12 June 2015
Eating at The Kitchen in Fort Collins
I hate paying too much for chicken and mashed potatoes. I hate the unnecessarily fancy service, the Pottery Barn atmosphere, the glass of wine that costs as much as the whole bottle, all of it. And thus, I avoided visiting The Kitchen in Fort Collins for a long time.
This mini-empire was started in Boulder in the early 00s by Kimbal Musk, brother of the eccentric Elon Musk of Tesla Motors, among other things. The claim is that community is important to them, so they locally source what they can and also host "community hours" in which patrons are encouraged to sit with strangers and make new friends while eating. I didn't do that. I just ate with my friend who is not strange. I also saw a whole lot of non-local elements on the menu, like the oysters (not of the Rocky Mountain variety) and octopus, for instance.
But I soldiered on. After all, although a glance at the website invokes South Park-like images of Prius drivers enjoying the smell of their own farts, I didn't get any of that feeling when seated by my earnest, perky hostess or served by my down-to-Earth, keepin'-it-real-y'all waitress. The hardwood floors and spare furniture were also stunning.
I ordered a glass of sparkling cab franc because, what the hell? That exists? It does, and you should get it. Because when a glass of Kitchen White is $8 (I had just paid $9 for the entire bottle down the street at Wilbur's Total Beverage an hour earlier), you might as well try something you can't find easily in stores. It was dry, refreshing, and a bit mineral-iffic. I loved it.
The garlic fries were pleasant, but nothing special, and they badly needed salt. The Hazel Dell Mushroom Risotto was rich and creamy, and the seasoning in the slightly brothy mushrooms running over the top of the rice like a deep, dark river was just perfect. The Roasted Cauliflower with charred spring onions, beluga lentil puree, pickled radishes and breadcrumbs was kind of amazing. The lentils really made the meal--super garlicky, creamy and comforting, and well-salted, they formed the base of the dish. The cauliflower was well browned but seemed not to be seasoned at all, so it was important to always smear it around in the lentils. The spring onions were so vivid there must have been some vinegar involved, and the bread crumbs were buttery, evenly toasted, and made from some beautiful, many-seeded bread.
There was, indeed, chicken and mashed potatoes (with lemon sauce), but it was moist and divine.
The food at The Kitchen is definitely elevated comfort food; I'm not sure how "New" it is, though the ingredients are definitely "American". Head chef Joel Ryan seems to display a fair amount of French influence in his flavors, making the dishes I tried in no way challenging or surprising, but certainly homey and fun to eat. Classical proportion and subtlety are in here; bold flavors and creative combinations are not.
Will I go back? Probably not. But I've got some new ideas about how to cook what's already in my kitchen when I'm not feeling adventurous, and I had a really nice time last night. So there.