4th Annual Foodie Gift Guide

by Grace Boyle on December 2, 2016

It is officially December and the holidays are upon us. Welcome to Grace(full) Plate’s holiday, foodie gift guide.

Happy Holidays

I’ve picked nine foodie gift items that I think your food-loving/home chef/in-law/wife/bestie/daughter/son will love.

These are items that I really love and use in my kitchen. I’ve been sure to include links to where you can purchase these items and no, I don’t get kickbacks or referral fees. I just love sharing and the giving season (in the kitchen)! In some cases I may link to an affordable place to buy the product (e.g. Amazon) while also listing the brand that makes the product, as well.

Foodie Gift Guide 2016

  1. Chef’n Kale, Chard, and Herb Stripper $3.27 | Chefn: This tool is so little it fits easily in your drawers (or pocket). It has different hole sizes pending what green leafy item you may want to ‘strip’ the leaves or herbs off of. This helps me with my smoothies and also cuts down some chopping time with herbs and pesky stems.
  2. Oenophilia Large Slate Cheese Board $16.99 | Bed Bath & BeyondI received this slate cheese board as a gift years ago and because I love cheese plates so much, I use it every month. You can write in chalk on the board next to the cheese and the handles make it easy to transport. I think this is also a really fair price for the beauty of this piece. Great for entertaining; you can place anything on this beauty.
  3. Zojirushi Rice Cooker/Steamer $44.99 | Macy’s: This gets used almost weekly in our home. You drop in your 2:1 ratio of water to rice, and flip the switch. It turns to warming when it’s done (in about ~15-20 minutes) so you can eat it well after it’s cooked and it’s still good. I have the three cup version (but there are other sizes if needed).
  4. Acetaia Cattani White Balsamic Vinegar $14.95 | Sur La Table: Produced in Italy, and made from sweet, white Trebbiano grapes this vinegar is light and golden in color. It’s made from fifth-generation family-owned producers using only indigenous grapes from Cattani’s vineyard. It’s great with vegetables or fish and is best when reduced. My (very Italian) mother introduced it to me. She always has it on hand, and now I make her homemade salad dressing with this and olive oil as the base (just add crushed fresh garlic, salt, and pepper, and voila).
  5. Stainless Steel Stovetop Popcorn Popper $54.99 | Target: I grew up with popcorn as a primary snack in our lives. We even have our own seasoning. For those reasons, my brother and I take popcorn seriously, even though we’ve lived away from home for years now. My mom bought us each one of these so we could have perfectly popped popcorn. It comes with a hand crank for proper evenness but it pops within five minutes.
  6. Kyocera, Ceramic Mandolin $15.65 | Amazon: We use this for most meals. The mandolin slices anything paper thin and with swiftness. It’s great for carrots atop a salad, string onions to caramelize, to slicing thin apples to snack on. Please note, this blade is razor sharp and I’ve had a few friends get too close for comfort, so purchase some kitchen-grade gloves with it as you slice for safety-sake.
  7. Loredana’s Balsamic Vinaigrette $12 | Loredana’s: Local to Colorado, I first laid eyes on Loredana’s marinades, spreads, and vinaigrette’s at the farmers market. They’re a true artisan company and everything is handmade in small batches. My mom now bulks up when she visits, or orders online, and freezes the thick, slightly sweet and delicious, balsamic vinaigrette. We use it in her pine nut, lemon pepper chicken bake and it makes the dish. You would be good ordering any of their products, but try the balsamic. When you get it, drizzle it over fresh mozzarella.
  8. Yeti Stainless Steel Rambler $39.99 | YetiWe’re big Yeti consumers in our house. From the cooler that keeps ice cold for days, to their rambler for our morning coffee commute, their products are top notch. The 30 oz. tumblr keeps your coffee hot all day, or your after dinner drink cool filled with ice. It has double-wall vacuum insulation and their patented, “no sweat design”. I love how they call it “over-engineered”. This thing is legit.
  9. Universal Cover – A Lid for Every Pot $14.99 | Bed Bath & Beyond: This one is simple. It’s a lid that has many grooves so it fits on most sizes of pots. I keep it at the top of my drawer if I can’t find a lid and drop it on any pot. It’s so convenient.

Note: These are often timeless. For further inspiration, you can refer to the rest of the foodie gift guides I’ve curated over the years here.

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Spuntino: Delivered with Love and Hand Crafted Detail

by Grace Boyle on November 11, 2016

Spuntino is a cozy, neighborhood Italian restaurant in the Highlands of Denver that’s owned by wife and husband team, Chef Cindhura Reddy and General Manager, Elliot Strathmann. The two had managed the restaurant together since 2013, but they purchased it from the previous owners in September of 2014.

Elliot Strathmann and Cindhura Reddy of Spuntino

I have a soft spot for husband-wife restaurants because running a restaurant is hard enough, let alone with your partner. Not only does it impress me, but it shows such gumption and commitment to the love of their craft. Spuntino is no exception – it’s incredibly well executed. Their seamlessness is like watching an effortless, beautiful dance they do together with thoughtful food and menu building from Reddy, to personalized front of the house service and an inventive beverage menu from Strathmann. There’s a gentleness and graciousness from both of them that I don’t always see in restaurants, but don’t confuse that for softness, they don’t skip a beat on any detail and are both sharp.

The Decor:

The space itself is long and narrow with just a handful of tables flanked by the reclaimed wood bar and open kitchen. In the back, there’s a room for larger parties. Hanging Edison lightbulbs make for rustic and delicate lighting and I love all the wooden decor from the tables to walls.

Spuntino Interior

With the small kitchen they have, I loved watching Chef Reddy’s calm and cool demeanor while she smiles and cooks with focus.

Spuntino Tables

The Food:

When it comes to their Italian inspired menu the attention to detail and focus on doing everything themselves from scratch, is obvious. From hand making pasta everyday like pappardelle and bigoli, to Strathmann’s house-made amari liqueurs (more on these later), to making their own ricotta and baking their own bread, to their dedication of working with local farmers, to growing their own urban garden out front.

Food at Spuntino in Denver

Set like a traditional Italian menu, they start with antipasti, spuntini, primi (traditionally pasta, and never the final course if you’re a true Italian), to secondi which is more traditional entrees and proteins. The menu changes seasonally, based on the produce but falls about four times a year to reflect their local approach.

There is also a holistic thoughtfulness to their approach. For instance, for their risotto and arancini (fried risotto balls) they’ll use the whey from their cheese making to help add a creaminess to their risotto. There’s also the dedication to time. For their polpo (octopus) carpaccio style, they  poach the tentacles for four hours and then use a cheese cloth, to almost create a head-cheese like texture, to come out as carpaccio with potatoes, chorizo, celery and bright sweet peppers. It’s also worth noting the incredible value, for their food.

With the addition of their Fall menu mid-October, these are the dishes you must try on their new Fall (2016) menu.

Elk Tartare – Rocky Mountain elk, preserved lemon aioli, ginger garlic, shallot, and cured yolk. Alongside their house-made bread. I was floored to learn this was Colorado elk and not farm raised, but through a program with one of their providers this is actually Colorado hunted wild game. So often when you see elk (if you do at all) it’s going to be all the from Australia or New Zealand. Furthermore, if you’ve tasted wild game this may not be as gamey as you expect. This interesting tartare is mild, yet creamy in texture and the tangy aoili is a delicious addition.

Elk Tartare

Arancini – fried risotto with cauliflower, fontina, tumeric fried pickles, and marina. You could just serve arancini because who doesn’t love fried food, but their thoughtful plating and unique addition of creative elements make it special.

Arancini

Bigoli – Wild mushrooms, aged balsamic cream, and toasted pine nuts. Bigoli, is a type of pasta made into a long thick tube. All pasta is house made and prepared perfectly al dente. This dish exuded fall and I love how with well-made pasta, you can still feel light after. Afar Magazine named them as one of the 12 best places to enjoy pasta in the country. 

Wild Mushroom Bigoli

Risotto – Butternut squash, prosciutto brown butter, Thai basil and Pecorino. This has that creaminess from the risotto whey they make, but the crunchy of the prosciutto was a great texture addition.

Risotto

Amaro: 

There needs to be a whole section on their house made liqueurs. Amaro is an herbal liqueur from Italy that’s known as a digestivo, which you drink after dinner to help digest your food and settle your stomach. It’s also known to help reduce that “I ate way too much and I’m full,” feeling. It’s not as if Strathmann has enough on his plate co-owning a restaurant, but he took the time to develop a house-infused amaro program where he has landed on 11 infusions in the last few years. These infusions are made from herbs that he grows either at his house or at the restaurant garden.

Amaro at Spuntino

Sitting above his bar, you see the barrels aging where he has infused the likes of saffron, basil, marigold petals, fennel, anise, and chokecherries. The basil amaro (first one on the left), was made out of seven types of basil from their garden!

I love that they’re available traditionally as a digestiv for sipping on after your meal, or they’re also used in their cocktails like my favorite, Gardener’s Collins which is CapRock Gin, citrus, and Spuntino’s garden liqueur topped with marigold petals (top photo, below).

Cocktails at Spuntino

The bottom drink is the Sgroppino di Spuntino Redux which is Mell Vodka, sorbet, lemon, prosecco, and their own choke cherry syrup. I loved the frothiness of this drink.

Their wine program focuses on small production vineyards and it’s about 80-85% Italian wines and it rotates about 80 bottles. Their bottle list “The Off List” showcases their current favorites and rotates with frequency, beyond their standard wine menu.

Strathmann admits he lets Reddy own all of the food, besides a few snippets of his won, but the one food item he does own are his house made truffles he infuses with his liqueur. He uses 72% dark chocolate via Boulder’s Fortuna Chocolates.

The previous owners were well known for their gelato, and the gelato program has continued with freshly made house-gelato. I recommend the olive oil gelato. It has that savory creaminess of extra virgin-olive oil that’s drizzled on top of vanilla gelato. Zeppole, what I like to call “Italian fried-dough” is a traditional Sicilian dessert they offer.  Of course, don’t forget to end your evening with an amaro

Olive Oil Gelato Zeppole and Truffles

 

If you go to Spuntino, I know you’ll feel welcomed, comfortable, and be wowed by their attention to detail, the locally seasonal food, and the charm of the space and people.

Find Them: spuntinodenver.com | 2639 W. 32nd Ave, Denver, CO

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Local Table Tours Expands to Ft. Collins

by Grace Boyle on November 2, 2016

Experiential food excursions are all the rage. And for good reason. From farm to table dinners, to culinary classes, to food tours, they’re a great way to see an array of food purveyors and create memories.

I’ve written about Local Table Tours before and it is one of my favorite way to show friends and family (especially from out of town) the local food scene, through a new lens.

Local Table Tours takes care in ensuring they stop by restaurants or shops that are inventive, high quality, and showcase a unique story. My favorite part is that at each stop you get some inside access you may not if you were just a patron dining on your own. With Local Table Tours you might chat with the chef, or owner, or learn about the bar from the manager. They spend a little time with you to ensure your questions are answered so it’s a well rounded experience.

These are walking tours as well, so you’re typically getting to see the general area and lay of the land in between each stop. Note: You don’t walk too far. See FAQ’s.

Having been on a handful of tours over the years with Local Table Tours, I can say that each one has its own unique flavor (no pun intended). Pending the group dynamics, perhaps the weather, and who you interact with that day on the tour, you can make it a bit of your own. There’s creativity to pick what you want off a menu, while they may also have something prepared for you to try the best they have to offer. The fluidity of this makes it enjoyable and a bit different each time.

Megan Bucholz (owner) and her team are doing so well they’re offering culinary tours in Boulder, Denver and most recently, Ft. Collins. I recently went on one of their Ft. Collins cocktail tours and loved getting to see our northern neighboring town that I don’t get to as much.

Ft. Collins’ Local Table Tours currently offers a coffee, waffle, and chocolate tour, Jessup farm tasting tour, cocktail tour, and artisans at Scotch Pines tasting tour.

Old Fashioned's Local Table Tours

Led by Josie, a Ft. Collins resident, food writer, and food aficionado we made three stops on this cocktail tour.

We went to The Whiskey, The Social, and Mobb Distillery. We tried a cocktail at each location over the course of two hours and learned fun facts along the way.

For example, did you know The Whiskey carries 1700 types of whiskey, which surpasses The Stanley’s library, making them the largest Colorado bar in terms of whiskey? I also learned they have a locker program in their back room, where regulars (Whiskey club members) who spend at least $3,000 annually on bottles, can get one of the 40 lockers to hold their favorite bottles, purchased at the bar.

The WhiskeyHere, we enjoyed a sazerac, a traditional cocktail originating from New Orleans after the Cognac used in the drink, Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils in the late 1800’s.

Our second stop was The Social, an underground speakeasy where we enjoyed Old Fashioned’s. I learned besides their robust cocktail and wine program, they have a dedicated charcuterie game and a large absinthe menu.

The Social

Finally, we walked through town to the River District where we made our last stop at Mobb Mountain Distillery. Started by four friends who make rye whiskey and rye gin (this is unique!) their focus is on community they emphasize the “people” part of their business, creating a unique home-like feel in their small and cozy tasting room. We tasted their gin and whiskey, then picked from their craft cocktail list.

Mobb Mountain

If you love food and drink and are interested in learning more and exploring, you should look up Local Table Tours. Whether it’s for a fun afternoon date, a group of girlfriends, or bringing your friends/family from out of town, it’s going to be worth your while. While you’re at it, head to Ft. Collins for their newest set of tours.

Find Them: localtabletours.com

 

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Zoës Kitchen Comes to Boulder

by Grace Boyle on October 28, 2016

Zoës Kitchen, a fast-casual Mediterranean chain out of Texas, has opened their fifth outpost in Boulder at the 29th Street Mall on October 13th. This year they’ve added their first set of Colorado locations in Littleton, LoDo, Ft. Collins, and Westminster.

Inside Zoes Boulder

The menu is inspired by chef, Zoë Cassimus and her Greek family recipes that started in the south in 1995. Fast forward to 2016 and they have 200 locations and Italian-born chef, Antonio Iocchi oversees their culinary and beverage program.

Antonio studied in Rome at Scuola Alberghiera Culinary Institute where he has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants, to Michel’s at the Colony Surf in Hawaii, to leading culinary innovation at Romano’s Macaroni Grill for 18 years. Since 2015, Antonio is the head chef and VP of Culinary Innovation at Zoës. Antonio has a larger-than-life personality (I’ve met him) and he’s always working on ensuring the menu is innovative, delicious, and scalable. I appreciate this authenticity that he brings to the restaurant group.

Having had their food a handful of times, I can say, this isn’t just any old chain. The food is made from scratch daily, they hand-wash every vegetable, and their focus is on healthy and Mediterranean living. It’s something I can very much get behind.

One of my favorite facts is that there isn’t a single microwave or fryer, in any of their locations. 

Their dishes cover all of the Mediterranean featuring the likes of hummus, farro, salads, kabobs, and piadinas. They offer catering and a pretty impressive and inventive kids menu. The Boulder location plans to offer beer and wine, there are some items in their take-away cooler, and the location boasts a beautiful indoor fireplace (this is unique to this location).

The colors are bright with retro orange chairs, bright hues of orange, green, and red, and multi-sized hanging white lamp fixtures.

Zoes Kitchen Boulder

Boulder residents will appreciate their flexibility around allergens offering gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan items, as well.

The Boulder space is 2,625 square-feet and seats 84 inside and 12 outside on their patio. We all know the 29th Street Mall also offers incredible Flatiron views – the best strip mall view you could find.

Fianlly, I want to give a glimpse into the vibrant and beautiful food they offer.

Live Med Salad, Zoes KitchenThis is my favorite dish of theirs – the Live Med Salad comes with thin ribbons of zucchini and squash, fresh spinach, red onions, farro, lupini beans, cherry tomatoes, parmesan, tossed with their Calabrian pepper dressing.

Protein Power Plate

This is their Protein Power Plate that is a great post-workout meal. It includes flat grilled chicken, and caramelized onions sitting over a bed of cabbage slaw.

Zoes Kitchen, Hummus Trio

What’s Mediterranean food without hummus? This is their Hummus Trio from their starters menu which is great to share. I particularly love the fresh cucumbers that come with the dish, to enjoy dipping with. They have red pepper hummus, basil pesto hummus, and classic hummus alongside the peppers and pita chips.

Zoes Kitchen Kids Menu

Recently launched, the updated kids menu at Zoë’s is meant to support the “no nuggets generation” as they call it for “wow small, yet sophisticated taste buds” at a really affordable price point. For age 12 and under, they can choose on entree and one side. The entrees include the likes of salmon kabob (shown above) or a ham and cheese piadina (Italian flatbread – shown below) and sides include the likes of greek salad, hummus, or fresh fruit. The max entree is just $5.99 for kids, making a great healthy meal at a good price point.

Ham and Cheese Piadina

The food is impressive and I appreciate the company’s overall focus on family, people first, and living a healthy lifestyle. Everyone I interact at with at Zoë’s seems to embody those values. It’s a good addition to Boulder so go ahead and bring in your family to try it for yourself.

 Find Them: Located at 1695 29th Street, Suite 1248. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. zoeskitchen.com

 

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Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana at Colorado Mills

by Grace Boyle on October 21, 2016

If you need to remember anything at all about Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana, it’s this:

Authenticity is so key to their pizza, they brought in someone from New York to ensure their water had the same lower concentration levels of calcium and magnesium, to mimic the “soft” water of NYC (and subsequently, the city’s notorious bagels and pizza).

As Smithsonian Magazine has said, New York City tap water is sort of the “Goldilocks” of water when it comes to dough-making.

When I heard that, I knew Racca’s was the real deal.

Furthermore, Racca’s is the only VPN certified (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) restaurant in Colorado. There are just 88 in the United States.

Racca's Cooking

As an Italian, who has also been to Naples, I know about this stringent process first hand. This association gives very special designation to pizzerias who meet these strict requirements that respect the tradition and art of Neapolitan pizza that includes verifying ingredients they use like the Italian-imported Antico Molino Caputo 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and cheese that is produced in Italy. Anyone certified must also adhere to specifically enforced processes and wood-fired oven techniques.

Pomodori

All of Racca’s ovens are imported from Italy, as well and they boast two side by side; one at 1000° and the other at 800° which is how the cook everything on the menu (no stove top). I love how in the pizza oven, their pizza cooks in under two minutes.

Racca's Interior

What’s In a Name?

You may have heard of Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizza in Denver that opened on Larimer Street in 2008. Fast forward to late 2015, this is still the same restaurant, just a shift in name. Husband-wife owners, Mark and Kristy Dym heard the confusion from patrons about Marco’s Pizza (Ohio pizza chain) adding a lot of restaurants in Denver and decided to change their name.

The name Racca’s is a short version of Kristy Dym’s maiden name, Latorraca.

Having won many awards including 2015 Independent Pizzeria of the Year from Pizza Today, and receiving votes for Denver’s best pizzeria by Westword and 5280 Magazine, they’ve had their share of success in a world filled with pizza despite having to shift the brand and name. Their aim for freshness and authentic, has always stayed the same.

They have locations in downtown Denver on Larimer, in Englewood, Lakewood at the Colorado Mills Mall, and just opened an outpost in Casper, Wyoming. I’ve visited the Larimer ballpark location and most recently, got to visit their newer location at Colorado Mills. I love that it’s right across from the movie theater – great for dinner and a movie.

Appetizers at Racca's

EMILIA ROMAGNA EMILIA ROMAGNA | Smoked Bufala Mozzarella, Walnut & Pine Nut Cream, Roasted Zucchini, Pecorino Romano, Fresh Basil, CALABRIA CALABRIA | Fresh Mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, Spicy Salami, Hot Dry Cured Coppa, Fresh Basil, San Marzano Tomato Sauce, EVOO PIEMONTE PIEMONTE | Fresh Mozzarella, Pecorino Sardo Truffle Spread, Mushrooms, Prosciutto di Parma, Fresh Basil, EVOO

They also offer a classic Italian dessert offering from cannoli to panna cotta to tiramisu.

Dessert at Racca's

There’s one more thing worth mentioning that the pictures don’t properly show. Although I am not gluten free, upon encouragement from the staff, we tried a sample of their cooked, gluten free dough and I almost couldn’t tell the difference. It was fluffy and not thin and crispy like a cracker (how a lot of GF dough tastes to me). I think this offer is important especially in health-conscious Colorado and was a nice touch.

I appreciate their consistency and committed to authentic, especially all these years later. We loved the staff at the Colorado Mills location – filled with natural excitement and passion for the food. That’s how it should be. It’s the Italian way, after all.
Locations: Denver – Larimer, Denver – Englewood, Lakewood – Colorado Mills, Casper, WY
Editors Note: Thank you to Colorado Mills for hosting us so we could learn more about the many eateries in the mall. Colorado Mills and Denver West Village, an adjacent Simon-owned open-air center, have a combined 33 eateries with choices ranging from fast casual to sit-down dining.

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Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar is a longtime (Boulder) staple for me. Nestled on the west end of Pearl Street, they’ve been open since 1994 (Boulder is their original location) and they just continue to nail it every time with fresh seafood and a fun, vibrant environment. It’s no wonder they also have successful locations in Ft. Collins, Denver – LoDo, Denver – Glendale, and Kansas City.

Jax Menu

Jax Tables

Jax Wall Art

Whether I’m cozied up to the bar downing their raspberry lemonade vodkas alongside best calamari I’ve ever had for a summer happy hour, or bringing my parents for a lengthy meal of king crab legs and fresh oysters when they’re in town – I’ve just never had a bad meal there.

Oysters

For the month of October they’re celebrating National Seafood Month (as they should). They’ll be showcasing fresh catches from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch “Best Choices” list. Each week throughout the month they are featuring a different catch, sharing recipes, and encouraging a dialogue about the importance of sustainable fishing practices for the longevity of the oceans (something that’s always been important to Jax). The weeks entail: Verlasso Salmon, Shrimp, Rock Cod, and finally Sablefish.

I got to sample the salmon week. Look at these exquisite dishes.

Amuse Bouche

Crispy Skin Salmon

Crispy skin salmon with fingerling potatoes, broccolini, whole grain mustard, cheese crisp, and bourbon blackberries 

Sake Cured Salmon

Sake cured salmon with salted cucumber, pickled mustard seeds, dill cream, ikura roe, and tamari 

Head on over to help them celebrate this month at all Jax locations. If you choose a dish that has one of the specials that week, you get $5 off.

Outside Jax

 

Learn More: Big Red F Restaurant Group | Jax Fish House

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