We celebrated New Year’s Eve in the tiny Southwestern Colorado town of Mancos, located thirty minutes west of Durango. A population of approximately 1,336, they are the ‘Gateway to Mesa Verde,’ and home to an extraordinarily imaginative, upscale restaurant called Olio. With only ten tables, by reservation only. The dining room was so intimate, I felt it would be best to put my camera down and pick up my sketchbook. This is the first post I’ve done with drawings instead of photos…..I hope you like it.
We were the first to arrive for the 5:30 seating. (The second was 8:00.) Within a short time, the tables were filled with people ready to celebrate. The menu was a special selection for the evening by Chef Jason Blankenship, who trained in Dallas, worked as a chef at Kennebec Cafe in Durango, and now owns Olio where he reinvents his menu so often that there’s no guarantee any dish will still be there in two weeks.
My first course — Grappa Cured Colorado Striped Bass on Roasted Potato and Artichoke Salad.
Each sliver of the bass had a buttery texture, and clean delicate taste. With earthy bites of purple potato, artichoke and mild mustard dressing.
I took my time drawing this first course, and it wasn’t easy. I really wanted to dive into that plate…..
My sweetheart is very supportive about the photographing and delaying of the diving into our food where ever we go. But I recognize it’s a lot to ask of someone to push a dish like this aside — tender elk without the slightest gamey flavor — for a sketch. So I started to draw a bit faster as the night progressed….
Potato Leek Soup with Smoked Trout and Trout Caviar.
Thick and smooth without heavy cream. And seasoned in such a way that it wasn’t salty or peppery, so the mini bursts of salty trout caviar on my tongue really stood out, and were fun to anticipate.
It was around this time that we began looking around the room more closely, with viga beam ceiling and kiva fireplace in the corner. Our table was right next to a display of our friend Nick Blaisdell’s pottery. Meant to be.
Olio is about Food, Wine and Art……..all of the walls and adobe shelving display original works by regional artists.
Here we have Mr.D’s dish, paused in mid-gratification for the sake of art — Salad Greens with Colorado Riesling Poached Pears, Black Walnuts & Gorgonzola Dolce.
Those pears……divinely perfumed. We passed our plates back and forth to exchange tastes of my savory soup and his light sweet salad with bits of pungent cheese. (The large waffle supporting the salad was actually my attempt to capture the square plate with small tiled design.)
Two-minute sketch of — White Sturgeon on Sauteed Leeks & Morels with Saffron Butter.
A generous portion of clean fish steak with criss-cross grill marks. The saffron butter was decadent, and is there anything as hearty woodsy than a morel mushroom? I can’t think of any. The basmati rice was light with dots of quinoa.
I’m liking the loose hand and spontaneity of these quicker drawings………reminds me of when I was a wee lass in art school, sitting on my art horse with my drawing pad while the professor counted down a timed gesture exercise, “You’ve got one minute left….work on the forms, the line….don’t worry about the details….okay time’s up!” Those rapid fire warm-ups were always invigorating.
I call this “Impression of a Chop.” This is all I managed to get of Mr.D’s plate. Just a few strokes of my pencil and then it was gone — Wild Venison Chop with Black Currant & Grain Mustard on Parsnip-Celeriac Puree. The faint irregular rectangle under the chop is called “Essence of Fabulous Creamy Buttery Root Vegetable Puree.”
Tender as a filet mignon, with the sweet and savory blend of currants and mustard. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, not gamey. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember if there were salt and pepper shakers on the table, I never once reached for or thought of needing them. Because Chef Jason is an artist in his kitchen studio. He’d mixed his palette and composed a design of high standards so balanced that I would never dream of adding more red, yellow or blue.
Lilikoi Tart with Macademia Coconut and Graham Crust.
Chocolate Terrine with Almond Galette and Amaretto Soaked Berries and Cream
We were already satisfied and full, but c’mon….who were we kidding? When we saw these we had to taste the passionfruit custard of the tart with toasted coconut. And try a bite of rich creamy chocolate, then almond cake with saturated berries. (We boxed them up for home, to savor the next day and watch the Rose Parade.)
I did take my camera out a few times. When I thought I could sneak a few photos. This is the dining room with viga ceiling beams and center column.
The kiva fireplace is to the right, original artwork on the walls.
The drive home was moonlit, so bright we could see snow-frosted Mesa Verde in the distance behind us. Climbing Mancos hill, we talked about why on earth it took us so long to eat at Olio. And that this jewel of a restaurant could easily mingle and flourish in any Santa Fe, Los Angeles or New York food scene.
I believe that the manner in which we spend New Year’s is an indication of what to expect in the year to come. 2015 is going to be delectable.