Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Top Chef Hosea Rosenberg (Top Chef Winner, Season 5). And you might say it was quite timely, since tonight is the premiere of the new series “Top Chef Masters” on Bravo.
The restaurant where Hosea is the Executive Chef is called Jax Fish House in Boulder, Colorado.
Yes, I really did drive > 1.5 hours each way just for dinner last night.
But oh! What a dinner it was!
Some Houston friends of ours are in Denver on business this week, and they mentioned how much they’d like to eat at Hosea’s restaurant. Why not? We made reservations with high hopes that Hosea would be there, and so he was.
OK, you probably know why I wanted to go — I’m a HUGE fan of food and eating is most definitely one of my favorite things to do (it’s right up there with “talking”).
But why were our friends so gung-ho about it? Because their son Daniel is finishing up culinary school — and watching Top Chef was a huge inspiration for him to even start culinary school in the first place. So his mom was hell-bent on getting a good pic of Hosea for her son.
We arrived at the restaurant right on time (at 10 till 6, they cancel out ALL reservations and the place becomes standing room only, with a line around the block — and keep in mind, this is on a Tuesday night in Boulder, CO!)
But when we got there, our friends told us sadly that Hosea wasn’t here — he was flying out the next morning for a Top Chef tour in honor of the start of the Top Chef Masters show.
Wah. I was bummed. Did I really put makeup on for nothing? What about my brilliant idea to have him out on my radio show? This wasn’t what I had envisioned. Ah well, I figured I would leave him some kind of note and could still convince him to appear as a guest on the show. Might as well see if his food was worth the drive plus the $40 we’d spend on babysitting for the evening.
The restaurant was tiny — even smaller than I expected and very crowded. Decor reminded me a bit of Jacque-Imo’s in New Orleans, that kind of colorful artsy hodge-podge theme that you see in the some of the best dive restaurants in the Big Easy.
Our waitress greeted us promptly and informed us that since the menu had just changed tonight, there were no specials.
Interesting, I thought. Hosea would bug out of work on a night when a new menu was being introduced? That doesn’t seem like the die-hard dedicated chef we saw on TV.
Anne and I hit the drinks with enthusiasm — they had some interesting flavors of house infused vodkas (horseradish was the most intriguing, but I was afraid it would kill my palate for what was sure to be a delectable evening, so I settled on an orange mango martini instead). I forgot what Anne ordered, but it musta been good because she was sucking down a 2nd one before I knew it.
This is the quote on their menu:
“Fish is held out to be one of the greatest luxuries of the table and not only necessary, but even indispensable at all dinners where there is any pretence of excellence or fashion.”
–Isabella Beeton (1836-1865)
As we placed our drink & first course, we told our waitress we were bummed over missing Hosea.
“Oh no, he’s here,” she said matter-of-factly.
Our whole table brightened. “Really? The hostess station told us he wasn’t.”
Ah! the excitement! We were seated close to the kitchen (the place is kind of shotgun-style, so you’re either close to the kitchen, or close to the front door, and the bar is sort of in the middle) so I kept a watchful eye.
And just as our first course arrived, I spied him.
Yep, I know it sounds trite but I was totally thinking: “He looks just like he did on TV!” Don’t worry, I refrained from saying that out loud. Whew.
I started with the Local Organic Greens (almonds & green apple slices over manchego and elderflower…the oddest looking greens I’ve personally consumed, but quite tasty. Some even looked like clover.) I admit, I was a little giddy…I kept asking Andy if I had anything in my teeth, lest Chef Hosea should come by while I was mid-chew.
Anne and Duncan split the Maryland Blue Crab Cakes…I didn’t taste them, but they said they were amazing. Andy started with a bowl of black mussel steamers — a healthy portion indeed, and the broth was absolutely mystifying. Lemongrass, ginger, chiffonade of basil and lord only knows what else. Andy ordered extra bread for dippin and it was out of this world good.
More drinks and conversation as our hubbies pretended to be embarrassed when Anne kept taking pix of the back of Hosea’s head in the kitchen. He was helping expedite, since there was a new menu being introduced that night.
I think Anne and I both had to pee, but we didn’t dare leave the table and potentially miss out on meeting this extraordinary Top Chef.
Our waitress must have sensed our anticipation, because she came over a couple of times to let us know that Hosea would DEFINITELY come by before we left, she just wasn’t sure when as he was very busy (which we could well see). At that news, we relaxed just a tad.
Then, the main courses were delivered.
All I can say is, HOLY CRAP.
And if you know me, I think you know that is probably the HIGHEST compliment I can bestow on anything, meals included.
Anne got the Cedar Wrapped Alaskan King Salmon — what’s cedar wrapped? Well, instead of cooking the cedar on a plank, apparently, Hosea had discovered some cedar paper, so they wrapped up the salmon in the paper and grilled it that way. With warm farro salad, hazel dell mushrooms, pine nuts & basil.
Anne gave me a taste and I don’t even like cooked salmon (just the sushi for me) but I would definitely order that on a future visit.
Duncan ordered the Mississippi catfish (fried, not blackened) and we were all kind of like, seriously? You’re from New Orleans and you’re ordering the Mississippi catfish? But O.M.G. You cannot believe this catfish. First off, it was HUGE — the single biggest piece of catfish I’ve ever seen (and growing up in the Crescent City, I’ve had my share of catfish). Deep fried to a nut brown color and ridiculously light crispness, this fish was perfectly cooked and topped with pepper jelly (a divine combination in my opinion) and served with butter bean puree, fresh garbanzos, and andouille sausage chunks.
We were all kind of grateful Duncan couldn’t finish his…because that way, we each got 2 or 3 tastes of his melt-in-your-mouth meal.
Andy ordered the New Bedford Sea Scallops, served over black rice, with two purees — not sure what was in which but one was sage green in color and the other was a mellow yellow and the menu said “fennel, sweet corn, edamame and bacon.” These scallops were HUGE and I don’t know where you get black rice (not wild rice — like regular rice, but black) but I’m thinkin’ I gotta get some for my pantry. Absolutely extraordinary.
But the best dish of all (in my opinion) was what I ordered. Spicy Colossal Shrimp. Oh. Mah. Gawd. Yes, they were spicy. Yes, they were colossal (really bordering on “prawns” and not so much “shrimp”) but spicy and colossal were least interesting qualities of my dish.
First off, the plate is dressed in this “seaweed butter sauce” which I cannot describe adequately except to say if it had been on the drink menu, I would have ordered one. Let’s just say, this sauce would be a GREAT way to get Paula Deen to eat some veggies from time to time. It was, quite simply, “Like buttah.”
And that’s just the garnish on the plate. These 3 ginormous shrimp were resting on a bed of “sesame sticky rice” which was topped with some kind of heavenly creation of sweet/sticky/spicy julienned stuff that according to the menu included hearts of palm. (Oh, THAT’S what that was…I’ve only ever eaten those on a salad, out of a can.) I also recall seeing julienned red pepper and fresh snap pea pods, all glazed in this fabulous sauce that the shrimp had also been glazed in.
I am NOT kidding…this was the best meal I’ve eaten since I moved away from New Orleans. Every bite was worth savoring. Every mouthful was like a symphony for my taste buds. Oh, seriously, so so good.
Hosea arrived at our table just as dessert was being served and nobody even picked up a spoon until our chat was over. I’d say we monopolized his time for about 10-15 minutes, and we enjoyed every minute.
Yes, he seems to be JUST like he was on the show. Very focused, very personable, very straightforward. Just a great all-around guy. We didn’t ask him anything cheesy or personal (like “so, you talk to Leah anymore?” or “What’d you spend the $100k on?”).
We found out from the waitress that he’s mad about New Orleans, so we all played up that topic. How he liked New Orleans, how the people there LIVE for their food, how there are so many great restaurants there, how he wants to go back there again.
He was very friendly, very gracious, he happily posed for our pictures and listened to Anne’s story about Daniel and was quick with a “sure! sounds great” when I talked to him about being on our radio show (I had my business card all ready to go with “radio show — I’ll be contacting you to appear as our special guest” handwritten on the back) and gave me his personal business card in exchange.
He talked about his favorite New Orleans chefs and his upcoming trip and it was positively delightful. It doesn’t appear to me that his outrageous success has gone to his head at all. Which is really, really great to see. I’m sure he gets lots of compliments on his food all the time, and yet he seemed to clearly understand how HUGE our compliments truly were, since we were all from New Orleans where we are oh-so-serious about our food!
We finally let Chef Hosea go so he could chat up other patrons, and we dug into a sumptuous array of desserts. Andy ordered vanilla bean cheesecake (of course), Duncan got key lime pie, and Anne and I split some chocolate trio of sorts…a tiny molten lava cake, chocolate caramel ice cream and…what was the other thing? Who cares!!! We got to meet Chef Hosea! lol. I seriously don’t remember. The molten lava cake was my favorite on that trio anyway.
I do believe Andy and I will be back to visit Jax Fish House again.
When the check arrived along with a pen, Andy was the only one at the table who noticed what was written on the pen. Ready for this? www.PaulaDeen.com
Yep, that one came home with me, allright. What a hoot!