It's a chilly winter's night and the locals are talking about the bear that's been hanging around a dumpster up the road. Half of us are dressed in our Sunday best and the other half are dressed in long underwear and hunting caps. We are all knocking back cocktails in the rustic pub that adjoins the region's most anachronistic restaurant, Chef Victor Matthews' Black Bear where, tonight, the staff is busy preparing the dining room for Matthews' annual Monet Dinner, one of many chef's tables Matthews orchestrates over the year.
My date's a local girl, a lifelong friend of my daughter, a bartender down the road at Pine Gables, a runner and rock climber formerly of Colorado Springs, now a dedicated Green Mountain Falls local.
When we are finally allowed into the dining room, we marvel at the table settings -- fresh-cut flowers, fine linens, six glasses, four forks. Forty or so diners await Chef Matthews' culinary blowout, prepared from the kitchen notebooks of impressionist painter/chef Claude Monet. For last year's dinner, Matthews commandeered a crew to France where most of the evening's ingredients were purchased then smuggled back to the states. This year, he says, only the cheeses are contraband.
Dinner begins with a first course of Caviar Mousse in Pastry Cups, accompanied by Saint-Hilaire sparkling wine -- delicate nibbles and a nose full of sparkly. We are enjoying the food and wine while equally enjoying the pretentious patter at the next table -- two limos worth of doctors and pharmaceutical sales people dropping names quicker than you can say pt de fois gras.
The second course arrives, a rich country chicken liver pt enriched with black truffles, served over field greens, drizzled with port vinegar made on the premises. A delicious Sancerre wine makes us purr. Seven more courses of this pt would make us perfectly happy. At the next table, tales of Spain and meals in Barcelona fill the crowded air.
Course three: Lobster Bisque made with Homard lobsters from the Brittany coast. I have only seen Homard lobsters before on The Iron Chef. The bisque is deep brown from the caramelization of the vegetables that form the base. The flavor is indescribably rich, accompanied by a light '01 Vincent Pouilly Fuisse. My friend sends a bowl of the bisque to her friend at the bar. We are prepared to forgive anything -- even a table of prattling doctors.
Course Four: three rare, unpasteurized French cheeses -- one sheep's milk, one goat's milk, one cow's milk -- all illegal in the United States. Divine decadence.
We are still sipping the Beaujolais from course four when course five arrives -- Pressed Quail served over a reduction sauce. As the bird is pressed, says Matthews, "after a few days you end up with this sauce." The bird's juices are filtered over and over again, then reduced with port wine and caramelized into a sauce that makes the meat beside the point. We suck on the bones and hang on to our plates until the next course, Lemon Sorbet, arrives.
Palates cleansed and stomachs rapidly expanding, we venture forward into the seventh course, le plat de resistance, Pork Crusted in Herbed Breadcrumbs, Foyot Style. Foyot was a friend of Monet, the chef tells us as we cut into fork-tender pork loin. The breading is delicately flavored with lemon, fragrant and light. We ask for take-out boxes as the lead entertainer at the table next to ours launches into a stand-up routine, holding his glass of Baron Philippe de Rothschild Cabernet Sauvignon ('01) aloft.
Dessert is much too large and it's green. It turns out to be a sweet butter cake with butter cream icing, dyed naturally with essence of spinach and pistachios, in the manner of Monet in the 19th century. Take-out box number two arrives with the nightcap, a sweet glass of Pierre Ferrand's Gran Cru Cognac.
Three tall glasses of water later, I'm winding down Ute Pass toward home, my stomach alive with the night's dinner. Chef Victor has outdone last year's dinner, has topped himself, has even impressed a tableful of spoiled doctors. Next summer in Spain, no doubt, they'll be name-dropping at some quaint caf over a long dinner -- rhapsodizing the memory of the pressed quail in Green Mountain Falls.
Upcoming chef dinners at the Black Bear,
Call 684-9648 for reservations
A Celtic Christmas, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 6:30 p.m.
Christmas dinner, Irish style, four courses and warm mead, $45 per person
New Years Eve Celebration, Wednesday, Dec. 31, early (5:30 p.m.) or late (8 p.m.) seating
Four courses celebrating wine, champagne and the foods of winter, $75 per person
1st annual Black and White Truffle Dinner, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 6:30 p.m.
Five courses of truffles with accompanying wines, $150 per couple