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longtime Boston hound moving to Denver...

Hey enhF94,

Hopefully some Denverites will chime in, but in the interim:

I haven't been to Harman's in Cherry Creek, but it's a Mark Fischer project, and I absolutely love his other restaurants in the Roaring Fork valley. Menu looks modern without being at all inaccessible.

Mizuna wasn't all that memorable to me, but I continue to be super impressed with Luca D'Italia, also a Frank Bonanno place. It's the most authentic Italian restaurant I can think of in the Mountain time zone. For better or worse it would remind you of the better Italian places in Boston, which could be a fun thing, or not. I don't consider Luca intimidating, but it has at least a dash more formality than a lot of places in CO.

Mar 25, 2015
finlero in Mountain States
1

Tucson trip roundup: Agustin Kitchen, the Coronet, Prep & Pastry, Ghini's Cafe, NoRTH, SEIS, Exo Coffee

Fair 'nuff. Like I said, it was delicious any which way, and hey, I'll be the first to admit I'm weird about my Mexican food.

Mar 23, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Tucson trip roundup: Agustin Kitchen, the Coronet, Prep & Pastry, Ghini's Cafe, NoRTH, SEIS, Exo Coffee

Well color me surprised, Tucson is seriously stepping up its high-end dining game. When we first visited five years ago there wasn't much in the way of fancy chow that knocked our socks off, but we had some unbelievably delicious upscale food this time around.

Agustin Kitchen - the whole food scene at the Mercado San Agustin is pretty amazing, with a remarkably modern and interesting array of food purveyors including a great looking bakery, cheese shop, third wave coffee place, and fancy taco joint (see SEIS below). But Agustin is almost certainly the most interesting, a bona fide farm-to-fork, garden-to-glass type of place that didn't really seem to exist in Tucson until recently. Cocktails were stellar, this is the sort of place that uses different ice for different cocktails. And all the food was at least as stellar. Highlights were the "current jars", a collection of four seasonal "smears" served with fresh bread. The only miss was the brulee local goat cheese, which sounded great but fell a bit flat in terms of flavor and texture. Everything else ranged from delicious to really, really, really delicious. My only major gripe about Agustin at present is that the menu is weirdly structured, with too many smallish dishes in different categories to work well as a three-course progression, and too many larger dishes to work well as a small plates kind of place. If they can figure this out and bring some clarity to the menu, they'll almost certainly be one of the top dining destinations in the state. P.S. The digs were super cool.

The Coronet - went for lunch, definitely want to return for dinner. Another modern eatery with tons of locavore awesomeness. Loved my wilted kale salad with Dragoon session sausage. Also excellent were several different veggie-heavy "tartines" (open faced sandwiches). Dessert was surprisingly good, with both the olive oil cake and homemade cookie assortment being way better than they had any business being. Cocktails look fantastic as well, with a great-looking cross section of original and classic cocktails (paloma > margarita -- finally!); some serious happy hour deals, I really want to get back here.

Prep & Pastry - I see why it's so popular, but I was a little more meh on this place. Good, heavy brunch fare with some modern twists (pork belly sandwich with a soft egg). Baked goods look wonderful and taste OK; I respect that they're doing various cronuts, but they were heavy and a little bland, and I'd rather they focused on bolstering the fundamentals rather than worrying about flashy of-the-moment dishes.

Ghini's Cafe - the only really lackluster dining experience we had. Terrible coffee, bad pastries, and worst of all, my baguette with butter and jam was a basket of diced up pieces of bread with the butter heavily applied in advance. Mildly surly staff, just nothing to recommend this place. And yet there was a line out the door.

NoRTH - as much as I'd love to slam a chain restaurant, the food here is simply beyond reproach. Paper-thin cured meats sliced to order, delicious fresh cheeses, excellent wood-fired pizzas, solid cocktails and a reasonable (and reasonably priced) wine list. Deafeningly loud, which seemed like a conscious choice I could have done without, but whatever fills the place up I guess. Every member of the staff was working their butt off to keep the engine humming, and it was pretty damn impressive. I feel like Fox Concepts establishments are a glimpse into the future, basically where chain restaurants are headed, and while I'd prefer to support a smaller operation, it's exciting to see where the national bar could be set in a few years' time.

SEIS - again at the Mercado San Agustin, basically an upscale, super popular taco stand, the name comes from sporting cuisine from six different regions of Mexico. The food was flawless and relatively reasonably priced, but I felt like it was just a little antiseptic and soulless (see also: every Rick Bayless restaurant in Chicago). Regardless, hard to argue with the setting or the flavors, I would definitely go back. Also, not sure if their "handmade" tortillas are made on premises or elsewhere, but either way they are phenomenal.

Exo Coffee - very respectable third wave coffeehouse with great house-roasted coffee drinks and cool digs. Liked my cappuccino, loved my macchiato, and postively swooned for my cold brew with pinches of chocolate and chile. They could use more and better snacks, but far be it from me to knock them for focusing on coffee craft.

Mar 23, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Crudo: still my favorite restaurant in Phoenix

We swung briefly through Phoenix last week and made our obligatory pilgrimage to Crudo. Man, this place is at least as good as ever, maybe a shade better. Although the place was far from empty (and the bar packed), I can't help but wonder if Crudo's greatness might be a little bit lost on some Phoenicians. "Uncompromising" can mean different things in different situations, but here I feel like it means that chef Cullen Campbell is refusing to turn up the metaphorical volume on his dishes, sticking to unusually subtle combinations of flavors that you could miss if they don't have your full attention.

Specials aside, the short menu has barely changed in three years, and I don't mean that as a complaint. Not unlike Pizzeria Bianco, whose menu just about hasn't changed in 20 years, the kitchen seems laser beam-focused on executing well without getting distracted by a new menu every 3 or 6 or 12 months.

While everything was excellent, DC and I were split on favorites, simply as a matter of preference. We both loved the raw fish preparations, especially the albacore and yellowtail (I'll quibble that the ahi wasn't on par with the rest of the meal, just a bit fishy). My absolute favorites were the burrata and fresh mozzarella dishes. Standouts for my DC were the cooked dishes, especially the squid ink risotto and the perfectly-textured potato gnocchi. And while we weren't expecting anything memorable for dessert, the orange vanilla budino was wonderful, a subtle, not-too-sweet blend of excellent flavors including a perfect pistachio biscotto.

The thoughtful modern cocktails seriously bolster the overall experience, arguably turning the restaurant into a top-notch stuzzichini (Italian tapas) bar. Whereas the food menu is pretty static, it's been fun watching the cocktail menu evolve, with the wide array of fresh fruits and herbs highlighting different facets of the food. And the wine list ain't half bad either, with both some not-unreasonably-priced bottles and, more surprisingly, about two dozen wines by the glass that don't suck (nearly all glasses in the $10 - $15 range, so not cheap, but perhaps the price of avoiding plonk).

At about $200 for two people after tax and tip, just a fantastic meal top to bottom. For my money I can't think of a better restaurant within a day's drive of my home. We'll definitely be back.

Mar 23, 2015
finlero in Phoenix

Awesome spring rolls in ABQ/SF?

I should have known that Banh Mi Coda is constitutionally incapable of turning out anything less than a stellar product.

Very, very good spring rolls. Excellent flavor and texture to the shrimp sausage and crunchy rolls, with a good balance of fillings and good dipping sauce. Still lettuce in lieu of fresh herbs, but here it at least felt like a semi-conscious decision rather than an overt cop-out.

I'm going to keep searching, but I kind of doubt I'm going to find better than Banh Mi Coda in the state.

Mar 09, 2015
finlero in Southwest
1

Awesome spring rolls in ABQ/SF?

The vibe at 2000 Vietnam, on the SE corner of San Mateo and Zuni, certainly felt the most "chowish" of the places I've tried so far given that it shares a building with Saigon Express Emissions Testing. The menu was also a little less mailed-in than a lot of its competition, with both some interesting choices on the printed menu and an actual specials board, one of the only ones I've seen at a Vietnamese restaurant in NM.

The shrimp spring rolls I had were quite good, in no small part because they were actually made to order. The shrimp was still hot, juxtaposed against the other cool fillings. No herbs, but the lettuce wasn't an afterthought, perhaps too many noodles, then wrapped in perfectly textured rice paper. FBOW the dipping sauce was a little less assertive than the other places I've tried; I'm not knowledgeable enough to know which ones have been jarred vs. fresh or whatever, but regardless it was a nice complement to the rolls.

My bun had way too many noodles, but the veggies were fresh. And I chose an unusual (at least for here) protein of sliced shrimp pate, which was excellent.

2000 Vietnam didn't become my go-to for any of the above, but it definitely earned a second look. I'd like to get back with some chowishly inclined friends and dig into some of the more interesting facets of the menu.

Mar 04, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Restaurant recommendations - Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos

Definitely do a board search, there are plenty of threads for all three towns within the past year. I don't know Taos well enough to make any recommendations, but for the other two, a few starting points:

ABQ: Upscale - just pass, it's not an upscale city; Regional - Mary & Tito's; Vegetarian - Vinaigrette

SF: Upscale - La Boca; Regional - the Shed; Vegetarian - Izanami

Honestly, between Santa Fe's residents and its tourism industry, vegetarian options abound, just know that some NM-style restaurants make their red and green chile sauces vegetarian and others don't. There are a number of threads on this too.

Mar 02, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Mexican Markets -Tubac to Nogales, AZ and/or Tucson

Something I said?

Mar 01, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Awesome spring rolls in ABQ/SF?

Had a very good dinner tonight at Saigon on San Mateo. The shrimp and pork spring rolls still weren't perfect, the rice paper was a little tough, but they actually had mint in them and they weren't absolutely bursting with noodles. My bun with sugar cane shrimp was straight-up great, just a fantastic set of fresh flavors. Looking forward to getting back here, it was excellent.

Feb 21, 2015
finlero in Southwest
1

Blue Corn Pinon Pancakes Santa Fe

Just saw that my CSA sells atole a la carte for $3.49/lb. Beneficial Farms CSA has been just outstanding, a collaboration between 4 primary farms in NM and about two dozen ancillary ones across NM and TX. I miss my single-farm CSA from Boston, but Beneficial has provided a great supply of locally grown produce clear through the year.

Feb 21, 2015
finlero in Southwest
2

Awesome spring rolls in ABQ/SF?

Checked out Pho 79 over the long weekend. Spring rolls were serviceable but they didn't knock my socks off. The rice paper was a little dry and tough and the flavors were just a touch muted. Maybe I just caught them on a bad day. My curried vermicelli bowl entree was a solid notch better; nothing fancy, but very tasty. Enjoyed my meal, but Pho 79 didn't displace any of my go-to trio of Huong Thao, Viet Taste, and Banh Mi Coda.

If nothing else, this has motivated me to start really checking out ABQ's embarrassment of Vietnamese culinary riches; I'm excited to start trying a bunch of new places and see how they are.

Feb 18, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Almond Cake

One of the most elegant tasting desserts I can think of, and ridiculously, stupidly easy. Outstanding all around, I love this recipe.

Feb 14, 2015
finlero in Recipes

Awesome spring rolls in ABQ/SF?

Haven't been, but will add to the list, thanks!

Feb 12, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Awesome spring rolls in ABQ/SF?

The former.

Feb 11, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Awesome spring rolls in ABQ/SF?

Although I have a few go-to places for Vietnamese in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (Huong Thao for pho, Viet Taste for bun an banh hoi, and especially Banh Mi Coda for banh mi), I haven't really found anywhere that nails spring rolls. The closest I've found are Talin Santa Fe's pop-up spring rolls on Fridays or Counter Culture's Americanized ones, but nothing quite hits it out of the park.

So how about you? Do you have a go-to place for killer spring rolls in Albuquerque or Santa Fe? Anything else on the menu that's a must-have?

Feb 11, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Pinon Green Chile Brittle Santa Fe

CG Higgins is my favorite candy shop in town. Not sure they have piƱon green chile brittle together, but they definitely sell each separately. They also do a phenomenal lavender pecan brittle.

Jan 27, 2015
finlero in Southwest

One night in Santa Fe

(Board search will give you tons of info on any of these.)

Inexpensive Southwestern dinner near the Plaza: the Shed or Plaza Cafe. Lunch in Santa Fe or en route to Taos: Santa Fe Bite, Rancho de Chimayo (the latter in Chimayo on the "high road" to Taos). Non-Southwestern: Beestro in Santa Fe is good for a quick sandwich, Talin in Santa Fe is good if you're in the mood for ramen (or fresh-made Chinese dumplings on Monday, or fresh-made Vietnamese spring rolls on Friday).

I can't really help with food stores in Taos, but in Santa Fe Kaune's is a great if pricey market with a lot of local history. Sprouts, Whole Foods, and La Montanita Coop all have a lot of local stuff as well.

Jan 25, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Soo Bak Foods Korean Seoul Food truck - Albuquerque

I've had that bibimbop outside Marble a few times, good stuff! Not life changing, but totally respectable.

Jan 23, 2015
finlero in Southwest

best bakery/pastry shop in Santa Fe

IMO, in terms of deliciousness, Dulce leaves the rest of its Santa Fe competition in the dust. The only trick is that I wouldn't call it "fancy" per se; think of them as being in the top decile of American neighborhood bakeries, sporting top-notch renditions of canonical recipes. You're not going to find an acai yuzu cardamom iced cronut, but you will find a perfectly moist chocolate cake sporting deep chocolate flavor, carrot cake with creamy, balanced, not-too-acidic cream cheese frosting, beautiful straight-ahead lemon meringue tarts, etc. Check out their website, you can get the gist of the place: http://www.dulcebakery.com/

If you're hellbent on something a little less pedestrian-on-paper, check out Clafoutis or Swiss Bakery. Both are quite good and a little more outwardly fancy than Dulce. Swiss Bakery's website doesn't do it justice, and I don't think Clafoutis has one at all.

Some people like Chocolate Maven, personally I think they have among the most boring-tasting desserts in town, but check it out for yourself: http://chocolatemaven.com/

Also, Joseph's of Santa Fe is a restaurant, but they have a very good "cloud cake" on their dessert menu, a meringue cake with caramel, grapefruit, and tarragon. I'm guessing you could make advance arrangements to get an entire cake. http://www.josephsofsantafe.com/menus/

Jan 22, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Santa Fe Talin Market's Crazily Awesome Monday-only "Pop-up Dumpling Bar"

Oh man, it's been so long that my mind's palate doesn't really remember the Boston XLB that well. Let me put it this way: I absolutely love the dumplings at Talin, but I think the XLB from Budai are a major step better still. The other Budai dish I get every time is the three cup chicken off the secret menu. Also, any green veggie special is going to be excellent (pea tendrils, hollow heart, amaranth, etc.).

Jan 21, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Santa Fe Talin Market's Crazily Awesome Monday-only "Pop-up Dumpling Bar"

Hey, yes, howdy and welcome! Nice to run into you again in a nicer setting. I guess I miss high-end dining that's actually arguably worth the price, but if nothing else I've become a much better home cook. And honestly the chow scene is surprisingly good here.

You been to Budai yet for their XLB and secret menu? Also excellent.

Jan 20, 2015
finlero in Southwest
1

ABQ - Teriyaki Chicken (Downtown) becomes Asian Pear

Nice, if this place is actually good, we're just one decent Ethiopian restaurant away from my not needing to leave the state for my international food fixes.

Jan 12, 2015
finlero in Southwest

Blue Corn Pinon Pancakes Santa Fe

Plaza Cafe Southside has pretty good ones, but they've got nothing on the ones from Tecolote. Not specifically sure where to buy atole, but I'd be surprised if it weren't available at some local supermarkets.

Jan 10, 2015
finlero in Southwest

ABQ - Las Cruces - Tucson - Cottonwood

Cool, thanks. My better half grew up in Prescott and we're always on the lookout for places in the area to try when we go back.

Jan 08, 2015
finlero in Southwest

ABQ - Las Cruces - Tucson - Cottonwood

Just curious, would you describe EGA as "good for Prescott" or just "good"? Or something else?

Jan 07, 2015
finlero in Southwest

ABQ - Las Cruces - Tucson - Cottonwood

Sparky's in Hatch is terrific. My favorite is the Oinker, a green chile cheeseburger topped with smoked pulled pork.

Vietnamese in Santa Fe

Agree with ninrn, but I'd sooner send you down to ABQ, where there are approximately 2.8 billion Vietnamese restaurants along Central.

Dec 24, 2014
finlero in Southwest

Santa Fe Talin Market's Crazily Awesome Monday-only "Pop-up Dumpling Bar"

Yep.

Dec 24, 2014
finlero in Southwest

Fire & Hops, Santa Fe: hooray for more midscale tastiness

A self-proclaimed "gastropub" in the mold of Dr. Field Goods and Loyal Hound, Fire & Hops' arrival in Santa Fe is probably as good a time as any for me to shut up once and for all about the City Different not having a critical mass of good midscale eateries. The international ingredient accents make the menu itself it more interesting than Loyal Hound and very different than Dr. Field Goods; in terms of pure deliciousness I think it's still a tick behind the other two, but it's already very good and I suspect it'll get better.

The majority of the menu is small plates from around the world, some dishes sticking to a specific region and others leaning a little more fusion-style. (Straight-up ramen on the one hand, green chile poutine on the other, fish and chip fritters with salt and vinegar aioli somewhere in between). The flavors were generally quite good, as well as very bold and exceedingly complex, but to me the complexity periodically lapsed into a bit of muddiness, with too many disparate flavors fighting for attention without quite achieving that alchemical spark to bring it all together. Again, nothing bad and often very good, but it didn't all quite work yet. Standouts from our meal were deep-fried Brussels sprouts in fish sauce and a surprisingly refined grilled eggplant dish whose exact flavor profile is now eluding me due to...

...a pretty good craft beer selection. Lots of taps from NM and the rest of the West, with a Belgian or two thrown in. More taps than Loyal Hound, fewer than Dr. Field Goods, again I'd argue these other two are a little more interesting on the beer front. Wine list was kind of plonky for my tastes, no glasses over $10 and only one bottle over $50.

The digs are small, cozy, unpretentious, and convivial, located in one of the old houses on S. Guadalupe, a terrific spot to go on a cold winter night. Totally competent, not especially remarkable staff (which is all to the good). Like Loyal Hound and Dr. Field Goods, pretty good value. A dinner for two of about a half dozen small plates and two beers each came to $70 after tax and tip.

Dec 11, 2014
finlero in Southwest

Cheesemongers of Santa Fe is now open

Stopped in this week and was generally very impressed. They already have a good selection of cheeses from Europe and the US, which will presumably continue to expand as they lock in their supply lines. At least at present, the cheeses lean domestic; there's a particularly large number of cheeses from Vermont, which is neither specifically good nor specifically bad, just noteworthy. I was especially impressed with their blue cheese selection, large and diverse. Whole Foods still has a better selection of European cheeses, but again, I think this place will get there, and I'd much, much rather support this up-and-coming local business.

They have a more limited selection of cured meats, again leaning domestic and again pretty well selected (lots of products from Creminelli out of Utah). Also the expected array of olives, fancy pickles, jams, dried pastas, local bread, etc.

Staff is young, knowledgeable, and generally personable, rather conspicuously trained to drop a fact or two into conversation to demonstrate that they know their stuff. If nothing else, they do a great job chumming the waters with copious free samples, which I'm sure pays dividends. Prices are high but not crazy for the quality (many cheeses in the $20-$30/lb range). Immaculately clean, nicely lit space. Looks like they already have a friendly relationship with the La Casa Sena wine shop to do joint tastings.

Dec 11, 2014
finlero in Southwest