Wednesday

Timberline Grill at Ameristar in Black Hawk, Co


The clang of slot machines, the flipping of cards, and the low drum of hundreds of people talking permeates the air as you enter the Ameristar Casino in Blackhawk. But there is relief, a little get away, a mountain lodge of serenity built as a beautiful timber frame lodge with slated wood walls. It offers a cozy fire place to absorb warmth by and there is excellent food to enjoy. 
It is the Timberline Grill!

Chef Philippe Georges has recently upgraded the menu to incorporate the ideal of grow local. They have partnered with local dairies to bring in their expert cheeses. They use Colorado raised lamb, trout from our very own Rocky Mountains, and choice aged beef.


We had the privilege of trying a sampler of their appetizers. A plate full of Jumbo Shrimp, Smoked Trout Mousse, Crab Aspic, and Lobster Salad. The Jumbo Shrimp were too jumbo for Beth, as after three bites half was still left, but that very fact made them perfect for me. They were LARGE shrimp with just the right amount of sauce, full flavor and good texture. The Smoked Trout Mousse was smoked! It was heavily smoked, which producing a rich flavor to the mousse, complemented well with the horseradish foam, and the roasted beets made it stand out. If you love a smoked flavor, get it! If you don’t, go for the shrimp. The Crab Aspic (a gelatin) was rejected by Beth due to her years in Russia and a bad experience with Kholodets. I found it intriguing. It was of a good softness and was well presented but had a dull flavor. The Lobster Salad with an avocado base had me on edge at first. As I put it in my mouth it felt chunky but then the flavors combined into a melody of deliciousness, especially with the accompanying bread. It was a good portion and filling. 


After filling ourselves most of the way with the appetizers we began studying the menu. I concluded on getting the Rack of Colorado Lamb as I was intrigued by the combination of lavender, honey, and roasted garlic. Beth settled on the Cedar Plank Skuna Bay Salmon, again due to the combination of a whiskey maple butter sauce. The lamb was arrayed nicely in the center of the plate with the honey artistically drizzled. The salmon came served on the cedar plank with a wrapped lemon and a jar of the whiskey maple butter. Beth was delighted to see the sauce come in a jar, as it calmed her worry of having to ration the sauce. The lamb was cooked exactly as I asked and Beth (a non lamb liker) said it was the best lamb she has had and actually asked for another bite. The sauce was plentiful and good and the lamb tasty, but I wouldn’t go back solely for the lamb. The salmon on the other hand was exquisite and worth any trip. The only bad thing was that it was hard for me to get more as I was sitting on the opposite side of the table and Beth was standing guard. 


The dessert was a Chocolate Blackout Cake drizzled with raspberry flavoring and backed with a chocolate crisp. It did not look restaurant made nevertheless is was scrumptious and amply big enough to fill any chocolate lovers needs. 




The service was enjoyable. We were lead by the hostess, who's dress was much too short, to a nice booth. The moment we sat down we had a bowl of bread placed at our table and I do not think my cup of water ever reached half way before it was refilled. Well done!  Our server, April, was a delight to talk to and was very genuine. And although she is one of the newest servers (being there only a little over a year) she is one of the best! Ask for her whenever you go!




Timberline Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday

Celestial Seasonings

It may seem odd to post a "review" on a factory but trust me, I'm doing you a favor! I had heard of people touring Celestial Seasonings which is located in Boulder. I thought it sounded dumb and boring. I am a tea enthusiast and all but I just thought it would be a waste of time. It wasn't until I agreed to go on a triple date that I was talked into going.

We arrived and went into the front desk to be assigned a tour. The young lady was kind enough to let us run into the tour that was just starting. She gave us our "tickets" which were actually packages of tea. I really liked that! Each tour group gets a different flavor so if you are picky, just ask what flavor you are getting. If you don't want that flavor you can ask what the next tour flavor will be. Each tour is about 30 minutes so they start every half hour as well.

They have you watch a little video and then hand you a hair net. You head into the factory and get to see how things run. I won't go into detail here because it's hardly exciting and it certainly wouldn't be exciting to read about.

Once the tour was over the real fun began! We skipped the gift shop and went back into the café, which is where the tour starts. Here they offer FREE samples of every tea they make. I would like to add that "Free Samples" doesn't do it justice. They give you a small mug or cup. You can go to the counter and serve yourself one of the dozen teas that are hot and ready to be sipped OR you can go to the counter and ask to try any of the dozens of teas listed on their menu. They will happily serve you, answer questions, share little tid bits or spout off neat little facts. After you have yourself a glass of tea you can head over to the counter and add whatever you'd like to your cup. They have everything you can imagine! From cream to honey it's all there. Once you have yourself a drink you can sit at a table or couch. They have magazines and newspapers and they sell snacks. There is even a bathroom. They honestly want you to sit and enjoy as many cups of tea as your heart desires. It's heavenly. They won't even look at you funny if you go up for your 10th cup of tea. I know because I did it. I was starting to feel guilty and mentioned it. The lady reassured me that they are happy to give you as much tea as you want!

At the end of the day it's really a great marketing strategy. I didn't think I'd buy tea after the tour but after drinking about a dozen different varieties I had no choice but to go back to the gift shop to buy a few boxes.

Whether you are a local or are just here for a visit, I highly recommend you go check this place out!

Celestial Seasonings on Urbanspoon

Thursday

Tam's

My super awesome husband knows that good ol' Americanized Chinese food is my biggest guilty pleasure.  He went to A West for a period of time and explained that Tam's has lines out the door at lunch time because the kids love this place! He warned me that it's a major hole in the wall but with it's great Urbanspoon reviews, he thought I should give it a try. Well, like I said, I'm a sucker for Chinese so he didn't need to convince me!
 
 

We haven't ever had Hong Kong Noodles so we ordered some. It's a dish of wok fried noodles with a brown sauce topped with shrimp, beef, chicken and mixed vegetables. They weren't our favorite of the items we ordered but they were still great! In fact, just thinking about them makes me want more.
 
 
 
I think we always order orange chicken. It's a favorite in this house. When I took my first bite I wasn't sure what I was eating. This dish offers a more bitter side of orange than your typical orange chicken. I realized upon my second bite that it's because they actually cook it with real oranges. You have to pick out the rind chunks or you'll bite into a rather unpleasant surprise. I loved the natural, sweet, bitter zip that Tam's Orange Chicken has. It really is a great recipe that left craving more!
 
I wouldn't normally mention fried rice. I don't like rice and find it to be a filler to compensate for smaller sized portions. At Tam's that is far from the truth. First of all, the portions are so huge that my husband and had leftovers for days! I would estimate that one plate will feed 3 people easy. Second of all, Tam's fried rice is worth eating. It was especially delicious mixed in with the Orange chicken sauce. Oh my word, it was out of this world!
 
We thought we ordered a side of giant egg rolls but it appears we actually ordered the Vietnamese Egg Rolls. They weren't giant but they were tasty. I won't order them again though. While they weren't bad, they were the least favorite for both of us.
 
Fried wontons are an amazing Chinese appetizer that is almost always dipped in a Sweet and Sour sauce. If you order crab wontons from Tam's, you won't be dipping them. These little guys are so packed full of flavor! The crab flavor isn't too strong but it certainly isn't hidden behind the cream cheese. The wontons are hands down the best wontons I've ever had.
 
Tam's may be a hole in the wall teen age hang out but I don't care. I'll be back! This place deserves the hype and I really hope that Tam's wife (who is now a widow) keeps this place up and running. This is exactly what I imagine when I crave Chinese food.
 
 
Tam's Cantonese on Urbanspoon

Wednesday

Tommyknockers Brewery


We had my little sister fly in from the Pacific North West recently. We decided to show her around Colorado a bit and ended up at this brewery up in Idaho Springs. We've been told Tommyknockers has some awesome home made soda and we were anxious to give it a try.


We ordered one pitcher of their home made root beer. It was great!  I am a sucker for home made and unique sodas. I wouldn't drive all the way up here just to try it, but if you're in the area you should certainly stop in and give it a try.


We started off with a plate of Motherload Nachos. If you've read many of my posts you may have noticed I am a nacho lover. I often order nachos so I've tried many varieties. These nachos are seriously the greatest nachos in the world. I can guarantee you won't find better nachos in Colorado. The chips are made in house and taste like Doritos. So imagine... Doritos with cheddar cheese, chili con queso, pico de gallo, black beans and a side of guacamole (you pay extra for guac). I can't even explain to you how good these nachos are. They are worth the drive. I promise.

Now, we may as well just stopped there. We had amazing draft root beer and the best nachos on the planet. Our luck couldn't be better, right? Right! We didn't' really enjoy our meals much. Gary had a burger and I had their pesto chicken sandwich. Neither are worth mentioning really. If we go again (and we WILL go again) we'll order Nachos all around and pitcher of that home made root beer!




Tommyknocker Brewery & Pub on Urbanspoon

Monday

Alamo Drafthouse Cinama


I have a four month old baby and I don't feel comfortable leaving her with the babysitter for extended periods of time. I like to think she would miss me too much or whatever. Gary on the other hand loves date night and he enjoys an outing sans kids. He especially loves to go to dinner and a movie. I love my husband but I'm not willing to leave my baby for 4+ hours. I told him he can pick dinner OR a movie. Anyone who knows Gary knows he likes to find the loopholes. He came to me and said "We're going to The Alamo so we're eating dinner and watching a movie at the same time".   He won.

We read the Alamo's website before going and I'm glad we did! They are a little pretentious. If you don't show up before the show starts, you won't be seated. If you talk or have your cell phone out you'll get one warning before being kicked out. You better not even think about bringing your baby! They aren't allowed. Sounds extreme, right? It actually made for a really enjoyable movie experience! If you are a worried mom like me, leave the Alamo's phone number with your movie and showtime for the sitter. Then you wont worry you're missing a major catastrophe at home.

So we got there 30 minutes before our show started, just as the website states you should. We sat down and our waiter came over. He explained that you order by writing on the paper provided on your table. I suggest looking at the menu and figuring out what you want before the show starts. My husband and I knew we wanted to share a milk-shake mid show so we found the one we wanted and wrote it down on a paper and held onto it till the middle of the show. It was perfect! We ordered our dinners minutes after arriving. I think they prefer that. After reading so many reviews of people complaining that they didn't get their food till the show was ending, I was shocked to receive both our meals before the movie even started! I'm going to bet, if you show up late and order late you'll get your food really late.

We shared the Royale with Cheese. It's a burger made of 100% Angus Chuck topped with smoked bacon, red onion, lettuce, tomato and cheddar cheese. The burgers all come with a side of chunky fries. I recommend asking for extra ketchup. Gary thought the burger was the best of the things we tried. I thought it was okay.

We also shared a pizza found on their special/seasonal menu. It was a ranch based pizza topped with chicken and tomatoes... I forgot all the details (sorry). I really hate to be negative but the chicken was the driest chicken I think I've ever had. I found that taking it off and eating the pizza without it made for a pretty decent dish.

We splurged and ended our night by sharing a Chocolate Chip Cookie Shake. I am so glad we did! I loved that thing. It was so creamy and the crunchy little chunks of cookie were fun. The presentation was lovely. It was topped with whipped cream and a sprinkling of the cookie crumbs. The straw was the fattest straw I've ever seen which was perfect for sucking up cookie chunks.

So. Overall we loved our experience. What I thought was just pretentious non-sense ended up making for an enjoyable movie experience. I appreciated the quiet and the lack of bright cell phone screens. I was in heaven not worrying about silly teens giggling and kicking my seat behind me. I have no doubt that we'll come here for our movies from now on. Here's what I'll do next time though: I'll order their $6 refillable popcorn. They serve it in a metal bowl and you get refills. Their soda is about $4 and it too comes with free re-fills. For $10 you get endless popcorn and soda brought right to your seat? Yes please! If you drink, they offer beers and wines. They even have "adult milkshakes"! They also have snacks and salads. The selection is perfect!

One of my favorite things about the Alamo was the pre-show "previews". They weren't your typical previews. They actually were tidbits about the actors that are staring in your movie. It's awesome.

No phones = no photos this time...

Tuesday

Marino's Pizzeria


I recently received an email from a reader. The reader explained that he's lived in Chicago and New York and loves both styles of pizza but after a recent trip to Italy he really appreciates a good authentic Italian pizza. As you may have noticed, there are not many authentic pizzerias here in Denver so I was excited to check this place out!



Meet Marino. He's the Italian man tossing a pizza in the picture. He's been in the US for about 9 years. He has an amazing Italian accent and can make an amazing pizza. He decided to follow his dreams by starting this pizzeria just a few short months ago.

You know each dish is made with pure love because he himself made the brick oven and makes each pizza with attention to detail. He starts by using 00 flour from Italy. He tosses his dough by hand which is necessary for it to be authentic. If you order a Le Pomodorine (also known as a pizza with tomato sauce) he uses San Marzano tomatoes. The ingredients are what make Marino's pizza exceptional. He only uses the finest.

He offered to make us a pizza he had just created! It was a white pizza (using olive oil rather than a tomato sauce) topped with brie, olives, thin sliced potato and a sprinkling of rosemary. While this pizza wasn't my favorite of the two, I am so glad we tried it. The flavors worked well together and it was truly unique. I admire his creativity and ability to create something new.

Marino suggested the Salvatore which is a pizza with San Marzano tomato sauce, mozzarella and sausage. We love sausage so we knew this was a good choice. It was awesome! I could instantly see that the sauce was made with quality ingredients. The simplicity of the sauce, the sweet yet savory sausage and the mozzarella made for the perfect pizza.

One of the things I am always afraid of when eating an authentic brick oven fired pizza is the crust. It's a delicate balance between burnt and crispy and being fully cooked. Marino cooks his pizza to perfection.

I urge you to go on an adventure and go try this place! It's in an odd location. We thought we were lost in the middle of a subdivision when we finally found it but I'm telling you, it's worth it! I have high hopes for Marino and his new pizzeria. I wish him the best and hope he finds success in following his dream.

Oh, and even if you aren't a pizza fan... you're sure to love the Pizzotelle (or pizza balls) that are just pizza dough topped with Nutella and powdered sugar. They also serve wings, calzones and salads.




Marino's on Urbanspoon

Thursday

Marcos Coal Fired Pizza

 

Last night my little family of three went out for what may very well be our last family night out before our new arrival. I can't believe I had never heard of Marco's Coal Fired Pizza before this! With hundreds of online reviews you would think I would have at least heard of it. Nope.


Since I found a handful of comments raving about the wings at Marco's we figured we had better try them. I really don't love wings. I'll eat them but I don't find them to be anything special. I expected this to stand true at Marco's yet I was blown away by their wings! The quality of chicken itself was great. They marinate the chicken and it's clear that they use fresh herbs that gives these wings the amazing pop of flavor. As I said, I'm not a wing fan but I would order these again!


My favorite food is pizza so I was extremely excited to try what Marco's has to offer. We ordered a simple Margherita so we could really focus on the quality of the pizza. Gary was instantly impressed (which rarely happens) with the quality of each ingredient. He first commented on the basil. I loved that they had large chunks if not whole leaves of basil on the pizza. The fresh mozzarella was the freshest cheese I've ever had on a pizza. It was all amazing. Gary was bummed that the pizza didn't come with tomatoes on top but he was impressed with the chunky tomato sauce.


Now here is where things get serious! We ordered the Pistachio pizza because it sounded unique and we both love pistachios. This pizza comes with a pistachio cream as the base and is then topped with fresh mozzarella and sweet Italian sausage.  If any food I've ever tried deserves the title "Best Food Ever" it's hands down Marco's Pistachio Pizza. It's more than worth every calorie, every penny and every second of time you may spend getting your hands on this stuff. As I always say, we prefer trying new places when we do eat out. Marco's Pistachio pizza is worth the return. I can not wait to take another bite of that amazing pizza!

Marco's clearly offers authentic pizza cooked in their imported fire ovens. I love that you can taste the freshness in their ingredients and even though I may not be an expert in pizza making, I can tell you that their pizza crust is as good as it gets. It's cooked to perfection!


Since their pizza was so good that my husband ate most of  it, I had a little room to sample some of their desserts. We started with a Cannoli. I loved the ricotta filled pastry! Once again, I could tell that it was freshly made and had top of the line ricotta inside. So good! I also had a bite of their Tiramisu which as just as good as the Cannoli. The textures were perfect unlike others I've had in the past.


As a seasonal item they are currently serving Panna cotta. We love Panna cotta so of course this was a hit. Just as he did with the pizza, Gary devoured this dessert. He's not a dessert person but this Panna cotta was certainly the exception. The creamy, lightly sweetened creamy treat was amazing.

I hope I've made it clear just how amazing Marco's Coal Fired Pizza really is. From the service to the food you will only get the highest quality here. I can't wait to go back!

 
 
Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria on Urbanspoon


Marco's Coal Fired Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Melting Pot


Did I write a review for the Melting Pot of Lafayette? I don't remember but if I did, I hope it wasn't a great review. Our server was a little less friendly then he should of been. He did his job just fine. He explained how everything works and brought our food. Maybe I'm crazy but for a $100 dinner, I would hope to get just a little above average service. It was a special anniversary dinner.   I asked if we could get a picture and our server said "later". I didn't particularly like that answer but thought maybe he's busy now?? Anyway, he never did take our picture. I've since wished we had one.   I know it's silly and a server's job isn't to take pictures but I bring this story up for a reason....

We revisited the Melting Pot today. This time we went to their Littleton location.  We made a reservation a few days ago and I was really looking forward to this special afternoon out! When we arrived the reservation desk had a hard time finding our reservation. After looking a bit she realized that our reservation was set for the wrong time. It was a silly little mistake that initially made me wonder if this would just the beginning of another evening of disappointment at the Melting Pot.

We were seated in a nice little booth overlooking Santa Fe (surprisingly entertaining). Our server was a very happy young girl. She took our entire three course order and remembered it!  All three courses!


We started off with their Fiesta Cheese fondue. I was reminded of just how amazing the Melting Pot is as soon as I took that first bite. Wow! The flavors are right on. The cheddar cheese is the strongest flavor with hints of been, salsa and jalapeno to follow. It's perfection. Unfortunately, the best dipper is the bread.  It's just perfect. The apples are great too but certainly not as great as the bread!



Next they brought us our salads. I got my favorite which is their California salad. It's served with the best candied pecans and a raspberry walnut Vinaigrette. It is so good and it's light enough to almost allow you to forget all the calories and fat you just consumed while enjoying the first course.


Once you are finished with your salad the main course begins to heat up. You have to wait a few minutes while each course of fondue heats up enough to be eatable.  Waiting is what makes the Melting Pot the perfect place for a date. My husband loves that we have to sit there and chat while ignoring the time or worldly concerns. It really is relaxing.

Ones our seasoned court bullion fondue is hot enough to cook our food we pull out our cell phones and set the stop watch. The waitress will tell you how long each item will need to cook. If you are like me, you'll want to write it all down but if you are lucky, you will have a husband like mine who will remember it all for you. As we wait the few minutes to enjoy each bite we continue to just chat, relax and ignore the time. I think as far as the food goes, the main course is the least amazing but like I said, it's what offers the best experience.

We were here just to enjoy their lunch special so we didn't get one of the heavenly chocolate fondues. They are to die for though so if you haven't tried it yet you should!

If spending $100 on dinner for two isn't your thing, consider going in for either just the cheese or chocolate fondues (or both). Each is about #15 and I promise they will blow you away!






Melting Pot on Urbanspoon

Wednesday

Del Taco Gift Cards!

Thank's to Del Taco, I have two Del Taco gift cards to give away! If you'd like a chance to win one, like our Facebook page. I will announce the two winners on the Colorado Critics' Facebook page on December 2nd.

Del Taco

Friday night Gary came home with all three of Del Taco's new Epic Burritos.  I was hungry and kind of excited to see what these giant burritos had to offer. They look like what you would find at a Chipotle or Qudoba.


      The first flavor I tried was the Steak and Potato burrito. It includes carne asada steak, french fries, bacon pieces, chipotle sauce, cheese and sour cream. The steak has great flavor! I really was impressed. The french fries were an interesting twist but they were surprisingly great in the burrito. I really thought the bacon, the sauce, the flavors in the steak and the cheddar cheese all worked really well together.  I love the American twist in this burrito!


Next I tried the Chicken Chipotle Ranch burrito. I thought for sure this would be my favorite. I have been impressed with Del Taco's chicken and I love chipotle and ranch. It just sounds perfect. I'm pretty sure that they forgot to put on the sauce though, so what we got wasn't very flavorful and it certainly didn't have any signs of ranch or chipotle. The lime rice was good and the bacon and chicken tasted great as always. My husband and I both loved the simple freshness the lettuce gave to this concoction.  I would order this one again just to see if we did in fact miss out on the sauce. 


The last Epic Burito is the Fajita Burrito. You can order this with chicken or beef. Since we love the chicken we went with that. It comes with black beans, guacamole, cotija cheese and the meat of your choice. This burrito was really pretty good. I thought it had way too many beans in proportion to everything else but there was also a lot of guacamole which kind of made up for it. While this burrito was still good, compared to the other two it's nothing special. The beans were just too overwhelming for me.



We also gave their poppers a try. They were tasty! My two year old especially enjoyed these dipped in ranch. 

While I had something to nit pick at with all three burritos, I was overall impressed. Del Taco is fast food yet they make sure their ingredients are fresh. They take dry beans and slow cook them at each location daily. They don't use pre-grated, flour coated cheese but rather, grate their cheese right there. The chicken is freshly cooked and never frozen. The veggies we've had have all been fresh and good. With that being said, it's still fast and it's cheap. These Epic Burritos are only $5 each. Compared to Chipotle or Qudoba, these things are close to the same size and I liked the fact that they weren't 80% rice and beans like Chipotle's burritos. These are a good value and they taste good. It's also worth mentioning that Del Taco has superb customer service! The manager told us if they have it, they will make it for you. So, if you want an Epic Steak and Potato for breakfast but you'd like to add in some eggs, go for it! I like that about these guys.