Keyah Grande (Pagosa Springs, CO) – RIP

Alex and Aki were leaving Keyah Grande for the relative comforts of the East Coast. My last meal was outstanding but my car foiled me from enjoying Keyah a second time. Given that it could take 1-2 years to open a new restaurant, I decided to book the flights to Durango and enjoy one of the final Keyah Grande meals prepared by Alex and Aki.

The meal was as good as the last – Alex & Aki are some of the better chefs in the country. For creativity, I’d say they are right up there w/ Ludo (former Bastide) – their food is more grounded in real flavor than, say, WD-50 or Moto. The other difference is ingredient quality – they are using top-notch ingredients whereas the other experimental places skimp on that front (and hopefully they can keep this up w/ their next venture.)

1. Sourdough Ice Cream – wild arctic char roe, blueberries, red mustard
Very creamy ice cream – slight sour note followed by a creamy saltiness thanks to the roe. Meanwhile, the blueberry’s acid and the sharp mustard leaves cut it. Wonderful texture as it turns from creamy to the popping roe. Excellent.
Ideas in Food - Sourdough Ice Cream - wild arctic char roe, blueberries, red mustard

2. Raw Nantucket Bay Scallops – cranberry-horseradish, walnuts, black pepper
The scallops and walnut played off each other perfectly – both texturally and their differing sweetnesses. The cranberry-horseradish dressing completely overpowered the dish so i left it off. Excellent.
Ideas in Food - Raw Nantucket Bay Scallops - cranberry-horseradish, walnuts, black pepper

3. Key West Pink Shrimp Salad – condensed milk dressing, sorrel, tender cocoa nibs
The shrimp was compressed; this wasn’t the disaster of compressed crab at WD-50 a few weeks ago but I think shrimp (and crab) should be served in their natural satisfying state. The cocoa nibs gave the dish a touch of earthines and countered the sweetness of the shrimp – I would add a few more so they last a few more bites. Again, the dressing was too overpowering and I left it off. Ok.
Ideas in Food - Key West Pink Shrimp Salad - condensed milk dressing, sorrel, tender cocoa nibs

4. Sunflower Seed Risotto – perigord truffles, applewood smoked bacon, jalapeno
This should always be included on their tasting menu – a bona fide signature dish. The ‘risotto’ is sunflower seeds but it exactly resembles some of the best risottos I’ve had at L’Arpege, Manresa, and Olivetto. This truffle version was better than the previous crab version – nice earthiness upfront, slight smokiness throughout courtesy of the bacon, a very subtle jalapeno towards the end, with the sunflower taste lasting for awhile. Excellent.
Ideas in Food - Sunflower Seed Risotto - perigord truffles, applewood smoked bacon, jalapeno

5. Foie Gras Torchon – huckleberry ribbon, violet pop rocks, yuzu powder
The most “exciting” dish I’ve had all year – right beside the gymnastics of Mugaritz. The foie was of higher quality (though not quite French Laundry or Manresa quality) but the sweet pop rocks bounced around the mouth like fireworks, constantly cutting the fat. Some might say gimmicky, but it worked perfectly. The ribbon had an intense taste and it served as a more traditional taste pairing w/ the foie. Excellent.
Ideas in Food - Foie Gras Torchon - huckleberry ribbon, violet pop rocks, yuzu powder

6. Broiled Japanese Eel – hot foie gras sheet, apple-olive relish, beaufort cheese, sherry vinegar aged in whisky/maple syrup barrels
I was a little worried about this dish because the sheet from the last meal wasn’t my favorite (nor am I the biggest fan of eel.) The sheet wasn’t nearly as plastic-y as last time and it paired nicely w/ the eel. The relish had enough acid to cut through the fattiness and the syrup (not pictured) gave the whole dish a satisfying sweetness at the end. Very Good.
Ideas in Food - Broiled Japanese Eel - hot foie gras sheet, apple-olive relish, beaufort cheese, sherry vinegar aged in whisky/maple syrup barrels

7. King Salmon – foie gras consomme, morel mushrooms, red wine
My favorite dish of the night – this was a Manresa quality dish. The morels were perfectly preserved from the spring – they were as good as the morels I had in May in France. The earthy richness of the morels sublimely paired w/ the fish’s richness. The foie consomme, very subtle, gave the dish some body and a very calm mellow finish. Excellent.
Ideas in Food - King Salmon - foie gras consomme, morel mushrooms, red wine

8. Seared Scallop – prosciutto cavatelli, banyuls vinegar, artichokes
The most straight-forward dish of the night (or seemingly so) – good crust, scallop just a touch overcooked, the prosciutto cavatelli wasn’t doing much for me. Ok.
Ideas in Food - Seared Scallop - prosciutto cavatelli, banyuls vinegar, artichokes

9. Turbot – grape-chipotle, fermented black bean-eggplant, spiced macadamia nuts
Some Tom Aikens-style plating with possibly the same taste reaction too. Every ingredient was great on its own but I failed to see how it all combined. The grape-chipolte was too strong for the fish; I just ate the fish w/ the spiced nuts (great bar food!) Ok.
Ideas in Food - Turbot - grape-chipotle, fermented black bean-eggplant, spiced macadamia nuts

10. Chufa Nut Crusted Lamb Sweetbreads – papaya–caper sauce, pickled chufa nuts, kaffir lime spinach
Probably better if served half this size. The lime spinach was brilliant – intense and acidic – it helped balance the fat of the sweetbreads. Good.
Ideas in Food - Chufa Nut Crusted Lamb Sweetbreads - papaya–caper sauce, pickled chufa nuts, kaffir lime spinach

11. Crispy Pork Belly – smoked apple pudding, porcini mushroom marmalade, shiso
Very crisp outside, the marmalade did its best to cut through the fat and balance the dish. Good.
Ideas in Food - Crispy Pork Belly - smoked apple pudding, porcini mushroom marmalade, shiso

12. Prime Sirloin – pecorino-edamame mosaic, summer savory, smoked tomato jam
Very tender, quite rare, nice grass flavor. The excellent pecorino-edamame mosaic really brought out the grassiness of the beef. Very Good.
Ideas in Food - Prime Sirloin - pecorino-edamame mosaic, summer savory, smoked tomato jam

13. Morbier – persimmon puree, lemon chanterelles, olive crumbs
Ok, everything good on its own, but I might prefer straight cheese. Ok.
Ideas in Food - Morbier - persimmon puree, lemon chanterelles, olive crumbs

14. Chocolate Terrine – pistachio, red carpet clover, vanilla salt
Mmmmm… I’m not a big chocolate dessert fan but this was delicious. The terrine had a wonderful velvety texture – the texture itself was a perfect ending for the meal. But the sea salt really made the dish sing. In fact, I requested more salt (about 3x as much as you see in the pic) because each bite needed its fair share. Very Good.
Ideas in Food - Chocolate Terrine - pistachio, red carpet clover, vanilla salt

Overall, this review follows the pattern of many that I write – good beginnings, excellent middles, and then it all tapers off at the end. I rarely get that soft landing where the richer dishes don’t sink everything. It could be my taste preferences, diminishing returns, or just getting full – hard to say.
Nonetheless, this was an excellent meal:

  • They know how to make ice cream (recall grilled potato ice cream last time, sourdough this time)
  • The risotto is worthy of being a signature
  • The foie/pop-rocks could be a second signature
  • The salmon/morels dish was sublime

While there is a fair amount of experimenting going on (and some might say “what for”), the meal doesn’t take on the R&D feel of El Bulli, Moto, or even WD-50. Instead, it’s a more “organic” (my word, maybe not the right word) cuisine that strives for flavor as its end result. They could use some editing but that will probably come as more people experience their food. As I try to sort these different restaurants out, it seems most aligned w/ my meals at Alinea and Mugaritz – lots of experimenting, some fun & new stuff, but food that generally tastes very good.

Can’t wait for their next place…. For now, you can read their adventures in their Ideas in Food blog.

- chuck

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