Cultures Collide to Make Familiar Dishes New Creations at Mister Tuna

With a new Executive Chef and a new season comes a new menu for Troy Guard’s Mister Tuna restaurant. We will highlight a few of the great new dishes you'll want to try this Summer, and point out a few house favorites that have carried over. The new Executive Chef, Tristen Epps, relocated from Brooklyn to Denver last year and took over the kitchen at Mister Tuna in February. Having grown up in the Southeast where BBQ is popular, combined with his travels through Asia, Chef Epps unites the flavors of these two distinct cultures into dishes that may appear familiar, but taste completely original.

Ancient Grain XO Spaghetti

Ancient Grain XO Spaghetti

Mister Tuna opened about two years ago and was inspired by creator/owner Troy Guard's childhood days in Hawaii where his dad, known as Mister Tuna, cooked meals over a grill in their backyard. The new menu combines Guard's Hawaiian history and Chef Epps Southeaster and Asian experiences. Together they have created a marvelous menu with many different flavors, ingredients, and creative combinations. The menu offers Raw Bar selections, many Shared Plates, and a handful of large Entrees meant for sharing. The whole menu in fact was crafted with the intention of sharing a meal, sharing an experience, and enjoying the flavors together with the friends or family at the table with you.

The wood fired grill is a central component here and works alongside the rotisserie that spins everything from local game to whole heritage hogs. This method showcases a style of cooking that brings people together in “Ohana”, the Hawaiian concept for family.

Bison Tongue Toast

Bison Tongue Toast

To start, the Oak Grilled English Peas are a fun and flavorful appetizer for the table. They mimic Edamame but with an entirely different flavor that comes from charring them right on the coals and seasoning with yuzu black pepper butter. The other appetizer we shared was their popular Bison Tongue Toast. The bison in this dish is brined for two weeks then cooked for a whole day to become bison pastrami. This delicacy sits atop a house made bread, Fontina cheese sandwich garnished with pickled spicy radish. This shared plate, along with the Charred Barbeque Octopus, are two of the most popular new dishes on the menu. Two longstanding favorites of Chef Guard's that remain on the menu are the broccolini, speck Gnocchi and his Roti Tacos.

Two larger standouts we tried and recommend are the Ancient Grain Spaghetti and the Smoked Cauliflower Agnolotti. While both are pasta dishes, they tasted far from Italian, especially the Spaghetti, which Chef Epps said he calls "Faux Soba". The bolognese sauce he makes is slightly creamy, but uses Asian flavors and XO sauce, simmered shrimp, smoked eggplant, and specked with Speck (cured pork). The Spaghetti is handmade with ancient grains, has the perfect amount of creamy XO sauce, and is all topped with sautéed bok choy and crispy fried shallots - what a wonderful cultural mash up!

The Smoked Cauliflower Agnolotti is similar to ravioli and is stuffed with smooth pureed cauliflower and potato. A house made calabrian chili oil, which is a spicy, mildly sweet Italian chili, surrounds the pasta pillows and provides a zesty punch. Living local greens, buffalo burrata and charred cauliflower decorate this delicious dish.

Hanger Steak

Hanger Steak

If you still have room to order an entrée after all the scrumptious shared plates, you can choose between Hawaiian Fish in coconut curry, Rotisserie Pork Collar, and Hanger Steak with their incredibly unique potatoes (gnocchi meets sponge cake gets baked, then deep fried). There’s also a Lamb Ribeye, Halibut, and Fried Rice. You can enjoy the entire menu or just a cocktail at the interactive Chef's counter, the raw and preservation (pickling) bar, the cocktail lounge, or their large outdoor patio. Mister Tuna provides plenty of spaces to match your mood and plenty of eats to please your palate.

https://www.mistertuna.com/

Words by Tiffany Candelaria

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Family Jones Spirit House | Unique Drinks & Surprising Eats

The Family Jones Spirit House, a distillery and tasting room featuring crafted spirits and food, opened this Saturday, Nov. 11 in LoHi next door to Root Down. The location is fitting, as one of the “family members” is Justin Cucci, chef and owner of Root Down, among other notable Denver restaurants. The rest of the “Jones Family” includes pioneering distiller Rob Masters and entrepreneurs Jack Pottle, Denielle Nadeau and Paul Tamburello, and bar manager Nick Touch creating what could be the ultimate blended family. “One of the perks of being an adult is choosing your family,” said Pottle. “Another perk is choosing your home away from home, and now we have that place: The Family Jones Spirit House.” The new venue emphasizes the relationship between distiller, chef, bartender and guest, with a focus on hospitality.

Designed and built by Tres Birds Workshop, the space was really cool, pairing industrial elements with rich wood details. The high ceiling showcases the second-floor loft where a beautiful 17-ft. copper still distills their special spirits - everything from vodka to gin, whiskey and rum. The still is a beautiful, shining focal point above the crescent concrete bar below. Guests enter the space through a large, square, wooden door made from reclaimed, on-site materials. Inside, they are met with juniper-lined concrete walls (a nod to the key flavor component in gin), low-slung seating, deep blue booths and soft lighting.

“We are making things that push the boundaries of a traditional cocktail bar; we are putting our own spin on it,” explains Masters. “This is a distiller’s dream – to create all sorts of crazy things in small batches. It’s a test kitchen: If it doesn’t work, we can try something new.” Cucci agrees and says his collaboration on The Family Jones was a no-brainer, “Getting to work with Chef Tim Dotson and Bartender Nick Touch, as well as entrepreneurs like Paul and Jack has been incredible; we are all committed to excellence. What we have come up with is a surprise, and we are excited to share it with Denver.”

Their experimentation and surprise elements extend to both the food and cocktail offerings. The menu offers 12-15 small plates, as well as a variety of cocktails made exclusively with The Family Jones spirits, which we sampled during their preview party. Both menus are designed to be clean, vibrant, accessible and had a wide range of flavor profiles and unique ingredient pairings like their classic martini that uses a house-made crème de violet and crème de cacao to add a unique twist. Their Rock-n-Rye blends Stop Gap Rye whiskey with a selection from the more than 100 botanicals and spices made in their distillation lab upstairs! Highlights from Executive Chef Tim Dotson’s menu include three-cheese fondue, served in an heirloom pumpkin with vegetable skewers, and a spin on pork and beans with house-made sausage, heirloom beans, sour cherries, pistachio, collard greens and a chorizo vinaigrette. A tableside bar-cart tasting service rounds out the eclectic, one of a kind experience at The Family Jones.

The Family Jones Spirit House is open from 4-10 p.m. Tuesday—Thursday; 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. Friday; 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Saturday; and 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. www.TheFamilyJones.co

Words by Tiffany Candelaria          Photos by Samantha Bliss

Bremen’s Wine & Tap Brings Seasonal Fine Dining to LoHi

The Ultra5280 crew had the opportunity to dine at the new LoHi restaurant Bremen’s Wine & Tap in anticipation of their new Fall/Winter menu that debuted Monday, October 23. We were very impressed with the variety of dishes, the quality of food and flavors, and the overall presentation, complete with drink pairings. While savoring, we got to know new Executive Chef Isabel Ranney, Bremen’s eco-friendly practices, and learned the restaurant is entirely woman-owned!  Bremen’s Wine & Tap features handcrafted, seasonal, American cuisine, craft cocktails, local beers, and an extensive wine list.

“The inspiration behind the menu is based on the seasonality of the produce and of the herbs and spices that are beneficial to our bodies at this time of year,” said Chef Isabel. “Also, I cook food that I like to eat. The fall menu includes soul-warming dishes that are perfect for the cool weather. The new items are a play on comfort foods that people crave when the weather is cold, but they are refined.”  The new menu includes a Seasonal Butcher Board, Kale and Beet Salad, a Farro Bowl, Duck Breast, and a Prime Rib Sandwich. Especially fun for the season are their Pumpkin Coconut Chai Martini and the Earl Grey Old Fashion.

Maple Duck Breast

Prior to becoming executive chef, Chef Isabel was the sous chef at Bremen’s and previously at the Magnolia Hotel. She has held a number of positions across Colorado and in Washington since starting in the restaurant industry when she was 15-years-old. Aside from her spectacular, seasonal dishes, we love her commitment to the environment, ensuring good practices in both the front and back of the house. She has spearheaded the restaurant’s composting program, aims to use every ingredient in three different ways, and always works to improve their carbon footprint. Chef Isabel is a certified herbalist and uses this knowledge to incorporate ingredients that are beneficial to our health and energy per the season, “The lamb shank uses elderberries and rosehips which are packed with antioxidants and are antiviral, so they help people’s immune systems without them even realizing because of how delicious it tastes.” She also focuses on growing relationships with farmers and vendors to bring the best ingredients into the restaurant and its guests. What a woman, and what a chef!

Butcher Board

Both Chef Isabel and owner Dina Castillo have truly taken the time to make their dining experience as environmentally friendly and Colorado based as possible. Chef Isabel serves her Butcher Board on a rustic wood board from Colorado beetle-killed trees, and picks fresh produce and herbs for a farm called Rebel Farms located right here in Denver. They have a strong passion for supporting local businesses, so at Bremen’s you will see local beers and wines from all around the state, including right here in Denver. While digging into the dishes, we also learned the name Bremen’s was created from a favored children’s book that was written about the city of Bremen, Germany.

Whether you’re in the neighborhood, live on the other side of town, or are just visiting Denver, Bremen’s is a must visit within the thriving culinary scene here in Denver. With their wide variety of dishes and drinks, there is something for everyone. Bremen’s is open for dinner Monday - Saturday, happy hour daily from 4 to 6 p.m. with lady’s wine night on Wednesdays, and brunch on Saturday and Sunday beginning at 11 a.m. Read on for a detailed description of the dishes we devoured and photographed.  http://www.bremenswinetap.com/

Asparagus Tartare

Asparagus Pear Tartare: This dish is a play off traditional tartare, featuring raw asparagus finely diced, mixed with red onion, scallions, avocados, pears, pear-herb vinaigrette, and surrounded by heirloom grape tomatoes, tangerine oil and topped with crispy asparagus ribbons. Served with house made lavash rubbed with jalapeno agave syrup.

Butcher Board: Chef’s choice (changes bi weekly) of charcuterie and cheese, house made grain mustard and pickled vegetables. We tasted Prosciutto di Parma – aged 18 months, High West Whiskey Salami, Ossau-Iraty (French sheep’s milk cheese, dates back to one of the first cheese ever made), and the aged English Cheddar. Also served on this beautiful beetle kill board from Colorado, are house-pickled, seasonal vegetables. Boards come with toasted sourdough bread from local bakery, Hinman’s, “34 Degrees” crackers and salted almond crackers.

Maple Leaf Duck Breast: House made potato gnocchi that are seared to create a crispy outer glaze. The gnocchi get tossed with a wild mushroom and leek mixture deglazed with white wine and finished with butter and fried sage.

Sea Scallops with Risotto

Fresh Catch of the Day: Three pan-seared sea scallops served atop a bacon and corn risotto, topped with a red wine vinegar reduction and fried mint. (This was divine!)

Isabel’s Seasonal Crumble: Tequila-soaked pears topped with Bremen’s secret pecan crumble, served with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream.

Words by Tiffany Candelaria        Photos by Samantha Bliss

The Magic of Mole & Mezcal | Centro Mexican Kitchen

Centro Mexican Kitchen celebrated two of Mexico’s most time-honored culinary traditions—mole and mezcal—at their second annual Festival de Mole y Mezcal last Thursday, March 23. Their head Chef Duane Walker prepared three different moles, rojo, verde and negro, while the bar offered three rare, specially crafted Oaxacan mezcals not on their normal menu. Let us explain why mescal and mole are so special to the Mexican heritage and why they are so delicious and often hard to come by here in the States.

Mole is the classic, ancient Mexican sauce made from chilies, seeds, nuts, and spices, among other ingredients. There are as many legends about its origins as there are types of mole, with variations ranging from negro and coloradito to poblano and almendrado. Some moles have as many as 30 ingredients, and family recipes are heavily guarded and passed down from generation to generation. “So much history, heritage, passion, and love goes into making a solid mole,” says Chef Walker. “It's all about building flavor, which takes time. To me it's the foundation of Mexican cuisine.” His recognition of mole’s history and his attention to detail was apparent in the rich, flavorful negro mole and toasted coconut coating the duck leg dinner special we tried. He had paired it with a dulce de leche sauce as well and served the duck with broccolini and risotto style rice with nuts and raisins. The dish was so savory and the sauces were much more succulent than sweet and matched perfectly with the various flavor profiles of the duck and sides. The duck was filling and full of flavors like warming spices, chilies, chocolate, smoke, game and we learned it was dry rubbed overnight until cooked in duck fat. Talk about a decadent duck dish!

Taking our meal up several notches on the delicious and memorable spectrum was a flight of mezcal. Mezcal is a Mexican spirit made from the heart of the agave plant, or piña. Unlike tequila, which is made using only blue agave, mezcal comes from over 30 varieties of agave. This, coupled with countless variations in the distillation process, allows for an astonishing variety of mezcals across the country. Some heirloom recipes include ingredients like cinnamon, pineapple, plums, cloves, and even raw meat. The three on special for their Festival were Mexicano, Madre Cuixe and Ensamble en Barro from the Mezcal Vago label. They were amazing, but because they aren’t offered here any other time I will tell you about some of the mezcals you can order anytime at Centro.

We tried three small samples from the Del Maguey family – Minero, Chidricapa, and Domingo Alban. They were all especially great with a bite of lime or orange and paired with food. The Minero was refreshing, but unlike most tequila, it has tasting notes of vanilla and caramel in addition to the agave taste. The Chidricapa was lighter and crisper than the other two, and resembled typical tequila in its agave and citrus forward taste, but with a bit of wood/oak flavor found in aged tequilas. The Domingo Alban mezcal was a bit sweet, agave forward and crisp, but with a smoky aftertaste. If you’re a fan of tequila and whisky/bourbon, mezcal is your kindred spirit and you’ve got to try a few varieties. As mentioned, mezcal comes from over 30 varieties of agave and is coupled with countless variations in the distillation process, thus you absolutely should not judge based on a past experience or just a couple of mezcals. There are so many flavor profiles to match many palettes, unless you just hate tequila/agave. So head over to Centro Mexican Kitchen for one of the best selections of mezcal in Boulder and Denver. They even have mezcal in a couple of cocktails or you can add it to a margarita to make your first time a bit more approachable.

 

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In addition to their great mezcals and mole, Centro has a large menu of soulful, imaginative Mexican cuisine. Centro also packs their calendar with fun events and weekly specials that continue to make their restaurant a fun, affordable and popular place to dine and drink. Two upcoming events include Easter Sunday and Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Centro is celebrating Easter Sunday with a festive brunch, happy hour, and dinner specials. Cinco de Mayo at Centro will have a pig roast on the patio, and served out in the form of tacos, tamales, and enchiladas all day long. There will also be $5 Suerte Coin Margs (while supplies last), $7 Shot & Beer (El Charro Silver and The Post Brewing Co. Top Rope Mexican Style Lager), and $15 Top Rope Buckets. They've also got some awesome weekly programing—Breakfast Burritos, Sunday Family Night (live music, dancing, kids eat free), Monday All Night Happy Hour, Tamale Tuesdays, Weekend Brunch, and Happy Hour food and drink specials daily!

http://www.centromexican.com/

Review by Tiffany Candelaria

Lifestyle | A Creative, Collaborative Twist on Dining in Denver: The Dinner Party Association

Food, fun, friends, music, local, libations, collaboration… These are things we are very fond of here at Ultra5280 and believe you, our readers, are fond of as well. Last weekend we discovered The Dinner Party Association, a new pop-up concept that brings all these wonderful things together once a month! Its founder, Megan Ranegar, and her “traveling supper club” are new to Denver as of this past December, but she didn’t waste any time acclimating her concept to the Mile High City. This first Sunday was the 3rd Dinner Party Association event, “The Taco Situation”, which took place three stories above the 16th Street Mall at a co-working space aptly named The Hive on 16th.

The basic concept is simple Megan explains, “We dinner party in unlikely places, eat delicious food, and toast with local brews.” Their goal is to create a community between Denver residents, foodies, chefs, musicians, photographers and the like. “I feel like I always meet the coolest people and have the best conversations in a dinner party atmosphere; I want to spread that magic through The Dinner Party Association.”

If grassroots involvement is any indication a concept is gaining momentum, then we think it’s pretty obvious Denver digs The Dinner Party Association’s arrival. We found out about the event via a post on Instagram and other brunch goers heard from a friend of a friend, or via social media as well. And now, you can say you heard about it here from us! While Dinner Party Association’s Instagram page has nearly 3,000 followers, it also has many other people and businesses that are outwardly supporting the pop-up on their social media outlets. Before moving to Denver, Megan organized similar pop-ups in Los Angeles but wasn't sure she’d continue them here, “I was mostly hesitant because I didn't have any connections to chefs, venues, etc. but I can't believe how collaborative the Denver community is! I've been so happily surprised at the reaction and support my concept has received here.”

Megan shares the one thing that really helped turn her California concept into a reality in Denver was meeting Brooks Gagstetter of Logan House Coffee. “Brooks basically said ‘you're doing this’ and proceeded to provide a beautiful warehouse space for our first event in January, and I’ve just continued building relationships from there.” The events now take place the first Sunday of each month in a unique new venue, with a completely different lineup of food, drinks and ambiance each time. “The theme of each event is something I dream up and then reach out to different spaces and chefs who I think would be a good fit. Then comes the fun part - designing the event. I have a background in marketing, so creating content to promote the event is fun for me too.”

Their first event was a “Coffee Beer Brunch” in the Logan House Coffee warehouse, in RiNo. Megan explains it's their goal to find cool, unique spaces for an alternative dining experience. The first Denver bunch to brunch with Dinner Party Association ate Thai fried eggs, rosemary chia pudding jars, pork rillettes with preserved pear atop Apache fry bread, and aged Rocky Mountain beers from Beryl’s Beer Co. For their second event they held a dinner and beer pairing and added live music to the mix with a musician from Denver and one from Chicago. Megan is very good about setting a scene and weaving a theme to make the dining experience truly unique, “I love thinking of little touches that will make the pop-up feel special,” she tells us.

The third event, which we attended, was titled “The Taco Situation” and began at 11am with cocktails, coffee and time to chat. Everyone was seated and plated with their first round of tacos around 11:30am. The brunch featured Horchata with Jameson on the side, coffee, a delicious hand crafted Apple cocktail from mixologist Lawrence Mack, and a series of Water, Land and Air inspired tacos.

The first round was Rainbow Trout Escabeche atop blue corn tortillas with pickled root veggies with a salty and astringent flavor palette. The next was a savory grilled Elk tenderloin with caramelized onion and subtly sweet pear jam atop potato tortillas. The third round was a sort of salty, smoky roasted Duck with beans, bacon crumbles and crispy shallots on butternut squash tortillas. Chef Kyle Morgan of Morgan Handmade Rations created each of these dishes which were very different in flavors and allowed you to experiment with pairing each up with the variety of drinks most of us had in front of us…They were all so good it was hard not to horde!

For the sweet finish, we each got a little jar of chocolate Serrano and tequila-infused dulce de leche with fresh, fluffy churros from El Camino Community Tavern! We lingered over this delicious dessert while wrapping up conversations and exchanging contact info with our new friends.

With all the new dinner halls, open markets, and community dining options we’ve come to frequent in and around Denver, it’s no wonder The Dinner Party Association found a home here. The next three months of upcoming events are already posted on their online calendar and they have full intentions to make this pop-up concept bigger and better. “We're hoping to partner with many Denver chefs and creatives as we continue to make our events magical--the more the merrier.” Megan thanked everyone in attendance and invited us all back to the next event for a discounted price, something she always does for repeat guests. The next event is April 3rd “Beer and Blues Dinner” with New Belgium and live music from Dragondeer. May 1st is a Spring Brunch and June 5th is an Artisan dinner at Cheese + Provisions. More information on The Dinner Party Association and tickets to April’s dinner can be found through the links below. 

http://www.dinnerpartyassociation.com/

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/blues-beer-pop-up-dinner-tickets-22935789564

By Tiffany Candelaria

Lifestyle | A Restaurant Rooted in Seasonally Local Ingredients & Creative Cooking

Ultra5280’s visit to Root Down, Justin Cucci’s first Edible Beats Restaurant, wraps up our series we began late December. If you happened to miss the previous two, scroll down and start at the beginning with Linger, then Ophelia’s. And by the time you’ve finished reading this article you’ll see why we felt it was important you knew about this trendy trio and how their focus on flavor, quality, sustainability and creativity makes them a staple in the Denver food scene.

Devils on Horseback

Devils on Horseback

Root Down opened back in December 2008 in a former mid-century gas station, and in pure Cucci fashion he incorporated many of the original elements into the new décor. A style that has rung true in each restaurant debut since. Root Down’s menu is focused on offering sustainable protein and vegetable based dishes using produce from their gardens, local growers and purveyors to create globally influenced seasonal cuisine.

We started with their most popular starter, Devils on Horesback, which we noticed is on the menu at Linger too. What’s cool though is each restaurant’s version is different to reflect their individual style. At Root Down the Devils are smoked almond-stuffed Peppadew Peppers, wrapped in tender belly bacon, and sauced in Gournay cheese fondue. Take my word that these little Devils rode us straight to taste bud heaven.

Next we had the Butternut Squash Risotto with the Root Down/local touch of purple quinoa from Southern Colorado. The dish itself was beautiful and the texture was dense and creamy even with the added the quinoa. The butternut squash flavor was rather subtle, but I could be a tough critic having just returned from ten days in Italy. My bad!!

The next dish was even more interesting, one because we didn’t order it, two because it was the nightly special thus not on the menu, and third because it required you to work for the meal and get a little messy. The dish consisted of two diver scallops atop prawns in a Thai based sauce with jam, baby carrots and Brussels Sprout garnish. The scallops were soft and buttery, but the prawns underneath took a fearless eater, some figuring out and extra napkins.   

The Longs Peak Rack of Lamb was a pleasant surprise after defiling a couple prawns in the previous course.  The dish consisted of two large bone-in lamb chops atop Farro with baby carrots, a layered sweet potato and apple tower with a melted cheese top, and Pear-Pepita Salsa. The creamy sweet carrots and potatoes were perfectly offset by the crisp tartness of the pears and apples and rounded off by the hearty herbed Farro base. The lamb was exceptionally tender and flavorful without tasting gamy and was the perfect dish to satisfy winter warmer cravings!

If you’re looking to surprise us with something, we’d tell you to follow suit of the Root Down staff and surprise us with a free dessert trio! The kind and gracious staff and Executive Chef Jeremy Kittelson prepared a sample of the first three desserts listed on the menu: Chocolate Bombe, Eggnog Bread Pudding and Banana Crème Brulee Pie. So this “Pie” … its texture was more like flan than a crème brulèe and was topped with whipped sour cream instead of the traditional caramelized sugar crust, the banana slices next to it had a brulèed crust though. The base of the pie was that amazing flavor combo of crunchy peanuts and creamy chocolate. The Eggnog bread pudding was fluffy and saturated with rich eggnog flavor, but our favorite part was the side of Bourbon ice cream! And for the chocolate aficionados there’s the almond brownie tucked inside a whipped chocolate ganache wrapped in a chocolate shell with vanilla cream, appropriately named the Chocolate Bombe. They’re right, it’s bomb.

Based off their names none of these desserts were what you would expect, but now that I’ve said that I realize nothing is really quite what you expect at Cucci’s restaurants. Everything they create has its own twist and incorporates unique local and seasonal ingredients, like the risotto that unexpectedly had little specks of purple quinoa!

We were happily surprised to see all three of Cucci’s restaurants participating in Denver Restaurant Week February 26 to March 6th which offers a three course menu for only $30 per person. If you’ve never treated yourself to any of these restaurants there’s no better time than snagging that special someone for a Valentine’s Day retreat!

Tiffany Candelaria