Archive for March, 2012

Colt & Gray Denver ~ Brunch

Posted 30 Mar 2012 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends

Over the past couple of years I haven’t spent much time talking about breakfast and brunch. During that time the trend tracking restaurant experts have predicted the continued disintegration of the traditional restaurant  day-part (breakfast , lunch and dinner) and the ongoing expansion  of hours that serve what is being called the “all day eater.” My own research over the past two years confirms this change particularly in the QSR and fast casual segment but only recently have I noticed more and more fine, full service restaurants moving into the breakfast and brunch day-part in an effort to capitalize on potential new revenues built on existing fixed costs. Starting in January I am making a conscious attempt to gather information on breakfast and brunch in the fine, full service segment to see if expansion in this day-part that fine restaurants historically have neglected is occurring. My research starts in Denver.

While in there last month a chef friend recommended that I visit Colt & Gray for brunch to check out their take.  Five of us made our way to the corner of Platt and 16th streets in Denver late one morning. It was sunny out and the sky was a deep Denver blue. The restaurant is located in a renovated three story red brick building just west of the Platt River in an area of Denver that has been on the rise for more than a decade. We enter and quickly find a table.

The menu is both creative and expansive with items like crispy raisin bread pudding, house scrapple with fennel and kimchee, house smoked trout with scrambled eggs, house made corned beef hash with poached eggs and a special of Merguez sausage, crispy foie gras potatoes, Frisee and poached eggs. I also like the “kitchen sink” breakfast sandwich with sausage, egg, cheese, gravy, bacon, fries on a bun. It’s more of a “heart attack on a plate” than anything but from what I hear it’s one of the best-selling items on the menu. The Dal Makhani with creamy curried lentils served in a Staub cast iron cocotte warm flat bread, fried eggs and an added side of braised lamb tongue is unique in composition and creativity and attracts our attention as well.  Perhaps, as I think to myself quietly, part of the evolving breakfast trend is driven by the desire for people to find a finer level culinary excess during breakfast, a meal-period that otherwise is served only by the more traditional offerings of the quick service segment. Colt & Gray has found a niche in serving this desire.

Most of the seats at the bar are occupied and I notice the drink menu is playfully divided into two categories “recovery” and “retox” with the recovery drinks light on alcohol and high in creativity and the retox items more aggressive with alcohol and served in pitchers because “brunch is social.”  Coffee consists of a selection of locally roasted options in traditional form and Teatulia tea is served.  The food and beverage options are thoughtful and well executed while demonstrating flourishes of creativity for this day-part. Colt & Gray is solid evidence that there is room for a return to quality brunch service in the fine full-service segment. As much as I used to hate rising early on weekend mornings to run brunch service after a late Friday and Saturday dinner closing, it’s hard to deny the value of generating additional revenue during the morning when your restaurant would otherwise be empty. Now I just need to decide whether to choose “recovery” or “retox” with my kitchen sink sandwich.


Charcuterie Platter with Country Pate and Triple Cream Cheese

Merguez Sausage, Crispy Foie Gras Potatoes, Frisee & Poached Eggs

Kitchen Sink Breakfast Sandwich, Sausage, Egg, Cheese, Gravy, Bacon, Fries, Bun

Dal Makhani, Creamy Curried Lentils with Warm Flat Bread, Fried Egg (with added Braised Lamb Tongue)

Duroc Pork Chop, Two Eggs, Grits, Red Eye Gravy

Colt & Gray

1553 Platte Street #120
Denver, CO  80202


Table 52 ~ Chicago

Posted 27 Mar 2012 — by S.E.
Category Full Service

Art Smith is such a nice guy and Table 52 in Chicago radiates his warmth. It’s a true manifestation of his dream of a restaurant and serves the type of southern comfort food he was raised on. When I first met Art he had just dropped a ton of weight, was feeling spry and was about to open Table 52. He had the whole thing figured out in his head and spoke of it with pure energy and enthusiasm.

Every good chef that I have ever met dreams of opening his or her own place. A privileged few get the chance and an even smaller number actually find success and make a good living. It truly is a labor of love. Art was lucky, he had built his celebrity working as Oprah’s chef for a decade before striking out on his own in 2007. Table 52 became his obsession when he left Oprah.

While in the windy city last month I checked in at Table 52 for a snack and the place was thumping. The lower dining room was stuffed elbow to elbow with a line out the door. With low tin ceilings and a rustic white washed panel décor, the lower dining room is more of a southern style bistro with a great hearth oven anchoring the room. However, the upper dining room is a whole other affair.

With high ceilings, thick custom drapes, wide striped wall paper, and fine decorative molding the upper room feels like a fine antebellum parlor. Custom antique-like side stations and a high-boy filled with wine add warmth to the room. I imagine how much fun Art and his partner and designer Julie Latsko must have had designing this room; how fantastic to be living the dream.

Crab Cake, Salt & Pepper Chips, Tartar Sauce, Frisee Salad

Art’s team prepares food reminiscent of his southern heritage. Each dish offers hints of authenticity with flourishes of creativity. This isn’t the stick to your ribs shrimp and grits and corn bread of Charleston or Atlanta, it’s more of a Midwestern version of southern fare as locally sourced ingredients would dictate. The food is delicious and comfortable and the restaurant shines when it comes to service. Art’s dream is alive and well in Chicago.

Short Rib, Barley Risotto, Carrot Ginger Puree, Tobacco Shallots

Table 52

52 W. Elm Street



90 Minutes with Chef Chris Cosentino

Posted 19 Mar 2012 — by S.E.
Category Warms My Heart

One of the greatest joys of being an educator is seeing a former student achieve greatness. After more than 20 years in higher education, I can honestly say this is the real reason I keep at it…nothing is more rewarding. This past weekend I had a chance to catch up to Chef Chris Cosentino (Incanto, Baccalone, food network) in Chicago and spent time during the day tagging along with him for a while. Chris was one of my students years ago and his success warms my heart. He has always been exceptionally talented, hard-working if not irreverent, and gifted with creativity. His success is no surprise but years ago it was no guarantee.

We are in the kitchen in Chicago and Chris is electric prior to performing in front of five hundred spectators. He pulls me aside to show me a whole duck bloated with foie gras. In a few minutes he will demonstrate how to remove the enlarged liver from the duck along with other nasty bits and parts. The duck is gorgeous. Alongside the duck, Chris will demonstrate his new line of knives from Shun, he is giddy over these knives and tools. He always has something up, or tattooed on his sleeve as sponsors attempt to tap into his energy. The same was true last year when we connected; he was wearing a new pair of shoes form Mozo with honeycomb tripe printed on the toecap. He reeks of cool.

Chris has five minutes before he is due on stage and electricity is pouring out of him. While standing backstage he realizes that he hasn’t autographed the row of Kitchen Aid mixers lined along the wall so he darts off to tag a couple. In a flash he begins sketching a pig snout, eyes and ears on the front of the mixer and spins it around to squiggle a tail on the back, then signs his name just above the speed control while exclaiming “I drew a swine.” Where does this guy get his creativity?

Out front now, Chris begins his demonstration by carefully removing the livers from the duck, pulling out the lungs, gizzards and heart, joking “I left my heart in San Francisco” to a good laugh from the crowd. As Chris is cutting up with the crowd Chef Duff Goldman joins him and busts his ass for beating him during an episode of Chefs vs. City. The crowd is roaring now but Cosentino takes it in stride, never losing his concentration. He splits the duck down the sides removing the breasts on the bone, seasons all sides and places them in the oven at 500 degrees to roast. “This is old fashioned cooking…simple roasting done right” Chris shouts. While the breasts are roasting he sears a slab of the liver with salt and pepper, pulls the seared liver out of the pan and tosses in a spoonful of pinenuts and capers swirling them to heat. He has the final dish plated within seconds and on display and the crowd is going nuts.

Watching him I see that he’s found a way to channel his energy into something great. He’s comfortable, his skills are excellent. The life lessons and professional discipline he learned long ago while in culinary school provided just the foundation he needed to find his way. But the best thing of all is that he is happy. For nearly two hours while  we’re together his joy is contagious; an affliction I am quick to appreciate.