Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Buckhorn Exchange - Exotic Meats

Judy and I were in Denver recently and ate at the Buckhorn Exchange, an extraordinarily unusual restaurant located in downtown Denver at 1000 Osage, in view of the football stadium used by the Denver Broncos. It got its start in 1893 and has a character and style all its own.
We were joined by Judy's nephew, Scott Jones, and his wife, Kelsey, who live in Denver. That made the dining all the more fun as we got to share this experience with them.
I didn't decide to take photos of the decor until after the restaurant filled up, so this is the only half-decent photo I got - but you get the sense. The walls are full of stuffed animal heads, old guns and photos of celebrities that have dined there. Five presidents have dined there, starting with Teddy Roosevelt and ending with Ronald Reagan, whose picture was located at our booth. Just above and behind our booth was a wall full of pronghorn antelope heads - there must have been 15 or more of various sizes. Before-hand, I read some reviews by patrons who claimed to be disturbed by eating and having all of these dead animals staring at them. Well come on - if that is going to bother you, this is definately not the place for you! As for me, I found it to be a place close to heaven.
I knew before-hand the appetizers I wanted to order. First was smoked buffalo sausage with red chile polenta. The sausage was excellent. It was moist, unlike a lot of game sausage I've eaten, and it was juicy with a rich flavor.
We also had rattlesnake, marinated in red chile and lime and served with a chipotle pepper cream sauce. There was a fairly significant amount of rattlesnake meat, but it was swimming in the chipotle cream sauce. I've eaten rattlesnake before, so I was not really looking for the taste of the snake itself, but more for how it was combined with other ingredients into a dish. I would have preferred the chipotle to have been more potent, it was quite bland and the taste of the snake was lost. So, I give high marks for originality and presentation, but low marks for taste.
This is one chip with rattlesnake and chipotle sauce.
Our third appetizer was Rocky Mountain oysters. This was the dish I was really looking forward to. The bull testicles were were sliced into thin strips, breaded and fried and served with sides of cocktail sauce and a mild horseradish sauce. There was nothing at all gross or mind bending about the oysters. They had the texture of organ meat, such as beef heart, and the taste wasn't significant - of course they were heavily breaded which covered up the real taste. I ate quite a few pieces: plain, with cocktail sauce, with horseradish sauce, and with both sauces. Scott also ate quite a few, but we still did not finish them off.
Here are a few "oysters" on my plate with some chipotle sauce from the rattlesnake I tried on them. Overall, it was fun to try them. I didn't love them, I didn't dislike them. It was a fun novelty dish to try, as was the rattlesnake. Of the three, the buffalo sausage was the only one that had real wonderful taste to merit it as a serious culinary choice.
They were serving buffalo prime rib as a special for the day and that is what I got. It was wonderful. Unlike a regular cut of prime rib, it has grill marks on it, so I suspect it was warmed up on the grill, or cut off a slab and then cooked further on the grill. It then had a big dollup of what I think was garlic butter. The combination was great. I could detect the grill taste, the distinctive buffalo flavor, the richness of the garlic butter and the juices of the rare buffalo cut. I would order this dish in a heartbeat and would do so over any regular beef cut. Buffalo has an added richness to its flavor that beef just cannot match.
You can see it was quite rare. The plate also came with their homemade potato chips and beans (the chips were good dipped in the beans).
Judy ordered a broiled elk medallion. It was very juicy and cooked perfectly. It also had the same garlic butter on the top that my buffalo did.
It was juicy and rare - cooked perfectly, but in my universe, elk does not hold a candle to buffalo for flavor. The outside had a distinctive taste I can't identify. It was different, but not a pleasing difference for me. I decided long ago that I will take buffalo over elk, when given a choice. Judy voiced the same sentiment at the end, stating that my buffalo was better than her elk. However, it had nothing to do with the chef and everything to do with the animals themselves.
Finally, although stuffed, we shared a very large and flavorful double chocolate rocky road brownie with ice cream. It was very moist, very rich and very chocolatey. It was good we only ordered one piece. It was too rich for any one of us to put down by ourselves, particularly after a large meal.
Overall, the Buckhorn Exchange provided a real dining experience. I went there for the novelty of the dishes and the unusual theme and decor and in those things was not disappointed at all. I came away truly loving the buffalo prime rib and buffalo sausage. I would order them again on a mixed menu with traditional items. The Buckhorn Exchange is known for its steaks and I suspect they do a fantastic job at beef and other meats as well. This will remain a fun and fond memory.

In August 2010 I went back to the Buckhorn Exchange again with Andrew and Sam. I was able to get a photo of the pronghorn antelope wall
and Andrew and Sam at our table.
As an appetizer, we had grilled duck breast in a raspberry, red zinfandel sauce which was excellent.
We also had the buffalo sausage again. We shared a chuckwagon salad which included corned buffalo (which was okay, but nothing to get too excited about) and was creatively put together to look like an owl face (Bermuda onion rings form the eyes, hard boiled eggs the eye whites and tomatoes the eye centers, avocado slices the eyebrows and cheese the beak).
Several of us got the blackened buffalo prime rib sandwich and I really liked it.
It was not as moist and tender as regular prime rib, but it had enough fat in it to provide moisture and flavor.

In August 2011 I was back at Buckhorn Exchange with Sam, Andrew and Scott Jones. I think I've now pretty much covered the portions of the menu that I want to and will look for another fun place in Denver to try. We had fried alligator tail as an appetizer
and it was lots of fried breading and not much alligator taste. I've made alligator on my own a number of times and find it quite good. I think the breading kills the taste. We also had Rocky Mountain oysters made out of bull testicles and were able to compare them with the Rocky Mountain oysters at the Fort made out of buffalo testicles (the buffalo testicles win). I had buffalo prime rib a second time 
and it was good, but very much different from my first time at the restaurant two years ago. It lacked the grill marks. Andrew had a corned buffalo sandwich which was quite good. 

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