During the Holidays, Remember the Neediest
COLORADO'S NEW HOT SPOTS
by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: TERTULIA
by John Mariani
COLORADO’S NEW HOT SPOTS
By John Mariani
I’d have a hard time deciding whether Wyoming, Montana or Colorado is the most beautiful state in the West, but when it comes to good restaurants, the latter has more fine ones in Denver alone than those other two states combined. Then add in the glam factor of Aspen and Vail, where people will spend big money for everything from Nobu Matsuhisa’s sushi to magnums of D.P., and college-dominated places like Boulder (which Bon Appetit calls “America’s Foodiest Town”), and you’ve got a whole lot of good eats and drinks to choose from. Here are some of the newest spots around the state where you’ll get a distinct feeling for contemporary Rocky Mountain fare.
Lou’s Food Bar
525 East Cooper Avenue
Downstairs the dining room décor balances a raw wood rusticity with Venetian blinds, signature china, thin stemware, and soft, thick linens. Large art photos on the walls will change throughout the year. Nice touch: Casa Tua does not neglect the children: a “Per ‘Piccoli’ Sciatori” (for the little skier) menu offers spaghetti alla bolognese, gnocchi with tomato sauce, and filet of chicken alla milanese with French fries.
Smack in the middle of Boulder’s university area, the casual Café Aion is filled at any hour of the day and night with students, profs, and locals who come for everything from Chef Dakota Soifer’s inventive tapas to Colorado sweet potato fries, from a tagine of butternut squash with tomatoes, chickpeas and prunes to a harissa-laced half chicken with potatoes and greens. There’s a happy hour menu with five-dollar cocktails and fried pork chiccarones with smoked paprika and pork sliders with spiced yogurt.
330 7th Street
Despite Glenwood Springs' hot springs, white water rafting, and spelunking appeal, I’m not sure I agree with Rand McNally’s naming the place “the most fun city in America.” But if you’re headed for Vail on I-70 or up valley to Aspen on Route 82, I would brake hard at Glenwood Springs just to eat at The Pullman, a casual restaurant that sums up everything that is good about American omnivorism right now.
Chef-owner Mark Fischer—the man who put Carbondale on the map with his restaurant Six89 a few years back—took over a 1900s railroad district brick building, once a Greyhound bus stop, stuck a huge bronze pig at the entrance, decked the place out with subway tiles, rafters and a communal table, and came up with a menu on which there is nothing you won’t want to try, from bacon beignets with a maple crema and pierogis with caramelized onions, truffled potato and scallion crème fraîche, to pan-roasted Rocky Mountain trout with artichoke and potato pan roast and mustard sauce, and Colorado lamb shoulder with lemon risotto and mint-almond gremolata. There’s even a chocolate Whoopie! Pie with cola ice cream.
Good people serving nice people good food. That’s it.
Chef Seamus Mullen fell in love with the cooking of Spain's region of Asturias, its ingredients and its casual local cider houses called sidrerias, and Tertulia, his first solo effort, is the realization of a cherished dream. Vermont-born, Mullen made his reputation at the Iberian restaurant Boqueria in the Flat Iron District, but Tertulia more approximates the less flashy menu style at Mario Batali's Casa Mono and Jamon. Mullen's food here is not as imaginative as that at Luis Bollo's Salinas but is more traditional, specializing in tapas and small plates and a big wood oven for many of the dishes.
Up front there's a bar (right), one which does indeed pour cider, along with Sherries, cavas, and Spanish wines, all assembled by affable sommelier Gil Avital.
There are a lot of brick walls, tiles, a skylighted open kitchen, wooden floors, and wooden tables, blackboard specials--none of which is good for the decibel level, which is among the very highest I've experienced in NYC or anywhere else. Coziness gets cancelled out by such intensity, conversation is next to impossible, hearing the night's specials is a strain, and consulting the sommelier is frustrating. Not for the first am I asking, What in God's name were they thinking?!? There are plenty of acoustical tricks to tamp down noise, but Tertulia is one of those restaurants whose owners believe that cacophony--not just the sound of people having a good time--further increased by piped-in music, creates excitement, when in fact all it creates is more noise. Since more and more restaurant critics are carrying decibel level readers on them, maybe restaurants should realize that people truly do come to eat and chat, not nosh and screech at each other. I've spent a good amount of time in tapas bars in Spain but never at these decibel levels.
O.K., that said, the menu is tantalizing and it delivers with big flavors throughout, not least with the extraordinary Spanish hams offered here, including the jamon Iberico de bellota, whose silky richness is nonpareil and the reason it costs $23 for a few slices. There is also a selection of three cured meats as well as three artisanal cheeses you won't find easily on this side of the Atlantic.
The tapas on any given evening number at least 14 items, including a wonderful dish of fried padron peppers tossed in plenty of sea salt, and it packs a heated wallop. Nuestras patatas is nothing more or less than delectable crispy potatoes dusted with the smoky paprika called pimenton de la vera, dressed with garlicky olive oil and, again, plenty of salt. This saline theme is carried throughout Mullen's cooking, sometimes too intensely; salt is certainly popular among the Spanish but in my travels to Spain I don't recall so much salt so consistently throughout a meal.
Monkfish (suquet) comes with ruby red shrimp root vegetables, almond picada, and saffron all i oli, and a dish called grilled Iberian "secreto," which comes with scrumptious ribs, wild mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms, figs, and cucumber, a mélange that really works and hits on several points on the palate.
Family-style dishes include a paella (right) with cuttlefish, shrimp, clams and runner beans; a 40-day aged prime rib (I didn't have a chance to try this), and a pork belly stew called nuestra fabada with morcilla and chorizo, fava beans and cabbage--as wintry a dish as can be imagined, hearty and good but, again, salt overpowered other savory flavors.
Desserts wisely toe the traditional line--crema catalana, rum sponge cake with roasted figs, crêpes with vanilla custard and apples--if you have room. Tertulia is the kind of place where you're likely to eat way too many small dishes before you get to dessert, so pace yourself. Photo by Evan Sung
My guests and I so enjoyed so much of the rustic country food at Tertulia, we would happily return for more and to see what next week's menus bring. But if we did return, it would either be wearing noise-cancelling earphones or very early in the evening, before things build to a crescendo of noise.
Tertulia is open for dinner nightly and for brunch Sat. & Sun. Small dishes, $5 to $20; family-style dishes, $19 to $72.
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