Upstairs at La Baguette
2417 W. Colorado Ave., labaguette-co.com
It won't be long before this quasi-clandestine bar turns three, but a quiet Thursday suggests many people still don't know it exists. Owner Toni Rog seems unconcerned, appearing as we're finishing dilution of our always-lovely and highly floral Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte ($9). He seizes the opportunity to surprise us with a leaf that looks like parsley, but won't reveal its identity until we bite in. Enter insane, lingering bitterness — hello, wormwood, absinthe's much-misunderstood ingredient. He laughs, then guides me to the rooftop to see his garden, which supplies herbs for the bakery and wormwood for fun.
Even with the appreciated breads and dips that come free, I can't re-align my palate. I'd love to say more about my neat pour of Vail's 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company Bourbon ($8), but I fear inaccuracy. From an earlier sip, I recall neither a long finish nor much rye influence — blame only six months of aging — but plenty of vanilla-laced smoothness. — Matthew Schniper
950 Manitou Ave, Manitou Springs, 418-6180, kinfolksmanitou.com
Mountain Pie Co. owner Matt Campbell has visions of New Zealand pub-goers with "a pie in one hand and a pint in the other." At Kinfolks, that's a reality — the place serves Campbell's pies, brought back from frozen via a brief spell in the oven. A steak and ale pie ($7) features naturally raised beef, potatoes, onions and a beer-based gravy with a warming spice profile. The potatoes maintain respectable texture despite that freeze, and the crust stands up to hand-holding, still flaky with a buttery, nutty taste that's not too rich. For dessert, a mixed berry pie ($7) dishes a blueberry-forward filling that's tart enough to balance the sugar.
Solid as they may be, $7 is spendy for the size, so offset the cost at happy hour — 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays — with a $3 craft draft or a $2 PBR tallboy. A Rocky Mountain Soda Co. real-sugar offering serves as the designated-driver option, but my Pikes Peak Prickly Pear ($2.50) tasted artificial and bland. — Griffin Swartzell
10 Old Man's Trail, Manitou Springs, 685-1119, tajinealami.com
We recently reported on Manitou Springs' contract to purchase Tajine Alami's property, set for signing on Dec. 15. If all details go according to plan, owner Mohammed Alami will cease 20 years of service the first week of January, he says, with a plan to revive it imminently in a yet-to-be-disclosed downtown location. So here's your last chance to savor the Manitou experience.
The four-course dinner ($21/vegetarian, $23/meat) begins with a shoe removal and warm-water hand rinse, as you eat sans utensils. First comes harira, a delicate lamb-and-legume soup. Listing the khobz — a honey-wheat bread — as its own course is disingenuous, but it proves a much-needed sop for the sauce in my chosen entrée: bone-in, skin-on lamb shank with peaches and raisins. The honey-and-spice-based sauce and fruit mellow the rich meat for a bite that delights. For dessert, the sweet mint tea pairs well with peanut baklava, beautifully textured if wholly non-traditional. — Griffin Swartzell