Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Know What You Are Going to Ask

So I’ll do it first. Are these people crazy? You drove one hundred miles round trip from Cortez to Durango for lunch?

Well, yes. Does it make it any better when I tell you that we also took the opportunity to run into the Durango Office Depot for a new computer mouse? And that we bopped into a local music stores for a couple of Springsteen CD’s? And after lunch took a drive to Serious Texas BBQ to stock up on some pulled pork and sauce for the freezer?

We spent ten days or two weeks (I forget exactly how long.) in Durango in early June 2010 and thoroughly enjoyed the two lunches we had at Ken & Sue’s. So much that Durango’s proximity—sort of—to Cortez made a road trip almost mandatory.

“Home to more restaurants per-capita than San Francisco, Durango is known for its world-class dining options for a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. From fresh Asian fusion and Sushi to creative chef inspired American cuisine and award-winning craft beers, Durango has something for everyone” (

“Along the Old West-inspired Main Street in downtown Durango, Ken and Sue Fusco fused two menus from previously owned locations to form this larger version of their eponymous restaurant. Opened in 2003, the tavern-like space is bright with natural light, and has large booths for seating, as well as a 100-seat patio in the rear of the restaurant. The menu consists of American cuisine with Asian touches…” (

“Known for its eclectic, globally influenced cuisine…Ken & Sue's is one of the better ‘date’ spots in Durango. It's elegant but without pretension, and attributes include an extremely friendly staff, a terrific wine list, and a long menu of dinner and lunch items (plus daily-changing specials… (

It was a beautiful mid-September day with temperatures in the 70’s and virtually no humidity. And so we joined about ninety percent of the diners on the back outdoor patio where we were fortunate to get a seat in the shade. I do seem to remember a profusion of flowers blooming in early June, but at this time of the year the arbors were decorated with baskets of hanging plants.

As soon as we were seated, we were presented with a basket of house-made breads. A particular hit was the flatbread topped with salt and black sesame seeds about which Chuck raved.

One of the first things we noticed was that two of our favorites from our previous visit—the penne pasta with andouille sausage, escarole, fresh tomatoes, pine nuts, and roasted garlic (Chuck’s meal) and the house-made potato gnocchi with asparagus, cremini mushrooms, truffle oil, and gorgonzola (my meal)—were no longer on the menu. But this proved to be no problem because the list of appetizers was long, intriguing, and heavily weighted toward Asian-influenced options.

We started by sharing an order of crispy calamari with Asian slaw in a lemon-grass and coconut vinaigrette. The Asian cabbage was tossed with some red bell pepper, scallion, and black and white sesame seeds. What I find so amazing is that, even when tossed with a slightly creamy dressing, the coating on the calamari remained crisp to the end and the flavors of lemon-grass and coconut were delicate enough so as to not be overwhelming.

The menu did list a seared rare tuna appetizer—which was tempting—but what really captured my attention was the appetizer of Prince Edward Island mussels in a green curry broth that also contained some wilted mixed greens. It has been a while since I have had mussels so this proved to be irresistible.

The dish contained a dozen medium-sized mussels swimming in a broth that was both sweet (more than likely from coconut milk, but perhaps from the green curry itself) and mildly spicy.
(“Green curries tend to be as hot as red curries…. However, green curries, regardless of heat, have a definite and desired sweetness that is not usually associated with red curries” [].) The broth was so delicious that I spooned up every drop that I could. Too bad we didn’t leave any of the bread or else I would have wiped the bowl clean.

While I was savoring my mussels, Chuck was rapidly devouring the appetizer of pot stickers glazed with hoisin sauce and accompanied by an orange and honey dipping sauce. I did sample half of one pot sticker and can tell you that the wrappers were light and thin and the meat filling was redolent of ginger and garlic.

Before placing our order, I asked our server about the day’s desserts. When none of them was enticing, we elected to share a fourth appetizer—the spicy shrimp spring rolls with a sriracha and soy dipping sauce. The wrappers used here were wonderfully thin and when fried, became layers of crispy goodness. And each spring roll half contained a whole succulent shrimp surrounded by fresh shredded vegetables.

Now, having seen the photos, which my words can barely adequately describe, do you still think we’re crazy? I’ll drive fifty miles (each way) any day for 5.0 Addie food like Ken & Sue’s.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Centuries-old Cliff Dwellings

We returned to Mesa Verde to see more of the centuries-old cliff dwellings.

Our drive took us past some interesting small scenes: from the dead tree in stark contrast to the colors of fall in the background to

these reminders of the Long Mesa fire in 2002 to

a bee concentrating on a flower.

We arrived at the Spruce House overlook and caught a glimpse of these dwellings that have changed little in 700-800 years.

A short, winding trail took me closer to the dwellings.

I believe the area in front of the buildings in the next two photos is a courtyard. The three-story wall fronts about 20 small rooms used as bedrooms or work areas during inclement weather.

On favorable days, the families lived and worked on the rooftops or in the courtyards, where tasks, such as grinding grain (photo left) took place.

The ladder (shown below) descends about six feet into a kiva.

An open kiva is shown in the next two photos.

In modern Pueblos, groups of men and women form special societies to care for the spiritual needs of the village. These ceremonies, focused on concens from curing illness to ensuring favorable growing weather, take place in the kiva.

When no ceremonies are taking place, the kiva may be used as a work area or a social gathering place.

The hole in the center of the kiva was the firepit. Fresh air was drawn into the kiva from a ventilator shaft and would hit the deflector wall (which is shown between the firepit and the ventilator shaft opening at the floor) and circulate evenly around the kiva. Smoke would rise through the entryway (where the ladder is shown in the second photo above).

Spruce House is the third largest cliff dwelling among several hundred within the park boundaries. It was constructed between A.D. 1200 and 1276 and has about 114 rooms and eight kivas. It is thought to have been home for about 100 people.

The cave's ceiling and most building walls are covered with a heavy layer of soot, believed to be the result of fires burning 24 hours a day during the coldest months of the year.

Although it would seem that the location for the dwellings was selected for defensive purposes given the cliffs above the dwellings and the valley and cliffs opposite the dwellings (second photo below), but no evidence of hostile neighbors or warfare has yet been found.

Was it for protection from the elements? Archaeologists are just not sure, given that the people had lived on the Mesa Verde for well over seven hundred years by the time they began constructing the cliff dwellings.
It was hard to believe these remaining structures were over centuries old.

(Information selected from the booklet Spruce Tree House.)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Mesa Verde's Cliff Palace

On an earlier visit to Durango, CO, for some unknown reason, we had missed seeing Mesa Verde National Park.

Not this year.

Our route to the RV park in Cortez, CO, took us along highway 491 from Gallup, NM, through the Navajo Nation and Ute Mountain Ute tribal lands and past landscape scenes like these in the next three photos below.

The next day, we made the 10-mile drive to Mesa Verde NP. The 15-mile, winding drive from the park entrance to the Visitor Center rises from an elevation of about 6900 feet to over 8500 feet at the road’s highest point.

Another eight miles along Chapin Mesa brought us to Cliff Palace. Taking a step back in time to December 18, 1888…. “Two cowboys, Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law Charlie Mason, were riding across the mesa top looking for stray cattle. At the edge of the pinyon and juniper forest near today’s overlook at Sun Temple, they came upon a vast canyon.
Through the blowing snow they could distinguish something in the cliffs which looked like 'a magnificent city.'
"These ranchers from the Mancos Valley may have been the first white men to see what they called 'Cliff Palace.' After further exploration, they entered the dwelling and made a small collection of artifacts before leaving for the day.
"Over the next 18 years, these same men, as well as various exploring parties and tourist groups, made expeditions into Mesa Verde.
“Many of the early visitors to the Mesa Verde area camped in the dwellings for days or weeks at a time while they were sightseeing or looking for stray cattle. No laws protected the sites at the time, and earlier visitors often removed artifacts or defaced the sites.
"Protection for the dwellings came with the establishment of Mesa Verde in 1906. In 1909, Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution excavated and stabilized Cliff Palace.
“Recent studies reveal that Cliff Palace contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas and had a population of approximately 100 people. Out of the nearly 600 cliff dwellings concentrated within the boundaries of the park, 75% contain only 1-5 rooms each, and many are single room storage units.
"If you visit Cliff Palace you will enter an exceptionally large dwelling which may have had special significance to the original occupants. It is thought that Cliff Palace was a social, administrative site with high ceremonial usage.
“Sandstone, mortar and wooden beams were the three primary construction materials for the cliff dwellings. The Ancestral Puebloans shaped each sandstone block using harder stones collected from nearby river beds. The mortar between the blocks is a mixture of local soil, water and ash.
"Fitted in the mortar are tiny pieces of stone called "chinking." Chinking stones filled the gaps within the mortar and added structural stability to the walls. Over the surface of many walls, the people decorated with earthen plasters of pink, brown, red, yellow, or white -- the first things to erode with time” (

Amazingly, “The village as it appears today dates to the late 13th century” (Kathleen Fiero at

Thursday, September 27, 2012

We Have Arrived in Cortez, CO…

with the objective of visiting Mesa Verde National Park. But first, we are hungry and in need of lunch. Only one problem. It is Monday and a day on which three-quarters of the local restaurants are closed. Those that are open are mostly national fast food chains or Mexican restaurants and neither of us is in the mood for Mexican. So our options are limited. Limited to Jack and Janelle’s, a diner-like place located next door to the RV park.

As described by MJL at “Great little local place for filling homemade food….Came in tired, dirty and hungry from spending the day on Mesa Verde. We were seated right away….The price was right, the service from the wait staff was pleasant and prompt….Very much recommended.”

And Sam Boes, also at, adds: “this is a great place. Jack is a retired big-hotel chef and with his wife, they have a great family place, good prices, good food, a LOT of regulars….If something isn't right, ask and Janelle, or Jack himself, will fix it—whether it is a problem with staff or food or anything else. It IS very informal—family style—but a great place.”

You enter from the back parking lot and pass through a smaller dining room to reach the main dining area. As we opened the doors, we were assaulted by a blast of noise which proved to be a group of at least thirty old people (I know. Chuck and I are also old people.) sitting in the first dining room.
The noise continued throughout their meal. These old folks were having a great time. And when it came time to pay, they had ALL requested separate checks. Jack and Janelle’s will earn a half an Addie for being so accommodating.

We both started with a cup of soup. Chuck’s selection was the cream of potato and, after a few spoonfuls, he announced that it had a strange flavor. I took and taste and thought that this came from an overabundance of celery, which can produce an almost bitter taste. It was also sorely lacking in salt—as was mine. A few shakes of both salt and pepper was a definite improvement.
I chose the green chile soup, which was a puree and resembled pea soup. I give the restaurant credit. There was no attempt to tone down the chile heat, which packed a wallop—especially in the back of the mouth.

Since I wasn’t all that hungry, most of the menu items sounded like too much food. So I ordered the green chile quesadilla with chicken appetizer.
What can I say? It was a quesadilla, one of the world’s most boring food items. There was nothing to complain about. It just wasn’t exciting.

Chuck debated between the meatloaf and the chicken fried steak, the latter served with what the menu described as “real lumpy mashed potatoes.” The steak won out. A Google user described this meal thusly: “…With my life's quest of ‘Finding the perfect Chicken Fried Steak,’ I figured I had a chance here. Although not perfection, the CFS was nicely prepared. A big piece of tenderized meat lightly breaded and cooked properly. The mashed potatoes seemed made seconds before I lit into them. The mixed veggies were good tasting and fresh…”

The chopped steak covered three-quarters of the plate and was beautifully coated and tender and moist under the crunchy crust. If you like mashed potatoes (and I don’t), you would probably love these. They were in fact lumpy. But the white gravy on the steak was pretty tasteless, and the mixed veggies were somewhat cold.

But after consuming that giant plate of food, he still had room for a root beer float. For perhaps the first time in restaurant history, this root beer float contained more ice cream than root beer and at $2.75 was a real bargain.

As I said earlier, Jack and Janelle’s starts with .5 Addies for the separate checks. This was somewhat better than average diner food so earns a composite total of 3.5 Addies.