Montrose has one. Pueblo has one. Denver has a big one. Aspen and Vail each have one.
Now Colorado Springs has one, too.
Inspired by the bounty of local and regional produce, spurred by a burgeoning gourmet-food scene and fueled by many a night spent drinking wine together, a group of local chefs calling themselves Club Nine staged a fund-raising feast on Monday, April 25, at the Margarita at Pine Creek.
Their objective: to raise money for Colorado Springs' first food, wine and music festival, tentatively titled Rock Ledge Rendezvous and set for late August.
The festival promises a full day of live music, Colorado wines, a farmers' market and chefs booths offering delectable treats for the discerning day-tripper.
In other words, an outdoor food orgy.
Appropriate, then, that the kickoff fund-raiser was an indoor food orgy: six courses plus dessert, each paired with a specially chosen wine. Those of us who braved it and rolled out the door after three hours of feasting could barely gather our collective breath after all the oohing and aahing over, well, a chef's collaborative that felt like a full-blown competition to see who could come up with the most exotic dish.
All of it a mere $70, guilt free.
Chef Jason Gust of the Ritz Grill presented the first course, an appetizer combining ingredients that would blow the mind of a food scientist: ahi pastrami with stone-ground mustard oil, wasabi goat cheese, roasted rye coulis and strawberries. For vertical interest, Gust added a poppy seed lavender wonton crisp, raised like a miniature flag. We were guzzling our first wine, a remarkably crisp "Crios" Rose of Malbec, when our taste buds tuned in to the dish. To say it was an explosion of flavors doesn't overstate, yet it was more like a dance -- light and artful. (You'll have to ask Gust to explain roasted rye coulis, which tastes like dark, rich herbed butter.)
Chef Victor Matthews of the famed Black Bear in Green Mountain Falls and the newly launched Paragon Culinary School offered a soup course simply titled "White Soup": organic Yukon Gold potatoes pured with white asparagus and cream, then drizzled with white truffle oil for the mildest, sweetest soup imaginable. It was paired with Antinori Chardonnay Castello della Salla, the standout wine of the evening.
Chef Lawrence "Chip" Johnson of the Briarhurst prepared the salad course: minted quinoa mounded on bibb lettuce with a chewy piece of spicy duck jerky, pulled together with a piquant vinaigrette. Johnson created a sweet and satisfying, delicate pear-blossom and agave-nectar mulled wine to go with the dish.
We roused ourselves for the fourth course, prepared by Chef James Africano of The Warehouse: wild rice flour-dusted prawns served over a red and yellow tomato coulis with grilled pea shoots and a squirt of saba. No, I didn't know what saba was either, but someone at my table described it as the essence of the grapes cured in barrels to make balsamic vinegar -- basically, the stuff that doesn't quite ferment. Not exactly something you'd keep in the pantry.
Chef Chris Bowie, a dedicated foodie about town and proprietor of Zing, a specialty foods purveyor, served the fifth course: soft potato and parmesan ravioli with wild boar ragout and basil oil, a dish he'd tasted in Italy and spent years trying to replicate. Whether he succeeded is beside the point. It was divine.
Margarita's house Chef Eric Viedt took us over the top with a generous serving of braised veal cheeks, creamy and soft on the inside, crisp and slightly charred on the outside, plated with mustard-glazed vegetables, cauliflower pure and horseradish gremolata -- refreshing and slightly pungent, exactly as it sounds.
We thought we couldn't possibly find room for dessert, but when Chef Brent Beavers of Sencha introduced his dish, we knew he'd have his way. Beavers raced over from Sencha -- his hair dyed green for one of the restaurant's literary dinners (an interpretation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) -- to serve us the same dessert he'd offered his lit-dinner crowd: caramel mousse with fried bananas, drizzled with a ginger and cayenne syrup. He used red bananas, firmer and less sweet than the usual grocery-store variety, creating an exacting balance of flavors and textures. We ate every last drop.
Have I hyperbolized? No. This was a meal for the record books: way too much food, impeccably and imaginatively prepared.
Now let's see what the chefs of Club Nine have up their sleeves for the summer food festival.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
Rock Ledge Rendezvous: A melding of history, music,
culture and cuisine
Saturday, Aug. 27, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, 3202 Chambers Way (at the 31st Street entrance to the Garden of the Gods)
More information to come this summer.