Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Usually Try to Inject Some Humor…

into my blogs. But sometimes we visit a restaurant with such serious food that humor just wouldn’t work. Such as the case with Ken & Sue’s in downtown Durango (CO).

In fact, we so enjoyed the food that one meal wasn’t enough, so we made sure to return for a second.

Ken and Sue Fusco relocated to Durango from Florida in 1998, where they had both worked for the Unique Restaurant Group—Sue in management positions and Ken, a 1989 CIA graduate, as chef in a number of restaurants including Dan Marino’s Town Tavern. In 2001, they opened a second Durango restaurant and, in 2003, combined both operations into their current location.

You enter into a stylish dining room featuring high booths with light wood and dark accents and a long bar running down one wall. But the weather that day was perfect for eating outside, so we asked to be seated on the back patio, where we could listen to blues on the sound system and the birds chirping.

It would make for too long a blog if I recited the numerous menu options. I’ll just say that the lunch menu is diverse and offers a wide range of options, including some reflecting Ken’s Italian heritage and many with a strong Asian influence.

As soon as we were seated, a basket of house-made flatbread and foccacia appeared on the table with—hard to believe—real butter in a dish and not in foil packets. I immediately knew that we were going to like this place. When we received our glasses of passion fruit iced tea, I really knew that we were going to like this place.

Chuck started his meal with a cup of “Today’s Soup”—the broccoli cheddar, which was rich with cheddar cheese and just enough broccoli for flavor. We both surmised that the kitchen had further seasoned the soup with white pepper which provided a mild undertone of heat. This was an encouraging start.

When it came time to order his luncheon entrée, Chuck threw me a curve. I fully expected that he would order the open faced meatloaf sandwich with red wine gravy, smashed potatoes, and tobacco onions. But suddenly, from nowhere, came his request for the penne pasta with andouille sausage, escarole, fresh tomatoes, pine nuts, and roasted garlic butter and topped with scallion threads.

While not authentically Italian (I’m not sure how much Cajun sausage is served in Italy), this was the best restaurant pasta dish that either of us has tasted. The pasta was perfectly cooked; the smoky spiciness of the andouille could be tasted in every bite; the escarole added a touch of bitterness; the pine nuts added a crisp textural contrast; and roasting the garlic for the butter muted the sometimes harsh garlic taste. And the great thing about this dish—I think I can duplicate it at home once I find some andouille.

I flirted with the grilled tuna on foccacia with Oriental slaw and teriyaki mayo, but then I spotted it—a dish that combined three of my food favorites (mush-rooms, asparagus, and blue-veined cheese)—the house-made potato gnocchi with asparagus, cremini mushrooms, truffle oil, and gorgonzola. Again, a truly magnificent dish. The large gnocchi were pillow soft, the truffle oil augmented the cremini mushrooms, and the sharp gorgonzola cheese cut the richness of the sauce. I am not going to try this at home.

Time for dessert. From the short dessert list, we decided to order what seemed to be the lightest of the choices—the apple tart. This was the perfect ending for our meal. The crust was a six-inch circle of puff pastry which was topped with thinly sliced apples, then dusted with cinnamon, and drizzled with caramel. And this came with a large scoop of the restaurant’s house made vanilla ice cream. Not too filling, not too sweet. Just right.

On our return visit, I paid special attention to the list of appetizers, many of which evidenced a strong Asian influence. Among our choices were the ginger chicken pot stickers, the tempura shrimp satays, the spicy chicken lettuce wraps, the hoisin glazed lollipop wings, and the spicy shrimp spring rolls. Should we order an appetizer mélange or share an appetizer and go our own way with the entrees?

We chose the latter and shared the crispy calamari with Asian slaw and a lemon-grass coconut vinaigrette. This came presented in a Chinese restaurant “to go” box, but you transfer the contents onto a platter for eating. The calamari – both rings and tentacles – were tender, and while the vinaigrette made the coating less crisp, the Asian slaw (Asian cabbage, carrot, red bell pepper, and romaine) added the needed crunchy texture. And the best way to describe the dressing is subtle with light flavors.

I was sure that Chuck would order the meatloaf, but he surprised me again and chose the angel hair pasta, oven dried tomatoes, house-made tomato sauce, garlic, and basil. I know from unfortunate experiences that angel hair can go from underdone to mush in no time. So I always marvel at a kitchen that can produce an al dente angel hair that doesn’t turn to mush after five minutes on the plate. The angel hair was proof that an expert (or experts) is working in Ken & Sue’s kitchen. And roasting the tomatoes intensified the sugars and the flavor. A truly fine dish of pasta.

I couldn’t resist the Prince Edward Island mussels from the appetizer menu and they came in a green curry broth with mixed greens. I was rewarded with a bowl of at least a dozen plump mussels in a green broth that tasted slightly of basil and cilantro with the curry producing a slow heat. The addition of the fresh greens was interesting. Added to the broth at the last minute, they slowly wilted but never became limp. And the foccacia from the bread basket was perfect for soaking up any remaining broth.

For dessert, we decided not to tempt fate and stayed with the puff pastry apple tart from our earlier visit, and it was just as good as before.

Other than the Caribbean jerk halibut (I’ve never gotten into jerk), there isn’t anything on Ken & Sue’s menu that I wouldn’t want to try.

A return trip to Durango sometime in the future is part of our travel plans, and I can’t wait to have another meal at this 5.0 Addie restaurant.

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