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Park to Table: Shaun Motoda of Tag Raw

ParkToTableSkylinePark

Oh, landlocked Colorado — it must be a tough job to be a raw fish specialist in a city without oceans, but Hawaii’s gift to Denver, Shaun Motoda, can make seafood so delicious you can almost feel the ocean breeze when you take a bite.

When the weather is warm, we Denverites can’t take to real beaches, but lucky for us, LSE Consulting partnered with Tag Raw to bring Chef Shaun and his fresh flavors to our own midwestern island in Skyline Park.

ParkToTable

The scene was set for a perfect beachy garden party.

ParkToTableDinner

Travis Plakke welcomed us with a gorgeous François Montand brut rosé welcome drink and everyone gathered around the table.

Our first course: a stunning sea bream crudo with honey tangerine, aged sherry vinegar, shiso, and bubu arare (a sort of mini-puff ball of umami flavor that Chef Shaun has to bring back from Hawaii because it isn’t sold in Colorado).

SeaBreamCrudo

A simply gorgeous and fresh plate that went beautifully with Travis’ choice of Torrontes – Tilia’s 2011 Torrontes to be exact. Fresh and bright with crisp acidity; sweet on the nose, acidic on the tongue.

Our classic Japanese flavors were followed by spanish fusion with our second course: a cold smoked corn sushi paired with a scottish steelhead trout and guajillo chile sauce. Wow. If course one makes you feel as if you’re in an asian paradise, course two brings you south of the boarder with a real tasty kick.

CornSushiTrout

This paired deliciously with a Loire Valley Granit de Château-Thébaud, named for the granite-based soil on which the muscadet vineyards grow. A really special wine that paired exceptionally well with the nice kick in the guajillo chile sauce, to say the least.

And then the shortrib came out.

ShortRib

Or to be more specific, grilled berkshire short rib with local arugula with pickled watermelon rind and apple wasabi butter. The rich, buttery short rib was perfect with the tart pickled rind and the whole dish was brought elegantly together by a Boom Boom Syrah.

And it wouldn’t be an evening on Denver Island without our own little tropical storm, which arrived with our stunning dessert course. A few fellow diners scattered while I ate my palisade peaches crème brûlée crêpes and soaked in the beautiful downpour.

Crepes

Local fruit, fresh fish, and a tropical storm without the $500 plane ticket? Thanks for a little trip to paradise, Chef Shaun!

Grab your Park to Table tickets (only a few tickets to August 16th’s event are left) here and join us for the Five at Five Luau on August 21st.

Top 5 Films at the J’adore! French Film Festival

J'adoreFrenchFilmFestival

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Denver’s J’adore: Focus on French Language Cinema presented by TV 5 Monde at the SIE Film Center.

Amidst all the food and cheese and wine, there were some incredible films, many of which will be coming back for a full run upon their official release in the states.

The Reception

Both the opening and closing nights were packed, not only in the theater, but in the foyers where ticket holders enjoyed nibbles from Le Central and a selection of cocktails from the bar. Opening night also featured the Director and star of Rendez-vous in kiruna, the first film to be shown.

Subsequent screenings were pretty averagely attended, with the exception of Augustine and Thérèse. The former drew a large crowd and the latter nearly filled the theater on Sunday afternoon before the closing packed house.

Film by Film Reviews

It was hard to choose, but here are my favorite five films from the festival. I’ll give you some general descriptive words, my take aways from the film, and some analysis (with a well-placed “SPOILER ALERT” when necessary).

In general, I think all the J’adore films were worth a view, but check them out for yourself and leave me a comment with your thoughts!

Augustine

Releases May 17th in the US
Dark, Twisted, Sensual, Psychological, Drama, Coming-of-Age, Mature-Content

Augustine

Augustine is a haunting look at the spectacle of illness and the psychology of obsession, both of the voyeur and his object. It explores the twisted world of mental hospitals in the late 1800s, at a time when female hysteria was the popular and mysterious illness du jour. Nineteen-year-old Augustine suffers a seizure and winds up at an all-female mental institution, the principal patient of Dr. Charcot.

Augustine is thrown into this strange new environment where the societal structures are even more male-dominated than those on the exterior. At first nervous, Augustine eventually learns to navigate her new milieu and all bets are off. The lines between doctor and patient – voyeur and object – controller and controlled all become blurred in this dark sensual narrative.

SPOILERS BELOW IN ITALICS

The film’s culmination is particularly intriguing. Augustine’s cure raises questions about the nature of accomplishment, both in medicine and an in any field. Augustine reminds us of accomplishment’s duality: part success part loss. Both Augustine and Charcot suffer from the sadness of her treatment’s completion despite the completion being the initial aspiration, the benchmark of success.

This sadness resurfaces following their final tryst. After all the sensual tension and build-up, the ultimate fulfillment of their desires seems to only bring devastation once it is over.

The film is a must-watch for anyone interested in medicine or psychology, and a truly fascinating narrative for anyone interested in feminism, history, or coming of age stories – 9/10.

Zarafa

Animated, Beautiful, Family-Friendly, Touching, Sweet, Historical, Adventure

zarafa

With so many pulpy children’s films out now, Zarafa really pulls its weight.

What strikes me most about this film is not just its beautiful Miyazki-esque animations, but also its very elegant handling of what would otherwise be quite mature subject matter for children. And despite this sophisticated subject matter, the values Zarafa projects are timeless: promises, family, love, and adventure.

Zarafa opens with two young African children who have been captured by an ésclaviste (slave trader) and continues to draw light on other sensitive topics like imperialism, racism, animal rights, and even bears mention to religion. At the center of the story, though, is the friendship between a young boy and a giraffe.

The screenwriting of this boy-giraffe relationship is superb, tantamount only to the boy-robot relationship we all loved in The Iron Giant. That is to say, I cried… a lot.

It’s a beautiful story that is very suitable for children, but can be enjoyed by adults (and almost-adults) as well – 9/10.

Thérèse Desqueyroux

Releases August 23rd in the US
Dark Humor, Dramatic, Epic, Disillusionment, Period-Piece

therese desqueyroux

Fans of Jane Austin, Madame Bovary, or Anna Karenina will find familiar themes and a familiar heroine in Thérèse, though perhaps a bit more snark.

Our favorite Amélie star, Audrey Tautou, delivers a witty but troubled Thérèse. Having previously assumed that her childhood novels are just fiction and that her lackluster marriage is the norm, Thérèse is quickly disillusioned when her best friend writes to her of a passionate romance.

The film seems perhaps a bit slow for some, but the pace perfectly parallels the excruciating boredom of provincial family life. Thérèse’s imagined and dangerous escapes from this monotony draw in the viewer as well.

The film is filled with motifs of caged or killed birds, drawing parallels to Thérèse’s own entrapment within her social milieu. Tautou delivers a brilliant performance with an amazing supporting cast.

This is definitely a film worth seeing when it returns to SIE Film Center later this year, so I’ll just leave you with a favorite quote from Therèse: “peace is not very interesting.” 7/10

Renoir

Beautiful, Stylized, Romance, Generational Storytelling, War-time Drama, Art, Aging

RENOIR

Renoir is less a story of the painter himself and more a story of an artist’s lessons for his children. It is a story of generations, of aging, of art, and of beauty.

The film opens with a young girl, Andrée, arriving at the old painter’s house, looking for work as his model. Set against the historical backdrop of war, Renoir’s family history airs for Andrée as she spends more time with the old painter and his sons – one of whom has just returned from the front lines and develops a romantic affection for Andrée.

Where the storyline sometime leaves something to be desired, the film offers beautiful imagery like a Renoir tableau come to life. I was engaged thoroughly with the lush set, vibrant art direction, and solid supporting cast – 8/10

Trois mondes (Three Worlds)

Violent, Thriller, Morality, Social Class Struggle, Modern Paris

trois mondes

The best way to describe Trois Mondes to someone who hasn’t lived in Paris, is that it is sort of France’s answer to Hollywood’s “Crash.” It’s a narrative of intersecting lives in a world where ethnicity and social standing seem to hold more value than one’s own life.

An accident turned hit-and-run sets off a series of events that intersects three distinct lives: an illegal immigrant, a pregnant student, and a man about to come into large sums of money and job security.

SPOILERS BELOW IN ITALICS

The film is paced like a thriller, but delivers some poignant dialogue. In one scene, for example, a woman argues with French doctors over her (illegal immigrant) husband’s organs. “C’est combien?” (“how much?”) she asks them, criticizing a system in which the government wants to expel an immigrant only until his organs can be harvested.

The film is both an easy to watch modern thriller and a thought-provoking social commentary, so it made my list – 6/10.

Coming Soon

If you missed out on J’adore! but want to catch some French film on the big screen, SIE Film Center offers a monthly “ciné-club” on Wednesdays at 7pm. Tickets are $7 for members, $10 for non-members, and $30 for the season pass.

Your ticket includes your seat for one of the following screenings and wine/ snacks at the reception after the film.

Here’s the upcoming schedule:

May 15: Louise Wimmer
June 19: Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro
July 10: L’Exercice de l’Etat
Aug 21: Qu’un seul tienne et les autres suivront
Sep 11: Poupoupidou
Oct 16: Transylvania

Do you enjoy French cinema? Have you seen any of these films in the J’adore series? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Indulge at Indulge French Bistro

IndulgeSign

The atmosphere is dark, with a bar in the center and warm burgundy reds all around.

“I feel like we’re on the east coast,” says my date as we sit at a round table for two on the far wall. The decor is definitely something you’d imagine from an old-world tavern, with slivers of light peaking through window slats in an otherwise dark room.

 
IndulgeInterior

Service

When we walked in, we were greeted by a woman with a French accent, but our server was definitely American. A bit disappointed, but never fear: though the waitstaff may not be French or French-speaking, the menu certainly is.

Menu

The menu keeps with the French formula, offering appetizers under entrées (on-TRAY • French for appetizers) and entrees under plats (PLAH • French for entrees). Here are some recommendations:

Salmon Tartare (tahr-TAHR) – Light and creamy raw salmon with dill. “You’ll want to shovel it all in your mouth.” $10.25

Oven-roasted Maple-leaf Duckling – A giant portion of a perfectly prepared duckling. The skin is crispy, while the meat is tender. It’s served with that sweet maple-leaf glaze and some mustard seed. $26.00

Mussels – I liked their provençal broth best. $9.75 or $7.00 during happy hour

Trio De Crème Brûlée – Boozy and delicious. $8.00 or $6.00 for a duo during happy hour

Wine

We settled on a white Côtes du Rhône which, like many of their other wines, was very reasonably priced at $30 for the bottle. This is definitely the time to splurge for a bottle and call “not it!” on the designated driver duties as most of the wine is French and inexpensive. The list is on the shorter side, though, so picky drinkers may be left wanting more variety.

IndulgeCotesduRhone

Indulge French Bistro is a great spot for a romantic dinner or low-key foodie splurge. Bon Appetit.

Mark Your Calendars: 3 Things I’m Excited About

Cartier-Exhibit

Sometimes you can’t wait until after something has happened to write about it. There are some events SO exciting that they need their own pre-post – a rumbling before the incoming earthquake of earth-shattering awesome.

Here are 3 things on the horizon that have me prancing about like a school girl:

1. Tons of new French-focused art exhibits are popping up in US cities.

You don’t have to go to the Louvre to see great French art. In fact, a large portion of Modern French art is touring the US this summer.

If you’re currently in New York, a fabulous Gauguin exhibit is already showing at MoMA and will close in early June. LACMA’s upcoming exhibition on Expressionism in Germany and France debuts June 8th and Chicago’s Magritte exhibit opens just weeks later on the 21st.

Of course, if you want a little less painting and a little more… sparkle, you’ll want to mark your calendars for the Cartier exhibit Denver has slated for Mid-November.

2. Everlane is making swing trenches and Italian sandals.

Everlane New Items

Is there anything more I could have wanted for Spring? When I saw this image in my inbox last week, I promptly signed myself up for the waitlist on all these new Parisian-chic goodies.

Oh and gentlemen, bomber jackets arrive May 27th.

There goes my spring (and summer) budget!

3. The Denver FIVE™ is having their first public service of the year on 4/20.

The Colorado-themed menu looks incredible, and if you remember some of the dinners last year, my expectations are quite high!

What are you looking forward to this Spring? Have you got any good meals or events on the schedule? A big sale you want to hit? Let me know in the comments!

Find a Good French Wine at any Liquor Store in Under 5 Minutes

Wine3

You’re in the liquor store looking for a good bottle of French wine, but you’re in far too much a rush to recall all those regional appellations or decipher all those complicated French words on the label.

So how do you know if a bottle will be good?

Start flipping the bottles around and look at the names of the importers.

KermitLynch

“This trick changed my life. When I’m in a rush and don’t have time to do the research, I just start flipping all the bottles around and looking at the back label,” said my friend and co-host of The Main Course on Denver’s KEZW, Elizabeth Woessner over dinner.

Elizabeth knows French wine, but there’s just so much of it – it’s hard to know it all. She’s found that knowing the best US distributers makes all the difference when you’re short on time in the states.

“They obviously offer a range of quality, but a good importer will have a baseline level you know won’t steer you in a bad direction.”

According to Elizabeth, if you see a wine imported by Robert Kacher or Kermit Lynch, you’ve got a good one. Eli Kerlin, who heads up the bar at Z Cuisine and À Côté suggests that Eric Solomon is also generally good and Terry Theise has a great Germanic wines portfolio.

Robert-Kacher-LOGO

You see, the importers taste far more wines than they import and select only the wines they think will make a good portfolio. Some importers have a portfolio that’s developed to drive profits while others, like those mentioned above, seem to really try to offer only quality tasting wines.

The great thing about picking out a wine based on an importer is that you may also end up with a really tasty value wine – in other words, a wine that doesn’t have lots of name recognition, but has still passed the taste-test of a wine connoisseur in order to make it into their portfolio.

These are some really wines to bring to parties, because your guests will be pleasantly surprised as well.

How do you select your wine? What’s the first thing you look at on a label? let me know in the comments.

How to Make Salad Dressing Like the French

Salad Dressing

Making your own salad dressing is not only a cheap alternative to store-bought vinaigrettes, but it’s also very French! The following recipe is a classic French trick taught to me by one of my favorite Parisian friends.

It’s tasty, eco-friendly, and simple.

Here’s what you need:

  1. A jar of mustard (I like dijon) that you’ve pretty much finished
  2. A tasty olive oil
  3. A nice vinegar (I like balsamic, but red wine vinegar works too with a pinch of sugar)
  4. Salt and pepper

Fill about 3/4 of the jar with oil and about 1/4 of the jar with vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Close the lid on the jar. Shake.

Et voilà! A great vinaigrette with a distinctly French taste. Put it on salads or use it as a marinade on a steak; it’s one of my favorite tricks of the trade.

Do you make your own salad dressing? What’s your recipe?

Dorchester Social {Preview} Farm Dinner

Dorchester-Social-Dinner

I first met Chef Michel “Michou” Wahaltere when the Belgian-born and trained chef was slinging hot dogs from a truck on Market Street in Denver.

Chicago-Louies

A big, toothy smile and a menu of dogs featuring chef Michel’s take on international themes, Chicago Louie’s was a staple of the Thursday ballpark lunch crowd, parked outside Beta Nightclub years before the Biker Jim’s brick and mortar brats business had its “YUP” sign illuminated for the neighborhood.

Chef Michel’s new concept opening this summer is certainly larger in scale than a hot dog truck – with 3 stories serving a diverse menu of “Old World” and “New World” dishes from across countries that made up the former British Empire, Dorchester Social promises to be a massive establishment. But if last month’s preview was any indication, chef Michel’s cooking still kept all its heart, international sensibilities, and even that big toothy grin I remember handing me Greek style hot dogs over the counter all those Thursdays ago.

For his preview dinner, Chef Michel brought friends and family to Clear Creek Organics Farm, where he’ll source some of the ingredients for Dorchester Social. Greeted with a Pressery cocktail, I could tell we were already off to a great start.

Pressery-Cocktails

Proprietor of the Clear Creek Organics Farm, Stephen Cochenour took guests around the expansive grounds, slicing off fresh cucumber and introducing the farm’s additional inhabitants.

Clear-Creek-Organics

Not shy of cooking in mobile kitchens, Chef Michel prepared dishes right along side us in a tent beside our table. His first course, a fresh beet and kale salad with haystack goat cheese was a table favorite and showcased chef Michel’s attention to detail.

The beets were perfectly prepared to highlight their freshness and bright flavors, complimented by pistachio pieces and local orange slices.

Our pasta dishes came out in tajines fresh off a flight from Morocco, where chef Michel is sourcing all the tajines for Dorchester Social’s North African dishes. Although many North African chefs have used tajines for ages and the cookware has now been well popularized all over western Europe, this will definitely be a new cooking technique in the downtown Denver dining scene. Chef Michel’s tajine full of farm-cooked pasta drew on some of these rich North African and European flavors, using white beans and Swiss chard for a hearty texture.

Dorchester-Social-Preview

The crowd favorite was chef Michel’s take on Italian caponata – a sort of cocoa-cooked eggplant ratatouille tossed in chili flakes and tomato sauce. Chef Michel served it alongside Colorado lamb and fresh salmon from Denver’s own Seattle Fish Company to reinforce his commitment to the local, community organizations he plans to feature in his restaurant as well.

As the sun set over the farm, diners capped the meal with some local Long I pies and warm conversation among friends.

Thanks to Get Ink PR for hosting this event.

What do you think about Chef Michel’s new international concept? Are you excited to try your own tajine recipes? Let me know in the comments!

Bistro Vendôme – A Little Paris in Larimer Square

Bistro Vendome

Denver may be 4889 miles from the Place Vendôme in Paris, but Bistro Vendôme is serving up little tastes of Paris right from Larimer Square.

Decor: A Room With A View

With a decor that harkens back to the city’s humble bistros, Bistro Vendôme is full of charm. While I’m certainly not a fan of the “outdoors inside” façades that have become ever-so-popular at faux-french establishments like The Paris Las Vegas, there is something charming about the way Bistro Vendôme has laid out its atrium. It’s reminiscent of Parisian passages, covered walkways installed by Haussmann between 1830 and 1920.

BistroVendomeInterior

Diners can sit in the atrium or in the dimly-lit bistro with windows to its faux-outside. The bistro ambiance is romantic, if not humbly understated with cozy un-covered wood tables packed into corners and up against walls. Larger groups sit around large round tables, perfect for sharing bottles of wine and conversation.

Entrée, Plat, Dessert: The Menu

The food is exquisite. Bistro Venôme’s menu offers everything from French haute cuisine (filet d’agneau, steak tartare) to more casual bistro fare (moules, steak frites).

The moules (mool – mussels) are a meal in and of themselves. A heaping bowl comes in a garlic white wine broth that takes me back to a lunch or two on the pedestrian streets by the Chatêlet Metro stop in Paris.

Other menu favorites include the steak tartare (tahr-TAHR), foie gras (fwah GRAH), filet d’agneau (feel-AY dan-Yo – lamb), and the classic crème brûlée (crehm broo-LAY).

Wine List

The wine selection is diverse and changes regularly. On Monday nights, Bistro Vendôme changes out some of their older bottles for newer flavors, allowing diners to purchase last menu’s selection at anywhere from 20 – 50% off.

The price ranges also very from incredibly affordable ($30-45) to splurge ($100-300), but even the lower range bottles are well selected (and French!). A nice full bodied Côtes du Rhône is a great bargain wine that wont set you back much at the liquor store or, luckily, Bistro Vendôme.

The Bill

The full dining experience with wine and entrees for two might set you back $70 – 100, but don’t be afraid to stop by for a taste. The bar and patio are warm and welcoming and the appetizers (ironically called “entrées” in French) will only set you back $6 – 15.

I have very fond memories of stopping by Au Pied du Cochon, a high-end parisian restaurant, just for a bowl of French onion soup when I couldn’t afford anything else.

In a world often far too consumed by pretentious menus and overzealous pricing, Bistro Vendôme reminds us that French cuisine is often about the simple pleasures and humble tastes shared with great friends in a cozy city corridor, hidden from the hustle and bustle of the outside.

Joyeux Noël – A Holiday Gift List for the Francophile

holiday-gift-guide

Whether you’re looking for that cadeau parfait for the special francophile in your life or just want to give a little “hint-hint” to Santa’s elves this year, here’s a list of French-inspired gifts for the holiday season:

Note: I have not received any compensation from any of these vendors and will not receive compensation if you purchase anything on this list. I am recommending these products simply from an excellent experience or pure consumerist lust.

french-chrismas-gifts

To Cook/ To Eat

1. Le Creuset French Oven ($149.95), the true French kitchen essential and you can never have too many
2. Cooking Classes, like this one ($89) coming up at Cook Street in Denver
3. Macarons, store-bought, hand-made OR as a kit (package the ingredients with a printed copy of Laduree’s Macarons Framboise recipe – tout mignon!)
4. A *pour toi French-themed gift basket ($61 – $379)

To Read

5. Mastering the Art of French Eating ($16), a can’t-put-it-down, franco-foodie adventure book I’ve recently scarfed down thanks to Lost In Cheeseland and annmah.net
6. Parisian Chic ($20), my favorite style bible that I consult for all my French fashion choices

French-Christmas-Gifts-Home

To Furnish

1. Brasserie mugs, like these from Sur Le Table (on sale for $17!)
2. Cheese and wine regions map ($47), perfect for a kitchen or pantry
3. French vintage looking sheets at a budget price ($30)
4. Modern Parisian neighborhoods map ($22)
5. Cushion cover ($6), in a really cute French print
6. Bonjour illustration ($22), with all those super chic French essentials like the breton striped shirt and Chanel no. 5
7. Hand painted “Bonjour” floor mat ($38), customizable on Etsy
8. Macaron illustration ($18) – these look good enough to eat!

Knick Knacks

9. Hand carved “merci” stamp ($10), for all the thank yous you’ll be writing after the holidays

French-Christmas-Gifts-Body

For the Body

1. The Diptyque Travel Set ($50), that I’ve come to depend on since I acquired it this summer
2. French after shave balm ($13.50), perfect for the masculine francophile in your life
3. Filaderme® Crème (Whipped Cream Moisturizer), because $35 French moisturizer is actually worth $35. Professional makeup artists swear by this product the French really know their beauty products.

French-Christmas-Gifts-Wear

To Wear

1. This “Bien Fait” sweater ($75) by Madewell is seriously made (fait) well (bien).
2. Repettos – the classic French ballet flat – every French girl owns a pair
3. If it’s good enough for Caroline de Maigret, this Madewell linen tee ($45) has some serious French style going on.
4. What could be cuter than this Champagne coin purse ($68)? It’s absolutely my “splurge” item this year for a reason!
5. Bonjour necklace ($56.40), bonjour insta-chic. This Euro brand caters to American dollars so an ultra-cool neck-statement can be yours, too.
6. Hermes Hermes Hermes. Who doesn’t adore that little orange box? But I bet we’d all settle for this vintage scarf at a quarter of the price, here for $145 on etsy.

What are your favorite French-inspired gifts to give or receive in the holiday season? Will you be adding any of these suggestions to your lists? Let me know in the comments!

How to Tie a Scarf Like The French

French Scarf

“You can always spot un américain because they never seem to wear scarves properly,” said a Parisian friend to me one day over un café (that’s an espresso en français). In order to fit in with the fashionably cold-weathered Europeans, it’s important to learn how bundle up like the French.

Don’t simply drape the scarf around your neck, leaving the ends hanging. This is much too American, mon cheri.

ScarfDad

Always loop your scarf at least one full circle around your neck (the Parisian father above models the same scarf with both two loops and just one)

Do tie your loose ends after you loop around your neck

Do practice the “European Loop”:

  1. fold your scarf in half
  2. drape it around your neck with the loop on one side and both loose ends on the other
  3. pull the loose ends through the loop to tighten
  4. adjust the scarf so the loop sits in the middle of your chest or collarbone
  5. tuck the loose ends into your jacket

How do you like to tie your scarf? Do you have a favorite style? Let me know in the comments below.