Despite it being 5:00 the host looked at us with arched eyes. "You have a reservation of course." "Of course." Of course we did. It was Saturday night (if you can call 5:00 night) and dining in Denver requires a reservation. Obviously.
Perhaps it was Steve's liquid but despite wanting to order all of the meats and carbs we did begin with a lovely baby squash dish. We were particularly interested in the
masa crunchies and we were right to be. I think more veggies need Masa crunchies.
Here you see chicken and waffles with burnt orange syrup, orecchiette with
roasted mushrooms, confit garlic, hazelnuts, manchego cheese, and a deconstructed french dip. Or you would have seen the deconstructed French Dip but Steve ate it before I photographed it. The big winner was the orecchiette, or more specifically the orecchiette sauce. I didn't think I liked hazelnuts outside of a Nutella tub, but apparently I do.
Do I recommend 12 @ Madison? Oh yes. Just make sure you have a reservation, an order of the sauce that comes with pasta, and a double order of rolls.
First there was the hype. A good friend of mine had bought the Safta cookbook. She swore she would only eat Safta 7 days a week, 3 meals a day, for the rest of her life. It was that good. We decided to check it out for our anniversary the following week. The entire week before going, everyone, friends, coworkers, strangers on the street were talking about Safta it seemed.
“Have you tried Safta?” “You have to try Safta,” “Blah, blah, blah, blah, SAFTA, blah, blah, blah.” The night before our anniversary, I woke up to a soft whisper…SSSssaafta…. Riding into my very own bedroom on a unicorn was a handsome bartender, shirtless in his Safta signature apron with a Crystal’s Light on a silver tray…..Ssssaaafftaaa.
Could it be this good? Our expectations were high needless to say. We went, we drank, we ate, (too much of both) and pretty much loved it. I must admit though that it took one more visit to love, love it. The second time we even ate the bar, something I generally don't prefer; but well, as you can tell I love their bar and bartenders so it was amazing.
I did have the Crystal’s Light and while the bartender was fully clothed and no unicorns were present, it was still magical. It has many of my favorites (vodka) and things I didn’t even know I like (elderflower). Putting our faith in said bartender, we let him direct us on how much and what food to order. One mistake of our first experience was filling up on too many sides (salatim section of menu) and hummus dishes, both served with their infamous pita bread. The pita…. it’s easily the best I have ever had. With no willpower when it comes to carbs, I learned however, we needed to pace ourselves to enjoy some of the larger dishes too. The staff is generous with the perfectly cooked pita and it’s easy to accept their never-ending offering of the warm bread.
This time around, we started with the muhammara and the lamb ragu hummus, served of course with generous pita. The lamb ragu hummus is arguably the most popular and its easy to see why - the velvety, smooth hummus mixed with the flavorful lamb topping can only be described as delightful. I could easily have eaten this for my meal, but I would have missed out enjoying the larger dishes. Pacing ourselves with our pita this time, we next enjoyed the crispy eggplant (the only time I have ever seen my husband eat eggplant), and then ended with the Pomegranate Braised Lamb Shank. Considering that the man behind Safta named his parent company Pomegranate Hospitality, you just know this dish is going to be good. Paired with a whipped feta and fresh peaches, what could go wrong? Nothing. Sadly, on both visits we did not save room for dessert, but vow to return with a larger group to expand our culinary experience.
Safta in Hebrew means grandmother – you can see the touch of an older generation in the water glasses adorned with pink flowers, plates that would have worked in the 1950’s and even a portrait of the owner’s grandmother can be found hanging in the bar. Many of the recipes are inspired by his grandmother- someone all of us in Denver owe a thank you.
I am not the best traveller. I don't like cars or planes. I don't like boats or trains. I don't like strange beds or slowly dripping showers. I don't like friends having fun and staying up all hours. I don't like hiking or biking. There is not much to my liking. But I like Aspen. And channeling Dr. Seuss.
I also like eating and drinking.
I woke up early on day two to buy pastries. I bought all the pastries. They cost a billion dollars and were sickeningly good. Maybe the place was Paradise bakery? If not it should have been. I was not the only carb-obsessed traveller. We each brought snacks to share. Not many of these bags made the trip home. Particularly because they paired so well with the Green Chili cheddar dip.
In addition to carbohydrates day two featured the one hike I managed: Maroon Bells. Short and spectacular. Lets ignore the fact that we got there by shuttle and a large portion of the "hike" was navigated with ease by octogenarians. I didn't include the iconic lake shot because I am not one to follow the herd.
Except literally as I followed the herd around the lake.
After the hike we needed hydration so we headed the W hotel bar. We are attending to our hero, enjoying his Australian accent as much as our drink orders. Our priorities changed however when he dropped our drinks in the pool. It was a rescue mission befitting the great Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin. But luckily less deadly. It had a happy ending:
The next morning those of us who were sane skipped the hours long almost pure vertical hike. We hit a local coffee shop. Shop local people. Just check the cup if you need a reminder. Which you might before your caffeine.
Then we headed to the art market/farmer's market, the John Denver Botanic Garden, and a walk to look at billion dollar houses.
One of our group calls the Hotel Jerome her happy place. Or something more soulful. That said we decided to pop in around lunchtime. You can do some deep reading about the architecture and amenities on their website. We walked through the excellent lobby, checked out the closed bar and then settled in for burgers at the J Bar. Although I don't remember prohibition I have decided to add the word fiasco to my life. It is a fiasco that I have been ignoring it for so long. Was that as forced as me at Maroon Bells. Maybe.
That night (our last one) found us at Monarch Steakhouse. Eat local. Here I followed the martini rule. Martinis are like breasts. One is two few. Three are too many. Except that I didn't actually follow the rule and had three. Hence the un-fun drive home.
Another highlight of Aspen? The bathrooms! I am not talking about posh bar bathrooms. I am talking about outdoor bathrooms.
Here's to Aspen: full of hikes, bites, drinks and billionaires. And snark.
We were seated in a booth next to the bar. Behind the bar was a man in the same denim apron that all the servers sported...but his seemed to have a purpose. He was reshaping large ice cubes (the clear kind that only places with mixologists seem to be able to produce) with a cleaver. It was an Edward scissor hands kind of moment but with ice shavings flying at his chest rather than branchlets.
At this point our dinner dates arrived. After removing their helmets (because they biked...duh) they were ready to join us in a deep dive of the menu. First drinks.
Steve had ordered the Bierstadt Pilsner because it is hard to find. So he says and its better just to believe him. We spent some time talking to our server about the Toki-Hi. Evidently it is blended Japanese Whiskey that is evervesed by a device that looks like a soda stream but has some sort of rock in it. Either the whiskey or the machine are the only one in Denver. That particular hi-bol got earmarked for next time.
It was at this point that Steve and I tried to share the excitement of the ice shaving with our companions. "They weren't making cubes!" (that was me, perhaps too excited) They were making..."Dodecohedrons" (that was Steve and me in thrilling unison.) D + J laughed at us as I explained that dedecohedron was our safe word. "Really?" "Well it is now." Also- dedecohedron is spelled dodecahedron.
So normally we would go for the tasting menu. Here it is called Entrust which is a great name...except I kept reading it as encrust. and outside of pies and earths I don't like the word crust. Instead we opted for one small dish, three sticks, one pasta, and one large dish. Want to guess which ones?
Next up were the sticks. Chicken Meatball, giant mushroom leg, and prawn. The prawn was the major winner. A great hit of spice, perfect texture, some other description that a real foodie would give.
For our large plate we devoured the wagyu flank steak. Perfect texture. Sauce wasn't salty enough for me but I am a freak about salt. It came with Chickory in some sort of delicious aioli. I didn't think I liked chickory. I was wrong. I was also wrong about the spelling of Chicory. K? Also porridge with herb pesto from their outdoor herb walled dining area. For someone who would rather be a carnivore than an omnivore the chicory was a shocker.
Then there was dessert.
The menu called it Buckwheat Chocolate Tart. Featuring winter citrus caramel and cofe corretto cream. It did not look like a tart. That did not matter. Smooth and crisp, salty and sweet, warm and cool. This was study in contrasts that came together perfectly. It is tomorrow now (assuming you agree that time is non-linear) and I want it again. Dodecahedron.
You might have noticed the lead photo on this post. Why? Because you have eyes and a soul.
Wolf's Tailor details:
Magical Ice show
Fancy Japanese stoned whisky thing
Pasta with great mouth feel
Opened by Basta Chef Kelly Whitaker