I recently found myself on Facebook (a rarity) a couple of weeks ago on a page called the Guacamole Hall of Shame and I have to admit I was pretty surprised at some of the combination of ingredients included in these versions of guacamole; the most offending one for me was breast milk. Am I the only one right now going Ewwww? Others not quite so bad but still…feta, meat, pomegranate arils and more. Really? Avocado salad maybe but not guacamole. Luckily, as often happens, the mention of a certain food triggered a memory that flooded my mind with another time and place and for me, I couldn’t help but be taken back to my first time. Yes, my virgin guac experience.
My family moved to a new house when I was in the 5th grade. A bigger home with all sorts of fancy trappings. Air conditioning. A dishwasher. A palace compared to the small bungalow my parents had raised 5 kids in for a number of years. I remember that street so fondly. The only girl quarterback because even then I was taller than everyone around me, the families I babysat for including the Wolff kids who’ve I since reconnected with on Facebook, the elderly lady next door who taught me to crochet and Dr. Pat who became my mother’s best friend, our pediatrician and my Girl Scout leader. Dr. Pat was from Texas and one summer, my mother went with her to visit Pat’s family in San Antonio, Texas. That was the only time I can ever remember my mom being gone like that and I’m sure with 5 kids it was wonderful to get away.
From all of the experiences she had in that foreign land (we lived in a suburb of St. Louis, as Midwestern as it gets except if on a farm), the thing she was most excited about was the discovery of this green orb called an avocado. She could not wait to share it with us. I don’t recall that I was a picky eater in particular but I snubbed my nose at it and that mushed up stuff called guacamole was no better. No thanks; I’ll go to my room if I have to but I am NOT eating that.
You can imagine where this is going right? It was a couple of years before I was offered another opportunity to try guacamole and by then I was more willing to at least sample a new food, more willing to open my eyes to possibilities. Can I just say I will always lament those wasted years? The second time around it was a clear case of ‘love at first bite’ and nothing about that first real impression has changed.
Including how to make authentic guacamole. Dr. Pat was an aficionado of simplicity and I’ll never forget that. It was all about the avocado. Avocado, lime, salt and garlic. Period. In one of those unexplainable twists of fate, I recently had an opportunity to sample some terrific and authentic Mexican food and that simplicity was reiterated.
One of the members of our local blogging group, Lacy Boggs, had been in conversation with the CEO of The Rio Grande Restaurants, Jason Barrett, and together they engineered a plan to invite members of the group to come to downtown Denver for a tasting. The Rio Grande is well-known for the potent punch of their margaritas but I, like many, have pretty much limited our impressions to this classic adult beverage. When Jason took a few moments to chat with us before dinner and asked our opinion of food at the Rio I think most of us thought…we love your margaritas!
I think I speak for every single member of our group when I say that if the Rio is intent on changing that impression then they did an amazing job with our small yet vocal group. It’s not like we had a negative impression of the food but it’s always been the margs that stood front and center. No more. Sometime last year they started with a conscious effort to increase the visibility of the food at the Rio. New menus were born emphasizing their in-house, from scratch ingredients which was combined with more attention to presentation and training. We even had a blogger with us that required Gluten Free choices and she mentioned how impressed she was with their attentiveness to her needs. The icing on the cake? They even loaned me a plate so I could authentically re-create how they present their guacamole. In fact they gave me ‘their’ chips too. I wanted this to be right!
The Rio Grande started with a restaurant in Fort Collins, CO; home of Colorado State University. We may be smack in the middle of winter in Colorado at the moment but this photo reminds me of visiting my daughter when she was in college there. I know I’m ready for some patio time soon and they’ve got one at each of their locations. I think we’ll take a field trip to Boulder when the weather warms and sit outside and enjoy the view of the mountains along with the food and beverages.
I have to think that one key to the longevity of this local chain are the 20+ years of service that the owner, CEO and several key staff members have devoted to their roles. We were hosted by Pat McGraughran, Owner; Jason Barrett, CEO and their Food and Beverage Director, Steve Richter. We were there to try dishes from their new and improved menu and they were of course hoping that we would spread the word to our readers. But it was more than that. That they all care genuinely care about using quality ingredients and the customer experience was key but I could not help but be impressed at how evident it was that they simply enjoy each others company. Those relationships most certainly must contribute to the Rio being a part of the Colorado Front Range scene for 26 years as much as their efforts to locally source as many ingredients as possible combined with expecting the highest of standards for what they do procure. A great example of the quality of ingredients they expect was evident in the Shrimp Diabla; wild caught Gulf shrimp in a chile de arbol sauce served in flour tortillas. If I have one criticism of the evening it was that they did not warn us of the amount of foods we would be sampling. I might not have had two of those!
We sampled so much food that I believe we were all ready to burst at the seams. Queso Verduras which was melted Jack cheese with sautéed bell peppers, mushrooms and onions served with tortilla chips, plates of tacos including chicken, shrimp and my surprising favorite, Mahi Mahi. My friend Karen hails from Texas and claims a cheese enchilada is her test of any good Mexican food and she swore, through a mouthful, that they were excellent. There was so much food that by the time the fajitas showed up we were all getting a bit full; still I made a point of trying the grilled skirt steak. So tender, so good. And washed down with an excellent margarita, the Big Tex Margarita…good tequila, fresh citrus and orange liqueur; just the way I like them.
They did not want us to leave feeling disappointed apparently as dessert was also on the menu. Fabulous sopapillas; I loved how crispy there were and for an extra treat they were served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Still…the piece de resistance? Ancho Chile Chocolate Creme Brulee? How I wish I could have devoured that dish but a simple taste on the tongue was all the room I had left…that will be for another day. There most definitely will be another day. Maybe I can sweet talk the chef into sharing that recipe too; oh shoot that would mean another trip wouldn’t it? OK, I’m in…who’s coming with me?
I was invited to The Rio Grande with a group of local bloggers to sample their new menu and share my impressions with you. My review disclaimer is simple. If I write a review I was happy. If I was not happy, I would not bother with a review.