Monday, April 25, 2011

Root Down

My husband and I first visited Root Down in the Highlands for dinner several months ago, and we loved it. Last night, we went back for seconds. 

Root Down is located on a fairly quiet, mostly residential street in the Highlands. Like Lola or Duo down the street, it is trendy and urban and filled with nicely dressed people. The interior is basically simple and modern, but decorated with vintage photos that had no apparent ties to the restaurant itself.

Root Down's philosophy centers around the increasingly popular "field to fork" concept, using fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. I imagine that's not the easiest way to go in Denver, but their menu credits numerous local suppliers. They also manage to cater to a very wide spectrum of dietary needs. The menu contains meat and seafood options alongside vegetarian and vegan dishes. Nearly everything can be prepared gluten-free, and they offer a raw dinner menu once a month. My husband and I don't have much of an "omnivore's dilemma" apparently; we stuck with mostly meat dishes.

The menu at Root Down is geared toward small plates that can be shared among diners. Even the "main course" dishes come in smaller, tapas-sized portions. Our waitress was attentive and extremely familiar with the details of the menu, and she offered several recommendations. After some heated decision-making, we settled on the Carrot & Thai Red Curry Soup, the "Devils on Horseback", the Buffalo Sliders and the Beef Tender.

The soup arrived first, it was a surprisingly large portion with a bright yellow-orange color. And it was delicious. The soup contains a "pear and apple chutney" which was actually blended into the soup; the sweet flavor of the fruit perfectly contrasted the spiciness of the curry. The broth was rich and creamy, making the soup a very filling starter.

Carrot and Thai Red Curry Soup

Next up was the Devils on Horseback; from the menu: "Date & Goat Cheese stuffed Peppadews, wrapped in Serrano Ham, Smoked Paprika-Sherry Gastrique". The bite-size pieces were tiny but extremely rich and flavorful. The Peppadew peppers were both sweet and spicy, nicely balanced by richness of the ham and goat cheese.

Devils on Horseback

Also delicious - but not quite as memorable as the first two courses - were the Buffalo Sliders and the Beef Tender (the latter was a half order of an entree portion). The sliders were pleasantly juicy for buffalo meat and flavored by array of condiments that included aged cheddar, caramelized onions, tomato chutney, and pickles.

Buffalo Sliders

We finished  the meal with the Seasonal Fruit Crumble, the seasonal fruit in late-April being apple (really?). It wasn't obvious from the menu, but apparently this was a vegan dessert. It was light and only mildly sweet, containing a nutty topping as the "crumble". A scoop of lemon sorbet on top brought out the tartness of the apples. The dessert was satisfying but a little lacking in flavor.

Apple Crumble

Overall, an excellent meal, but maybe just a little too much food. Our bill came to $68 for all the dishes described above plus a beer for each of us.  
I do have one very loud complaint, however, before I wrap up. Root Down seats maybe 80 people at full capacity. Get this: there is only one women's restroom for the whole restaurant. I was floored when I discovered this. Prepare to wait in line, ladies. And wait, and wait, and wait. 

I'll be back in a heartbeat, but I hope they can get the "facilities" upgraded!

Casual Dining

(9 of 10)

Pros: Amazing food, fresh ingredients, unique preparations, great service
Cons: Extent of vegan/vegetarian options comes at expense of fewer meat and seafood dishes. Waiting forever for the bathroom.


Root Down on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Justin's Nut Butter

I can't let this website exist any longer without a mention of Justin's Nut Butter. I eat the stuff at least several times a week, it's delicious, it's from Colorado, and it's a pretty big deal.

Justin's debuted at the peak of the "100-Calorie" portion craze with their wonderful mini-packets of nut butters. Except that Justin's isn't just for calorie-counters. The true genius in squeezing nut butters into pre-portioned packets is that it not only appeals to the diet-concious, but also a completely separate demographic of outdoorsy healthy types that just want nutritious nut butter on the go.

I'm part of their customer base that appreciates the packaging preventing me from eating myself into nut butter oblivion. My favorite is this little guy:

Justin's 90 calorie Maple Almond Butter. I eat it on apples and bananas, in yogurt and cereal bowls, and on Banana Walnut Hemp Manna Bread.  The 90-calorie portion is perfect for a small snack. However, the 0.5 oz, 90-calorie packets can be much harder to track down than the regular old jars and 1-oz packets. The only place I've found them is at Whole Foods, and at $0.69 per packet, they get expensive quickly. 

Justin's claims to be based in Boulder, but I can't find them. And I guess they're not visitor-friendly, either. Their products are apparently produced nearby in Louisville, and there's no tours or visits available at their facility. Disappointing, but I won't let it stop me from eating nut butter packets left and right.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011


My mother and I stopped by the very cleverly-named Arabesque in Boulder last week for a late lunch.  Arabesque is a tiny little eatery tucked into a brick building on Walnut Street. My mother has eaten there a couple times before and recommended it after we'd finished an errand downtown. 

Arabesque is apparently a family-run operation that focuses on homemade Middle Eastern staples. The restaurant is one tiny room, which is filled to capacity with tables and a small waiting area. The buzz of the kitchen is in full view of the dining area, and there's a steady stream of customers coming in and out to purchase to-go items from a display case. In other words, it's a quintessential ethnic dining experience in Boulder.

It was an unseasonably warm April day when we visited, with all the patio seats taken.  We were able to grab the last available table indoors. Although it was well into the afternoon, they were still serving breakfast foods like omelets and quiche, as well as the normal lunch dishes, which included sampler platters and shawarma.

Once seated, it took quite some time before our waiter brought us water and took our orders. After seeing the large portions on other diners' plates, I decided for just the Spinach Pie and carrot juice.  My mother ordered her usual, the Mid-East Sampler with Beef.

Another long expanse of time passed without service, and without my carrot juice. Our waiter set a large plate of something we hadn't ordered in front of us and then carried it away with a very confused look when we told him he had the wrong table.

Finally our food arrived. I had expected the "Spinach Pie" to basically be Spanikopita, but it was actually a folded dough pocket containing a Spanikopita-like spinach mixture. I enjoyed the flavor, but I was disappointed by how much dough and how little spinach filling the pie contained.  My mom's sampler dish looked delicious, containing a pita pocket, hummus, tabouli, dolmates, baba ghanouj, and beef shawarma. I took plenty of nibbles off her plate and enjoyed it all.  The hummus, which was served in a very authentic style with a drizzle of olive oil and gherkins for dipping, was my favorite item from the sampler.

Two reminders to the waitstaff later and nearly finished with my meal, I finally received my carrot juice.  Despite the excessive wait, it was really, really good, with a strong, sweet carrot flavor. 

After watching a few other customers enjoying baklava and chocolate mousse, my mother and I opted to split a Triple Chocolate Brownie. I have a hard time believing anything about that giant block of chocolate heaven was authentically Mediterranean or Middle Eastern, but it was good. The brownie was thick and dense, like a heavy cake, with rich chocolate chips and an ample drizzle of chocolate sauce on top. I was in hyperglycemic heaven.

It took yet more fumbling with the waitstaff to get our bill paid before we were out the door.  Despite the frustrations with poor service and my disappointment with the Spinach Pie, the sampler platter and brownie were outstanding. I hope the service is better at my next visit.

Casual Dining

(6 of 10)

Pros: Great place for authentic, homemade Middle Eastern food. Get dessert.
Cons: Poor service, can be cramped at peak hours


Arabesque on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blueberry Muffin Larabar

FINALLY.  Blueberry Muffin Larabars debuted months ago, and I haven't been able to track one down until last Friday. 

Believe me, my inability to get my hands on one of these bars was not for lack of trying.  I searched everywhere.  Only one place - my local Whole Foods -seemed to carry them, but they were constantly sold out.  I did have one close encounter there, when I witnessed a frantic-yet-elated woman grab the only remaining Blueberry Muffin Larabars on the shelf, before scurrying away like a squirrel with the last acorns of the season.  I had missed my Blueberry Muffin opportunity by a few devastating seconds.

That was weeks ago, and I thought maybe it just wasn't going to happen for me.  But last week I was in the right place at the right time. It was my turn to be that frantic woman buying all the remaining Blueberry Muffin Larabars at Whole Foods.

The verdict? Absolutely worth the wait. They are perfect.  The duplication of blueberry muffin taste with so few all-natural ingredients is impressive. They're more moist than most Larabars, and slightly lower in calories (only 190 instead of 200-230).  They also contain a couple ingredients not normally included in Larabars: lemon juice concentrate, which adds a slight tartness, and vanilla, which makes them taste like a home-baked good.

See my updated Larabar review and rankings.  Blueberry Muffin is now #1 of the "non-chocolate-chip" Larabar flavors.


Gelazzi Gelato

My husband and I spotted Gelazzi at our local suburban strip mall, and we drove by maybe five dozen times saying "oooh hey we should try that place" before finally checking it out.  We've now made about three or four visits to the location. 

Walking into Gelazzi for the first time, I was surprised at how large the place was and how many different frozen treats were on the menu.  They offer about a million different ways to ingest gelato, including cannolis, cookie sandwiches, cakes and pies. There's ample seating for 20-30 people, plus a party room in the back.  The decor is a little over-the-top - think Greco-Roman meets the 1980s - but maybe the kids love it? 
Every time we've gone has been at what should be peak hours, and the place has a steady stream of traffic but its never terribly busy.

Another thing that sets Gelazzi apart from most ice cream or gelato stops is the vast array of alcohol-infused gelato treats on the menu.  Given the wide selection of these "gelatinis", they must be pretty popular.  However, I'm surprised many people would order them, considering their primary demographic in this deep-in-the-'burbs location is families and teenagers.

I'm not a huge fan of mixing dairy treats and booze, so I've always just stuck to the former. There's at least 20 different flavors available at any time, ranging from mango to Oreo to pistachio. The gelato is - as advertised - lighter tasting (and presumably lighter in fat and calories) than ice cream.  I actually find it slightly bland, but my husband loves it and will be very upset when he sees what I just wrote.  His favorite selection is amaretto chocolate chip gelato in a waffle cone bowl.  I've had a few different chocolatey flavors, all in plain cup form, with chocolate chip cookie dough gelato being my favorite.  The two of us usually get out of there for under $7.

Front: Amaretto Chocolate Chip in a Waffle Cone Bowl
Back: Chocolate Chip Cooke Dough

Everyday dining
(7 of 10)

Pros: Good service, any permutation of gelato goodness you can dream of can be ordered
Cons: Slightly expensive


Gelazzi Gelato on Urbanspoon