Somewhere among the atmospheric realms of cosmic bowling, laser tag and creative haute cuisine, there is Brother Luck Street Eats' Black Light tasting menu in his newly opened Signature Room. It's a small space directly off a dry-storage area at the kitchen's rear; guests are escorted from the front reception area by Luck and ushered in the back door, like secret treehouse-club stowaways.
With Bob Marley, Alice in Wonderland, mushroom and peace-symbol posters under the ultraviolet fluorescent tubes, the high-top community-tabled room's pretty much like someone's '70s-era stoner man-cave, with infinitely better munchies. Seating is limited to eight heads nightly, Fridays and Saturdays ($65; $20 more with wine pairing).
There are even updates on fog-machine funk or pot smoke, with a smoldering garnish on one course and a smoke-filled balloon on another. But I get ahead of myself. I wish to take you through eight courses chronologically, setting the table first with the recent timeline that's taken Chef Luck — your pick this year for Best Local Chef and proprietor of Best Cutting-Edge Restaurant — from the Cheyenne Mountain Resort between '07 and '10 to this glowing gem.
Recall that Luck departed town to lead Benchmark Hospitality properties, then returned in October 2012 to head Craftwood Inn. He then launched Street Eats inside the Triple Nickel Tavern a year later, before moving the business to the west side this past June. Speechifying pre-meal, aglow in his white chef's coat, Luck says that Street Eats launched with the idea of a food truck, before he realized that "I didn't want to be on one — I'm too big. So I thought, 'What if I did that food inside of a bar?' That was the Triple Nickel — punk rock and foie gras."
Ever the experimenter, Luck says we're essentially guinea pigs for his newest effort, trying out a tasting-menu concept on the small scale while also exploring how the sense of sight affects our expectations and perceptions. With the first three weeks sold out in no time (and menus to change monthly), the positive reinforcement has him contemplating a full-time tasting restaurant, sans à la carte service.
Let no one say that Luck's not at the forefront of pushing our culinary boundaries locally, displaying an unmatched, thoroughly eclectic playfulness (including guest-chef Knife Fight nights) that delivers bad-ass flavor profiles. Weird stuff, but good stuff, and often great stuff.
Grand Vin wine rep and evening co-host and collaborator Steve Kander, whose professional path has oft interwoven with Luck's, launches Course the First with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, instructing us to always take a few small sips prior to eating to prep the palate. The wine's citrus characteristic carries the burden of balancing a super salt punch from duck prosciutto; Luck packed the meat in salt for 24 hours prior to a 10-day hanging cure.
In black light, the meat strips look like shaved zucchini. But a torched rosemary sprig, smelling just like sage, pleasantly assaults the olfactory sense, and then you get duck bites softened by ricotta cheese smears and finishing with more citrus from brûléed mandarin orange segments. Duck, duck — juice!
Kander then pours a California Chardonnay called Butternut, as much a star of the next two courses as the food, with malolactic fermentation imparting aromas not just of butter, but of popcorn and butterscotch. Luck's such a fan that he wrote our third course just for this wine; it jibes with the second equally seamlessly.
Apologies for the superlatives, but these two courses in a row are probably the best, most interesting and most exciting I've had anywhere, anytime. I'm reminded of my favorite The Onion headline: "Holy Shit, Man Lands on Fucking Moon."
First, for his foie gras torchon (meaning "dish towel" in French), Luck places the controversial goodie in cheesecloth and poaches it for 90 seconds, then refrigerates and compresses it for two days. "It's a dish I've played with over the years," says Luck. "Our version of a PB&J."
The foie and toasted sourdough are cut into scallop-sized discs under fig jam and powdered peanut butter, with garnishing Pop Rocks crumbles. Nobody I've since told about it thinks that sounds good — faces actually wince. But it's as richly divine as it is odd and meaty, nutty and sweet.
Then comes poached lobster tail, claw and knuckle in a vanilla-strong white chocolate sauce over butternut raviolis with pickled onion, fennel and crumbled pistachio accents. (More sadly ignorant winces.) Again sweet and nutty, but with that acid offset to reinforce the wine; Luck made this at the James Beard House in 2009.
Next I'm reminded of my meal at the noted Ibu Oka in Bali, Indonesia, where I ate various bits from a suckling pig that had been lengthily coconut water-basted over a fire. Similarly, Luck desired to show off different pork textures, highlighting a special animal provided by Mark Henry from Ranch Foods Direct, via Pueblo's Torpedo Farms. Calling pork an "obsession," he gives us chicharrón crunch, then a variety of flesh and fats via ear, belly and jowl. The latter's been braised with mandarin oranges and coffee beans, reduced to an unctuous creaminess on a plate adorned with raspberry purée. Accompanying Garnacha matches with dark fruits and significant tannins to cut the fattiness, while fluffy, Parisian-style gnocchi acts as an oink-fest rest stop.
Suddenly, there's smoke. It's escaping from a pinhole poked through clear tape over balloons filled with wood-scent, delivered to each of us. "My tribute to Balloon Fest," jokes Luck. The aroma sets the stage for a Colorado lamb chop, plated over a chèvre-flecked puddle of sofrito (Spanish sauce of tomatoes, peppers and spices) and polenta, with a garnishing dark chocolate smear. It's more succulent meat with highlighting fat pockets, this time met with an oak-aged Tempranillo to tame the game.
Slow-braised beef cheeks follow over basil risotto, with a porcini mushroom jus, bleu cheese crumbles and baby carrots from Luck's garden. A California Cab lends oak and vanilla.
Dessert time: a "miracle fruit" pill (see "Miracle worker," Nov. 13, 2008) converts our taste buds to perceive sour as sweet, and we eat whole lemon cuts and balsamic vinegar gelled into cubes by agar agar powder. Virgin minds are blown. But still there's a final plating of brûléed lemon tart (á la Marco Pierre White) and rhubarb-pineapple sorbet garnished with chocolate mint. And a limoncello cocktail.
Excess is ours. Luck, Kander and assisting chef Manny Medina take a bow. We scatter into the night, our eyes adjusting to normal light, but likely never to see a prix fixe meal the same again. Bar raised.