Historic Downtown Durango, Colorado

I just spent a long weekend in Durango Colorado.  I planned to go on a train ride through the mountains and to have a few good meals. On the way we made a quick stop in Telluride.

First stop Telluride!  Another dream destination for me – this is a deservedly renowned town with a great buzz. You need a few days to really get the chance to explore the shops restaurants and of course the ubiquitous western art , jewelry, trading posts and  sports apparel  stores. We stopped in at the Bakery BAKED IN TELLURIDEbked in telluride and me and picked up an assortment of goodies- a sampler of sorts. This is a casual place where you can get beer and pizza as well. You need to be prepared for a long wait if you do order pizza- the staff seemed indifferent and did not move in a manner that would suggest he was interested in making your pizza.

The place was busy as it filled up with the  apres-ski crowd.  There is a large multi self serve cabinet to choose your baked goods from.  Most of the offerings did not look very appetizing. I did like the look of the Telluride on a benchOatmeal raisin cookies. We took the baked goods to go and munched on them as we drove on to Durango.  The consensus was  the product was not so good- too doughy and sweet. The pumpkin square was topped with an icing sugar glaze reminiscent of tasty creme donuts. The cranberry cookies were soft and lacked flavour. I am used to first rate baked goods and these were not that. Next time through I would check out a different place to buy baked goods.

Strater HotelIn Durango we stayed at the Strater Hotel, a historic downtown hotel  decorated in memorabilia and antique furniture that was made when people must have been much shorter! The lobby was bustling and lots of skiers and tourists filled the halls and the adjoining bar and Bed room Straterrestaurant MAHOGANY  Grille  were packed and noisy. The sad fellow playing a guitar made me decide to avoid having a cocktail … I still cant understand why so many middle aged men insist on strumming … they were no good as youths and the passing of time has not improved their music nor their voice.
The room was also  decorated to reflect the gold mining era. There was one chair and one desk chair that was wobbly and did not fit the table so we could not easily get in and out of the door. The door itself was nearly  impossible to open. The bathroom was sparse with no amenities. No coffee maker and  coffee service outside the room shuts down at nine!!  Too early for me.

We arrived at dinner time and the streets were lit up and were filled with tourists.

We  decided to try out the Strater restaurant and went to the Mahogany Grille  for dinner – When we arrived the dining room was almost empty.
Here is the Mahogany Grille’s  self description:
“Mahogany Grille specializes in the art of steak and seafood, and offers a vegan and vegetarian menu. Enjoy handcrafted cuisine while stepping back in time. Experience the ambiance of the Victorian Old West as we serve you an array of eclectic culinary specialties”

Be forewarned – Durango is EXPENSIVE-  Also take into mind in the winter that   Restaurants close at 9 p.m.! I looked at the menu and was surprised at the pricing.  Yet I took in mind that it was attached to the Strater Hotel I understood that these types of restaurants are more costly.
We started with Pomegranate Crab Cakes- They were well presented and looked inviting. Jumbo Lump Crab, Frisee, Roasted Corn Coulis. The 2 crab cakes were flavourful and hot – the pieces of crab were not consistent with lump crab meat.  The corn was right out of the fridge and there was not enough sauce on the plate. This was the one item that was well executed.

As for Entrees – the  prices were startling – I thought to myself it better be delicious for that price-  I chose the cheapest item on the menu .The  Entree ordered was  Potato Crusted Chicken Breast for $24.00. Port salut and prosciutto stuffed chicken breast, rainbow chard, roasted red pepper coulis, basil reggiano cream. Prior to ordering  I asked if  the dish came with  starch or vegetables – the server said yes red peppers – when the plate arrived it was a teaspoon of red pepper coulis, no vegetables  and the starch was the burnt hash browns that coated the chicken. I sent mine back- it was cold and yet burnt.
On the positive side – the manager removed it from the bill. He  explained the culinary misstep    The kitchen was worried the chicken  was not cooked and left the chard on the plate and re- dropped the chicken in oil.  By the end of his description my appetite had vanished.
I tried the house wines – chardonnay and Cabernet and neither were worth the price tag. The pour was too small for the $10.00 they charged me per glass. Alcohol is cheap in The United States and lots of places offer half price wine.

My dinner companion ordered Gold Canyon Pork Porterhouse:
Butternut squash risotto, grilled escarole, sundried apricot gastrique, Black Mission fig butter. $24.00. The Risotto was undercooked and apricots should never make their way into this dish- Another example of the constant liberties ‘Chef’s “ take that  result in disaster. The grilled escarole was a good concept but was cold and dry. The pork chop was unevenly butchered which impacted both the texture and the  flavour.  There was no suggestion of dessert or coffee. I was grateful I was spared. I felt rushed as the wait staff was busy cleaning the dining room- a sure sign to hurry up and pay the check. All in all the meal was an  “eclectic” expensive disaster.

Next morning, I noticed  the view from the bedroom was of the mountains –  a breath taking way to start the day.

I was  really looking forward to the train ride- Since first stepping on Coloradan soil I dreamed of going on the legendary Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. After somewhat overcoming my fear of heights I just had to get on that steam engine. I adore train and boat rides and always thoroughly enjoy myself. When visiting any city, the first thing I check out is if there are any bus, boat or train tours.

Double gauge RRThe Durango Silverton ride is a real thrill-  I chose to ride in the sky train – it was $100.00 dollars. Not cheap but well worth it. There are other options that are less expensive … some people sat  in an outdoor car. We were greeted by a friendly host, water and a free carry bag- which came in handy immediately as I was trying to get all my cameras set up for the ride. We started right out of downtown and got a chance to see some of the less palatable living conditions. Soon enough we started to see mountain peaks and prairie dogs. The garrulous Parisian fellow behind me asked me what I was excited about and when I replied prairie dog he seemed rather disappointed and remained Durango Train ridesubdued for the better part of the journey.

The train does move slowly- which is a good thing considering how close we were to the edge of the mountain cliff. There are points when you can touch the rock.
One note- we sat right up at the front which was great because we had extra leg room. However, the access to the outdoor platform was right by our seats. It was very cold and passengers were very busy going in and out – Choose a seat farther back.

We stopped at the Animus River in the San Juan forest- many passengers ate their lunch at the picnic benches by the river. I wish that I had brought a picnic.  There is no place to buy food at the stop – so come prepared with your own food. The concession car did not have much to offer – the guide suggested the pull pork. I declined that – she had delivered free cinnamon donuts earlier. All non alcoholic beverages are free and I had one of the best Bloody Mary cocktails I have ever tasted.

Animus River
We had the chance to stroll around the area and watch the engineer blow off the steam- extremely noisy but great fun.  The ride home was peaceful and there were lots of opportunities for great photos of the stunning landscape.
I highly recommend this trip. I loved Durango and this train ride is a must do attraction. Check out  a short video of our train ride on You Tube.

After the train ride and a stroll through historic Downtown Durango we were ready for some libations and a small bite. Moro is a very impressive bar with ladder access to the spirits and wines- It was fun to sit at the bar.  We arrived early for happy hour and the drinks were discounted but not the food. Moro has Moro Baran incredible variety of beers and the beer menu is a well designed tool to understand the nuances. I have concluded that Colorado is a beer state – you need to be a cicerone to decipher the choices. In Colorado it seems as if every small town has a micro brewery. It must be something in the mountain air or water. They focus far less on the wine selection. The bar tender recommended  a local beer made with peaches. All I can say – delicious.
The food  menu allows you to choose from its selection of meats and cheeses. I suggest patrons do  this as it is  a great way to test the kitchen – order appetizers and then decide if you like the food. I chose St Andre triple creme, Tete de Moines and Numero Uno San Daniele Proscuitto served with fresh baguette, mustard, pickles, chutney,  all house made. It was a delicious assortment and well presented. The Tete de Moines was perfect and the chill was off the cheese, so full flavour could be developed . I often shy away from ordering cheese plates because so often they  arrive straight out of the fridge and lacking flavour.  This small plate was delicious and married perfectly with the House Cabernet. Both the Chardonnay and the Cabernet are worth ordering. Please try the Tete de moine with a Cabernet- it is a cheese – wine marriage made in heaven.
My one comment would be that the manager confronted the bartender with respect to missing alcohol that drew another bar tender into the discussion  and up went the ladder to solve the mystery. I felt it was not the appropriate time – Happy Hour with a full bar- to do beverage cost control.

All in all we were tempted to re order the cheese and charcuterie platter again- but in the end decided to find a place for dinner.

Moro is a fun well run place for happy hour. I would definitely return.
While strolling, a native Durangutan- (yes they call themselves that) recommended Ken and Sue’s- One of the best places in town with a varied menu at at good price point.  He was right- Ken and Sue’s had a fabulous variety of sides and a solid choice of wines by the glass- The pour was around 5 ounces and at $10.00 per glass, rather pricey.
At five o’clock the restaurant was empty and when we arrived around eight the place was packed. It had a great vibe and people were gathering around to fill up on the jelly bean bowl.

For an appetizer we shared Ginger-Chicken Pot stickers Glazed with Hoisin Sauce, Orange-Honey Dipping Sauce …$7.95. They arrived sticking together – and flat – not really pot stickers but the flavour was there.

I have been in search of the perfect wedge salad and I found it at Ken and Sue’s.
Crispy Iceberg Wedge, House-made Bleu Cheese Dressing, Balsamic Tomatoes, Red Onions …$ 7.95. This was the most delicious salad that I have ever tasted- the iceberg was cold , crisp and delicious- loaded with mild Maytag blue Cheese and a perfectly seasoned cream dressing. It was served with balsamic marinated diced tomatoes whose acidity was a perfect marriage for the creamy blue cheese dressing.
The Mixed Greens, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Homemade Croutons, Balsamic Vinaigrette … $5.95  Crisp and delicious as well- not overly dressed.

My entree -Herb-Seared Chicken Breast Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Sun-dried Tomatoes, Smashed Potatoes, With Roasted Garlic-Cabernet Sauce and Sautéed Greens …$ 17.95. The chicken arrived and met all my criteria- it was hot, had crisp skin, the meat was moist and the stuffing was well seasoned. The creamy potatoes were piping hot and well- seasoned.

The Maple-Mustard Glazed 12oz. N.Y. Strip, Giant Onion Rings, Red & Bleu Smashers, With Blistered Asparagus …$19.95. The maple worked well and the seasoning was perfect, the meat was cooked to order and was very  flavourful. Perfectly blistered asparagus and enormous onion rings!  For dessert it was a toss up between the creme brûlée and the Cheesecake .We decided to order dessert and tried the white chocolate cheesecake.

Chocolate Fantasia  White Chocolate Cheesecake served with Grand Marnier macerated Oranges… $4.95. The cheesecake was dense and more reminiscent of an Italian Cottage cheesecake rather than the creamy  New York style- White chocolate tend to leaden up baked goods. The top was over done and experience told me that this dessert was not all that fresh. The Grand Marnier macerated orange slices were delicious.

The service was excellent even in a fully packed restaurant. The kitchen did a perfect job of timing our food. It was one of the best meals that I have had and one of the best restaurant experiences that I have had. I  took the manager aside and told him what a professional job he did and how happy I was. On the way out I grabbed a handful of cherry flavored jelly beans- no one can resist!

I admit to a reputation of being not hard, but impossible to please. Ken and Sue’s is one of the reasons I continue to ask myself – Why is it so hard for restaurants to get it right? The answer is good management, training, varied menu that reflects current trends i.e the pot stickers  while retaining class dishes – i.e my wedge salad. Attention to detail both in food execution and front of the house service and customer care. To have a memorable dining experience all these criteria must combine in a transparent harmony.  A visible and engaged manager is essential.
Ken and Sue’s in Durango – You must eat here!

A slow drive home through the mountains and valleys was a perfect ending to an exciting train ride and a few delicious eating experiences. I highly suggest a trip to Durango- you need a few days to really appreciate all this Historic Western town has to offer.

Delicious Discovery   Tete De Moine

Tête de Moine is a type of  cow milk cheese manufactured in Switzerland. It was invented and initially produced more than eight centuries ago by the monks of the abbey of Bellelay. Its intense flavor is even more pronounced when compared to other cheeses from Switzerland, like Gruyere and Emmental. A true specialty item, Tete de Moine deserves to be regarded as one of the world’s great cheeses.
Traditionally, the cheese is prepared for eating in an unusual way: the cheese loaf is carefully scraped with a knife to produce thin shavings, which is said to help develop scented flavours by allowing oxygen to reach more of the surface.

220px-Girolle_7910In 1982 the Girolle was invented, an apparatus which makes it possible to make “rosettes of Tête de Moine” by turning a scraper on an axle planted in the center of the cheese.

Here is a link to where you can purchase this fabulous cheese.


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