Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Well, hell, the farmer really is in the dell: A tour of Hazel Dell Mushrooms, Fort Collins (+ notes on Panzano)

I 1st had the pleasure of Jim Hammond’s company last spring, during a mushroom dinner & discussion hosted by the Lab at Belmar as part of its fascinating Taste Test series (to be resumed this spring, I hear; do check it out from all angles). Mind you, it wasn’t 1 on 1 or anything; Hammond was a guest lecturer, on hand to provide a totally edutaining overview of his work as the founder of Hazel Dell Mushrooms in Fort Collins. Ever since, I’ve been cognizant of the frequency with which his fungi are referenced on local menus; just the other evening, in fact, they cropped up no less than thrice during an all-out gutbuster in which I participated at Panzano (more on this soon):

Pcrepe

crespelle ai funghi—a mushroom-filled crepe soaking up its undersauce of fontina & truffle oil, here half-eaten yet still wonderfully springy & bursting with its own juices

Psteak

grilled, sliced skirt steak beneath a veritable bale of fried-potato hay, flanked by mashed-potato scoops topped with sliced portobellos

Pchicken

perhaps the blue-ribbon recipe of the eve, due polli—chicken scaloppine & grilled chicken sausage over a mound of suitably soft-enough-to-spoon polenta with mushrooms & tomatoes

I believe the mushrooms in both the crepe & the latter dish were mixed***—although, as I can now confirm firsthand following a tour of Hazel Dell, which hosted an open house yesterday, Hammond & his crew only cultivate a few varieties. & boy, do they do it carefully (not to mention alone, at least in the case of certain species otherwise not commercially harvested in Colorado).

Located just off I-25 (exit 262), the facilities are modest sizewise, but virtually every inch is given over to the growth of buttons & portobellos,

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tree oysters & king oysters,

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shiitakes,

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caulifloweresque lion’s manes

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& a species Hazel Dell has only just begun to experiment with called cinnamon caps:

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The process is extraordinarily intricate: in spawn bags filled with sawdust mixed with rice bran & gypsum, the spores are “cooked” in a sterilizer at 350 degrees for 4 hours; then they’re incubated in insulation-lined, heated incubation sheds for 3–13 weeks—all that white stuff is mushroom that hasn’t fruited yet;

Incubator

then they’re stored in “harvest rooms” kind of like the archives in Welles’s adapation of Kafka’s The Trial, only not nightmarish,

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equipped with spindisk humidifers (hence the rather lovely blotchiness of the below image),

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where the bags they’re in are opened, which allows them to fruit within 2–5 days (as the first several photos show).

We bought a 1/2-lb. of the lion’s manes, fine knobbed & furry specimens indeed,

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& I sauteed them tonight in olive oil & a splash of balsamic with fresh favas, asparagus & scallops—which they tasted remarkably like: like scallops magically sprouted from sawdust.

Dinner

***’Tis confirmed: oysters, royal king trumpets & cremini.

Restaurant Avondale: Read all about it, sorta, not really

I read all about the opening of Restaurant Avondale at the sparkling, sizzling, spanking new Westin Riverfront Resort in Avon over at CulinaryColorado. Sounds amazing; wish I’d been there in spirit as well as body, having received an invitation by a total fluke of the kindness of a then-stranger. As it is, I don’t really remember much between the 1st glass of champagne that evening in the foyer & the 2nd or 3rd cup of coffee in our hotel room the next morning.

I did muster the wherewithal to snap a few shots of the interior, however.

This is the lobby in which I would spend the ideal ski vacation—reclining before the fire with a fake cast on my leg (flash of genius courtesy of a clever new acquaintance) & a hot buttered rum in my hot little hand.

Westinlobby

This is the adjacent lounge whence the rum would come.

Westinbar

This is the entry to the new house that chef Thomas Salamunovich of Larkspur & Larkburger hath built, aka Avondale, where cylindrical vases of jerky strips like so many dried-beef irises line the bar.

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For breakfast there was gorgeous duck hash with poached eggs & red pepper hollandaise. That much I remember, not that I tried it. I was too busy swallowing my special hangover concoction, a mixture of hair of the dog with a few shreds of my journalistic integrity.

& then there’s the view. That I won’t forget for some time.

Avondaleview

Mi Casa no es mi casa (Breckenridge)

As you may have gathered from this post, I toodled (like Chaplin, all the way) up to Breckenridge with a pal the other day. Having heard Mi Casa was a local fave, we checked it out.

Girl can’t help it, she’s a total sucker for the whole ¡fiesta-en-la-hacienda! vibe, which this place has got down to una ciencia, door to nook:

MiCasadoor –> MiCasanook

That said, I’m not such a shoulder-padded, headband-wearing, Frosty-the-Snowman-lapel-pin-at-Christmas-pinning, ‘rita-swilling Cathy or Kathie

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(image swiped from this guy’s Flickr set)

that I’d equate the charmingly corny decor (decorn?) with winning comida. On the contrary, don’t we loyal self-styled chowhounds err on the side of equating austerity with authenticity (putting aside the vexed definition of the word)? Then again, don’t we promptly, as even more fiercely determined chowhounds, remind ourselves upon erring to shelve our preconceived notions for the nonce? In short I went & sat & chewed physically & chewed mentally.

Verdict: Eh. Así así.

First of all, speaking of ‘ritas, the house marg didn’t have a thing going for it, being light on the tequila & heavy on a sweet-&-sour mix that wasn’t even close to housemade. It wasn’t even in the same town. The trio of salsas, which was, wasn’t bad—especially, surprisingly enough, the mildest one, which contained a touch of oil that gave it some body to separate it from pico de gallo—though the chips they accompanied were straight from the bag.

You have to pay for the good chips, chimayo-dusted flour-tortilla wedges with a nifty little puff to them,

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which come with the El Favorito de Todos alongside avocado dip—way too creamy for genuine guac, it must’ve been cut with sour cream or something—

MiCasaguac

& the far better but no less crappy (if you get me) pulled duck quesadilla smeared with some sort of creamy-sweet junk that was supposedly the house mango-chile sauce. Hey, I like a sheer mess of gooey-crispy carbs & fat as much as the next guy. Maybe not the guy after that (he’s huge!), but at least the 1 guy.

MiCasaduck

Queso fundido rounded out the combo:

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Beneath that sludge of Monterey Jack was actually some pretty decent, slightly spicy, loose-packed crumbled chorizo, all its grease pooled for sopping up with still-warm albeit prepackaged flour tortillas.

Pan-seared trout was fair enough—properly cooked if undercrusted with crushed almonds, pecans & pepitas so that it was tough to distinguish 1 nut crumb from another.

MiCasatrout2

Conversely, the chiles rellenos were overeverything: overbreaded, oversauced, oversmothered & overstuffed with undistinguished queso, which the Anaheims—offering no flavor of their own—basically just sheathed like thankless green condoms.

MiCasachile

The beans compensated slightly, rich & cooked to a soft bite. But black beans don’t apparently replace white bread around here.