A restaurant's second menu might be even more important than its first. A kitchen team needs time to jell together and smooth out the rough edges before hitting its stride after opening night, but a new seasonal menu that launches several months afterward must impress paying customers immediately. At The Bindery, which opened at 1817 Central Street last October, chef/owner Linda Hampsten Fox has been brainstorming and recipe testing to perfect her new spring menu, which just launched last weekend.
The chef continues to draw from her time spent living and working in Italy as well as from her family's Polish heritage (which shows up in a brunch omelet called We're Going Polish!, made with kielbasa and lemon-poppyseed goat cheese). For the dinner menu, Fox started with a list of inspirations that reads almost like a poet's first draft:
rain, wind, moss, grass, wet meadows, warm sunlight, blue skies, elation
buds, blossoms: scent of elderflower, mimosa flowers, hyacinths, lilacs, honeysuckles
the new earth smell of dirt, wild onions, morels, wild asparagus
birth, birds, nests, chicks, baby lambs, eggs, eggs and more eggs
first spring honey, spring butter, spring berries
changing ocean tides and temperatures, alpine melt, cold streams, clean water, white
After that, she added a long inventory of ingredients she knew she wanted on the menu: snails, rhubarb, stinging nettle, parsley root and foraged mushrooms, to name just a few. The resulting roster springboards from the original fall/winter menu with a few familiar dishes dressed in new spring attire, plus new creations that capture the vibrant colors of the season.
Carried over from the opening menu is charred octopus in aguachile, a spicy, tangy Mexican preparation usually made with lime juice and chiles that Fox serves "negro" with the addition of charred tortilla. For springtime, the dish gets an addition of shishito peppers and chickpeas. Also returning is rabbit, but this time smoked and served in a single-serving pie with candied pecans and a spoonful of mustard gelato.
Nettles foraged in Oregon are puréed with potatoes into an emerald-green soup with a tight coil of roasted porchetta serving as a meaty foil to the bitter herb (don't worry, cooking nettles eliminates the sting). Another foraged ingredient, tiny beech mushrooms, are smoked and marinated in a jar alongside housemade crackers. (You're likely to notice the Bindery's extensive baking program when you walk past the bakery counter on the way to the dining room.)
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Although Fox utilizes local meat and produce wherever possible, she also insists on the right ingredients for traditional dishes. So the burrata on a shared plate named La Dama Bianca is made with buffalo milk from Campania, Italy, where mozzarella di bufala has been made for centuries. The gleaming white cheese is paired with pale shavings of fennel, celery and white asparagus.
Proteins on larger entrees are given special attention, too. Lamb chops are soaked in an Earl Grey tea brine, while a sizable tomahawk pork chop is brined in the leftover whey from the burrata; Fox says Italians are fond of using milk to help tenderize meat before cooking. For her New York strip steak, she makes a black-pepper butter by first creating a confit black-pepper oil. The salt-and-pepper theme of the dish is completed with salt-crusted new potatoes.
Because of her experiences working as a chef in Italy, France and Mexico, Fox's food doesn't fit into easy categories. She calls it "hybrid" cuisine, borrowing techniques from influences as diverse as Jewish restaurants in Rome, Spanish tapas bars, Mexican beachfront seafood shacks and Colorado's small-farm bounty.
You can sample the Bindery's spring-dinner menu Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. and Sunday until 9 p.m. The new brunch menu is served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Call 303-993-2364 or visit the Bindery's website for details and reservations.