SO DOPE HAUTE CUISINE, COOL WINE, KIND BUD: THE ultimate pairing dinner
February 2, 2015
WHAT A BLUR. I'm still seeing spots, as if I'd stared straight into the glaring X-Games spotlights two seconds too long, but a few choice moments from the weekend burn in my brain. In particular, during a five-course dinner Thursday evening: A bubbly babe in black swans to our table, delivering the first amuse-bouche—two fat cannabis nuggets each.
The invitation-only wine, weed, and haute cuisine pairing unfolds in the Native Roots Tree House, the stoner den pop-up in the privately owned Crystal Palace. Aspen branches decorate the room beneath the venue's massive sparkling chandelier; white tablecloths glow amid multicolored mood lighting; Thievery Corporation drummer Congo Sanchez spins beats from the balcony above. At tables lining the dance floor, more than 50 guests pack Durban Poison — a sweet-spicy, liquorice strain of 100 percent sativa known to produce a racing, cerebral, creative high — into individual, pristine glass pipes. Grinning, we clink them together in one big celebratory toast to a new era.
"There's no better place than Aspen to do this, right?" So declares our host Philip Wolf, owner of Cultivating Spirits, which orchestrates various cannabis-infused experiences across the Front Range. Held in partnership with Munch & Co. event planning; Native Roots, the Denver-based dispensary that recently unveiled a recreational bud boutique in the old La Palapa space — the sixth such shop downtown; and The Infinite Monkey Theorem urban winery, this meal is about more that just getting high and gorging on gourmet food. Instead, it's a curated sensory fusion meant to reintroduce guests — habitual users, one-and-done wonders, and tentative newbies alike — to marijuana's layered nuances, paving a path through our brave new world of legal cannabis consumption.
"You really wanna note the flavor profiles on the inhalation," Wolf instructs, as if a sommelier discussing wine. "How does it feel on your throat? On the exhalation, notice the differences from your inhalation. Do a cupping motion: smack your tongue to the top of your mouth."
Lighters snap around the room, punctuating Sanchez's liquid grooves. Murmurs grow to a low, excited roar. I take a sip of wine — a mineral, mouth-wateringly crisp 2014 sauvignon blanc — peer through swirling tufts of smoke, and giggle. Outside, Hyman Street passersby stop to peer through the Palace's windows and ogle this social experiment unfolding behind the glass. We're hot-boxing the historic Crystal Palace but it feels classy and intellectual, if shrouded in vague disbelief. Is this the new normal?
Senses heightened, we cut into our first course, a vibrant spun-beet salad topped with pistachio-crusted tuna tataki with Japanese togarashi spice and wasabi-tofu foam. "Durban Poison has a minty hit to it, so shiso leaf will really bring that out," says chef Cortland Collins, who teamed up with Jessica Catalano, author of "The Ganja Kitchen Revolution" cookbook, to create pairings. The Infinite Monkey Theorem founder Ben Parsons hand-selected wines. Unlike taking a few bong rips before foraging the fridge, this is a carefully calibrated series of epicurean combinations.
To say that this first sequence — puff, sip, bite — creates one whopper of a mouthgasm would be cliché. But what else to say? The new dinner party is dope.
The meal unfolds indulgently, with servers stopping by between courses to pour new wine and deposit fresh bud along with takeaway canisters. (As no tickets or merchandise is sold, the private event fully complies with Colorado state law.)
"They named it Headband for Alice in Wonderland," announces Catalano before our second course palate opener. "It is very spicy with a tang and undertones of sweetness. It's good for pain in your body and relaxing. Puff, puff, enjoy — and you don't have to pass."
Headband is more astringent than Durban Poison, with a noticeably harsher punch to the throat. Yet it makes a smooth intro to Wagyu beef tartare with Asian pear and pickled fennel. As my guest, who had the good fortune of celebrating her birthday, commented later: "Sometimes if I get stoned in public I can get really paranoid. That didn't happen," she recalled. "Still, you're gonna get me high and feed me a raw hamburger?"
I see her point. It's a bold move by Collins, perhaps inspired by his stint as chef of TAG Raw Bar, but from what I can tell, nobody freaks out.
"We're trying to educate, to teach people how to dose," says Cultivating Spirits marketing manager Kristina Sherwood, while passing out pamphlets detailing cannabis cooking classes and grow tours in Silverthorne and custom parties throughout Colorado.
Our third course turns mellow: Grand Daddy Purps, indica scented of berries and cream; duck with blackberry red wine reduction and roasted sweet potato; 2013 Malbec.
"This is good for pain relief, migraines, and, if you need to relax after skiing the slopes all day, it'll knock you out," Catalano announces of the cannabis. Our table does a six-bowl cheers — again, can't say I've done that before — spark, and inhale. Smoke plays with sweet fruit. "It's like Captain Crunch Berries," someone quips.
The next pairing — tender confit baby octopus with white chocolate-parsnip purée and grapefruit gastrique, plus 2013 Syrah — is prefaced by 303 Kush, an indica-dominant hybrid with piney, musky aroma and citrusy, lush taste. We lull to quieter conversation, get goofy, and drop deep thoughts. "You know when you're at a restaurant and you want to tell the waiter you're stoned?" Yes. Here it's already out in the open, literally.
Two hours pass in a swirl of flavors, fragrances, and chatter that oscillates from giddy to pensive as we swap sativa for indica and back again. Finally, a triple-whammy dessert: Platinum Covered Girl Scout Cookies — a heady hybrid true to its name — alongside dark chocolate ganache torte with raspberry coulis and jammy Petite Sirah. And then it's over: a meal for the books.
The next morning over coffee, my friend and I ponder our dreamlike evening. "Uh, did that really happen last night?" she says, her eyes widening. "I feel like we went to Wonderland."
Yes, Amanda Rae was stoned while researching this column. firstname.lastname@example.org