Saturday, October 21, 2006

Review: MoZaic

MoZaic, at the Inn at Palmer Divide, is an interesting mix of style and food. Part bistro and part fine dining, it takes some risks and generally succeeds at serving food that's considerably more interesting than most local restaurants.

The restaurant is large and warm, decorated in southwestern tones of terra cotta, peach, and tan. Lighting is unobtrusive but more than sufficient for reading your dinner and making sure you were indeed served the correct entree. Tables are spaced a nice distance apart so you don't HAVE to listen to your neighbors' conversation.

One wall of the restaurant is mostly windows, which the website says "features one of the best vistas looking down along the Front Range and over the lights of the city". Maybe the view out from the bar shows the city lights, because the windows were black holes, since the sun sets earlier these days. We'll have to go back sometime during summer months when we can verify the view ourselves.

The menu can be classified as modern dishes with some boring standards, probably to cater to the many folks locally whose tastes run the range from A to B (with apologies to Dorothy Parker). Catering to them are dishes like fried calamari and french onion soup.

Far more interesting were the appetizers we had: duck confit wrapped in a chive crepe, topped with foie gras and a slice of black truffle, and the special, brie en croute with garlic toasts and apple slices. The duck confit was meltingly tender and deeply flavored, but sadly, a little too peppery to meld well with the foie gras and truffle. The chive crepe was lovely, soft and flecked with green.

They used a very high quality brie in puff pastry, flavorful and with a high fat content.

The entrees were equally interesting, if a little less successful. The bison short ribs, served on golden mashed potatoes with truffle butter, smoked chile demiglace, and vegetables, were tender enough, but really needed another hour or three's worth of braising to be as meltingly tender as short ribs should be. There was still connective tissue and fat throughout the meat that had not had the time to disintegrate. They also needed salt, which is something I rarely encounter. The potatoes were wonderful, even if I couldn't taste any truffles, and did an admirable job of sopping up the demiglace, where I also didn't taste too much in the way of smokiness or chiles.

My husband had the wild boar ravioli, a rather deconstructed dish with two sheets of pasta, one folded over the three cheese souffle, the other over the shredded boar, then stacked one atop the other. I thought it was quite flavorful, especially the cheese, but my husband said it never really surprised him, it kept tasting the same the whole way through. It was accompanied by an Asian slaw with plenty of jicama and black sesame seeds and a soy/sesame oil/ginger based dressing.

Desserts are more of an afterthought at MoZaic; mousse, cheesecake, creme brulee. We split their turtle cheeesecake. It was towards the creamy end of cheesecake rather than the fluffy, tasted delightfully strongly of the cream cheese, and had plenty of caramel and chocolate sauce.

I forgot to ask whose coffee they were serving, but the decaf was very tasty with an interesting burnt caramel note in the aftertaste (as opposed to burned coffee bean taste, like Peet's).

Service was friendly if a little pokey at times, but they did a nice job of keeping our water glasses full and refilling the bread basket. MoZaic serves twisted breadsticks with herb butter (definitely tasting of chives and parsley) whose flavors opened up nicely on the warm bread.

We'll definitely be going back because the flaws simply aren't enough to overwhelm the wonderful calm and adult atmosphere, and I want to encourage restaurants that take chances and serve something more interesting than burgers and burritos.

(Date of visit: 10/20/2006)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

(Sort Of) Review: Il Fornaio

I've tried to review Il Fornaio for other sites in the past, and I've come to the reluctant conclusion that I simply can't be objective about my favorite restaurant.

Yes, I know they're a chain, and yes, I know they used to be trendier, hipper, happeninger, and better than they are today. But I still adore the food and the atmosphere, which somehome manages to stay consistent even though each individual restaurant is slightly different.

Il Fornaio came to Colorado shortly after we did, starting with the Denver LoDo location, then expanding to Flatirons out by Boulder and then to Greenwood Village, closer to us. Closer is a relative term because it's still a good 45 minute drive even without traffic, rain, and the idiots who think you have to tailgate someone for awhile first before it's ok to pass them. (Ranting about Denver drivers is for another day and the other blog.)

The first two weeks of each month, give or take a few days, Il Fornaio runs their "Festa Regionale", where they highlight dishes, wines, and ingredients of one of Italy's regions. The Festa menus are rarely adventurous, but they always tend to have some interesting offerings. More importantly, Passporto holders receive some kind of bonus if they order at least one item off the regional menu. (Passporti are free either at the restaurant or by signing up on their website. If you attend all six regions on the Passporto, you are entered in a drawing for a free trip to Italy. Needless to say, we haven't won.)

Since this is the last weekend of the October Festa, we made a point of having dinner at Il Fornaio in Greenwood Village this weekend. This month's region was Lombardia.

The regional bread was cornmeal based and was absolutely fantastic. Some of the regional breads are a little iffy, but this was like American cornbread if it were a real bread and not a quick bread. It was only slightly crumbly, with a good dense texture and chewyness, and a light corn flavor. We liked it so much we got a loaf to take home - it's going to make extraordinary toast.

Two of the entrees on the regional menu leapt out at me - the osso buco and the filetto with gorgonzola sauce. I ordered the former and my husband ordered the latter.

I've had Il Fornaio's osso buco before (probably the last time they did Lombardia), and I remembered it accurately: falling apart tender, deep flavor, and a tomato sauce that I tried to analyze with every bite. I want to learn to make tomato sauce like that. It was everything osso buco should be.

Sadly, the saffron risotto served alongside was everything risotto shouldn't be: flavorless, dry, and undercooked. Yes, I know risotto should be served al dente, but this was not yet to the al dente stage - it was hard and stuck in my teeth as I chewed it. That's undercooked. Five more minutes in the saute pan and another ladle or two of chicken stock would have gone a long way.

The filetto was wonderful - flavorful and tender. A lot of filet gets the tender right, but doesn't come through with the beef flavor. This stood up well to the gorgonzola sauce. A polenta cake and spinach was served alongside, but we both thought the spinach was really Swiss chard (probably due to the latest spinach issues and ensuing panic).

I ordered the Rosina for dessert: thin circle of sponge cake, raspberries, chocolate mousse, chocolate coating. I have had it before and it's the item to order when you're in the mood for chocolate. I didn't quite finish, but I did eat all the chocolate.

Due to the louder than usual noise in the restaurant, my husband's dessert order was misheard and he was served the campari and grapefruit sorbet instead of the pear and amaretto cake (both regional desserts). To the server's credit he corrected the dessert as soon as we could catch him, and left the sorbet as well. We also left it - it was extremely sour and neither of us liked it at all. The pear and amaretto cake was really more of a rustic tart - a crust closer to shortbread than pie crust, lots of pears, and lots of almonds, drizzled with chocolate and served with creme anglaise. It was far better than the sorbet, but way too almondy for my taste.

The coffee at Il Fornaio is terrific - very strong but very smooth. That goes for the decaf, too. You know a place takes its coffee seriously when decaf isn't just an afterthought.

The bonus this month was a ceramic olive oil pitcher - it's very cute, yellow with painted olives. It sort of matches the ceramic olive oil dishes from the past two years, which is why we made of point of getting them. (We use the olive oil dishes for small salads and dipping sauces all the time - they've been among the most useful gifts we've received from any establishment).

I always look forward to going to Il Fornaio - while I know I'm not going to hit the very pinnacle of dining, I know I'm going to have a good meal in comfortable surroundings. The older I get the more I appreciate that.

(Date of visit: 10/14/06)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Trader Joe's Dark Sumatra Coffee

Some people go sightseeing on vacation; I go grocery shopping.

One of the many reasons Colorado is a culinary wasteland is that we don't have Trader Joe's. I don't know why. Probably because CO has archaic liquor laws that don't allow grocery stores to stock anything but 3.2 beer and don't allow liquor sales on Sunday (like we can't stock up on Saturday night. Idjits.).

But California does. And I was in California recently. I left with a suitcase that was half empty and returned with a suitcase that was near the airline's weight limit. A great deal of that was food and drink.

Being low on coffee, I bought some of Trader Joe's Dark Sumatra. I love Sumatra coffees - I love the smoothness and the earthiness and the low acidity. I don't like that acid bite in a lot of lighter and South American coffees.

This stuff will put hair on your chest. It's an espresso roast, the beans are dark and oily. The taste is fairly smooth though, with an interesting burned/charred taste at the end of each sip that appears on the back of the tongue. I'm enjoying the flavors now, but I can see where by the end of the bag I'm probably going to be tired of it. There's also a deep earthiness, a groundedness (pardon the pun) that is soothing and comforting. I should be writing marketing copy instead of a coffee review.

It also packs a nice jolt of caffeine, something I appreciate more and more as I get older.

I'm not sure I'd buy this again as a general morning coffee, but it's certainly worth drinking and I will enjoy finishing the bag.

Ok, so I waxed rhapsodic about Trader Joe's a couple posts ago. Bear with me. I miss them. And they don't do mail order.