When was the last time you went out to dinner and branched out? Tried something you wouldn’t normally try? When was the last time you put your trust in the chef and his team and let them steer the way?
The Kitchen Fort Collins has a menu set up to do just that. Their “Taste of the Kitchen” menu is a multi-course tasting menu featuring a series of dishes designed to give diners a feel for the season and what ingredients Chef Brent is excited about. In general, these items don’t appear on the normal menu, and they change frequently depending on what ingredients are fresh.
Each course is served “family style” for everyone at the table to share. This approach naturally engenders conversation, about both what you’re eating and who you’re enjoying it with. For our family style meal, we not only handed over the food reins to the kitchen, but we let our beverages be selected by our extremely knowledgeable server. The beginnings of a true foodie adventure.
The story behind the Kitchen deserves to be mentioned here. Knowing a little about this organization will make you appreciate your dining experience all the more. First off, this family of restaurants is a non-profit organization with the shared mission to create community through food. They are dedicated to sourcing food locally as much as possible. They make every effort to know their providers intimately. To the point that Chef Brent knows not only the name of who is providing his scallops, but the name of the boat and the diver who pulled them from the ocean. This level of intimacy with his ingredients is readily apparent on the menu, which features them proudly.
One of the most unique and important aspects of dining at the Kitchen is the connection between the back of the house and the front. The servers are incredibly knowledgable about the details of each dish. Every question is answered easily and warmly. There seems to be a true interest in discussion between staff and guest, which results in a meal that is both enjoyable and educational (should you wish it to be so).
Because of this level of training and coordination, it is almost too easy to let the servers and kitchen plan the evening for you. While options abound for both food and drink, if you simply mention your likes and dislikes, the well-trained staff will guide you through an adventurous evening you are sure to enjoy.
To begin, a round of cocktails, because…why not? The Odell-a-rita is a beer cocktail take on a margarita. It combines the happiness of an IPA with the sweet and sour flavors of a margarita, complete with a hop-salt rim. The result is a complex and fun, a great way to start your night. The Autumn Old Fashioned is a seasonal take on the classic. The clove liqueur brings hint of the holidays to the glass.
For our first course, a pumpkin soup. The pumpkins were previously used as decorations around the restaurant until their time was ripe and they headed to the kitchen. This is just one example of the Kitchen’s commitment to both sustainability and seasonality. The soup was rich and smooth. A garnish of sumac added a bright citrus note This dish is savory and warm and set the tone for the evening.
It was followed by a classic remoulade made with celery root, raw beets, radish, arugula, mint and pomegranate with a light dressing. Bright and fresh, it was a mix between a palette refresher and a “ok, its time to get hungry” course.
Next up, steak tartare. People are sometimes leery of tartare, but if you’re going to try it anywhere, this is the spot. It was rich and complex, with a raw egg yolk, lightly charred crostini and lightly pickled beets. This is a big dish, and it needs to be shared. Its beefy in all the best ways and really showcases the quality of the ingredients.
After asking our server to pair our next course with some new beverages with were treated to a beautiful plate of mushroom risotto. Or server selected a glass of Sangiovese and a Orval (my personal favorite beer) to accompany. The mushrooms were center stage here, with the creamy risotto providing nice balance and texture. It was topped with fresh parmesan and celery leaves, which added nice color and a subtle nod to the Kitchen’s commitment to maximizing their ingredients.
The main course (if any course can be considered main in this type of meal) was a perfectly cooked steak, with parsnip puree and charred rapini. What I especially love about this dish was the way it all worked together. The puree was buttery to the point of being a frosting and the rapini strikingly bitter, but when you combine them together with the steak to form a single bite, you are rewarded with something unique and satisfying. Here Chef Brent really shows his skills, taking something so simple and classic and yet totally surprising in its complexity and seasonality. Our server paired it with a Tempranillo and a Syrah, which both worked in different, but equally enjoyable ways.
Next we had a nice surprise with a cheese course. A simple slice of blue with a side of honey was the perfect interlude before dessert. The small pour of a Sauternes is a classic choice, but the server’s ingenuity in also bringing a taste of Russian River’s Consecration was inspired and in the end, was the better of the two pairings.
For dessert, cranberry upside cake. This dessert is probably a departure for most, as it was more savory than sweet. Its sense of season is overwhelming, with tart cranberries and fresh thyme brining out the flavors of Thanksgiving dinner, more than a sweet a dessert. We indulged heartily while chatting with Chef Brent about the menu and what’s coming up next (hint: braised meats are on the horizon). As we finished our meal, gazing out the windows at the holiday lights twinkling in Old Town Square, there was no doubt that The Kitchen, more so than any other restaurant in Fort Collins, is truly embracing what it means to have a seasonal, local, and fresh menu, no matter the temperature outside.