Dining in the dark and tea-infused dishes are two recent trends in restaurants; on Monday, May 5, I got to experience both at Solera Restaurant and Wine Bar (5410 East Colfax Avenue, 303-388-8429, www.solerarestaurant.com). Chef Christian “Goose” Sorensen created a four-course menu of tea-infused dishes, paired with tea-infused cocktails, served to a group of media entirely in the dark.
First, Tazo coffee and tea education master Christian Duke gave a presentation describing the differences between the types of tea and the difference between a tea and an herbal infusion. He explained that most teas -- including white tea, green tea, black tea and oolong tea -- all come from the same plant, a tea plant comprised of two leaves and a bud. It is after the tea is picked that the differences come into play; for example, a white tea is plucked and dried immediately, while green, black and oolong teas are withered for different amounts of time before being dried, which gives them their distinct flavor profiles. There are also hot brewed drinks commonly called “teas” that are merely herbal infusions; these do not contain the tea plant, but may instead contain hibiscus flower, orange essences, cardamom and other herbs and spices. We sampled a range of Tazo teas (I’m partial to the Vanilla Apricot White, the Organic Chai black tea and the Wild Sweet Orange herbal infusion).
Then came the dinner. I’d never eaten blindfolded before, and -- unfortunately for clumsy eaters like me -- the food was not cut up into tiny pieces before being served. In fact, within five minutes of donning my blindfold, I managed to spill half a pint glass of water down the front of my white shirt. Classy.
Despite my reservations about eating in the dark, the menu was absolutely delicious. Chef Sorensen served up Tazo Honeybush poached pears with butterleaf lettuce, Wisconsin gorgonzola, spicy walnuts and Tazo Vanilla Apricot vinaigrette, which was paired with a Tazo Honeybush kir. Yum. This was followed by the second course, a Tazo Wild Sweet Orange marinated-shrimp dish in a coconut-mango risotto with sweet soy; the drink with this dish was a Tazo Mate tropic vodka mixed with pineapple and soda water.
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After the first two courses, we were allowed a reprieve from the blindfolds; Chef Sorensen came out to discuss his preparations and accidentally let slip that the main entrée would be duck. Oh, well.
The blindfolds came back on and we sampled the third course, a Tazo Chai-brined duck breast served with Tazo Organic Green Tea soba noodles and soy-roasted mushrooms. So, so good. This was paired with a Tazo Chai and ginger rum mixed with ginger beer. Then came the dessert, a bread pudding. I don’t normally like bread pudding, but I actually managed a few bites of this before my pants threatened to burst at the seams. It was a Tazo Sweet Cinammon Spice bread pudding with Tazo Lemon Mate caramel sauce; this was paired with a horchata mixed with Tazo Sweet Cinammon Spice syrup (made in a similar manner to simple syrup, which is a half-sugar, half-water mixture bartenders use in various cocktails).
Although this was a media-only event, the general public can experience the joy of Tazo-infused dishes during the Tazo Taste Infusion, a two-week-long citywide series of culinary events starting on May 12 and continuing through the 25. Along with Sorensen, participating chefs include Michael Long of Opus Restaurant (2575 West Main Street, Littleton, 303-703-6787, www.opusdine.com), Andrea Frizzi of Il Posto (2011 East 17th Avenue, 303-394-0100, www.ilpostodenver.com), Matt Mine of the Oceanaire Seafood Room (1405 Arapahoe Street, 303-991-2277, www.theoceanaire.com) and Charles Sinden of Nine75 (975 Lincoln Street, Suite K, 303-975-0975, www.nine75-restaurant.com). Sorensen says the duck will stay on the menu (try it!). Other offerings will include: Long’s Tazo Lemon Mate dill poached salmon with caviar and goat-cheese gnocchi, Frizzi’s crudo of swordfish in Vanilla Apricot White Tazo tea with peeled tomato, arugula sprouts and cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil; Mine’s poached Alaskan halibut with Tazo Wild Sweet Orange, pickled spring onions, asparagus and pancetta; and Sinden’s Tazo Apple Cinnamon Tea-rubbed pork chop with pineapple-apple sauce.
There will also be an outdoor café sampling event, Al Fresco, on May 7 and 8 at Market Street Station from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and May 9 at Skyline Park from 1 to 3 p.m. For a full list of Tazo Taste Infusion events, visit www.zagat.com/tazo. -- Amber Taufen