed sauce on the side, not necessary, produce was excellent. And finally, a croquette.

AB3-croquette

Nice, it’s basically their version of a black pudding, filled with blood and rice. Very nice start! We soon moved into the main menu, starting with a fine local Gewürztraminer blend.

01-char-beets

This is a nice presentation of char and beets. Lovely flavours and great visuals, the roe was also excellent. Great balance of flavours! Only problem was the bowl made it hard to eat at the end. But a good dish!

I’m pretty happy so far and my expectations are much higher now. With a good pour of a local white we move into dish two — the rabbit terrine.

02-rabbit terrine

Again, I’m impressed by the balance here, as there are some strong flavours but they don’t cancel each other out or clash. Strong cooking skills and understanding of flavours, the rabbit was lovely. The liver was a nice surprise. Sorry this photo doesn’t really show that as it’s hidden under all the really good local produce! In fact one great part about this place is how good these produce tasted. And a perfect pairing.

I’m really liking this place now, may be challenging Seven Swans in Frankfurt for the best meal on this trip. With a bubbly poured the next course appeared — the risotto.

03-buckwheat risotto egg

Well, it’s actually buckwheat with lots of grains and nuts — all under the herby egg. Not bad, the dish grew on me more with each subsequent bite. I really missed having more grains and nuts in my diet this trip, especially when not talking about the bread service. With another good wine pour we have the next item — pike perch.

04-pike-perch

Something I’m very familiar with as it is ubiquitous in north-east Europe, this was actually not that good. For some reason there was a strange flavour infused in the fish that just triggered “cheap tartar sauce” in my head. I hate tartar sauce in every shape and form, it’s the most hideous addition to food ever invented. So this didn’t do well in my head. The broth was good so that helped to “wash” some of that flavour away…

That was a hiccup in the cooking for me, but the service has been spotless. Another excellent wine pour and we moved into the meats — starting with veal rib.

05-veal rib

This was excellent, lovely garlic coming out perfectly. Good texture, wonderful use of mushrooms. Just excellent cooking here, lovely flavours overall. I’m happy again! Then another red, this time from Austria, we have our last savoury course…

06-old milk cow_edited

Wow. This is so amazingly tender and flavourful. This is meat from an 8-year-old milk cow. Amazingly good, better than any other old cow I’ve had in the past. They managed to bring the texture to something akin to a younger cow but the depth of the flavour is just excellent. Mmm…still drooling thinking about this dish. Tho the veg tasted funny…I got that weird “tartar” taste again… But that beef, wow… Easily one of the dishes of 2017!

Had a wee rest before we moved to the cheese course, and it was another fun one…

07-cheese

The watercress was nice, with apricot and others too. I like the balance with the paired grenache. Good stuff, the kind of cheese course I prefer to be honest. A pre-dessert of oates and honey and we moved to the closing number.

8-white chocolate

This was a fabulous dessert, from the white chocolate foam to the grass sorbet. Just lovely tastes everywhere, and you know I rarely praise dessert courses… A fine Mosel icewine to pair and it was a wonderful closing number.

I enjoyed a local firewater and chatted a bit with the staff and chef and thanked all of them for a fabulous night. Aside from 1 or 2 minor hiccups, this was excellent. Some fabulous dishes, the 2 meat courses were just awesome. Can’t praise this place enough, from the service to the wines. Very happy with this.

I have to say Zürich is getting a very good reputation for food in my head! Excellent, highly recommended!

EquiTable
Stauffacherstrasse 163
Zürich, Schweiz

PS: I headed home the next day knackered and hungover having returned to 4 Tiere for several drinks. Bad idea… But I ended up doing my “catatonia” thing for the 8.5hrs flight to JFK. Then running across Queens to LGA for a flight back home…

Review: Sein

2 May 2017

Liechtenstein has its charms, but I needed to get back to Switzerland as I have a lot to do on the final day of this trip before heading back across the ocean.

I made my way back to Zürich by bus and train around midday and enjoyed some spectacular views from the train of the snow-capped mountains and pristine lakes. I had a little free time so I dropped into Sein near the train station. Sein is one of Zürich’s Michelin-starred restaurants (1-star), but I happily sat at the bar and looked over the cut-down lunch menu.

I decided to just have some ravioli stuffed with veal and chilled with some wine. It soon appeared.

ravioli

Very tasty, I enjoyed it. Rosemary butter and some hot pepper oil. Cooked perfectly and a very nice filling, though they could have let the oil be a bit spicier. Done well. Satisfied. A simple dish that already whipped everything I had in Liechtenstein.

I need to come back here for a proper meal one day… Now off to a long afternoon…

Sein
Schützengasse 5
Zürich, Schweiz