Mouth by Southwest: Other than the new Saguaro Grill and Cantina and the old Las Brisas (see review), there are only a handful of Southwestern/Tex-Mex eateries in the area that I'm aware of, and most of them aren't even in Denver: The Fort (19192 Route 8 in Morrison), Mesa Grill at the Table Mountain Inn (1310 Wasington Street in Golden), Zolo Grill (2525 Arapahoe in Boulder) and the chain-link Canyon Cafe (2500 East First Avenue in Cherry Creek).
The 37-year-old Fort, owned by food historian Sam Arnold, would be my top pick, not only for the food but for the Old West ambience, and second choice would be Zolo, a Dave Query joint that is less pricey than the Fort and also more casual (and without the great view that Arnold's place offers). A good time to check out the Fort would be May 16, when the replica of Bent's Fort reverts back to the 1830s for its annual Spring Mountain Man Rendezvous. More than a hundred folks don authentic clothing and re-create mountain-man competitions, show furs and cook up foods that haven't been eaten in decades (this year they'll be whipping up some Sioux washtunkala jerky stew). The event, which runs from noon to 5 p.m., is free; you have to shell out only to buy food and beaver plews.
Meanwhile, whip up your own tasty Southwestern fare by making Saguaro's delicious smoked-chicken corn chowder, which has a hefty ingredient list but is fairly easy to make. This is one where things will go quicker if you assemble everything before you start cooking, but you can also make the salsas ahead of time--just don't refrigerate the tomato version or you'll lose crucial flavor. Chipotle paste can be found at a gourmet grocer or your favorite Mexican market; smoked chicken and roasted garlic butter are available at a gourmet grocer as well.
Saguaro's Smoked-Chicken Corn Chowder
3 large onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup cooking oil
3 ripe tomatoes, diced
1/2 cups scallions, chopped
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 pound frozen corn
2 shallots, minced
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/8 cup roasted garlic butter
2 tablespoons chipotle paste
1/2 pound smoked chicken, diced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1/4 cup flour
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1 tablespoon canned diced green chiles
2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped
For tomato salsa: Sweat a third of the onions and half the garlic in 1/8 cup cooking oil in large skillet. Cool and place in mixing bowl. Add tomatoes, half the scallions, balsamic and rice vinegars, 1/8 teaspoon of the salt, coriander, cumin and cilantro. Set aside.
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For creamed-corn salsa: Place corn and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt in a large pot and cover with water. Boil for 6 minutes and strain. Add remaining scallions, shallots, 1/2 cup of cream, roasted garlic butter, half the chiptole paste and the tomato salsa. Mix well and simmer over low heat for thirty minutes. Puree a third of the mixture and stir back in. Cool and set aside.
For soup: Saute remaining onions in remaining oil until translucent. Add chicken, remaining garlic, potatoes, flour and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cover; simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add creamed-corn salsa, remaining cream, cheese, chiles, parsley and remaining chipotle paste. Salt to taste. Serves 4.
Bye-bye: Speaking of great chicken-based soup, we're about to lose the killer one that was offered at The Moondance, at 1626 Market Street. A little more than a month after he closed the doors on Chives American Bistro (1120 East Sixth Avenue), owner Mark Chaffee recently announced that he has to shut down The Moondance as well. "Our lease was up, and the landlord there wanted to double the rent," Chaffee says. "I told them that was crazy, but they insisted--and so out we go."