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Decadence by Degrees

Local food events will raise funds, blood cholesterol and erotic pulses



Tis the season to be decadent. Why celebrate Valentine's Day if not to indulge? This was the one day in elementary school, after all, when candy and chocolates ruled the day.

And if we lived somewhere along the Gulf Coast right now, we'd be partying hardy for Mardi Gras, the annual blowout preceding the beginning of Lent when otherwise perfectly normal people lose their minds and drunkenly take to the streets.

But living here in Colorado's monotonous cold as we do, let's fortify ourselves for the last run of winter by chowing down at one of this week's upcoming food celebrations -- one commemorating Mardi Gras, one hailing Valentine's Day, and one to raise money for a worthy local cultural institution.

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, Chef Jason Gust at the Ritz Grill pulls out all the stops for the Ritz's annual Fat Tuesday feast. The lunch menu will feature special chicken and sausage gumbo, crawdaddy bisque and oysters. And come 5 p.m., Gust and his crew will roll out 100 pounds of boiled crawfish, flown up from Louisiana for the celebration. You can opt for boiled crawfish and shrimp with corn and potatoes, or a full Cajun dinner menu featuring smothered pork chops, a New Orleansstyle strip steak or fried catfish over rice served with crawfish touffe. On Fat Tuesday, The Ritz will also offer their excellent Po-boy sandwiches, classic New Orleans style, stuffed with your choice of shrimp, crawfish, oysters or catfish, all fried and crunchy. Aieeeeeeeeee!

On Thursday, Feb. 14, impress your favorite squeeze with "Intercourses," Chef John Broening's five-course erotic tasting menu at Primitivo. Each course will be matched with an accompanying wine, beginning with a sip of sparkly Spanish Gramona Cava Brut. The first course is a seafood-tasting of oysters on the half shell with mignonette, house-smoked salmon on potato cake with caviar, and tuna tartare served with a chick pea crisp. Asparagus with sauce Bearnaise is the second course, followed by the main course of grilled Niman Ranch steak with wild mushrooms and potato croquettes. Artisanal cheeses with homemade bread and crackers follow and the tasting menu is topped off by Broening's signature Chocolate Fantasia and a glass of 1995 Dow's LBV Port. Primitivo's regular a la carte menu will be available as well. Broening, who swears off romantic love in his essay in this month's Primitivo newsletter (read it at, is nonetheless a power player when it comes to the game of food, even on Valentine's Day.

Sunday, Feb. 17, brings one of the city's favorite food fests, the 17th annual Chefs' Gala, a competition of local chefs in the categories of appetizers, entrees and desserts, raising funds for the Colorado Springs Chorale, now in its 45th year.

A closely held panel of "culinary experts" will do the judging but guests can participate by choosing their favorite dish, which will be presented with the "People's Choice" award.

Eighteen local restaurants are scheduled to compete in this year's event and several chefs were willing to give us a sneak preview of what they plan to serve at the gala. The Cliff House's Jordan Wagman plans to wow the crowd with a trio of duck, including a classic duck confit, a smoked duck and truffle flan, and handmade duck sausage with candied walnuts. The sausage, he says, will be composed of de-fatted duck breast, foie gras, fresh herbs, shallots and garlic rolled in duck skin then braised in duck fat -- a real "low fat" dish, he jokes.

Sencha's Chef Brent Beavers plans to serve a Colorado buffalo tenderloin with a savory Gorgonzola and portabella bread pudding. On the side, he'll offer steamed veggies served in potato and cucumber rings, and for dessert he'll pull out all the stops, offering Thai-style Forbidden Rice Pudding served in sugar saucers with a garnish of red banana. Beavers says he and the Sencha staff are working on creating edible utensils, but we'll have to wait until the night of the event to see if they can pull it off.

Chef Lawrence "Chip" Johnson of the Briarhurst Manor held his cards little closer the chest, offering to reveal only one dish: cashew crab with strawberry-horseradish sauce. After much prodding, he admitted it will have the general appearance of a crab cake and will be sauted, and that a wasabi honey sauce as well as a balsamic glaze will also be involved. Whew -- bring on the breath mints.

It's all pure decadence, sure to clog the arteries and slow the circulation to a deadly, muddy crawl. But look at it this way -- we've got at least two or three more months to work it off in the gym before shorts season hits.

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