Monday, July 13, 2015

denver's avanti food & beverage (it's a winner!)

There was this game I played when I was a teenager. It went something like, “If you were stranded on a desert island, name three things you would take with you.” Everyone always included something to eat, which made sense because you wouldn’t want to starve, would you? I haven’t been asked that question in years, but if I did have to come up with an answer, a Venezuelan arepa from Quiero Arepas would be coming with me. Yes, they're that good.

Quiero Arepas is one of 7 start-up restaurants in the new and highly-anticipated Avanti Food & Beverage, which bills itself as: “One collective spaceinspired by European markets and food truck roundups…” I love it already!

Avanti is a two-level modern food hall located in an old 1930s warehouse in the Lower Highlands (LoHi) at 3200 Pecos. It houses 5 restaurants on the first floor and 2 on the second level. Both levels have well-stocked bars which serve up cocktails (I loved the Palomita Picante), wine, and beer. Many of the craft beers are from local Colorado breweries and the only non-Colorado brand that I recognized was Dogfish Head out of Delaware (it has its own page on the drink menu). Honestly, though, I lean towards cocktails and wine so I can’t add anything more to the beer conversation. But my husband, who enjoys a good beer, was impressed.

Avanti has a lot of appeal. From the affordable high-quality and inspired food to the stunning décor, there really is something for everyone. I can see myself going there on a date, a ladies night, a business lunch or a family dinner.

In addition to Querio Arepas (which has vegetarian and vegan options) you'll find:

Farmer Girl, a farm to table concept committed to local and sustainable food. The menu will change with the seasons. (I should have taken a screen shot of their menu last night, but I do remember a mushroom tartine.)

Poco Torteria, which serves Mexican tortas (baguettes), sides and aguas frescas. They are also offering cake which is delicious! (It's related to Pinche Taco.)

MiJo, a noddle and rice shop with an emphasis on udon. (It has ties to Bones.)

Brava!, which features Neapolitan inspired wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches using lots of local ingredients, including seasonal specials from the chef’s own garden!

Souk Shwarma, a Lebanese-inspired concept that serves up warm pita/gyro, basmati rice, sauces and pickles. (That description makes it sound too run-of-the-mill; the people sitting near us were raving about the flavors.)

And Bixo, which interprets modern Mediterranean and Europen recipes and adds a Mexican flair. 

I took a quick glance around and I think every restaurant is putting out a main dish for $10 or less (though  some prices are a bit higher for dinner service). In other words, #budgetfriendly.

Like many of the recent additions to the Denver food scene, the space and interiors at Avanti got as much attention as the well-curated menu items. The seating (a good deal from Housefish design), lighting, and patio furnishings are all perfect. The use of materials- like container ships- is well conceived. There's great artwork throughout the space and I spotted a succulent shelf positioned on the side of the staircase that's inspiring me to do something similar at home. (You know how I feel about cacti, right?!)

The views of the city are spectacular since Avanti’s rooftop deck faces Downtown and the Ball Park neighborhood. On the topic of outdoor/rooftop space, there is so much of it that I started wondering what would happen in the colder months.  But worry not, they apparently installed heated floor boards on the deck. They thought of everything!

We spent two hours at Avanti and I can’t wait to go back. Upon leaving we were asked if anything could be improved and neither one of us could think of anything…except maybe building something like Avanti over on Colfax. Like right by East High School. Because teenagers love good quality affordable food right? And I live close by, too. I'm just gonna plant that seed...

Avanti opens tomorrow (July 13th) at 11 a.m.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 
Happy eats!


A shout out to Beckie + Igor, the dynamic couple behind Quiero Arepas. Thank you for extending an invite to the Friends + Family preview. Matt and I had a blast!

* All photos were taken with my iPhone (which is sort of broken. Oy.)
Click here for the Westword piece - it has images that will give you a much better sense of the food and the space.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

saguaro national park (+ hello again)

Hey there,

It’s me! I know, it’s been a really long time. About 7 months, give or take...a lengthy absence, which in the online world usually translates into blog death. But what can I say? I’ve been enjoying life and I thought it would be best to spend my small amounts of free time away from the computer, actually living in the moment instead of writing about it. But I have a more relaxed work schedule now since many of our clients take time off during the summer, and with the craziness of Design Week behind me I thought it would be fun to get back into it.  

The other reason for the long break has a lot to do with the difficulties of last year. I typically spend the end of December/early January being reflective and writing some sort of “wrap up.” But 2014 was a doozy and I really didn’t know where to start. I faced the biggest challenges of my life, for it was the year my father passed away. But it was also a year where I grew closer to my friends, my children and my family in ways that only death can bring people together. The "silver lining," if there can even be  such a thing during such a relentlessly strenuous time, is coming to understand how fortunate I am to have such an incredible community around me. Also, tragedy has shown me what truly matters and what doesn’t. Life is pretty simple when you boil things down.

Anyway, here we are and 2015 is already halfway over. It seems silly to start things off with a backtrack to February, but as I think about the highlights of the year thus far, our trip to Saguaro National Park this winter stands out. We put together a really fun and inexpensive trip (thanks frequent flier miles/hotel points) and had a blast hiking through the cacti groves, investigating the small details of succulents, watching desert sunsets, eating really good Mexico food and swimming in our hotel's outdoor pool. This was by far our most successful adventure as a family of 4 to date. There were shockingly few meltdowns and everyone’s behavior (mine included) was A++. As my mother frequently says, “Pooh, pooh, pooh. May it continue…” 

It's good to be back.


Food for thought: Ed Ruscha's Cactus Omelet from T Magazine/The New York Times.
Book for thought: How to Raise a Wild Child
And give a listen to this great interview.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

gunnison's black canyon + ina's salted caramel nuts (perfect for hiking, the holidays, or any other time!)

Some of my fondest memories of childhood are those of the travels we did together as a family. There were trips overseas, an Amtrak ride from New York to Orlando, and a vacation whereby we drove down California's coastal Highway 1. But my favorite had to be the “Great Stepelman Family Road Trip of ’86.” We flew to Phoenix, rented a motor home, and my dad drove us around the Southwest for a few weeks. My brother and I  had a blast discovering New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah. It was really the first time I saw the beauty of our National Parks system and I knew one day I'd be back…(and here we are!).

Travel and exploration are things Otis and Theodore enjoy too, and we had every intention of heading south this fall. But after a failed Aspen weekend - immediately followed by a stellar Rocky Mountain excursion- Matt and I decided we should end our hiking season on a positive note. We took a moment to think about whether or not a trip to Gunnison's Black Canyon was a good idea, and determined that the lengthy car ride plus the strenuous hiking inside the canyon should be saved for next spring or early fall. The boys would be almost a year older by then and better equipped to deal with the trip.

On the weekend following my husband’s birthday, I gave him the gift I knew he really wanted: 5 days of solitude. Unlike me, an extrovert who craves only minimal alone time, Matt loves having time to himself and he found peace and quiet in Colorado's Black Canyons. I can't wait to see this canyon in person (it took about 2 million years for the river to shape the steepest cliffs and oldest rocks in North America)…and who knows, maybe the trip to the canyon will become one of our children's  fondest memories

Here are Matt's photos...

A few weeks ago, my friend Jayme and I went to hear Ina Garten speak at the Paramount Theater in Denver. I loved listening to her talk about her transition from policy paper-pusher at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to food gourmand and business owner. I've always credited Ina as the person who got me inspired to cook unfussy seasonal dishes that are big on flavor, so it was interesting to hear how her recipes go from concept to print. 
Anyway, this recipe for Salted Caramel Nuts comes from Ina's most recent cookbook "Make It Ahead"- which, if you couldn't guess, really works well with my current lifestyle.
A caveat for those of you making this snack at altitude: watch your caramel closely, as it boils faster at higher elevations (like Denver). I had to throw out the first batch before getting it right in the second go-round, so don't take your eyes off the stove! 

Salted Caramel Nuts from Make It Ahead by Ina Garten, via the Barefoot Contessa
Makes 8 cups
1 cup each whole roasted salted cashews, whole large pecan halves, whole unsalted almonds, and whole walnut halves (4 cups total) 

1½ cups sugar 

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 

2 teaspoons kosher salt 

1 teaspoon fleur de sel
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Combine the nuts on a sheet pan, spread them out, and roast them for 7 minutes, until they become fragrant. Set aside to cool. 

After the nuts are cooled, place the sugar and ¼ cup of water in a medium (10-inch) sauté pan and mix with a fork until all of the sugar is moistened. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar melts—from this point on, don’t stir the caramel, swirl the pan! Don’t worry—the mixture may look as though it’s crystallizing. Continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes a clear golden brown, swirling the pan constantly at the end. (Careful—the caramel is very hot!)
Off the heat, quickly add the vanilla (it will bubble up!) and swirl the pan to combine. Working quickly (the caramel will continue to cook in the pan), add the nuts and the kosher salt and toss with 2 large spoons until the nuts are completely coated. 

Pour the nuts and any extra caramel in the pan onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Spread the nuts out in one layer, pulling them apart with two forks. Sprinkle with the fleur de sel and set aside to cool. When they’re completely cooled, carefully break the nuts into large clusters with your hands, trying not to break the nuts too much. 
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