Recipe for success: And I thought no one was paying attention. So many readers have called to ask what happened to the recipes that I'm putting them back in -- although they won't run every week. Instead, you'll find a recipe in Mouthing Off whenever I find a particularly good, home-cook-friendly dish, such as the lemon custard tart from this week's review spot, The Painted Bench.
Chef Steve Rohs says he sometimes uses phyllo pastry in a pinch, but if you don't feel like making one from scratch, any pastry sheets -- even the frozen puff ones from the freezer section of the grocery store -- will work with this recipe. If you do use fresh dough, the instructions are the same.
The Painted Bench's Lemon Custard Tarts
Juice of 10 lemons
Zest of 5 lemons, minced
7 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 3/4 sticks butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray. Slice pastry sheets into 12 equal squares (or as close to squares as possible). Press into muffin tin. Combine lemon juice, zest and both sugars in a blender and mix on low speed until ingredients are well-incorporated. Add eggs one at a time, pulsing in between, then slowly drizzle in the melted butter. Ladle mixture into muffin cups one at a time, pulsing the blender between ladling to ensure that zest doesn't settle on the bottom. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until custard sets. Makes 12 tarts.
Getting in on the ground floor: Starting a restaurant isn't always as rough as the Rohs brothers found it. When he decided to open his own place, maitre d' and general manager extraordinaire Veejay Mehra, who'd worked with The Imperial's Johnny Hsu off and on for eleven years (Mehra also once whipped the staff at Cliff Young's into shape), opted not to renovate an old restaurant space. "I built the building from the ground up," Mehra says, "so I could go in there and decorate it however I wanted without having to take anything apart." And he already knew how he wanted his Hunter's Restaurant, at 600 South Airport Road in Longmont, to look. "My brother has seven Hunter's Restaurants in the Washington, D.C., and Maryland area," he explains, "and so I went with a concept that I already knew from the inside out, too."
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The restaurant, which opened last December, consists of an English-style pub on one side and a dining room and two private rooms on the other. Mehra says he's offering "classic American food" with an emphasis on steaks and pastas; it's cooked by two longtime Denver chefs, Lee Rawlings, from McCormick's Fish House and Modena, and LeAnn Whelpdale, who most recently worked for the Wynkoop Brewing Company and Boulder's Zolo Grill. Mehra himself runs the front of the house and takes care of the wines. "I'm running the show every day," he says. "I guess I got tired of working for Johnny, which happens in this business, but at least then, when we were slow, I could say, 'Oh, that's too bad, but it's Johnny's problem.' But now it's very much my problem."
Jeff Richards knows all too well the hassles of running a place of one's own; he recently sold his interest in the Old Stone Church, at 210 Third Street in Castle Rock. "I kept the building and the property," Richards explains. "But I just felt like I'd done what I wanted to accomplish, and I really wanted to take some time off to be with my family." So almost eight years to the day that he opened the popular eatery, Richards handed the keys to Charles "Chuck" Campbell, a front-of-the-house guy from California Cafe and Barolo Grill. Although Campbell has kept some of the staff, he's also changed the menu and raised some prices, and I'm hearing a bit of grumbling from Old Stone Church regulars about portion size and slow service.
Quite a few of those regulars have asked where Richards is headed next. "Well, I bought some land in Larkspur, and I'm thinking about building a house there," Richards says. "And, you know, there aren't any restaurants around there, so I'm thinking about opening one. But first I've committed to cooking for the Jar Creek Ranch Brewpub, a three-year-old brewery in Sedalia that's looking to open a restaurant in Castle Rock sometime in February or March."
Specifically, they're looking to put that brewpub in the empty lot across from the Bagel Stop in Castle Rock, in a space that doesn't yet have an address. "We'll have an operating brewery, with bottling lines and all, on the lower level, and then the eatery, which will have a ranch theme and be very geared toward kids and families, will be upstairs," says Richards. "I've promised them that I'll work for them for at least a year, and then if it doesn't work out, well, then I'm headed to Larkspur." -- Wagner