The Chocolate Cartel, Albuquerque, NM

We proudly feature Piece, Love, and Chocolate on our tours at least twice each month and feel so very fortunate to live in a town that indulgently adores our independently (female) owned chocolate boutique. So, when reading about The Chocolate Cartel in the local EDIBLE magazine while on a recent culinary excursion to New Mexico, it immediately became our next destination.

Albuquerque is a completely different city than Boulder or Denver. Getting to The Chocolate Cartel is not as easy as driving downtown, parking, and enjoying a leisurely city walk to an independently owned shop. You’re on highways and beltways and interstates, and, (don’t miss your exit!) a nondescript building sits on a corner, advertising Gelato and Chocolate.

The Chocolate Cartel

This gelato and chocolate shop is absolutely worth a visit if you are in Albuquerque or the vicinity. The first display case upon entering has beautiful handmade truffles topped with simple, yet elegant, designs to help you visualize your gustatory experience.

The Chocolate Cartel

The Chocolate Cartel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We decided to pick up a twelve-pack… or, perhaps, a hand-selected box of twelve, to bring back to Boulder.

Top row (from the left): Ultra Dark, Flowers of Italy, Peanut Butter, Smoked Chile. Middle row: Maple, Salt Caramel, Cinnamon, Green Chile and Salt. Bottom row: Almond Amaretto, Honey Pollen, Pine Nut, Diablo.

Choc Cartel

The chocolates that contained chiles perfectly highlighted their respective chilies, and the Smoked and Green Chile Chocolates tasted tame enough for most chocolate and chile fans.  The Diablo, however, was not tame. This was what seemed like equal parts cayenne and chocolate and was not necessarily something for the somewhat spicy- adverse.

Ultra Dark was a connoisseur’s chocolate. It was rich, elegant, and sharable. Flowers of Italy was good, but we weren’t able to place exactly which flowers were incorporated. It was subtle and well-balanced. The Peanut Butter piece was perfect and I would eat one every day if possible. The Maple was not what we were expecting. Coming from a Vermont-Maple background, this piece tasted like Aunt J’s fake maple syrup, so it was not a favorite.  The Salt Caramel truffle was very good! This was a caramel with a pull and a perfect chocolate and salt combination that leaves one craving for just…one…more. Cinnamon, just like the Diablo, was unbalanced. There was way too much cinnamon for what one needs to get the expression of cinnamon in such delicate chocolates. Next up was Almond Amaretto. If you’re familiar with Di Saronno, this piece will likely meet your expectations. The Honey Pollen piece was a nice, subtle honey pollen bite. If you’re not familiar with honey pollen, don’t expect the flavor of honey. Honey pollen, the spice of the angels, adds depth and a touch of anise-like flavor to whatever it touches. Finally, we tried Pine Nut. This is not the Italian Pignoli. This is a chocolate and locally sourced New Mexican pine nut bite (maybe two), that causes a brief moment of , “Oh, wait. Why don’t we live in a state that grows these?”

In the diamond-in-the-rough that is Albuquerque, The Chocolate Cartel is one of the first and most highly polished facets. We wish them much success and will highly recommend them whenever chocolate shops or SW culinary excursions come up in conversations in our tours.

 

Valentine’s Day Dining in Boulder and Denver

Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday this year, so there’s really no excuse not to go out. If you’re not sure where to go, we at Local Table Tours compiled a list of some of our favorite date-night dining spots in Boulder and Denver.

These aren’t necessarily ranked in any order. Grab a reservation anywhere you can!

BOULDER

  • Frasca Food & Wine- Quite simply the most elegant dining experience you’ll find in Colorado.
  • Riffs- With a specials (Riffs) menu that’s always unique, this not-to-be-missed establishment is perfect for date night.
  • Black Cat Bistro- Fine farm-to-table dining and an excellent wine selection.
  • Bramble & Hare- Casual farm-to-table bistro adjacent to it’s sister restaurant, Black Cat, serving casual fare and strong cocktails.
  • PMG- Downtown Boulder’s newest wine bar serves some of the best food in town.
  • The Kitchen Upstairs- If you can find the doorway and make your way up the dark stairs, this swanky restaurant and bar will be a place to stay for hours.
  • Bru (for the beer lover’s lover)- Great beer, great food, and free parking are three great reasons to leave downtown for dinner.

DENVER

  • The Populist-This intimate eatery is one of the city’s not-to-be-missed dining destinations, and is absolutely perfect for date night.
  • Lower 48 Kitchen- Diners are consistently raving about this ballpark neighborhood eatery. One bite there is all it will take to make it one of your all time favorites.
  • Coohills- A restaurant that never disappoints, ask about dining at the Chef’s Counter.
  • Sushi Den- Denver, and quite possibly Colorado’s, premier sushi restaurant. Try the fresh tofu… seriously.
  • Stoic & Genuine- There’s a very good chance this James Beard award-winning chef owned establishment is already booked for Valentine’s Day. Contact them now!
  • The Squeaky Bean- There’s never a dull moment at The Bean. If you can’t get in for Valentine’s Day, consider Sunday brunch.

And no Valentine’s Day is complete without chocolate, so we suggest heading over to Colorado’s premier chocolate boutique, Piece Love & Chocolate, for a custom-made gift box. They’ll even ship it to you if you don’t feel like driving into Boulder.

Cheers!

First Bite Boulder- a Vegetarian’s Week-Long Culinary Quest

At age 13, on a ski trip to Steamboat with my family, I declared one night while out to dinner at a steakhouse that I was going to be a vegetarian. At first my parents laughed it off, but over a few months, then years, it was clear I was vegetarian. And I must say, looking back to 1993 all the way up until 2000 when I started eating fish and seafood, my choices on restaurant menus were quite dismal. Pasta Primavera seemed like the only “vegetarian dish” chefs knew how to make.

Fast forward now to me dedicating myself to becoming a great home cook and food blogger, starting a restaurant tour business, and marrying a chef who is a devoted vegetarian of twenty years, and my standards for vegetarian food that I’d spend money on in a restaurant are very high. As a team, my chef and I make some pretty amazing dinners seven nights per week, and we search for the best vegetarian restaurants in every city we visit. So, I feel confident saying I know my way around a vegetarian menu.

Vegetables and vegetarian dishes, in my opinion, are great additions to menus. Meat, though often easy to prepare, doesn’t always do it for me. Vegetables, on the other hand, often need a little more finessing to make them the star of the show, and Boulder diners are going to have a chance to taste a number of new vegetarian dishes during this year’s First Bite Boulder Restaurant Week, November 14-22.

You can see most participating restaurants’ menus online, and almost all offer at least one vegetarian option. But, I found seven places that I’d personally want to try that offer vegetarian diners something more unique than gnocchi or risotto. These are listed alphabetically.

  • Arugula, for example, has six veggie appetizer options as well as a quinoa stuffed pepper with root veggie hash, brussel sprouts, and canellini bean winter squash hash in a pine nut tarragon pesto.
  • Bru, one of my all time favorite spots in town, is offering a roasted vegetable udon noodle bowl. Chef Ian Clark is one of Boulder’s most talented chefs/brewers, so I’d love to try his noodle bowl with at least a couple of his beers.
  • Cafe Aion is offering a winter squash and cauliflower tagine. I love tagines! And, incase you haven’t heard, cauliflower is the new kale, so this is a must try dish in my book.
  • The Greenbriar Inn is also thinking outside the box and serving a roasted vegetable terrine with grilled portobello, roasted bell peppers, smoked zucchini, charred tofu, pickled onion, and a green olive and tomato salsa.
  • Leaf, Boulder’s only all vegetarian formal dining establishment, has an entire menu for vegetarians, but I think their sweet potato au gratin sounds the most inviting with black bean puree, sautéed kale, and crispy parsnips.
  • Shine‘s menu offers a mushroom and goat cheese house-stuffed (grain free) ravioli. Their recent Great American Beer Fest win is reason enough to celebrate with a cheers to Boulder’s favorite triplets.
  • Volta is also incredibly tempting this year as they’re serving a vegetarian moussaka with potato, eggplant, butternut squash, béchamel, spicy pumpkin purée, and pepitas. Please and thank you!

Where to find a local turkey this year…

Thanksgiving is upon us and I was hired to prepare a feast for one of my client’s family this year. The first thing I decided was I’d prefer a local bird to a Whole Foods bird. As I’ve never purchased a local bird here in Boulder, I asked Lynne Eppel of Edible Front Range for her thoughts. She suggested I ask Eric Skokan of Black Cat Farm, which I did at the Saturday Farmers’ Market. Eric told me that he didn’t sell his turkeys, but across from his farm stand was Jodar Farms, and they sold turkeys. Easy.

I asked at Jodar Farms and they sell free range turkeys at $4 per pound. They anticipate all of their birds being between 18-30 pounds. Jodar is apparently one of the only farms selling turkeys as many farmers have given up raising them because the profit margin is very low. I found this very surprising. Also surprising is the following info I received from Jodar: They feed their birds conventional feed, so they’re likely fed GMO feed. Also, being located in Fort Collins, they work closely with breweries and feed their birds a lot of spent grain, so their diet is not just corn by any means, but again, possibly contains a lot of GMO feed. Finally, the birds will have to be frozen as their facility is too small to store the birds in refrigeration. I had expected a local bird to be one I could pick up a day or two before Thanksgiving and not have to defrost it, but that is not the case.

So, I’m on the fence about this one… I need to ask my clients what they prefer, but being that they eat a 100% organic diet, I have a feeling the Whole Foods bird is going to on the table this year.

Thumbs Down: Zeal Food for Enthusiasts

Zeal- Food for Enthusiasts, a not-quite one year old establishment, has just fired their second executive chef in ten months. First time restauranteur Wayde Jester has, according to comment from his staff, refused to listen to advice from veterans in the industry and has preferred to run a place where people are fired for not fitting in with the “love will see us through” front of the house philosophy that has formed a cult of sorts in the management.

Front of the house issues have been apparent from the start, which is expected when one has no experience and tries to play restauranteur without listening to and following the advice of industry professionals who have worked hard and done this all before. But, the back of the house was originally staffed with professional chefs with experience at OAK at Fourteenth, L’atelier, Frasca, and Jax, to name a few successful restaurant models here in town.

The most recent shift has brought A Bolder Table to the decision to boycott Zeal. Their executive chef, Sean Smith, had poured everything he had into running that kitchen and was called in for a meeting on his day off to be blind-sided and fired, effective immediately, with no severance, for doing a great job and working incredibly hard, but not leaving the kitchen to socialize with Zeal’s guests. I’m sorry folks, but chefs usually don’t socialize- they run the kitchen and make your dining experience possible with the help of the front of the house staff being there to touch tables and mingle with diners. Wayde Jester fired a chef with no one next in line to be trained in Sean’s duties. Staff moral is very low and each and every employee has reached out to Sean in tears, outrage, or just plain disbelief.

The “love is all we need” facade will only last so long. Showing zero love to one of the most hard working and important employees of their establishment is the antithesis to who they say they are.

*Disclaimer- Sean Smith is connected to A Bolder Table, so we are not just passionate about the issue, but know all of the dirty details.

Summer Tasting Tour

Local Table Tours was recently asked by the Boulder Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to bring a travel writer around town to some of our favorite spots for an evening dining tour. Sounds like fun!

As it was a Tuesday, we started at Cured to enjoy their weekly Tuesday evening wine tasting, and followed that with a delicious cheese and charcuterie platter prepared by their esteemed manager, Jessica.

Cured Cheese Plate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jessica knows her way around cheese and gave us a great taste of old world and new world cheeses and meats. We could have sat there nibbling and learning about cheese all evening, but we were heading over to Bramble & Hare for a few cocktails and local farm bites.

Bar manager Griffin Farro, widely acclaimed as one of the best bartenders in town, created three different libations for us to try: A beet cocktail with juice from Black Cat Farm’s beets,

Beet Cocktail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

one with carrot puree from their carrots, called Skokan’s Garden,

Skokan's Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and a bartender’s choice, which allows Griffin to play around behind the bar.

Bartender's Choice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next came a beet salad with house made ricotta cheese (and please pardon the lighting, as Bramble & Hare is a very dimly lit establishment).

Beet Salad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then arrived some ridiculously good Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

followed by some of the most tender chicken wings ever. Period.

Chicken Wings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chef/owner/farmer Eric Skokan came to greet us at this point and wouldn’t reveal a single secret about the mac & cheese nor the wings. It was worth asking, but didn’t get us anywhere close to figuring out his finger-licking-good secret.

And then it was time to walk a block away to Boulder’s highly acclaimed OAK at Fourteenth for our entree, or so I thought. OAK spoiled us with four courses of seasonal food and drink pairings. Sous Chef Bill Espiricueta started us off with a deconstructed gazpacho, served by pouring the tomato broth table side.

Deconstructed Gazpacho

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The light and perfectly prepared gazpacho was appropriately paired with a Monk’s Garden, a tail of basil and tarragon infused vodka, Green Chartreuse, cucumber, lavender, and lime (which can barely be seen in the photo above, just behind the spout of tomato broth being poured into the bowl).

Next, we enjoyed some corn and ricotta stuffed ravioli and a rose from Provence. Perfect. Simply perfect, except for the fact that licking our platters clean would have been frowned upon.

corn and ricotta ravioli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our ravioli was followed by wood-fired oven roasted chicken on a fresh corn slaw and a corn cake, paired with a Firestone Walker beer.

roasted chicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, there’s ALWAYS room for dessert, right? There was definitely room for a mini peach bourbon milkshake.

Peach Bourbon milkshake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was an incredible taste of Boulder. Ah… the life of a food tour guide is very tough.

 

Zeal- Food for Enthusiasts. Three Farms in Three Courses

Zeal has been a great addition to the east end of Pearl Street. Executive Chef Sean Smith, formerly of OAK at Fourteenth, runs a very busy kitchen serving diners who are looking for a healthier dining experience. The organic, non-GMO eatery also partners with Conscious Cleanse by offering daily dishes that are cleanse friendly and periodic three course meals so cleanse participants can enjoy dining out while not breaking the rules of their two week plan.

The August three course farm to table Conscious Cleanse dinner featured freshly picked produce from three great farms: Toohey, Red Wagon, and Munson Farms. Our first bite, or amuse, was deconstructed Toohey Farms Armenian cucumber and dill soup with avocado, dill flowers, and Himalayan pink salt.

Amuse at Zeal

This was a pretty, perfect bite.

Our appetizer was Red Wagon Farm chard wrapped around sautéed Hazel Dell mushrooms with either curried green lentils, the vegan option (left) or a chard wrap stuffed with duck confit (right).

chard wrap

duck confit chard wrap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two entree options were Munson Farms summer squash “pasta” with either roasted seasonal veggies and herbed shitakes (left), or squash “pasta” topped with bison meatballs and roasted carrots (right).

veggie summer squash pasta

bison meatballs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, the dessert course offered two options as well: avocado and carob mousse (a strange concoction for vegans) or a Colorado peach and wildflower honey granita.

avocado carob mousse

Peach Granita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was a really good, healthy dinner, especially when you consider Chef Smith had to abide by the highly restrictive cleanse guidelines that don’t allow gluten or many of the summer’s bountiful harvest, such as nightshades. And for non-cleanse diners, our only critique is we wanted more of that Himalayan pink salt on our plates.

Cured de France: Enjoy your cycling with cheese.

Just as the World Cup reaches its final days, competitors in another major international sporting event, the Tour de France, begin tearing over mountain passes and through city streets on their bikes. And Cured, Boulder’s premier cheese, charcuterie and wine shop, is helping Tour de France spectators in Colorado celebrate the epic race with food and drink that honors different stages of the race.

The Tour begins this year in Leeds, England, passing through a number of towns – among them, Harrogate, York, Sheffield and Cambridge – before crossing the English Channel for the race’s namesake country. For the English leg of the Tour, Cured offers Montgomery cheddar, the most legendary of English cheddar cheeses, and Robinson’s Old Tom Ale, a classic English ale with just enough power, funk and bitterness to pair gorgeously with the cheese.

“Montgomery’s cheddar and Robinson’s Old Tom Ale are made just down the road from each other, and it turns out when the flavors meet, they embrace,” says Will Frischkorn, a former professional cyclist and Tour de France racer who co-owns Cured with his wife, Coral. “Because there are few things better than a good cheddar with a good beer, we are taking a departure from the wines of France. There is something special about proper cheddar and beer pairings. In this case, maybe it’s that the beer and cheese grew up so close to each other – they share similar flavors and richness in profiles. In addition, the carbonation in beer helps create fantastic pairings. This one is especially wonderful.”

Each summer Cured hosts its own Tour de France, a trip much easier to complete than the 21-day trek around France. Will breaks down the Tour into eight stages, each corresponding to between three or four days of racing. Each stage connects the cheeses and beverages with the region the racers are pedaling across. As the riders make their way clockwise around France, Cured de France “racers” follow along with cheese and wine or beer.

The Provisions

Each stage, available individually or as part of the whole package, comes with a healthy chunk of cheese and a drink to pair. Most beverage pairings are wine, but given the English leg of the trip this year, exceptional beer figures into the Cured de France, too. Prices vary between $25 and $50, depending on the stage; the entire bundled tour costs $295. People who go for the gusto by participating in the entire tour receive the newly released Looney Bin bottle cage from Arundel, designed to hold a bottle of wine, beer, or just about anything else, loaded up with a bottle of Cured’s House wine as a thank you and a congratulations on your effort!

Cured de France boxes are available for pick-up at the store, or for $95 a box gets sent to your doorstep at the start of each stage.

Stages:

Stage One: July 5-7 (England)

Stage Two: July 8-10 (Northern France)

Stage Three: July 11-14 (Northeastern France)

Stage Four: July 15-18 (Eastern France and Southeastern France)

Stage Five: July 19-21 (Southeastern France and Southcentral France)

Stage Six: July 22-24 (Pyrenees)

Stage Seven: July 25-26 (Bordeaux)

Finale: July 27 (Paris)

“At the finale,” said Frischkorn, “we guiltily enjoy Champagne and a wedge of Fougerus while the riders finally get off their bikes and bid goodbye to the 101st Tour de France.”

A “Best of” Tour de Boulder

July 2, 2014 – July 2, 2014

1235 Pearl Street

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Description:

Megan is coordinating a Best of Boulder tour for a small group, highlighting the food scene that makes us so well-known and respected. Restaurants, Foodie Specialty Shops, The Wednesday Farmers’ Market, and more. We’re looking forward to this unique tasting tour.

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Becky and Friends Private Lunch-hour Tour

June 6, 2014 – June 6, 2014

1235 Pearl Street

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Description:

Becky had so much fun on tour with us that she’s invited her friends for a lunch-time soiree to some of Megan’s favorite Pearl Street hot-spots.

OZO

Coffee, great food, chocolate, and talking about all things food with Local Table Tours’ Founding Foodie.

Pice Love & Chocolate

 

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