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Colorado Springs, CO


washingtony
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Hey, that's not true at all! I'm interested in anything in the Boulder/Denver/Colorado Springs corridor...and should be able to report back on at least a few forays by the end of April. smile.gif

One thing I look forward to in Colorado Springs is better Mexican food than I can find in DC. La Casita is traditionally my go-to place for low-key, casual Mexican (there's one on south 8th st and another on north Nevada...and maybe one more somewhere else [E. Woodmen Rd.]). If you want a more full-service restaurant experience, I also really like Amanda's Fonda on west Colorado near Manitou.

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One thing I look forward to in Colorado Springs is better Mexican food than I can find in DC. La Casita is traditionally my go-to place for low-key, casual Mexican (there's one on south 8th st and another on north Nevada...and maybe one more somewhere else).

Ahh...La Casita. That brings back memories of college. They had some of the best handmade tortillas I've ever had. Add in a trip to Conway's Red Top [since 1944] and you pretty much covered a good portion of my eating-out locales.

Hey...I was a poor college student!

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After three trips to Pizzeria Rustica in Old Colorado City, I know that the "ricotta surprise" in the eponymous pizza is that the ricotta is hidden in the crust. Scoop it out and scatter it over the crushed San Marzano tomatoes, homemade mozzarella, paper-thin prosciutto, and peppery arugula, and you have a dish that will rival the best Neapolitan pizze in the D.C. area.

The large antipasto platter is perfect to share, coming with ample amounts of that same prosciutto, a black-pepper salume, bite-sized pieces of polenta cake, marinated olives, roasted and marinated tomatoes, and assorted other vegetable salads (last night, pickled cauliflower with capers and carrots) and cheeses (usually pecorino and something vaguely cheddar-like). The wine list specializes in organically-grown Italian imports, and while a favorite Nero_d'Avola was out last night, there was a nice sangiovese to take its place.

And no, I absolutely did not want the freaking delicious homemade espresso gelato with chocolate chips and biscotti crumbs, and I vastly resent being forced to share that, too. wink.gif

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As we all know from "To a Mouse," the best-laid plans gang aft agley -- but I'm here to attest that they don't always leave us with grief and pain. We went to see a movie, but the theatre had put another on the same screen, without announcing it. Ugh.

"Well, how about we go to the wine store, then sit and read at the coffee shop?"

A pause, then a considered nod. "Well ... I guess that's why we brought the iPads."

A half-case deal later, we began to chat with the friendly, helpful clerk as she rang up our purchases. A comment about the 2010 Bordeaux led to a comment about a sommelier friend ... and that's when our luck began to change.

"Oh, who's the somm?" asked the clerk.

"Ah, not out here -- back in DC," I replied. "Although, boy, I wish I could get him out here. The Springs would be just the kind of place he could open the sort of spot he'd like."

She half-laughed. "I moved here from San Diego and L.A. ... our food scene here is not all that."

The fiancé and I exchanged looks.

"Oh, I don't know," I said. "He thought that too before he moved back, but we've found some things to change his mind."

She stopped putting our bottles into the bag. "Well, if you want to support good, local food, and chefs doing interesting things--"

Another look between us. Did she just read our minds? Yes, please!

"--Go down to Kiowa, and turn left off Tejon. You can't in a car, because it's one way. And there's a little place, just opened, doesn't even have a sign. The Conscious Table. Three young chefs doing local and sustainable, farm-to-table stuff. I helped them do their wine list -- I'm a wholesale rep, just work in the shop one day a week for fun -- they are doing awesome, creative stuff. Only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays ... you have to check it out."

Our eyes got wide. "I think that description used every buzzword that generally indicates a restaurant the two of us would love," the fiancé finally replied.

"Great!" she smiled. "Tell them Stacy sent you. It's fantastic. Enjoy!"

After putting the wine in the car, we headed for the restaurant. Sure, locavore and farm-to-table have become marketing speak that might make the jaded gourmand roll his or her eyes, but the actual practices lend themselves to the kind of cooking we both seek out and savor. If that's really what they were doing, we absolutely had to check it out.

And there, in a mostly-unmarked storefront, sat an adorable space with exposed brick walls, a working fireplace, and the menu of the night on a huge chalkboard. Country paté? Xocolatl yardbird? Red curry shrimp pho? Too many choices! While we tried to decide, an amuse of pickled beets atop a slice of lemon cucumber from an heirloom garden of a neighbor gave us the first indication that we were in for a treat.

A plate of dense-crumbed fennel-studded bread with excellent salted butter and olive oil helped get us through the decision process. The (yes, actually) well-priced wine list yielded a nicely drinkable Côtes du Rhone that went wonderfully with the Butternut squash tarte tatin we shared to start. The tatin was amazing, with caramelized pineapple bringing out the natural sweetness of the squash, and the puff-pastry crust adding flaky, buttery crunch to each bite. We also had a small Sencha salad, mixed greens, candied walnuts, apples, goat cheese -- a perfect fall combination, and one of the best vinaigrettes I've had in ages (and I wish I knew what it was).

For his main course, the fiancé chose the Lamb bolognese, mashed potatoes, a slow-cooked dish of rich, deeply-flavored comfort if ever there was one. And I had to go with the Seared scallops, sweet potato purée, arugula, and beet molasses: four perfectly cooked giant scallops, caramelized on the outside but tender inside, over wilted greens, with little hits of sweetness from the root vegetable elements -- everything I could want in each lovely bite.

By this point, we knew this had to be the best meal we'd had in Colorado Springs, and on the list of the best meals we'd shared anywhere. The kind of place we want to bring people, just to see their eyes widen when they take their first bite and realize the talent that went into creating their food. The kind of place we want everyone to go, so they succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

We opted to bring home leftovers in favor of trying the Cranberry chocolate frangipane for dessert ... and asked the waitress if the restaurant would consider doing a semi-private event in mid-January.

"Sure!" she said brightly. "Here, I'll go get Chef."

And so, mid-bite of the excellent dessert -- tart cranberries mitigating what might otherwise have been a sugar-bomb of chocolate and almond paste -- Chef Brent Beavers pulled up a chair to chat with us.

And, full disclosure -- that "sencha" in the salad was a clue. The fiancé had already begun to notice the staff looked familiar; several of them hail from a restaurant of that name, now closed, that he used to visit and quite liked. It's like when your favorite actors show up in an indie movie you hadn't even planned on seeing ... just a little extra treat.

The restaurant is already offering chef's tables with multiple courses and pairings, so we talked to Chef Beavers about doing an event there, which seemed to be right up his alley. He seemed as excited as we were to plan a mid-winter celebration, and I can't wait to go back and taste what he's got in store.

Sure, the movie would have been fun. But stumbling into a restaurant that could have been created with us in mind? Plans, shmans: I'll take that any day.

And another one of those squash tarts. Oh, yes, please.

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The sushi I had ranged from good (competent sake sashimi and hamachi maki) to excellent (the Hawaiian poke maki and tuna tataki over daikon threads in a spicy sauce), but maybe the best thing about Fujiyama is that they keep a few stone bowls around. If you know to ask (almost no one does -- some of the staff didn't even know the bowls existed), they'll use one for your authentic bi-bim-bap -- and if it's your fiancée's birthday and you give her some of the delicious crunchy rice from the bottom of the bowl, well, it just might be a really great birthday dinner.

And to the two couples at the table next to us when we sat down: the Ninth Doctor? Really? I sure hope that conversation was about to get into the awesomeness of Ten and Eleven.

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Had so much fun planning the amazing wedding dinner with Chef Beavers and his team at the Conscious Table (see above). They are absolutely incredible, creating exactly the meal we wanted, and exhibiting perhaps as much excitement about making our night perfect as we ourselves felt. They even made us some commemorative menus ... and after I left my bouquet there, hung it up to dry!

I encourage everyone to make the trip (from Denver, from Santa Fe, heck, from DC) to try this place. I'll meet you there.

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So I had to join my boss and good friend Roy out in Colorado Springs last week to help support a customer. Fortunately for us, I'm wicked smart, and we were done by lunch time.

Roy decided he wanted to go to Phantom Valley Brewing Company for lunch. He'd been there before and we had a good lunch and a fun tasting of 8 or 10 beers. After that, needs demanded a nap before we went out for the night.

Push comes to shove we went back there for a few pints and snacks. At happy hour pints are only $2.75, and as Roy is a member of the American Homebrewers Association he gets happy hour pricing all the time. An appetizer of meat and cheese included pretzel sticks, some sort of cracker/flat bread, thick juicy salami, and bratwurst-esque sausages, plus queso dip. Delicious.

From there we ended up at Jack Quinn's which was quite the fun Irish bar. Whiskey maple wings were a bit too much on the maple syrup for me, but were big and juicy. Beers were quite delicious, and the live music was quite entertaining.

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Something I wanted to add...the beer at PVBC was definitely of the more west coast variety. For instance, my buddy Roy is rather hops-adverse and he found the IPA to be a bit too hoppy for him. On the other hand, they had what I felt was the best American pilsener I've had yet.

They also had a good selection of Colorado spirits. Unfortunately I didn't have the time or liver to try most of them...

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They also had a good selection of Colorado spirits. Unfortunately I didn't have the time or liver to try most of them...

Shame -- I hear Stranahan's is pretty great, and of course Leopold Bros has quite the line-up.

Jack Quinn's isn't bad. I haven't been to PVBC (not really drinking these days :) ). If you have to come back, or if Roy is back in town, check out Rabbit Hole Dinner and Drinks, Nosh, or the Blue Star -- the last two known in particular for beer and cocktails.

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So a certain company that is a customer of ours is willing to pay my hourly rate (inflated because I'm not supposed to be billable, so we crank it up, and people keep paying it anyway) to basically sit on my butt "just in case something happens" for 21 business days in Colorado Springs.

There are worse places to be stranded, I guess, if'n I don't get turned to ash or something like that (isn't the whole state on fire?). But I have a feeling I'll finally get a chance to try those spirits I was talking about! (Other than Leopold's - since thanks to Lindsay, we get 'em all out here...)

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It's a great spot with a gorgeous patio. Thanks for the rec, Leleboo! Pretty salads, great char and crust on the pizza (we got the salumi and rustica), and tasty ingredients.

We also grabbed a nice gyro at In & Out Gyros downtown. The vegetarian mezze plate and a gyro make an excellent and fairly quick shared lunch. We were looking for The Conscious Table, but it was closed :(

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So far this week:

Edelweiss: Good old style German. Enjoyed it.

Jack Quinn's: Eh, Irish. Not bad. Good beer on tap.

Phantom Canyon Brewing Company: IMHO a solid choice both for food and drink.

Last week went to Bird Dog BBQ, which was strictly meh.

Tonight dunno where I'm going, as I'm on my own and leave tomorrow. Probably something fast and easy, then to get back to finishing off the 4 Odell's and 4 Deschutes beers in my fridge...

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It's a great spot with a gorgeous patio. Thanks for the rec, Leleboo! Pretty salads, great char and crust on the pizza (we got the salumi and rustica), and tasty ingredients.

We also grabbed a nice gyro at In & Out Gyros downtown. The vegetarian mezze plate and a gyro make an excellent and fairly quick shared lunch. We were looking for The Conscious Table, but it was closed :(

Yes -- unfortunately, financial craziness got Conscious Table in the end. Big disappointment, but a small chef-run place in the current financial climate ... alas. But glad you enjoyed the pizza -- and we agree that the patio is a wonderful spot to dine!

Last week went to Bird Dog BBQ, which was strictly meh.

Front Range BBQ is fantastic, and has maybe the best beer list in town. Sadly, my dr.com alert that is supposed to tell me there are new posts in this thread did not actually do so, so this information is probably no longer useful for you -- but for others, keep an eye out!

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Oh I forgot one: Old Chicago Grill. My coworkers were insistent we should go. I kept remarking it looked like an Uno's...

...and it reminded me a lot of one. Nice to have non-thin pizza, though, and the pizza wasn't bad. Decent selection of beers, friendly service. Not a destination, perhaps, but was worth it for a change of pace one night.

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Any word on current candidates for "best restaurant in the Springs" honors? I have a good friend who'll be out there for a couple of weeks and I'd have sent him and his wife to Conscious Table. Anything new that chef is doing? Anything within 20 miles or so at that level? Thank you!

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Oh, probably too late to be of help, but right now there's not a whole lot of interest going on, frankly. Brent Beavers from Conscious Table has disappeared into the ether (actually into the mountains) and his co-chef, Aaron Retka, has a newborn daughter and I'm not quite sure where he's cooking right now, if anywhere.

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I would just like to say that our future Olympians/athletes-in-training (including paraolympians) deserve better food than the corporate-sponsored, non-sustainable, non-locally sourced food they are fed while training. I was very saddened by the number of processed stuff in the training center this past weekend. :(

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