Craftwood chef shuffle
After a couple years as executive chef at the Craftwood Inn (404 El Paso Blvd., Manitou Springs, craftwood.com), Ben Hoffer announced his departure last week, citing a creative disagreement relating to the menu's direction.
That was later confirmed by outfit GM E.J. Kelley, who adds that "things are amicable" between him and Hoffer, and that he's sorry to see the young "rock star" chef go. But he's moved quickly to fill the position: Dave Cottrill, former Conscious Table partner and Paragon Culinary School instructor (among many other titles), started as the new head man Feb. 1.
"I'm very excited about this appointment," says Cottrill. "And I have big plans to work with E.J. to raise the bar there and continue satisfying both loyal guests as well as newcomers who wish to dine at what I think is the crown jewel of Manitou Springs."
As for the menu, Kelley says the overall concept will "be very similar to the way it was," featuring signature items that date back to former chefs Jeff Knight (now a wine rep), Chip Johnson (now proprietor of the Warehouse), and beyond. So you can expect popular items like the crab bisque, wild game grill and white chocolate jalapeño mousse. But past that, it'll be "all new Dave Cottrill creations and influences."
Hoffer says that he "will pop up somewhere soon," and that he has "some serious plans to open something for myself here in the Springs within the next year."
After more than 20 years in operation, Jun Japanese Restaurant's location at 1760 Dublin Blvd. (531-9368) is nearing completion of a major renovation. Owner Jun Aizu says he hopes to be open by Feb. 10, adding that the labor and expense of the overhaul is practically "the same as opening a brand new restaurant," considering the demolition involved, the "complete face-lift" and entirely new kitchen equipment.
Why all the fuss, exactly?
Because Aizu's former space wouldn't physically allow the introduction of offerings such as traditional ramen bowls and shabu-shabu (exclusives to the Springs, to the best of our knowledge), which will be available along with the Best Of-winning sushi as soon as the doors reopen.
More on those additions, beginning with the ramen: To be clear, this isn't what you lived on in college. We're talking about the noodle bowls, which Jun plans to sell for about $8 or $9, that have become popular across New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and even Denver.
Aizu explains that his mother, Mieko Wada, formerly ran a ramen house in Japan's Kanto region, and that she's the ramen expert who'll prep the dish for the restaurant here — the real way. Rather than buying an instant, pre-made stock, Wada will make daily stocks, a meticulous process requiring low heat to extract the marrow from bones and the essences from veggies and other inputs.
"It makes a big difference to have house-made broth," says Aizu. "It's about that mouth feel."
Next, Aizu says, they'll either make their own wheat noodles or purchase some fresh from a speciality California outfit. Again, it's all about an ideal texture, though he may break form to offer a basic glass noodle option for the gluten-free crowd.
Now to the shabu-shabu, which Aizu describes as "Japanese fondue." The renovation will allow for three special cooking stations in the dining room (with reservations strongly recommended).
The final touches are still in the works, including a decision on price — Aizu guesses it may hit about $25 to $35 per person — but he tentatively plans to offer two broth styles and three dips. So just like at Mona Lisa or the Melting Pot, guests would boil their own meats such as ribeye or filet, and seafood items like shrimp or lobster tails in the broths. One might be a dashi-based fish broth with Ponzu sauce and grated daikon; the other, a miso base. They'd then add flavor through the dips, one likely a spicy offering and another a garlic sauce of sorts.
To be painfully clear for literal types, this type of fondue wouldn't include cheese or chocolate courses.
À la carte
• Look for the opening sometime later this month of Great Wall Seafood Buffet, Mongolian Grill & Sushi (5760 N. Academy Blvd., 548-0334). Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., in the former home of Empire Asian Buffet, the outfit will serve all-you-can-eat Chinese, Japanese and American items for $6.99 at lunch and $11.99 at dinner, according to a staff member.
• The recently opened Jackie's Parkside at 311 S. Hancock Ave., turned into Fat Daddy's Café and Ice Cream (434-2201) when it came under new ownership last week. A gentleman who goes by "Big Daddy Bruce" says he's kept the simple breakfast items, but added his own "home cookin'" of burgers, catfish, barbecue and the like.
• As we reported back in October, the Springs recently got its first craft distillery in the form of Distillery 291 (291coloradowhiskey.com). For a chance to sample its wares, including the 291 Fresh Colorado Whiskey and the White Dog rye, along with Boulder-based Rob's Mountain Gin, attend a Distillery 291 Dinner at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Blue Star (1645 S. Tejon St., 632-1086). Seats are $65 plus tax/tip for five spirit-paired courses.
• Estela's Mexican Restaurant (925 S. Eighth St., 575-0244) recently added a margarita bar featuring 33 tequilas plus an array of mixers such as Blue Curacao, with fresh-squeezed juices and agave in the place of simple syrup.