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Five Chefs, Five Farms Dinner at Jax Fish House

Photo Credit: Molly Fiechtl

Photo Credit: Molly Fiechtl

My hands were clammy and white knuckling the steering wheel due to my death grip. I sat in rush hour traffic and tried to breathe, but failed miserably at letting it go. I better not be late. God damn it, no matter what, I am always late to everything, I thought to myself as I anxiously waited for the light at Lemay to turn green.

There are very few dining events that I look forward to all year long, and this is it. This event is the only one that I will make come hell or high water. The Five Chefs, Five Farms dinner is the dining highlight in Fort Collins.

The light turned green and as usual, Fort Collins drivers decided to drive 10 miles under the speed limit. Oh for christ’s sake, I really hope they aren’t starting the first course. A deep disappointment started to settle into my stomach as I pulled into the parking garage, quickly scanning for the first available space. In black high-heeled boots, I walked with a swift force – power walking as fast as I could without essentially running through Old Town in a sweater dress and hoping I didn’t break an ankle on the way.

I got to the restaurant about 15 minutes late, and after getting settled at the table and talking with friends, I realized that the intense rush was all for naught. Things move slower here. Food and friends are the focus, not the timeline. It’s a moment to let go of schedules, urgency, and stress. It’s a night to relish in the relaxed pace of Northern Colorado farmers and savor the experience.

This is a true dining experience.

2014 marked the third annual Five Chefs, Five Farms dinner hosted at Jax Fish House. I’ve been to all three and each has had its own unique flair. The first year was an evening with the Jax Fish House Chefs from all over Colorado – an amazing taste of skill that Fort Collins was fortunate to treasure. The second year was a switch up, an idea brought to fruition for former Jax Chef, Kevin Grossi, who hoped to see more collaboration between restaurants in Fort Collins. This year continued that tradition of Fort Collins collaboration, bringing together a different mix of six Chefs in Northern Colorado that has really proven how haute cuisine is evolving in our city.

As my friend Molly said perfectly – this is the All-Star dinner, where the best of the best Northern Colorado Chefs are cooking together in the same kitchen, and doing so while featuring local ingredients. This is what Colorado tastes like. Chefs past and present have been invited to collaborate because they have what it takes in skill and creativity to show Fort Collins that a meal is more than a serving of protein, vegetable, and starch. These are the chefs and restaurants moving our dining culture forward.

The night started off with an amuse-bouche from Chefs Adam Schager and Travis Hall from Jaws Sushi, working with fish from Colorado Catch.

jaws Sushi

Alamosa, Colorado Striped Bass Sashimi with jalapeno ponzu, Spring Kite Farm pickled leeks, faux roe, lime infused olive oil, and micro greens. It was paired with Momokawa Diamond Junmai Ginjo sake.

The generous slices of sashimi were delicately wrapped and placed in a bath of savory ponzu sauce, resting in Chinese soup spoons. The fish had a very clean, refreshing taste and just enough of a hint of saltiness to add lovely layers of flavor. It was a mouthful for some, but I quite enjoyed it, as well as the sake pairing. I could die with sushi/sashimi and sake being my last meal. It was fantastic to have this as the amuse-bouche.

The first course was created by Chef Ricky Myers from Jax Fish House, working with produce from Native Hill Farm.

Jax Fish House

Smoked scallop and black truffle pate with crispy Jodar Farm pig ears, tomato marmalade, salmon skin chips, and spicy greens. It was paired with Pierre Sparr Brut Rose.

This dish was a play on a BLT. The dollop of smoked scallop pate was absolutely delicious, a soft and creamy briny ocean essence that we spread on the incredibly crispy salmon skin chips. There was a lot of crunch in this – from the salmon skin to the pig ears. This dish was meant to be a finger food, which ended up being a little messy, but I wasn’t going to shy away from licking my fingers.

The second course was created by Chef Matt Smith from Next Door Food and Drink, working with produce from Fossil Creek Farm.

Next Door

Pumpkin consomme with roasted pumpkin, sauteed swiss chard, walla walla onion, husk cherry, powdered pumpkin seed, house duck prosciutto, and beet oil. It was paired with Hugel ‘Gentil’ White Blend.

This was the first course of the night where I truly felt like it was the essence of farm flavors on a plate. It was an elegant representation of the palatability of nature. Subtle sweet pumpkin aromas mingled with the equally as subtle flavor of beet oil in the consomme. The husk cherries, similar to small tomatillos, added the perfect bit of tanginess to cut the richness of the duck prosciutto.

The third course was created by Chef Amelia Mouton from Restaurant 415, working with produce from Revive Gardens.

Restaurant 415

Beet and parsnip ravioli with crispy kale, ricotta salata, and toasted hazelnuts. It was paired with Enrico Serafino ‘Roero’ Nebbiolo.

This was the underdog course of the evening. Everyone loves Restaurant 415 for their affordable farm produce packed menu, but if there’s one criticism that’s shared within the dining community, it’s that their regular menu lacks creativity and variety. The menu rarely rotates, if at all. And with a small menu, it’s easy to get bored with it. This dinner provided an opportunity to showcase that gourmet boundary pushing we hope to see in their restaurant.

Boy, did it. While I think the dish was a tad dry, paired with a red that was also dry, and it could have used some kind of sauce or cream for more balance, it was still a wonderful course. Everyone that talked about this dish said they wished they could eat it often at Restaurant 415. I especially loved the crispiness and crunchiness that came from the kale and hazelnuts, and the slight bite that came from the parsnip.

The fourth course was created by Chef Joel Ryan from The Kitchen, working with lamb from Crego Farm.

The Kitchen

Crego Farm lamb tenderloin with harissa carrot puree, fennel and leek confit, crispy beluga lentil, date gremolata, and micro mint. It was paired with Chateau Blaignan Cru Bourgeois Cabernet, Merlot.

Hands down, this was my favorite dish of the evening. Not only was it undeniably heavenly, but the pairing was spot on perfect. The tenderloin was cooked rare, lending a pure and fresh taste, and each component of ingredients blended together like a painting. The sweetness of the mint and date gremolata, the texture from the lentils – all of it was perfect. That’s the best way I can describe this – when you look at an intricate painting, you can see how each color layers and pairs to form a whole attractive image. Culinary arts are not far from visual arts. The medium is different for the distinct set of senses, but the result is the same – beauty in the form of taste.

The fifth course was created by Chef Jason Shaeffer from Chimney Park Restaurant and Bar, working with produce from Spring Kite Farm.

Chimney Park

Heirloom carrot cake with sweet ginger fromage blanc, candied carrots, indian spiced pepitas and carrot syrup. It was paired with hot apple cider with raisin infused cruzan spiced rum.

hot cider

 

What a fun way to end a marvelous evening! The hot apple cider was served with the candied spiced rum in the shape of leaves, so we dropped a few in to melt before drinking. The fromage blanc that topped the carrot cake was light and airy with a delightfully sweet finish. I loved it! The candied carrot that was twirled on top of the cake was an interesting bite – kind of tender and malleable like fruit leather, but not as sweet. Then the rum-soaked raisins that sprinkled the plate were packed with an intense burst of alcohol. It was like the grand finale of a 4th of July fireworks show.

Bluegrass

The evening was filled with sporadic moments – a cluster of conversation at the table, a holler from Blue Grama Bluegrass as they played lively songs throughout the night, a burst of energy from the kitchen as the absolutely awesome sous chefs plated the next course… but those moments were never met with strict timelines and schedules. The evening happened as it flowed on its own. There was no focus on quick service and turing tables just so people could shovel food into their mouths, like people expect with regular dinner service.

In fact, this was one of the few pairing dinners that I walked away feeling sufficiently satisfied rather than overly stuffed and bursting at the seams.

This was a true dining experience. And for the third year in a row, it remains my favorite Fort Collins dining event of the year.

 

 

Eat Of The Week – Cafe Mexicali

Starting this month I will be going on food adventures with like-minded friends and readers, exploring tacos all across Fort Collins with Tuesday Taco Club.

It should be a lot of fun. It gives us a chance to see who has the best tacos in Fort Collins, and I’ll probably be able to knock out some Mexican food reviews while I’m at it.

Last week Bill was craving Cafe Mexicali for dinner, and instead of getting my usual sweet pork quesolle, I opted to order their fish tacos. They were too salty, which was a taco first for me. I don’t think I’ll order then again when we go as Tuesday Taco Club.

Tomorrow is our first Taco night out at Matador, and there’s still room to jump in. Go get your reservations in if you’d like to join us and eat tacos all over Fort Collins!

 

The Kitchen

Photo Credit: The Kitchen Facebook

Photo Credit: The Kitchen Facebook

For many months the corner of Mountain and College housing the historic Avery building remained under construction. The curious and excited chatter of Fort Collins dining enthusiasts grew.

“When is The Kitchen opening? I can’t wait! I love the Boulder location,” I’d hear people say.

“Fort Collins really needs The Kitchen. We need some Boulder influence up here,” others would remark.

After construction delays that aren’t unusual for a new restaurant opening, especially a swanky-looking restaurant in a historical building, The Kitchen Fort Collins opened their doors June 18, 2014, promising a new dining experience with a focus on rustic dishes prepared with carefully selected ingredients. They’ve wowed people with their community-focused cuisine in Boulder since 2004, then Denver in 2012, and shortly after the Fort Collins opening this year, they moved into Chicago to open another location Wednesday of this week.

I noticed people changing their tune once they had a chance to jump on reviews here in town. There are three common points when people bring up criticism of The Kitchen:

  1. The comparison to Boulder and Denver locations
  2. The quality of service
  3. The price point compared to other restaurants in Fort Collins

Bill and I went on a Monday night date night last month to start the review. We sat out on their patio while the evenings were still pleasantly warm. They have one of the best people-watching patios in Fort Collins being right smack dab in the middle of Old Town, and we took full advantage of that as we poured over the menu to start our eating adventure while waving to friends who walked by.

I started with one of their signature cocktails – the Persian Lemon.

persian Lemon

It was mixed with Kettle One Citroen Vodka, Pama, Pineapple and Lemon. I thought it was a delightful cocktail with smooth tropical flavors. But, it was a small sipping cocktail; these are not large drinks. As delightful as they are, don’t expect a bar-type cocktail here.

For our appetizers we ordered the Merguez Lamb Sausage – with lentils, harissa, cumin, yogurt, and cilantro.

Merguez

This was a strongly flavored spiced sausage dish. Between the slight game-like flavor of the lamb, and the mix of middle-eastern spices, it was a dish that I think some would either love or hate. It’s not something you’d find often in Fort Collins (if at all), and while I think it may have been an acquired taste, I did enjoy it. Bill, on the other hand, was more difficult to impress.

We also ordered the Ela Family Farm Peach Bruschetta – with Burrata, basil, and saba.

Peach Bruschetta

I loved this. I absolutely loved this. The peaches tasted farm-fresh, full of flavor and ripe with juice. The burrata was nice and creamy. I would have eaten this all day long. It was fantastic.

We both ordered the same thing for our entree – Dry Aged Koberstein Ranch Steak, pan seared, with duck fat potatoes, sautéed greens, and a side of bearnaise sauce. This also came highly recommended by Erica at Farming Fort Collins, one of my awesome bloggers in the network.

Ranch Steak

Ok, now here’s the deal. We were on a date night, and if you know me personally, or pay any attention to the occasional Friday Night tweets on Twitter, then you are well aware of our weekly Friday Night Date Nights that include pretty much this exact dish, minus the duck fat and instead of greens we have grilled asparagus. This was the gourmet version of our weekly dinner. I know I’ve been married to Bill for nearly 16 years, and I’m probably biased, but I’m really not exaggerating when I say that he grills the best steak I’ve ever had in Fort Collins. So much that every steak we eat at a restaurant is a complete disappointment, making me the most harsh steak critic in essentially all time and eternity. I cannot recommend a steak for you in Fort Collins because I think they all suck based on what I eat at home Every. Single. Week.

So, we both ordered this. We took our first bite. I looked at Bill. He looked at me. His face softened.

“It’s not bad. It’s not what we have at home, but it’s close,” he said reluctantly.

It wasn’t as good as what we have at home, but it was close, and with as close as it was, I could consider it the best steak in Fort Collins.

It wasn’t as tender or juicy as I’d hoped, but I honestly enjoyed it. The rosemary garlic pan sear gave it a nice crust, and it was flavorful enough that I didn’t have to cover it in bearnaise. We both ordered it medium rare. Mine was cooked pretty close to order. However, Bill’s was overdone to medium well. If you’re as much of a steak connoisseur as we are, then you know how unfortunate this is. It happens at just about every restaurant in Fort Collins, and it’s one reason we don’t order steak out – you rarely get a steak cooked to temp. We hate sending food back to the kitchen for things like this – when things are just alright instead of absolutely perfect.

Our server stopped by to ask how things were. Bill was honest and told him that the steak was overcooked, but it was alright, he’d keep eating it instead of sending it back. Our server thanked him for being flexible and understanding. The next time he stopped by, he brought over some thank you/apology cookies from the kitchen.

cookies

We splurged for dessert because it was for the review. Bill ordered the sticky toffee pudding with pecan sauce and house vanilla gelato.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

He was in heaven. Absolute heaven. It was rich, sweet, decadent. Everything a sticky toffee pudding should be.

I ordered the Pot au Chocolat with heavy cream. It was extraordinarily rich and each scoop brought up thick spoonfuls of dark chocolate. It was almost too much to bear, but that’s the level of chocolate I love. We were both very happy with our last dish.

pot au chocolat

Overall, this experience was agreeable. Service was certainly on the slower side, but we never felt completely forgotten. It was more the you’re supposed to enjoy a meal like this with slow service kind of experience. We also walked out of there paying about $160 for the night. That was painful. I hate that people are giving them 1 and 2-star reviews because of their price point. Yes, they are expensive, but that doesn’t take away from the flavor or quality of the experience. It’s like giving a Michelin-starred restaurant a 1-star review because you can’t afford to eat there (not saying The Kitchen is to that standard, but you know what I mean). I walked away from this night feeling like they were on track for a generous 4-star review.

And then I came back for community night dinner with close to 10 of my friends for the second visit. There were a few other people who shared our table with us.

Kitchen Community Night

If you’re not familiar with their community night dinner, it’s a five-course dinner held every Monday night. You need to make reservations 24 hours in advance. 20% of the sales are donated to help support Leaning Gardens in local schools. And? Hold on to your hats here – it’s only $35 for the whole five-course dinner. Want to do a beer or wine pairing with it? Add and extra $18 for a total of a little under $60 per person. THIS IS A STEAL.

Catch 22 to the whole deal – you don’t get to choose what you eat, it’s the chef’s choice. While they do accommodate for allergies and dietary restrictions, I wouldn’t recommend going out for a meal like this if you need it. But, if you’ve been wincing at small portion sizes and the price point, then stop coming here Tuesday through Sunday. Monday is your night to enjoy what The Kitchen is supposed to be about.

After all of my friends had arrived and were introduced, our server gave us the details of how the meal would progress. As three large family-style platters were being served, we chatted and laughed, unaware that these three platters were all the first course. We happily dug in, filling up our plates until I looked at the menu.

“Oh, hell. This is just the first course and I’m almost full!” I exclaimed. “Get ready for your fat pants!”

The first course consisted of Grilled Ela Family Farm Peaches with burrata, similar to what I’d had in the previous visit. The one that I LOVED. And so did many of my friends. We also had Native Hill Farm Heirloom Tomato Panzanella, which was also a table favorite, because the tomatoes were loaded with that farm-fresh flavor that Native Hill is known for. We also had Spring Kite Farm Stuffed Eggplant filled with lamb, marcona, almond and tahini sauce.

Grilled Peaches

Tomato Panzanella

Stuffed Eggplant

Each dish was lovely. I opted to add a wine pairing with the meal. This course was served with a Zocker Gruner Vetliner. Perfect.

The second course was a Mushroom Pappardelle dish served with large, meaty slices of mushroom and celery leaves. The pasta had been hand-made 2 hours prior to the dinner event. We also had a Native Hill Fennel Salad with arugula, pear, pecorino toscano, and lemon oil.

Mushroom Pappardelle

Fennel Salad

Amazing. Simply amazing. The pasta was thick and delicious, dressed in a savory mushroom cream sauce. People piled this onto their plates, almost neglecting the salad, or feeling obligated to add greens to their plate. This was high-quality comfort food.

This dish was paired with Notary Public’s 2013 Pinot Noir.

The fourth course was Koberstein Ranch Flank Steak Au Poivre with Native Hill Farm Carrot Puree, and Winter Greens Gratin. I thought for sure we’d have a chicken dish for a community meal, but no – they pulled out all the stops with steak. It was so well prepared with each steak center being an attractive pink-red. The whole night did not disappoint in any way. We were so full at this point that we had quite a bit left over. Our server happily made to-go boxes for everyone so we had leftovers for the next day.

Flank Steak

This course was paired with Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon and Col Dei Venti Barbera. Two wines you say? Yes, two wines – because one of my friends had difficulty choosing one, and our server offered to bring both for him. And the next thing we know, we all get two glasses.

The last and final dish was the Ela Family Farm Pear-Almond Tart for dessert. The one bite that I took was the ultimate way to complete the evening. Firm buttery crust, earthy sweet pears. I could only take one bite because there was so much food, I was certain I was going to burst at this point. I placed it in the to-go box to give to Bill later.

Pear Tart

We all walked away from this dinner satisfied and elated. It was one of those magical dining moments that we all hope for, with great friends, delicious food, and an evening of connection. I’m sure most reading this are skeptical, thinking that this dinner happened the way it did because somehow they knew they’d be reviewed. I’ve waited almost a month to publish this review and have had friends attend their community night dinners to report back with similar experiences, often met with “this was the best dining experience of my life.” I don’t think community dinners are a fluke, and thus this is exactly what bumps them up to a five-star review.

The three common points when people bring up criticism of The Kitchen:

  • The comparison to Boulder and Denver locations – they really aren’t the same as Boulder or Denver, or even Chicago for that matter. We need to think of what they are in Fort Collins. While I don’t think they make the #1 best restaurant of Fort Collins, they certainly aren’t deserving of one or two-star ratings, either.
  • The quality of service – service wasn’t a song and dance like most people might expect. We’ve had that at Rioja in Denver. It made me a little squirmy because it was too much. Honestly, I don’t know what most people expect with service. While I respect that each person has their own experiences, and I undoubtedly have lower expectations than the majority of the readership, I wasn’t so turned off that I would never return. It was slow at some points, but not neglectful.
  • The price point compared to other restaurants in Fort Collins – you’re going to pay more here. We can’t ask for Boulder influence with Fort Collins price tags. I can’t dine here regularly like we did for date night. I’d be able to come back for community nights and happy hours. I don’t hold this against them, and I don’t think it’s fair to reduce a rating because of it, but lack of funds is a reality in Fort Collins. It goes right into the conversations I’ve had with readers about all of our restaurant closures. Our economy here in town is more strained than we actually talk about, and restaurants at this price point will be difficult to sustain. Unless you go to community night dinner.

 

The curious and excited chatter of Fort Collins dining enthusiasts might have grown skeptical since the opening of The Kitchen. I do think their regular menu fell to overly high expectations – it’s not the best, it is expensive. But I really do appreciate their quality. Their philosophy is creating community through food. I can buy into that. I already do, and have for the last 5 years.

 

The Kitchen    
100 North College
(970) 568-8869
thekitchen.com

Kid Friendly? Not particularly. It’s not that you can’t bring your kids here, but it’s more geared toward an adult palate.

Parking: Limited Old Town street parking, there are garages nearby.

Healthy Options? There are smaller plates to choose from, but there’s no menu labeling for GF.

Budget Friendly? Not even close. Happy Hours and Community Nights are your best bet with that.

Recent Health Inspection: Marginal

Five Stars