All posts by Jay Friedman

Food and Travel [email] Jay Friedman, gastronaut, is one of the most intriguing and innovative food writers in Seattle. You may know him from Seattle Weekly’s "Sexy Feast" column (Jay is a unique combination of food writer and professional sex educator) or City Arts’ “Dish-Off," in which he challenged chefs to create meals based on songs. (Jay is also a former disc jockey!) He is also a regular contributor to the national Serious Eats blog, and is the co-editor/author of the Fearless Critic Seattle restaurant guide. Jay travels extensively and shares his hedonistic adventures in occasional “Passport to Pleasure” pieces. When not eating out or writing about it, he is most likely in the kitchen making kimchi, xiao long bao, or anything with offal. You can find most of Jay’s writing at his personal blog, Gastrolust.

The Mein Man Eats: Spicy Noodles at Little Ting’s Dumplings

Handmade noodles in spicy sauce
Handmade noodles in spicy sauce

Dish: Handmade Noodles in Spicy Sauce

Place: Little Ting’s Dumplings, Greenwood (Seattle)

Price: $7.50

On the plate: Hand-stretched noodles with thin-sliced cucumber, green onions, chile flakes, sugar, salt, five-spice powder, garlic, white vinegar, and cucumber juice.

Supporting cast/What to do: Mix well to ensure that all the noodles are soaked in sauce, then eat.

Noodling around: I’m a big fan of biang-biang noodles, so I was excited to learn that Little Ting’s has the hand-stretched wide noodles I constantly crave. Owners Ting (hence the restaurant name) and Jason have connection to Heibei province, so it’s not surprising that the noodles are done a little differently than the Shaanxi-style preparation I make at home. But not much, as both are “you po mian,” or hot oil-seared (or more literally “sprinkled”) noodles.

The noodles at Little Ting’s are served cool (Ting told me that plunging the cooked noodles in ice water for a few seconds makes them more silky and chewy) compared to the ones I like at Qin (formerly Biang!) in Edmonds. When I asked about the acidic, slightly sour taste, she explained that it comes from the vinegar (I use black vinegar for my biang-biang noodles) and perhaps the cucumber juice. I recommend a generous splash of soy sauce for additional flavor in this dish.

These wide, chewy noodles are a delight to try in all types of preparations—though ultimately I like them dry instead of soupy. Still, the other option of Handmade Noodles in Ribs and Seaweed Soup (also $7.50) is interesting to try. Have this before you set your mouth on fire with the hot oil-seared noodles, as the seaweed refers to basically a dashi broth that’s fairly delicate in flavor.

Handmade Noodles in Ribs and Seaweed Soup
Handmade Noodles in Ribs and Seaweed Soup

If you want more: Little Ting’s is primarily a dumpling shop (you can buy some for your freezer), so it only makes sense to get dumplings on the side. The chive and scallop dumplings are tempting, but the pork and chive is a good standard for starters. The pan-fried version ($8.89 for 15) is perfectly executed to exquisite crispiness—nice and juicy.

Pork and chive dumplings
Pork and chive dumplings

Be aware/beware: The adorable dumpling art on the wall? It’s by Jason.

Getting a Garlicky Grin at Girin

Girin sign 7574

After long lamenting the lack of quality Korean food in Seattle (you’ve had to drive north toward Shoreline and beyond, or south to at least Federal Way, for the good stuff), there’s recent activity in the game of gochujang and garlic in the heart of the city. Chan opened in Pike Place Market several years ago, a restaurant I describe as “a cute little place with little, little dishes.” Just last year, Trove opened in Capitol Hill, giving carnivores a place to “get their grill on.”

And now comes news that Girin is opening on Saturday, rising in rapidly developing Pioneer Square, specifically in the Stadium Place project in the North Lot Development, on the city side of CenturyLink Field. It’s a gorgeous space reminiscent of Momiji in Capitol Hill (not surprising, since it’s the same owner), and here’s the good news: the food at Girin, while modern, is far more aligned with authentic Korean cuisine than Momiji’s was—at least at opening—with authentic Japanese cuisine. Credit Brandon Kirksey (ex-chef at flour + water in San Francisco and Tavolata in Seattle) for quickly learning Korean flavors. I will be curious to see how his cooking develops over time. (This noodle lover will also look forward to trying the kalguksu: Girin’s version featuring hand-cut noodles in kombu broth with clams and cuttlefish.)

Maybe the best news is that unlike Chan and Trove, Girin offers banchan for free. [Edit: It now appears that banchan is free only for ssam plates, and not for noodles, tteokboki, etc.] That said, menu prices run on the high side; I wonder what impact pricing and location will play in Girin’s long-term success. The Pioneer Square renaissance should help, as will the opening of a hotel across the street from the restaurant. While budget-minded Korean food lovers will likely continue to drive far for their fix, I suspect that the young, monied crowd (not a bad target audience, as that’s what Seattle’s becoming) will Uber its way to the stylish Girin to swig makgeolli out of metal bowls and devour plates of meats that run from raw to grilled.

On that note, here’s a look at some sampling I did at last night’s media preview dinner at Girin.

Girin banchan 7458

Banchan assortment included the pictured kimchi (nicely flavored), nettles with doenjang and pine nuts (a seasonal offering), and sesame-crusted tofu (delicious!), along with grilled eggplant and dried anchovies with toasted almonds.

Girin yukhoe 7450

Yukhoe (Girin spells it yukhwe): raw beef, pear, pine nuts, and egg yolk. From my experience, yukhoe is usually made from beef strips or chopped/ground beef, and is typically more seasoned, but this was still fantastic.

Girin haemul pajeon 7478

Haemul pajeon: green onion pancake with seafood. While the outside could have been crispier, the pancake had great interior texture with its slight chewiness.

Girin tteokbokki 7488

Gung jung tteokbokki: crispy rice cakes with roasted mushrooms (king trumpet, maitake, and pioppini) and soy glaze. In contrast to the spicy red tteokboki that I found on the streets of Seoul, this “royal court” tteokbokki is more refined, meant to be a lighter dish. It usually comes with beef, but even without the dish was satisfying, as it was full of earthy flavor. I only wish the rice cakes were cooked slightly more; instead of an undercooked chewy texture, they should have a soft, mochi-like chewy texture.

Girin ssam skirt steak 7518

Ssamjang marinated skirt steak was perfectly cooked and full of flavor. This plate (with the leaves and all) runs $28, whereas an upgrade to rib-eye would cost about three times the price.

Girin ginger sausage 7537

Charred scallion and ginger sausage was bursting with ginger. The sausage starts to approach soondae texture (a little soft), but without the earthy delights that soondae typically offers.

Girin persimmon sorbet 7560

Persimmon sorbet: This was the most talked-about dish at my table, as it had a slightly satoimo-like, slimy texture that was a little disconcerting to most.

Girin interior 7570Revelry at Girin.

Semiahmoo Offers Surprisingly Delicious Food in Spitting Distance from Canada

The resort, situated on Semiahmoo Spit
The resort, situated on Semiahmoo Spit

I’ve always loved to stare at maps. As a kid, they took me in my mind to the greatest of places—many of which were dreamy “end of the road” locations. As an adult, I’ve turned some of those dreams into realities, traveling to Tofino (CN) to experience the storms, Tromsø (NO) to see the northern lights, and Dunedin (NZ) to check out the world’s only mainland albatross colony.

Here at home, Point Roberts has always intrigued me, as I’m tickled by the idea of driving through Canada to get back into the continental United States. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything special to do in Point Roberts. But my eyes opened last year when I learned about a destination-worthy resort on the nearby Semiahmoo Spit, which wraps around Drayton Harbor by Blaine and is in spitting distance of the Canadian border.

Allow me to introduce you to Semiahmoo Resort, Golf, & Spa.

A closer look at Semiahmoo Resort
A closer look at Semiahmoo Resort (photo by Jeff Caven)

I met the crew from Semiahmoo (start of a Seussian rhyme?) when they came to last year’s TomatoFare event at Cedarbrook Lodge—a sister property that’s part of the Coastal Hotel Group. Unknowns in a group of chefs I know and admire, culinary director Eric Truglas and chef de cuisine Martin Woods surprised and impressed me most with their creations, including a delicious tomato-based push-pop. “Come and check us out,” they admonished. Recently, I finally found time, and they were generous in hosting me for an overnight stay.

Semiahmoo is at the site of an Alaska Packers’ Association cannery that processed salmon for nearly 80 years. (One of the remaining structures houses the bakery.) In fact, one of the resort’s restaurants is the casual Packers Oyster Bar, but my dinner would be at the (also casual) Pierside Kitchen, where big windows afford views of the water. You can take in that view and more at my preferred seating area: the chef’s counter. While the main kitchen is tucked away, here you can watch the pizzetta-making, see the pastry chef in action, and partake in banter with the staff as they pick up plates to take to the dining room.

Semiahmoo filet Woods put together an impressive degustation menu that demonstrated Semiahmoo’s use of local products while showcasing versatility of cooking techniques and expertise in the kitchen. Chili-lemongrass spot prawns shined with Asian flavors, earthy ingredients added pizzazz to silky pappardelle pasta, and a duck breast dish wowed with a bold brodo. (See photos of the complete meal at the end of this article.)

Fortunately for a meal that big, the resort offers numerous ways to burn off calories. I’m struck by the rare availability of indoor tennis and racquetball courts, and there’s also an indoor running track that circles a large fitness room full of exercise equipment. For those who want to do their moving outdoors, you’ll find beach volleyball, hiking trails, and kayak rentals readily available. Me: I was content to relax in my comfortable room, watching the scene from my balcony before getting a good night of sleep ahead of breakfast the next morning, which held promise of a mysterious peanut butter and cheddar cheese omelet.

Chef’s Trio breakfast: mini peanut butter and cheddar omelet, mini eggs benedict, and mini French toast
Chef’s Trio breakfast: mini peanut butter and cheddar omelet, mini eggs benedict, and mini French toast

Semiahmoo has undergone recent renovations, with more work to follow. (With a goal of sustainability and good stewardship, it’s easy to miss touches like carpeting made from fishing nets.) If there’s one glitch, it’s technology. Seemingly “trapped” between Canada and the United States, cell phone coverage can be spotty. Worse, wifi didn’t work for me, despite varying advice from several staff members. Hopefully these issues will get resolved before too long.

After all, I’d look forward to a return to Semiahmoo in warmer weather. It’s then that I’d especially enjoy walking along the water by day and sitting at a fire pit (there’s s’more-making year-round) by night. Summer also means that the historic Plover ferry operates weekends, which means fun and easy rides between the spit and the town of Blaine. And given the quality of the food I’ve enjoyed from the chefs, I’ll bet the summer barbecues and clam bakes make the getaway to Semiahmoo well worth the drive from Seattle.

Citrus-cured salmon with pickled radish, cilantro emulsion, and sturgeon caviar
Citrus-cured salmon with pickled radish, cilantro emulsion, and sturgeon caviar
Chili-lemongrass spot prawns with cara cara orange, basil, and roe
Chili-lemongrass spot prawns with cara cara orange, basil, and roe
Pappardelle pasta with white truffle cream, grana padana, and shaved truffle
Pappardelle pasta with white truffle cream, grana padana, and shaved truffle
Intermezzo: blackberry sorbet
Intermezzo: blackberry sorbet
Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with yellowfoot chanterelles, pearl onion brulee, and soy-duck brodo
Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with yellowfoot chanterelles, pearl onion brulee, and soy-duck brodo
Double R Ranch filet with roasted local vegetables and bordelaise
Double R Ranch filet with roasted local vegetables and bordelaise
Passion fruit mousse with macadamia nut shortbread and rose-champagne sorbet
Passion fruit mousse with macadamia nut shortbread and rose-champagne sorbet
A look at the Pierside Kitchen
A look at the Pierside Kitchen (photo by Jeff Caven)
Guest room at Semiahmoo
Guest room at Semiahmoo

(Note: Non-food photos courtesy of Semiahmoo Resort, Golf, & Spa.)

A Suet Candle Shines as Part of Cleveland’s Culinary Scene

Cleveland skyline (photo courtesy of ThisisCleveland.com)
Cleveland skyline (photo courtesy of ThisisCleveland.com)

I liked Cleveland so much last time around, I recently returned to the city for another 24 hours of eating. After two flapjacks, two coffees, two 2-1/2 hour meals, and two doughy delights immediately after airport arrival, I continue to be impressed with Cleveland’s culinary scene. Here’s my meal report, complete with a food-themed art exhibit at a place that’s not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Dinner 1: Spice Kitchen + Bar

My first stop from the airport, en route to downtown, was Spice Kitchen + Bar in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. All restaurants should be doing farm-to-table cuisine; in the case of Spice, the goal is for 80% of the ingredients to come from sustainable farms within 100 miles of Cleveland. And, actually, some of the ingredients in your food and drinks come from Spice’s very own farmland. There’s an immediate good vibe to the place, from the friendly bar area upon entry to the romantic dining room adjoining it. The menu includes a daily special that’s truly seasonable and sustainable, though I went for a couple of dishes that are more mainstay delights: mushroom beignets and rabbit ravioli.

Spice Kitchen + Bar’s mushroom beignets (dusted with porcini powder) with honey goat cheese crème fraîche
Spice Kitchen + Bar’s mushroom beignets (dusted with porcini powder) with honey goat cheese crème fraîche
Spice’s arugula salad with 6-minute egg, lardons, torn croutons, and scallion vinaigrette
Spice’s arugula salad with 6-minute egg, lardons, torn croutons, and scallion vinaigrette
Spice’s rabbit ravioli with chanterelles, goat cheese, squash, pine nuts, shishito peppers, and herbs
Spice’s rabbit ravioli with chanterelles, goat cheese, squash, pine nuts, shishito peppers, and herbs
Inside Spice Kitchen + Bar
Inside Spice Kitchen + Bar

Breakfast: Jack Flaps

Across from Spice Kitchen + Bar is Happy Dog, tempting to try for its wild array of hot dogs. (It’s like the Voodoo Doughnut of hot dogs, with toppings that range from SpaghettiOs to Froot Loops to Chunky peanut butter.) I was too full after dinner for a frankfurter, but the next morning I made it to the Ohio City neighborhood to try sister restaurant Jack Flaps. Flying solo, it was tough to decide between the big-ticket dishes in both the sweet and savory menus, but ultimately I had to go for a namesake item—though I did sneak in a side dish to add a savory element. Jack Flaps offers a fun concept, for sure.

Jack Flaps’ candied jalapeno pancakes with white chocolate sauce and salted caramel coffee crumb (a little dry, perhaps because the pancakes are a little thick)
Jack Flaps’ candied jalapeno pancakes with white chocolate sauce and salted caramel coffee crumb (a little dry, perhaps because the pancakes are a little thick)
Jack Flaps’ root vegetable hash
Jack Flaps’ root vegetable hash

Coffee 1: Phoenix Coffee

With two big meals still to go, I knew the day called for coffee, and it was easy to make a stop at the nearby Phoenix Coffee in the Ohio City neighborhood. A Cleveland roaster for over 20 years, Phoenix actually has four locations in the city. I’m pleased to see pour-over technique prevalent in Cleveland (there’s even a place called “Pour Cleveland,”), especially as my Seattle neighborhood only has one place for pour-over, which I avoid due to its religious connections. Phoenix has a relaxed atmosphere which invites lingering, perhaps close to the record player where you’ll find vinyl spinning.

Coffee bar at Phoenix Coffee (where I enjoyed a Guatemala Antigua Los Volcanes, slightly citrusy and syrupy)
Coffee bar at Phoenix Coffee (where I enjoyed a Guatemala Antigua Los Volcanes, slightly citrusy and syrupy)
Turntable in the corner at Phoenix Coffee
Turntable in the corner at Phoenix Coffee

Coffee 2: Rising Star Coffee Roasters

Life Phoenix Coffee, Rising Star Coffee Roasters was recently cited in Travel + Leisure magazine in making Cleveland one of America’s top coffee cities. While there’s a new location in Little Italy, I went right from Phoenix to the original Rising Star right in Ohio City (or more specifically Hingetown) for my second cup of coffee of the day. Rising Star has a different feel, with more of an open, “true roastery” scene showing off big bags of beans, roasting apparatus on the floor, and a collection of coffee-making equipment at the counter. You can geek out with AeroPress and siphon preparations, but pour-over is what seems to be most popular here for coffee.

Making my pour-over at Rising Star Coffee Roasters
Making my pour-over at Rising Star Coffee Roasters
Finished product: my Guatemala Finca Aragon (also syrupy, and slightly sweet) at Rising Star
Finished product: my Guatemala Finca Aragon (also syrupy, and slightly sweet) at Rising Star

Lunch: Trentina

Last trip to Cleveland, I was so thoroughly impressed with my dinner at The Greenhouse Tavern that I proclaimed it one of the most memorable meals of 2013. I was therefore excited to try Jonathon Sawyer’s newest restaurant, Trentina, which is based on the food of the Trento region of northern Italy. I love that Trentina’s lunch menu offers a sense of the dinner experience. Oh, there are sandwiches, but you can also have a multi-course meal that runs from primos to pastas to entrees to desserts—and more. My lunch was an extended affair as Sawyer and Matt Danko served up a superb feast that will make Trentina one of the most memorable meals of 2014. In fact, recalling a few years back when The New York Times called the Willows Inn one of “10 restaurants worth a plane ride,” I’ll go on record here as saying that I believe Jonathon Sawyer is currently one of the top chefs worth a plane ride in the United States.

Foraged food (including mushrooms in a siphon) greets me at Trentina
Foraged food (including mushrooms in a siphon) greets me at Trentina
Assagio ("bites before you eat") plate at Trentina: carne salata (house-made), speck, Ludlow cheese from Blue Jacket Dairy, Charloe Cheese from Canal Junction, crusto di polenta with house butter and Ohio egg bottarga, pickled turnips, and pickled swiss chard stems
Assagio (“bites before you eat”) plate at Trentina: carne salata (house-made), speck, Ludlow cheese from Blue Jacket Dairy, Charloe Cheese from Canal Junction, crusto di polenta with house butter and Ohio egg bottarga, pickled turnips, and pickled swiss chard stems
An experiment ahead of Ferran Adrià’s visit: spit-roasted and seared maitake garnished with trentigrana, plus dashi made from house-cured fish sausage and dried foraged maitake mushrooms
An experiment ahead of Ferran Adrià’s visit: spit-roasted and seared maitake garnished with trentigrana, plus dashi made from house-cured fish sausage and dried foraged maitake mushrooms
Trentina’s “On the Rise Bakery’s bread plate” which comes with cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, whipped prosciutto bianco, and an edible beef suet candle
Trentina’s “On the Rise Bakery’s bread plate” which comes with cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, whipped prosciutto bianco, and an edible beef suet candle
Roasted carrot caponata with raisins, fennel seed, roasted red peppers, pine nuts, and vinegar
Roasted carrot caponata with raisins, fennel seed, roasted red peppers, pine nuts, and vinegar
Heirloom tomato and basil bucatini with tomato butter, Soave Classico, and parmesan
Heirloom tomato and basil bucatini with tomato butter, Soave Classico, and parmesan
Cavatappi & cheese: Trentino-style mac & cheese with roasted onion and new potato
Cavatappi & cheese: Trentino-style mac & cheese with roasted onion and new potato
Gnudi (made with ricotta piped into semolina) with pickled and seared artichoke hearts, maitakes, and mushroom catsup
Gnudi (made with ricotta piped into semolina) with pickled and seared artichoke hearts, maitakes, and mushroom catsup
Trentina’s “Beasts + Birds Roasted with Embers” here is Ohio CAB strip loin grilled over hay, with roasted celery root, braised celery stalk, and celery leaf
Trentina’s “Beasts + Birds Roasted with Embers” here is Ohio CAB strip loin grilled over hay, with roasted celery root, braised celery stalk, and celery leaf
Between a palate-cleansing elderflower and rosemary sorbet topped with yogurt and a spiced chocolate macaron was this panna cotta with brown butter solids accompanied by pickled and fresh pears, gooseberries, orange zest, and torn bread fried in olive oil
Between a palate-cleansing elderflower and rosemary sorbet topped with yogurt and a spiced chocolate macaron was this panna cotta with brown butter solids accompanied by pickled and fresh pears, gooseberries, orange zest, and torn bread fried in olive oil

Art break: MOCA Cleveland and the Ferran Adrià exhibit

One of the nice things about being at Trentina (aside from watching Case Western Reserve University guides walking backward while leading tours for prospective students and their parents) is that you’re just steps away from the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. The building itself is architecturally interesting, but any food lover should go now to see “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity.” This marks the first time that a major museum has focused on the visualization and drawing practices of Adrià, famed chef of the (recently closed) elBulli restaurant in Barcelona who’s been called “the king of molecular gastronomy.” The exhibit features sketches, diagrams, notes, and more that give insight into Adrià’s innovative thinking; I found myself transfixed by his thoughts about “tart creativity” involving puff pastry and “400 fruits from the Amazon that have never been used.”

Ferran Adrià, “Theory of Culinary Evolution,” 2013, crayon, paint stick and colored pencil, from a series of sixty drawings, each: 11 11/16 x 8 1/4 inches (courtesy of elBulli Foundation)
Ferran Adrià, “Theory of Culinary Evolution,” 2013, crayon, paint stick and colored pencil, from a series of sixty drawings, each: 11 11/16 x 8 1/4 inches (courtesy of elBulli Foundation)
Ferran Adrià, plating diagram, ca. 2003-2004, colored pen on graph paper (courtesy of elBulli Foundation)
Ferran Adrià, plating diagram, ca. 2003-2004, colored pen on graph paper (courtesy of elBulli Foundation)
Ferran Adrià installation (courtesy of MOCA Cleveland)
Ferran Adrià installation (courtesy of MOCA Cleveland)

Dinner 2: EDWINS

I’m a big fan of Seattle’s FareStart, and being an educator myself, I was thrilled to see a similar operation in Cleveland called EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute. Brandon Chrostowski founded EDWINS as a place where formerly incarcerated men and women develop culinary and hospitality skills so that they can find employment (and purpose), helping them reenter society without returning to a life of crime. The reward for their study and service: the promise of a high rate of placement into successful jobs in the field. The reward for diners at EDWINS restaurant: a delightful culinary experience featuring some classical French preparations (for example, see my pressed duck, done tableside…and then learn more about this fascinating dish) in a fine dining atmosphere that’s got a feeling of joy and notes of fun—such as the soulful sounds of the likes of Marvin Gaye playing in the spirited dining room.

EDWINS’ amuse bouche: oven-roasted salmon with horseradish crust and dill-cucumber sauce
EDWINS’ amuse bouche: oven-roasted salmon with horseradish crust and dill-cucumber sauce
EDWINS’ salad of endive, local field greens, roasted apples, shiitake mushrooms, almonds, and foie gras with apple cider vinaigrette
EDWINS’ salad of endive, local field greens, roasted apples, shiitake mushrooms, almonds, and foie gras with apple cider vinaigrette
Grilled seafood sausage with lobster, white fish, scallops, shrimp, and pine nuts with shallot beurre blanc
Grilled seafood sausage with lobster, white fish, scallops, shrimp, and pine nuts with shallot beurre blanc
Pressing of duck carcass to draw blood for…
Pressing of duck carcass to draw blood for…
…EDWINS’ pressed duck with blood sauce
…EDWINS’ pressed duck with blood sauce
Cheese course from the impressive cheese cart
Cheese course from the impressive cheese cart
Grand Marnier soufflé, accompanied by Grand Marnier
Grand Marnier soufflé, accompanied by Grand Marnier
Pressed duck preparation, tableside
Pressed duck preparation, tableside
Bananas Foster at EDWINS, tableside
Bananas Foster at EDWINS, tableside

Hotel: Aloft Cleveland Downtown

Thanks to Aloft Cleveland Downtown and Destination Cleveland for hosting and assisting with my stay. This was my first time in an Aloft property, and I enjoyed the contemporary feel of the guestroom. Aloft’s location is ideal for walking to downtown’s dining scene, as well as to the sports venues, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and shopping areas. It’s also well-situated for drives to other attractions both east and west. Clean, comfortable, and convenient!

Aloft Cleveland Downtown (© Aloft)
Aloft Cleveland Downtown (© Aloft)
Guestroom at Aloft Cleveland Downtown (© ThisisCleveland.com – Scott Meivogel)
Guestroom at Aloft Cleveland Downtown (© ThisisCleveland.com – Scott Meivogel)

Three Delicious Days in Denver

Denver skyline (Photo courtesy of Ron Ruscio and VISIT DENVER)
Denver skyline (Photo courtesy of Ron Ruscio and VISIT DENVER)

Sometimes, good things happen when you get out of the airport. I’d passed through the Denver airport dozens of times in recent years, but it had been ages since actually spending time in the Mile-High City.

With direct flights making Denver easy to reach from Seattle, I was overdue for a visit. Besides, there’s some sense of connection between the two cities, given the beer cultures, marijuana initiatives, and recent Super Bowl rivalry.

Aware of the gorgeous mountains and outdoor activities surrounding the city, I recently spent a few days in Denver having an urban experience. Among the things I found: a thriving art culture, beer-brewing everywhere, and a blossoming food scene. From quality charcuterie to surprisingly good Southern food to a rare Japanese dessert, here are highlights that help build an itinerary of three delicious days in Denver.

Day 1

There’s no better destination in downtown Denver than the newly renovated Union Station. This transportation hub will make any Seattleite jealous; our King Street Station enjoyed a recent whitewash, but Union Station is a true hangout and culinary showcase, replete with a number of restaurants and stores, a hotel, and a wonderful central sitting area.

Espresso shot with St. Angel triple cream cheese and elderberry syrup at Mercantile Dining & Provision
Espresso shot with St. Angel triple cream cheese and elderberry syrup at Mercantile Dining & Provision

Since you’re at Union Station, start your day with a stop at Mercantile Dining & Provision. This all-day eatery and provisions store features an open kitchen, bar area, and dining room. By day it’s casual breakfast and lunch, and at night “finer” dining—showcasing food from the chef’s nearby farm. Breakfast offers pastries made on site (the croissants are quite impressive, especially given the challenge of baking at high elevation), and you can sample coffee flights. Even better: the unique chance to try an espresso and cheese combination, with the crema taking on a cheese-like quality.

Pad Thai pig ears at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen
Pad Thai pig ears at Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen

You might be tempted to stay in Union Station, but it’s time to stimulate the brain cells with a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, now featuring the work of Mark Mothersbaugh—Devo’s co-founder and, yes, artist. From there, Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen is the perfect place for late lunch. Here you’ll get your first introduction to Denver’s love of beer through its sprawling menu of drafts, bottles, and cans. The food is good, too. For a porky experience, start with the amazing pad Thai pig ears, alive with Thai flavors, and then order a huge pork loin schnitzel, which comes with a side of four house-made mustards.

Sampling beer at Prost Brewing Company
Sampling beer at Prost Brewing Company

Step outside and shop Larimer Square, taking in the various galleries and stores. At this point you might want a nap, but eventually take a stroll across a series of pedestrian bridges to reach the Highland neighborhood for a pre-dinner beer at Prost Brewing Company to get a real feel for Denver’s beer culture. From here, you’re just a short walk to dinner at Colt & Gray. Start by indulging in the restaurant’s excellent charcuterie program, putting together a platter of your favorite patés, terrines, cured meats, and cheeses. You can make a meal from the charcuterie alone, but note that the menu moves on to include a variety of small and large plates, with snail risotto and whole-roasted trout both excellent choices. The restaurant is a comfortable place to linger over an additional drink or dessert.

Snail risotto at Colt & Gray
Snail risotto at Colt & Gray

Day 2

Especially if you’ve been “battered” by too much beer, make haste to El Taco de Mexico in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. A bigger-than-your-head burrito will help your hangover blues, but even better, if it’s the weekend, is a large bowl of menudo. Doctor up the bowl as you see fit with onion, cilantro, oregano, and lime, but be prepared for the powerful punch of strong chili flavor. What a great way to wake up in the morning. (The restaurant opens daily at 7am.)

Menudo at El Taco de Mexico
Menudo at El Taco de Mexico

Eyes again open to the world, take advantage of being in the Art District on Santa Fe by checking out the range of galleries, from modest to fancy. Here you’ll also find the Museo de las Americas. Next, go through the Golden Triangle Museum District and make your way to the Clyfford Still Museum. Still insisted that his work (and that of other artists) be shown on its own instead of mixed with other artists’ work, and Denver is lucky to have landed his collection. The building itself is fascinating, and the ever-changing exhibit of paintings will help you understand Still’s fascinating evolution as an abstract artist.

Parsnip cake with sweet potato cream cheese icing at Beast + Bottle
Parsnip cake with sweet potato cream cheese icing at Beast + Bottle

There’s more art to see, but first another meal break. Again, assuming it’s a weekend, take a walk (or drive) for brunch at Beast + Bottle. This quaint restaurant in the Uptown district is the first place where I’ve been offered an amuse bouche for brunch, a welcome/welcoming bite. Ask about “Andrea’s daily pastry,” sure to be a smart accompaniment to hot coffee. On the beverage front, there’s an intriguing selection of bloody Marys (the Come on Aileen, with green onion-habanero vodka, will deliver a kick), and delicious entrees are divided into “Wake Up” and “Afternoon Delight” sections.

Back to the art scene, you can easily spend a whole afternoon at the Denver Art Museum. There are two buildings housing nine curatorial departments, including an extensive collection of Native American art. Currently on display is “Matisse and Friends,” a quaint exhibit of works from the National Gallery of Art that make you feel like you’re in a living room with the paintings (more of which come from friends than Matisse himself).

Terminal Bar, inside Union Station
Terminal Bar, inside Union Station

If timing’s right and it’s of interest, you can stay in the area to tour the U.S. Mint and the State Capitol. Or if you didn’t get enough of Union Station and beer, return for a pick from the incredible draft beer collection at Terminal Bar, in the historic ticket office. And then it’s off to another historic setting as you spend the evening at The Source in RiNo (River North Art District). This former 1880’s brick foundry is an artisan emporium. You might happen upon an art opening at the SVPER ORDINARY Gallery + Retail space. Here you’ll also find a coffee roaster, brewery, bakery, cheesemonger, florist, and more. There are also two restaurants, one of which is Acorn, where you’ll enjoy dinner. The eclectic menu features small plates that range from shawarma to shrimp & grits to matsutake mushrooms. Save room for the stunning, photo shoot-worthy presentation of oak-grilled half-chicken. Afterward, if you’re up for more, enjoy an after-dinner drink at The Source’s central bar.

Oak-grilled half-chicken with gruyere bread pudding, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and wild mushroom gravy-whipped potatoes at Acorn
Oak-grilled half-chicken with gruyere bread pudding, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and wild mushroom gravy-whipped potatoes at Acorn

Day 3

Since you’re staying at The Curtis (see below), it’s convenient to roll out of bed for breakfast at The Corner Office. Here you can have the usual egg and omelet dishes. Or, to indulge the whims of your inner child, order the Hong Kong French toast, which comes with honey-infused peanut butter and dulce de leche.

Hong Kong French toast at The Corner Office
Hong Kong French toast at The Corner Office

Today will be a big day for calories, so make a beeline to a B-cycle station. These bike sharing stations are conveniently located all around the city, with reasonable rates for rentals. Given the day’s eating agenda, you might want to do a day-long rental to burn calories between meals.

BBQ pork with collards, candied yams, and jalapeno cornbread at Tom's Home Cookin'
BBQ pork with collards, candied yams, and jalapeno cornbread at Tom’s Home Cookin’

Bicycle will be a good way to get to Tom’s Home Cookin’ in the Five Points neighborhood. Be ready to wait in line for this weekday-only lunch, be ready to pick from the menu board (also check the accompanying board of rules, such as no cell phones) to place your order, and then be ready with cash to pay for your bounty of food. Tom’s serves southern/soul food at its finest, from fried catfish to BBQ pork to macaroni and cheese. This is a “main plus 2 sides” affair, for the most part, and if you’re like most people, you’ll be biting into some fabulous fried chicken and walking out with enough leftovers for another meal.

Green tea baum cake (and matcha cream-filled mochi) at Glaze by Sasa
Green tea baum cake (and matcha cream-filled mochi) at Glaze by Sasa

While east of downtown, you can visit sights like the Denver Zoo and the Denver Botanic Gardens. But once you’ve made stomach space, make sure to get to Glaze by Sasa in Congress Park. Here you’ll find one of the only places in America to get fresh-made baum cake. Known as baumkuchen in Germany and extremely popular in Japan, this labor-intensive layer cake is made on a rotating spit in a special oven. The pastry chef carefully brushes a new layer of batter to the rotating cake once the previous layer has browned, typically building a baumkuchen of 15 to 20 layers. The green tea baum cake is especially worth the trip.

Left to right: (1) Grilled and chilled cucumber soup with rosemary oil, (2) toasted hashbrowns with PEI mussels, pickled pearl onions, and celery, and (3) corn dog with house-made mustard at Lower48 Kitchen
Left to right: (1) Grilled and chilled cucumber soup with rosemary oil, (2) toasted hashbrowns with PEI mussels, pickled pearl onions, and celery, and (3) corn dog with house-made mustard at Lower48 Kitchen

Dinner tonight is close to Coors Field, at Lower48 Kitchen. Sit at the counter and watch the chefs in action. Particularly pleasing is the chance to try a number of $2 and $4 bites that range from miniature corn dogs to onion chip “Funions” to savory beignets. The counter gives you a chance to scout the dishes as they go from the kitchen to the dining room or to your counter companions, who’ll gladly give their opinion. Work your way through some smartly plated small dishes like salads and tartares, and if you still have an appetite, large plates like roasted chicken and rib eye. Then enjoy your mile-high food coma as you walk, bike, or take other transportation back to your hotel.

Jimmy Buffett suite at The Curtis hotel (photo courtesy of The Curtis)
Jimmy Buffett suite at The Curtis hotel (photo courtesy of The Curtis)

Thanks to The Curtis hotel, in conjunction with VISIT DENVER, for hosting my stay in downtown Denver. The Curtis is one of the new boutique hotels that’s actually a Doubletree by Hilton. This means that a warm chocolate chip cookie always awaits your arrival at the front desk, but other aspects of the hotel are less familiar—though certainly fun. Each floor has its own personality, and there are a number of theme guest rooms available. I stayed in a comfortable sports-themed room (with a big badminton mural on one wall), but only because the intended Ghostbusters room wasn’t ready upon my early arrival. Other theme rooms include Kiss and Barbie, while for a food-related trip, I’d wonder if the Jimmy Buffet suite would have me constantly hankering for a “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

Testing and Tasting Some Ethically Credible, Happily Edible Eggs

Prosciutto and eggs upon arrival to Stoneburner
Prosciutto and eggs upon arrival to Stoneburner

I’ve been playing a lot with eggs recently.

So it was with great interest that I attended an egg event for food writers last month. Vital Farms was in town to show off their Alfresco Eggs, with Jason Stoneburner serving them up for Saturday brunch at his namesake restaurant. I was curious to learn more about what Vital calls humanely, pasture-raised eggs, newly pushed in the Pacific Northwest with availability at QFC and Fred Meyer.

Breakfast festivities began with a video look, a la Portlandia, at the “girls” gone wild: hens from Vital’s 50+ farms around the country that are released from their coops each morning to run free on 108 square feet of pasture per bird. The “moving chicken spas” mean the hens essentially “engineer their own crop rotation,” in the words of Dan Brooks, Vital’s director of marketing & communications. This results in brightly colored (deep orange) yolks that come from the xanthophylls in the grass. But be forewarned: Other eggs can have such color (from marigold feed, etc.), so it’s not the tell-tale sign of a true pasture-raised egg.

I’m not convinced that Alfresco Eggs actually tasted better than the eggs more commonly available at the grocery store, but as Brooks inferred, consumers might simply find the pasture-raised eggs to be more (ethically) palatable. These eggs are free from use of herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones. Plus there’s the promise that the hens’ “salad-based diet” and exercise yield eggs with 25% less saturated fat, up to 50% less cholesterol, more Omega-3s, and significantly higher amount of vitamins A, D, and E.

It was great to finally get to Stoneburner for the first time, and the nice brunch treatment means a desire to return for more. Some of the egg dishes:

Meatballs with eggs
Meatballs with eggs
Pizza with eggs
Pizza with eggs
Omelette with mushrooms
Omelette with mushrooms
Perhaps the best way to eat fresh eggs: poached
Perhaps the best way to eat fresh eggs: poached

Meanwhile, I picked up some eggs at the store to try out on a few Asian dishes I like to cook at home. Here’s a look:

Miso ramen with ajitama: seasoned soft egg
Miso ramen with ajitama: seasoned soft egg
Fried rice with egg
Fried rice with egg
Biang-biang noodles with side of seasoned soft egg topped with XO sauce
Biang-biang noodles with side of seasoned soft egg topped with XO sauce
Mul naengmyeon with hard-boiled egg (perhaps the "worst" way to prepare fresh eggs)
Mul naengmyeon with hard-boiled egg (perhaps the “worst” way to prepare fresh eggs)