Sunday, May 5, 2013

Here Piggy, Piggy, Piggy at Old Major - Denver, CO

Old Major, dedicated to all things swine. I was so excited for this restaurant to open; so excited I emailed them from Madrid asking about their anticipated mid-February opening date. Their now fired manager, Jonathan Greschler, promptly emailed me back saying they would open February 15. The date was pushed back and, amidst the chaos of my quick Denver return, I lost track of Old Major.
Fortunately, a friend didn't lose track, scoring an invitation to Old Major's soft opening. She teased with pictures of their pan seared foie gras with Leopold Bros apple whiskey pie, their 24 oz ribeye, and recollecting the Williams & Graham co-owner going crazy for the maple bacon creme caramel. Upon this Denver return, I got 3 friends together for an Old Major food adventure.
Our foursome was tucked at a corner table with an outside view and hostess stand shot. Upon entering, I was immediately drawn to the wood paneling, chairs and seats; speaker lines; and the jean, vest, and tie uniform. It felt rustic and laidback without slacking off.

We sat down and began scanning the menu. The waitress came over and offered us still or sparkling water. We all chose sparkling. It was a gentle carbonation, a mild bubbling. Their menus were encased in brown leather. I jokingly thought "they really do use the entire pig".

A drink menu hadn't arrived yet, so we asked for that. Their drink menu comes in a tablet. Slick. I hadn't seen that before, but wondered if it gets cumbersome if diners want new second drinks at their full table. We scanned it and my friend chose the Captain Tootsie.
More like Captain Disappointment. The description held so much promise, but like this cocktail's Scotch presence, the promise was fleeting. My friend was immediately disappointed with the petite glass. Too small for a $12 cocktail? Perhaps. I tasted it and immediately found it too sweet. This cocktail would be better placed on a dessert menu. I had hoped it would be Scotch forward, but the sweetness overwhelmed the cocktail, relegating the Scotch to the background. A dainty cocktail in a dainty glass.
After we placed our orders, we were served two chopping boards with Old Major's twisted pretzels with light mustard butter. They were delicious and glutinous, perfect for tearing apart. I especially enjoyed the light mustard kick the butter gave. It was a great respite from what felt like a service lapse between the drink and food orders.
We ordered two small plates and two main entrees. The smoked fish plate was first to arrive with smoked trout, salmon pastrami, and mustard smoked mussels with pickled vegetables and grilled bread. We took a moment to visually enjoy this colorful plate and think how to divide this among four people. 2 trout, 3 salmon, 5 mussels makes for difficult math. My favorites were the salmon pastrami (the spice, yet salmon taste) and the smoked mussels. Those were a delight and a favorite of my friends too.
We were also splitting our attention with the Colorado Pork Butter plate with pork pâté, pickled vegetables, grilled bread, mustard, and apricot jam. I enjoyed the pork pâté texture, but found it imparted little flavor. I took a cue from a friend, spreading a thin layer of spicy mustard on the grilled bread, then the pork pâté. That was the ideal marriage. The spicy mustard was so strong, but the pork pâté mellowed it. I also successfully tried this with the pickled vegetables. Of the pickled veggies, the beets were my favorite. Pinkish color, great veins.
How do I explain the affect the Dry Aged 24oz Bone-In Ribeye had? Someone may have been crying over the beautiful foie gras butter. Someone may have been giving half-lidded bedroom eyes after a few bites. The meat was savory, rich, and filling. The demi-glace poured medium thick and mixed well with the foie gras butter. The Crater Lake bleu cheese had a lower salt content than other blue cheese, so I enjoyed it more than other blue cheeses. The meat was gorgeous, resplendent in its age (21 days).
It's equal was the full body Nose to Tail Plate with confit rib, pork chop, crispy belly, city ham, crispy pig ears, guanciale vinaigrette, rhubarb jus. I asked our waitress if there would be guanciale and she mentioned we might get lucky. We did. Topping this dish amidst the pig ears were two small crispy guanciale pieces. I've been hooked ever since I discovered guanciale, pig jowl or cheek bacon, at a Kansas City butcher. I quickly directed my friends' attention there, excitedly saying "magical Roman bacon!". They were pleased and amazed. This dish may have been the night's winner. So many flavors and textures. The crispy belly was out of this world, the ham was great (3 cheers for non dyed ham!), etc etc.

Juan, one of the co-owners, stopped by our table during this time. We discovered they raise two pig varieties at their own farm and slaughter 5,000 lbs of meat every two weeks. We discovered that Wednesdays are a great time to watch butchery in the kitchen area, especially if you sit at three particular tables (want the table numbers? I have them). I really appreciate their dedication to farm to table and involving their guests in the experience.

Overall, I had a great time at Old Major. I certainly want to return to experience the butchering and learn more about it. For splitting plates, I definitely recommend sharing the main entrees rather than the small plates. You might find other small plate winners, though. And regarding drinks.... well, Williams & Graham is next door.

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