Category Archives: Restaurants
Denver’s restaurant week (really weeks) concluded March 8, 2013. For those of you who don’t live in Denver, the deal is this: restaurants all over town offer an appetizer, main entree, and dessert for two at the bargain price of $52.80. ”5280″ signifies our mile high status. You know 5280 feet = 1 mile.
I am guessing here but I think the initial purpose of restaurant week was to get people out and trying new restaurants for a bargain price. This can be particularly enticing when sampling certain restaurants that are otherwise quite pricey. The rub is that most restaurants only offer a “5280″ menu, meaning that they do not offer their entire menu for this deal, only certain entrees. More often than not, you are unable to order anything that is not on the special menu.
Traditionally, we try to take advantage of restaurant week and we did again this year at two places. I’ll get to that in a minute.
The point of this post? I think restaurant week has taken a bad turn. It seems that now, these two weeks push quantity over quality. Most restaurants are offering the easiest and most commonplace fare on their special menus. It’s what they can push and guarantee in bulk – chicken and steak. If I am out to try something new, I want the dish that makes the restaurant unique, the cuisine that separates you from the others, and the food that will keep me coming back. Unless, of course, you are only interested in pushing as many people as possible through your restaurant to make a record profit.
During restaurant week, I had dinner with an old friend at a local sushi joint. Said sushi joint was not part of restaurant week. We know the general manager at this place and he always comes over to chat us up. This time my friend exclaimed, “I’m so surprised this place isn’t crazy packed because of restaurant week.” the GM replied, “Well, we don’t do restaurant week, as it is difficult for a sushi place, but also it’s pretty much for non-foodies who only eat out once a year. Yeah, everyone pushes the fast and easy foods to make a quick buck.” As one of those people who scrambles for 5280 reservations, I was taken aback. But then I thought about it…He is so right.
I had been to Rioja before and Andy had not. Given it’s stellar reputation, Andy was dying to try it and so we went. Aside from running 15 minutes behind on their reservations, our experience was great. Rioja offered a 5280 menu ( a good sampling of their most popular entrees) in addition to their entire menu. The items not on the 5280 menu were more expensive by a few dollars and they were clearly marked. Faced with all of the options, each of us ordered from the regular menu for main entrees, I had the duck (color you shocked) and Andy had the Colorado lamb. Our food was top notch and we would definitely go back. We were so delighted with the opportunity sample the signature dishes of Rioja and were pleased to see that they offered us their entire menu during this crazy restaurant week especially when, in our experience, almost no one else did. Despite the few extra bucks per entree, the meal was still a bargain.
Our second food adventure that week was Trillium. We’ve been wanting to try this restaurant for a long time due to its unique menu and Scandinavian fare. It is routinely featured in 5280 Magazine and so we had high hopes. Ugh. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t bad but it was nothing to write home about either. We were disappointed. Trillium offered a 5280 menu only. The entrees included chicken, steak, and fish. The preparations were not unique. I will say that they endive salad and flourless chocolate cake were awesome but overall, I don’t feel like we were able to sample the essence of this restaurant – what makes it unique. At the end of our meal, I asked to see the real menu. It looked great with unusual and uniquely Scandinavian fare. I understand that not everyone is an adventurous eater but wouldn’t you want to expose new diners to what makes Trillium Trillium? That’s what we were hoping to get but did not. Sounds like they have a great happy hour and maybe we’ll go back for that and try the smorgasbord but… maybe not.
We were bamboozled by restaurant week. Know what you are getting into.
Advice: Restaurant week is great for places you know and love. You can go out and get a bargain price on your favorite meal. If you are looking to try something new, especially something with unique fare, find a time outside the “cattle call” of restaurant week. You will get to experience everything unique about a restaurant and chances are, it will be the uniqueness and quality of the food that make you a repeat customer.
Here’s the situation: We’ve found our “relationship restaurant”. What’s a relationship restaurant? It’s a place that brings both of your favorite foods to the same table and does it with perfection. Our relationship restaurant is Cafe Prague in Morrison, Colorado.
Cafe Prague’s original home was in Georgetown, Colorado and moved to Morrison about eight years ago. Morrison is such a beautiful and quaint little town that represents everything that is amazing about Colorado. I’m happy our relationship restaurant is in this setting.
We went to Cafe Prague on a Sunday night – reservations are required. The food is classic Czech fare including goulash, sweet-and-sour cabbage, and bread dumplings. A lighter collection of European foods is served when the weather warms in the summer months. But until then, the restaurant is cozy and classy with mural scenes adorning the walls, comfy leather chairs, white table cloths, and world maps for table tops. If you visit Cafe Prague’s website, you can admire the summer patio. We can’t wait to see it in person!
It was Andy’s obsession with goulash that brought us to Cafe Prague. Andy has fond memories of himself wandering the streets of Prague and eating goulash at every opportunity. I’ve tried my hand at goulash and dumplings. I think I did ok – especially on the dumplings part – but Andy is always looking to recreate the magic of Prague’s goulash. That magic was re-created at Cafe Prague and I was along for the ride. Andy says THIS, THIS is EXACTLY like the goulash from Prague. His plate was clean in about 4 minutes. He was thrilled. Now I’ll have to fine tune my Czech goulash. So, if anyone has helpful hints….
So, I said that I was “along for the ride”. That was true…at first. I perused the menu and noticed several duck entrees. I felt a smug expression come over my face. You should know that I am a duck connoisseur. For real. I grew up with mother’s delicious roasted duck with the crunchiest of skin. As an adult, I’ve mastered the art of roasting my own duck to perfection. It’s my favorite. FAVORITE. I’ve sampled the duck at damn-near every restaurant in Denver. I know good duck. It’s cute, the attempts that some restaurants make with their overly fatty (and soggy) skinned creatures they try to pass off as “ducky genius”. Come on. To be fair, it’s not all horrible. There are a few places that get it mostly right but never perfect. I can’t really remember those places – who remembers average, right? My restaurant-duck-eating-world was forever-changed by Cafe Prague. Cafe Prague’s Bohemian Duck is THE BEST duck of all time. All time. All time in the entire universe. I could not take a proper photo without inviting more stares than I’m comfortable with but here’s what I got:
Bohemian duck with cabbage and bread dumplings. The duck was cooked to perfection with a thin veil of fat-trimmed crunchy skin from tip to tail. I could not believe my eyes and my taste buds went into shock. I immediately began raving about it to Andy (who has seen me order duck time and time again only to hear average reviews). He knew this was huge.
The perfect duck and the perfect goulash. It doesn’t get better for us. Our relationship restaurant has been identified.
As if that wasn’t enough, I was introduced to Becherovka which is an herbal bitters flavored with cloves, anise seed, cinnamon, and over 30 other herbs. I think it is typically an after dinner drink. I shy away from overly sweet after dinner drinks. Meh. I loved this! Full of flavor, a touch of sweet, and not crazy strong. I wonder what you can mix it with… I feel like a hot toddy would work well but I haven’t looked into it. Maybe one of you know.
I’m so happy we found this place. What a gem. We’ll be back – frankly, I couldn’t keep Andy away if I wanted to. I urge you to try it. And also, I’d like to hear about your relationship restaurant – got one?