Friday, January 8, 2010


What better way to kick off the New Year than to step away from the ordinary and try a new restaurant on for size?

Even though it was a frigid 21 degrees outside (which, thanks to the 17 miles per hour winds, felt more like a paltry 8 degrees), my husband and I braved the elements, put our game faces on and ventured out into the cold arctic-like blast for a well-deserved and long-awaited meal—the first such dinner out in about four weeks.

There were many restaurants to choose from, but our final destination was Telluride. Telluride wasn't new on the restaurant scene, but it was new to us and offers a contemporary and eclectic blend of chef-inspired foods with a distinctive Southwestern feel.

I try not to read any previous reviews of a restaurant that I plan to visit because I don't want my dining experience to be skewed or biased by someone else's opinion. After all, you know what they say about opinions: Everybody has one . . . including yours truly. Telluride was no exception. I chose not to read all of the accolades being bestowed upon this restaurant nor did I read about the numerous awards that it has received. Still, I won't let any of that color my perception of Telluride but, rather, let the food speak for itself. Suffice it to say, my experience is based on, well, my experience.

But OH . . . what an experience!

Telluride is one of those venerable places that you step inside of and almost from the microsecond that your eyes, ears and nose take in the sights, sounds and smells, you know in your heart of hearts you've discovered something very good indeed. The restaurant had a decidedly rustic feel with heavy wooden tables, sturdy yet comfortable chairs, and hints of the Southwest throughout. Telluride was an acoustics dream; even though nearly every table in the restaurant was occupied with jabbering patrons, I didn't feel the need to shout to be heard, and could hear every word uttered by my husband with no problem.

Maarten and I were shown to a table in the corner of the room, which was a blessing to us because it was the table farthest away from the front door and neither the 21 degree temperatures outside nor the bone chilling wind gusts would have been a welcome addition to our dining experience.

I had barely extracted myself from my requisite winter polar bear gear—winter coat, gloves, scarf and hat—before a waiter whooshed over and placed a basket of olive bread and a small stone molcajete on the table, all before my rear end even hit the chair. The molcajete was filled with an ahi dipping sauce made from peppers, jalapeno skins, garlic, rosemary, cilantro, olive oil and black pepper. Maarten gushed over the ahi like it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Unlike my husband, however, I maintained an air of dignified composure; it was good, but I probably would not walk barefoot across flaming hot stones in the desert while juggling Ginzu knives for a mere taste of it. But still, it was good.

When the waiter came back to the table to offer us leather bound menus, my upper lip curled into a vicious snarl. It was one of those menus—you know the type—so damned much to read that you feel like you should be curled up in front of a roaring fireplace with a glass of wine, jazz music playing in the background, and a big furry dog lying on the hearth. Norman Rockwell imagery is so passé. I sighed heavily and resolved to read The Book.

My snarl soon morphed into a smile, albeit one of uncertainty. Practically everything on the menu made me drool. Even the dishes with mushroom, pork, shrimp, oysters and beef—none of which I would eat on any given Sunday. This made The Book even more disturbing to me because it was proof positive that I would have to actually concentrate hard and pay close attention to make a decision. Who wants to think when they go out to dinner?!?

Along with The Book came a double-sided sheet of paper containing "Telluride's Dinner Specials for January 8th", as well as a partial list of beers and the wines by the glass, all of which are seven ounces poured in crystal glasses. A pretty snazzy way to get your buzz on . . . if that's how you roll.

I fell head first into a quandary when I thumbed past page three of The Book to the wine selections. Did I mention that Telluride offers 312 different wines, 30 of which are by the glass? All of this alone comprised a whopping 15 pages in The Book. At Telluride, they take their wine seriously, even going so far as to offer wine pairings with each dish (a "Dependable Pairing" and a "Daring Pairing", apparently for those who want to live dangerously and take a walk on the wild side with their wine pairing).

I needed help.

Stymied, I looked up at the waiter with saucer eyes and asked "Is there a sommelier on staff?" He chuckled lightly, then, as if to redeem himself and regain his composure, replied with a straight face, "No, but I can help you with your wine selection." I put my trust in him. Being a lover of a good glass of Riesling, I wanted something similar, but not a Viognier or a Gewurztraminer (even though these topped my list of favorites). He steered me in the direction of, well, another Riesling. Sigh . . . heavy, heavy sigh. After sampling the Flying Fish, a 2007 vintage from Washington State, I figured why fight the feeling. "I'll have a glass of this," I announced in happy defeat.

One major decision down . . . two more to go.

The "Little Foods" (or, in other people's world, appetizers)—although not very many in number—offered an appealing variety of choices from The Book. The Lobster, Brie & Mango Wontons were making an impressive bid for my attentions, the Chili & Cumin Dusted Calamari was enticingly calling my name, and I was thisclose to ordering the Telluride's Crab Cakes, but it was the Braised Free Range Chicken Dumplings that finally won me over. Maarten mulled over the Organic Cauliflower Soup, but changed his mind at the last minute to the Curry Ginger Free Range Chicken Skewer from the "Specials" menu.

For my entrée, I tossed a few ideas around in my head and immediately got a brain tumor. This would not have been so difficult had they not tempted me so . . .

There was Pizza, entrées From The Sea, From Field and Stream, and From The Range (and lest I forget, Greens & Things). Of the twenty-nine or so choices, I finally came to a decision of sorts: either the Pan Roasted Chilean Sea Bass with lobster-saffron risotto, baby peas, cippolinni onions, grape tomatoes and basil from the "Specials" menu, or the Lobster & Maryland Blue Crab Ravioli with a sweet leek cream sauce and a meatless lobster Bolognese sauce. I chose the latter.  I couldn't wait to dig into this meal.

One really impressive item of note about Telluride, and they tell you this up front (it's printed on the menu): All of their food is prepared from scratch. That means no micro-zapped concoctions, boil-in-a-bag monstrosities, or dishes cooked days ago and left to congeal under a heat lamp. And as I would soon discover, everything tasted as good as it looked.

I felt like I couldn't make a bad selection, but when the appetizers hit the table, I somehow knew I was right. The traditional school of thought is that we eat with our eyes. Not one to disappoint, my big eyes were devouring my plate before the first bite went into my mouth. Presentation of a dish is almost as important as the actual taste, and Telluride went to great lengths to prove the validity in this way of thinking. The chicken dumplings were artfully presented and the most unique I had ever seen.  The dumplings were crispy and flaky, not doughy as one would expect when "dumpling" is mentioned, and the spices and chicken-filled pastry formed tiny swirled orbs of tantalizing flavor. These sat on top of a creamy herb ricotta blend and were anchored by a red chimmichurry sauce. I had to force myself to chew slowly, methodically, purposefully—all in an effort to prolong and savor the flavor.

While I gradually worked my way through my chicken dumplings appetizer, Maarten tore into his with purposeful intent. The three curry ginger chicken skewers were also nicely arranged and worthy of a photo op. The skewers were served with a purple potato croquette that was crispy on the outside with a delicate inner core that struck just the right balance—not too mushy or spongy, yet not overburdened with a crumbly, breaded taste and texture. The naked chicken—sans any sauce and devoured right off the skewer—was good enough to stand on its own. However, swirled in the accompanying peanut soy vinaigrette, the delicious ginger-infused dish took on a whole new flavor palate.

Telluride was quickly establishing itself in my mind as a restaurant that knows what good food is all about—the look, the aroma, the flavor—and thus far, they’ve captured it all. But there was still more to come. If the starters were any indication, we were in for a real treat with our mains.

It feels so good to be right.

By the time my Lobster & Maryland Blue Crab Ravioli arrived along with Maarten's Parisian Pizza, I could scarcely contain my excitement, and with good reason. The ravioli was a burst of colors nestled on a plate. The striped ravioli contained the lobster filling, while the plain (although it was anything but plain) ravioli held the Maryland blue crab. Both types of ravioli were, in a word, impeccable. For my taste buds, there is always an overriding fear that any seafood dish is going to taste fishy, like the bottom of the ocean, or rank. This, of course, is a sign of poorly prepared seafood. Telluride didn't have this problem at all. The lobster ravioli had a refreshingly sweet and succulent flavor and was cooked to perfection—not the least bit chewy, which would be indicative of overcooking. As the perfect companion, the crab ravioli had a salty-sweet taste that required little, if any, adornment other than the naturally luscious flavor of the crustacean.  The sweet leek cream sauce was very subtle and didn't overpower the ravioli, while the meatless Bolognese sauce was sweet and added just the right compliment to the dish without stealing any of the glory.

The Parisian Pizza was a bit surprising as it was free range grilled chicken with scallions, mango chutney, and mozzarella and brie cheeses. The real bolt from the blue, however, was the addition of apples (which I believe may have been Granny Smith apples or possibly Golden Delicious apples) on the pizza. Strange combination, it's true, yet somehow it coexisted splendidly with its neighboring ingredients to form an amazingly delicious thin crust pizza.

After all was said and done, there was, sadly, no room for dessert. It should be noted, however, that the dessert menu—small but respectable—contained more than a few appetizing sweets (Banana-Misu, Chocolate English Toffee Bread Pudding, and Macadamia Crusted Key Lime Pie, to name but a few). And if that weren't nearly enough, the Drink menu provided that extra "umph" needed to push the tummy over the edge. Cocktails included Hazelnut-tini, Rootbeer-tini, Kama Sutra and Caribbean Sombrero. There was also an extensive selection or ports, tequila, cognac, whiskey, scotch, bourbon, rum, gin and single malt scotch! Can you say "Phew"?!?

To say that Telluride serves comfort food would be a gross understatement because it is so much more than that. Yes, it is great food served in a comfortable atmosphere, yet you don't feel like you're sitting at your grandmother's dining room table trying to dodge the inevitable pinch on the cheek. You will, however, feel like shaking the chef's hand for filling that empty void in your stomach that's been waiting for just such a meal.

Would I recommend Telluride? I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a recommendation for Telluride. The food is excellent and will likely leave you wanting more.

Is Telluride a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? This is the tough part: Telluride is not cheap. If you’re anything like me and my husband, a good dinner out consists of appetizers, the main course, and perhaps a cocktail or two. This would have set us back $100; however, my fine-tuned powers of persuasion (a/k/a a thrifty girl’s best friend – a coupon) knocked $25 off the bill. For a special occasion, every once in a while, this is a fantastic place to blow a nice portion of your paycheck guilt-free, but it probably isn’t the most economical place for everyday dining. Having said that, I’d still love to go back for round two!

What about atmosphere and ambience? To be in Telluride means to be surrounded by comfort. Although the food was expertly prepared and the service admirable, the restaurant didn’t have that “big time” snobby feel that so many places like to masquerade as. Conversations weren’t stilted by the blare of music or the noisy din of other diners, which gives a nod of appreciation to the great acoustics.

245 Bedford Street, Stamford, CT 06901  (203) 357-7679

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