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.

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