- (from left) David Torres-Rouff, Aaron Retka, and their guide, La Btes Nugent, looking for their supper.
Keeping the lid on this unique new eatery has been a challenge. Under a veil of silence, we've enjoyed monthly adventures in culinary excellence, along with a few hundred other carefully screened diners. At last, however, we have the great pleasure of unburdening ourselves by sharing a jewel that, until now, has been shrouded in secrecy.
Without further ado, we proudly present La Bte. Nestled into an obscure crevice in the mountains above Colorado Springs, La Bte welcomes diners into a spacious, open room with exposed redwood beams, white tablecloths and heavy draperies. Flooding in through floor-to-ceiling windows, light sparkles on the sterling silver service and leaded crystal stemware, reflecting a cornucopia of multicolored prisms onto the walls.
All of this sets an appropriately dramatic stage for the gastronomic stylings of Chef Inma (short for Inmaculada) Jinado. A native of Barcelona, Jinado trained at Le Cordon Bleu and apprenticed in Los Angeles, Tokyo and Marrakech before returning to her native Spain. There she spent five years at El Bulli, learning at the elbow of Chef Ferran Adria, considered by many to be the best chef in the world. Jinado decided to open her own shop in the United States a little over a year ago; she chose Colorado Springs for the fresh mountain air and its bounty of wild game, which dominates her offerings.
Jinado is scarcely less avant-garde than her well-known mentor, whose 30-and-more-course meals redraw culinary boundaries. Jinado's training and her rather expansive definition of wild game often challenge her patrons.
Some dishes are easily accepted, such as a plate of spit-roasted, small game birds set in a nest of pine needles. Jinado's playfulness shines through when you discover each little bird resting atop its own soft-boiled egg.
Others, such as her opossum tapas trio, require a suspension of disbelief. Attractively presented on an elongated glass brick, one end supports the tail, cut into chunks and fried crispy and served with a saffron aioli. Anchoring the other side is a Moroccan spice-crusted loin, seared and thinly sliced, and laid over a small mound of micro greens. Possum cheeks braised in their own juices take center stage, with each of four little mouthfuls sitting atop bone crackers.
La Bte is most renowned for its game dishes, however, and this is where Jinado's genius shines. An avid hunter herself, she has stocked La Bte's 80-acre preserve with a plethora of game animals. For a fee you can gain access to the restaurant's sizeable gun cabinet and to the grounds, where elk, mule deer, wild turkeys, rabbits and fowl abound. Most patrons don't take advantage of this option, Jinado told us, but our last visit brought out the Hemingway in us.
With Nugent, the chef de cuisine, as our guide, we piled into the restaurant's four-wheel drive and ventured onto the grounds. Once safely beyond rifle range from the restaurant, we ventured to where the elk graze at that time of night. Our poor aim, aided by the bottle of Prosecco we'd shared earlier over tapas, resulted in nothing more than a minor stampede and some scuffed knees.
We were then taken to a little cottonwood stand where La Bte's turkeys congregate. Better luck prevailed here and we managed to drop a huge, gnarled old tom despite the falling darkness. Luckily, field dressing is not one of La Bte's requisites and Nugent had the necessary skills and a very sharp knife.
Because it was completely dark by this time, we opted to return to see what Jinado would make of our evening's kill. Good fortune intervened on the way, in the form of a jackrabbit under our Range Rover's tires. Also lucky was the presence of a shower back at the restaurant, as the Nuge had been less than tidy with his evisceration.
Once spatter-free, we sat down to a tiny salad of field greens, jicama and Colorado chvre, misted lightly with warm peach vinaigrette mounted with rabbit's blood. Applewood-roasted pinyon provided a delightful smoky note.
Next up were cold roulades of wild turkey, each rolled lovingly with a mousse of the bird's own liver, and a honeyed mascarpone, dribbled with a chilled muscat glac. The turkey was chewy, owing to all the buckshot, but the pt was a treasure: whipped with dill and crumbles of morel, it clearly stood out.
For our main course, Jinado offered pancetta-barded saddle of rabbit, roasted and then arranged around a single deep-fried rabbit ear stuffed with orzo and grilled asparagus. She'd thoughtfully removed the bones broken by the Range Rover and used the marrow for the sauce, a sorbet of pink peppercorn poivrade added tableside that quickly melted over the steaming meat.
An unfortunate gunshot injury forced the restaurant to close early that evening, robbing us of our chance at dessert. It's a shame; Jinado's sweet mole tamales are legendary.
-- Aaron Retka and David Torres-Rouff
401 Utopia Ave. Green Mountain Falls