A couple of weeks ago a friend asked for my recommendations on places to go during Denver Restaurant Week. I was flattered, I admit. I did my research, thought about our past experiences with this promotion, and came up with five places for those eager to participate. Along with recommendations, I have included a recipe from one them, duo Restaurant.
Before I get into DRW, a few words on the recipe! An amazing apple crostada and an easy to follow recipe from pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom, semi-finalist for the James Beard awards for Outstanding Pastry Chef for the second year in a row (congrats!!!).
[You can access the complete list of James Beard Award semi-finalists here. You will find several Colorado names including a few fairly new faces- rising star chef of the year James Rugile of Venue Bistro! Winners will be announced March 22.]
[You can read more about the beautiful cookbook that features this recipe here. And stay tuned for more on the cookbook, its author (and my friend Jennifer Olson), and some great food pictures from Jen right here on my blog!]
DRW started Saturday and runs until March 5th. Don’t let the “week” in the title fool you- it is 2 weeks and it is supposed to be a celebration of the culinary scene in Denver. Participating restaurants offer a multi-course dinner for the fixed price of $52.80 for two, or $26.40 for one (not including tax or gratuity). These two weeks are notoriously slow for restaurants and this promotion is meant to bring diners out and allow them to try out places that they might not otherwise go to for the reasonable price of $52.80 for two. The concept is good and seemingly provides a win-win for both customers and the businesses.
The reality of the DRW experience, however, can be less appealing than the initial price tag. First, there are (very good) restaurants that don’t participate in the promotion for (let me speculate) obvious reasons- it is very hard to deliver outstanding food at that price and compromising the quality is simply not worth it for them. Because I chose five places to mention, I will also mention five notable absences- Fruition, Frasca, the Kitchen, Fuel Café, and Potager.
Second, some of the places that participate (and I generally like) just don’t live up to their regular standards. By that I mean that they offer one or two options per course and the offerings are, well, the cheap stuff- the chicken or the pork, and perhaps a shared dessert. Although unconfirmed, there is also a noticeable tendency to pre-make food in large quantities which enhances both the efficiency of the preparation and food costs but not the quality—ala the catering industry.
So, say you decide to join the masses out diners these two weeks. You now think that you will enjoy this fine dining experience for a reasonable price. You need a reservation and you probably won’t get one. Let’s say you do, so you are now there. You get seated, you get a menu, you look at it and you are excited to order. Not so fast! You are quickly informed that the 52.80 price can get you your choice of “grilled pork chop” for your entrée. Take your pick! [what pick you ask?] And, right, you don’t eat pork! Now what? Now you feel like a second class citizen who is backed into a corner into perhaps ordering off the regular menu or “accommodated” begrudgingly. [how do you feel about that one?...]
That said, I won't carry on. There are still a few worthwhile options and I will name the five best ones in my view. I like these five places anyway but they also seem to have made an effort to participate in this event- there are several menu options available and these options showcase the restaurant’s cuisine. That serves the purpose of the event!
Duo and Olivéa are nice places where food is delicious and the atmosphere enjoyable. Their menus for DRW are just fun and delicious…and varied - a big consideration for me as I said. The third really good and fun option is Café Brazil. Such a tasty and pleasant place and a decent menu offering for DRW. Then, it seems like Il Posto put together a menu that is not as exciting as their regular one, but that allows diners to experience the restaurant in a “tasting menu” kind of way. Lastly, and NOT because of their DRW menu, but because they are just generally fantastic, I have included Mizuna. Ultimately, while the options are not as varied, foie gras mouse x 2, beef pot of feu x 2, and bread pudding x 2 for $ 52.80 at Mizuna might just be a great deal.
Now the fun part- Apple Crostada.
I must preface (again) – I am NOT a baker. I am afraid of flour (and yeast and baking powder and corn starch) and like some sort of wild beast, the flour (and the rest) senses my fear and …bites me. Or simply ruins whatever baked creation I choose to make.
Odd fears aside, I believed I can make this recipe. It seemed simple and approachable and came from one of the 2009 James Beard semifinalists for outstanding pastry chef, Yasmin Lozada-Hissom of Duo.
Helpful tools, etc: mixer or food processor, pastry brush, parchment paper
Two things you will need to make then assemble- the crust and the filling. And depending on the speed of heating in your oven, decide when you need to start preheating at 350ºF.
Crust- ingredients: 2 cups all purpose flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, zest of one lemon, 1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter cold and diced, 6 ounces cream cheese, 5 tablespoons water.
[Some side comments on the ingredients- flour when measured by the cup (as opposed to weight) gets tricky because the actual weight will be different on different kinds of flours and the way you pack it in the cup. Lemon zest is amazing! If you don’t have a microplane grater, get one for all of your lemon peel (or parmesan) grating needs.]
In a bowl using a hand mixer or in a food processor, mix/pulse together the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Add the butter and cream cheese and mix until crumbly.
Add water and mix/pulse until the dough barely comes together in a ball. Wrap this ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 min. Seriously now- 15 min- after that it gets too hard to work the dough into the size/shape you need, which is 10 wedges that you will work piece by piece on a lightly floured surface into rounds that are ½ high and about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. You will get 10 individual crostadas but can freeze the dough if needed for up to 2 weeks.
Filling- ingredients- 5 medium apples- Jonagold suggested, juice of half a lemon, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, ¼ brown sugar, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 ½ tablespoon tapioca starch (I used corn starch and it was fine), egg wash (1 egg beaten and mixed with 2 tablespoons of water), vanilla ice cream (for serving)
Peel, core, and slice the apples in ¼ inch thick pieces and then mix all the ingredients- except, of course, the vanilla ice cream!
Assembly- line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the dough on the parchment paper and in each round, scoop about 3 tablespoons of the apple mixture. Gently bring the edges of the dough up to the middle leaving an opening to expose the apples.
Brush the crust with egg wash and bake until golden brown about 30 minutes [I told you a brush is a handy thing to have in the kitchen].
Remove and serve either piping hot or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream [the home-made kind from the Valentine’s Day post]. Add a few chopped pecans for a crunchier texture.
I made half of this recipe and saved two of the crostadas (unassembled) for the next day. They were fabulous both days and the homemade vanilla ice cream was a great touch. My confidence in my baking abilities did not particularly increase, but I now know I can make a mean apple crostada!