Finding transcendence at the Kennebec

by Anton Alter Eggo and Ginger Ale

We’ve all heard the claim that Durango has more restaurants per capita than such cosmopolitan dignitaries as San Francisco. It’s true that you can’t throw a Chaco 10 feet in any direction downtown without breaking the glass out of a dining establishment. But what of them? Are they any good? If you’re going to compare yourself to a “world-class” icon of cuisine, shouldn’t it be more than a numbers game?

And amidst this gastronomical plentitude, we’ve also heard tell of a service standard that can, at best, be described as “relaxed.” Durango, or so we’ve heard, cares as much for service as for fashion. We overheard this at a recent party - “Every time I leave here, to go anywhere really, the service is shockingly better.”

And so dear readers, we will subject ourselves to this culinary jungle in order to seek out quality dining and service. In doing so, a few simple rules were born. We will dine anonymously under alter-egos of our alter-egos. We will not publish a review of a restaurant with a poor showing but instead give the review back to the restaurateur in hopes of visiting again for an experience worthy of ink. Durango is still a small town, and we’d like to avoid bashing our neighbors. That said, if you don’t see a particular establishment in here after 10 years or so, you’ll know why. And finally, we will try not to get too puffed up about ourselves and our opinions. Without further fondue, we present to you:

The Kennebec Café and Bakery

After driving a mere 10 minutes from Durango while the sun set upon the valley and magnified the La Plata Mountains’ splendor, we were primed to experience a taste of Tuscany (as advertised). We were placed next to one of the large picture-windows, slightly open to a cool mountain breeze. The dining room was the essence of modern Italian villa, with twinkling chandeliers, natural stone, warm wood and a fireplace centerpiece. Soothing jazz and samba formed a soft backdrop to our conversation and added to the atmosphere.

Perhaps the best observation we made right off the bat was that the Kennebec Café is an exception to any perception that Durango has a service issue. We were treated warmly and genuinely from our call for reservations to our seating to our departure by everyone we encountered. Our server was exceedingly polite and knowledgeable, and she unfailingly delivered the details of the voluminous specials as well as answered our many questions with ingredient-level detail and enthusiasm. When she made a recommendation, or complimented our choice, we were never disappointed by the product.

Anton ordered a Tom Collins, a standard drink for him, and was surprised that the server actually delivered one. Though a staple for anyone calling themselves a bartender, most local mixologists will give a blank stare upon receiving an order for one. Even if they feign to make it, they invariably utilize their favorite Koolaid-colored sweet and sour mix, blended from the finest artificial ingredients. But this Tom had just the right blend of gin, juice from a small lemon, simple sugar, soda water, lemon garnish and maraschino cherry.

Then came a picturesque first course, this day’s Seasonal Flatbread, a wafer-thin and improbably soft bread, capable of holding aloft its bounteous shipment of goat cheese, yellow and red peppers, roasted garlic, and local mixed greens – all drizzled with an olive oil and gloriously sweet balsamic mixture that made the entirety sparkle in the light the way photos of food often do, but reality often doesn’t. This appetizer inspired expletives of joy, and fantasies about backcountry adventures in the canyon this winter followed by warm drinks and copious quantities of this and our other starter, the exceptional Goat Cheese Gallettes, a puffy cloud of pastry filled with goat cheese and accompanied by a selection of delectable warm olives. They had us at the flatbread. Our ability to critique was severely wounded by this exceptional beginning.

The next notable course was listed under “Salads,” but we think it may defy category. Pan Seared Scallops with Avocado-Melon Salad and Baked Pita Chips is something we’ve never seen before, but hope to see many more times. Fresh fish is flown in daily at Kennebec, and these tasty, large scallops were plump, buttery and perfectly seared to create a exquisite balance of consistent texture and melt-in-your-mouth richness. The scallops were accompanied by a medley of chopped honeydew, cantaloupe and avocado. What? As strange as it may sound, it was a light and refreshing contrast to the scallops, and a masterful stroke on the plate. We told Toto we weren’t in Durango anymore.

The main course was no longer necessary. We were as plump and happy as the scallops. But for you, dear readers, we trudged forth, knowing that beyond contentment lay the vagaries of the unknown. The unknown arrived in the form of a Fresh Horseradish Rubbed Ribeye with Cipollini Agrodolce (sweet and sour onions). This was easily enough for three people who had not already gorged themselves. It was stupid good. In other words, so good it made you feel stupid that you had ever eaten anywhere else. Who are these people? What are they doing to transform our idea of culinary greatness in Southwest Colorado? Everything.

We won’t even mention the Strawberry Rhubarb Strudel and Cherry Cobbler except to say we tried to eat them that day and were forced to take them home and delight in them another day. Another nice feature of the Kennebec is its wine list, complete with recommendations from the owners. We tried a Monte Antico (“Ancient Mountain”), a seemingly appropriate recommendation that proved worthy of the entire banquet. What more can be said? We’ll be shocked if anything is ever this good again. Such is the sacrifice of our plight. •



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