For Telluriders, twinning “fine dining” with “Grand Junction” in the same sentence amounts to an oxymoron. You say: “Grand Junction? Really? The town is politically red and culturally dead, right?” I say: It ain’t necessarily so.
For starters, wonderfully whimsical sculptures greet pedestrians on downtown corners, and the city is home to a variety of museums and galleries. Grand Junction has an Academy of Dance and a symphony. And the food scene is on a low boil.
In a recent “Snow Sunday” column (March 31), Telluride Inside… and Out contributor Jesse James McTigue waxed rhapsodic about Bin 707 Foodbar, describing the place as “eclectic and modern, Bin 707 also evokes an intimate, personal atmosphere. Chef and owner, Josh Niernberg brings passion, discipline, and a freestyle spirit to his work and menu, which he says changes nightly.” Jesse’s other recommendation pointed us in the direction of the crown jewel of the town’s bistro scene.
626 On Rood – like Eliza Gavin’s 221 South Oak, its name is also its address – is a restaurant featuring modern American cuisine (and a wine with over 40 options) in a sleek, chic modern setting with plenty of elbow room designed by co-owner Brenda Wray. In a city of transients, it’s generally tough to hold both imaginations and leases for very long. “626,” which opened December 1, 2006, is so comfortable, warm and vibrant, it feels like – and should be – around forever.
A lot hangs on the service. And that’s Brenda’s department too. The understated elegance and comfort she achieved in the room’s decor infuses her deeply trained staff: Seek their advice and you will not go wrong.
Our first contact was over the phone with Brittany, who ran down the history of the restaurant and suggested highlights from the menu, including the ahi tuna egg rolls for starters. Once we were seated at a corner table, floor manager McKenna Hines took over, affirming Brittany’s suggestion and offering a few of her own with a relaxed, knowing smile. (McKenna has eight years experience in the hospitality business and shares Brenda’s and Theo Otte’s– he’s co-owner and chef and Brenda’s husband – passion for great food and wine.)
Everything we ate was delicious and occasionally spectacular, starting with the aforementioned ahi tuna egg rolls, which are not so much rolls and row boats, with the crust acting as hull to a cargo of sushi grade ahi. The dish comes with a trinity of dipping sauces: citrus teriyaki, creme fraiche kicked with wasabi, and sweet soy. Since we chose meat for our main course, we decided to go surf for apps. Along with the ahi, we selected smoked scallops which came served on a bed of homemade black linguini. The contrasting flavors and textures – scallops strong and assertive; pasta delicate as angel’s breath and subtle – struck a perfect balance and proved daydream-worthy.
626 On Rood leads from strength with American classics. There are no duds on the menu, laced with influences from southern Europe, Latin America, and Asia. We chose a rack of Colorado lamb for our entree, which came served with sides of delicate roasted fingerling potatoes and the veggie du jour, sautéed asparagus and carrots (and thankfully not steamed to oblivion). The dish was a tour de force in simplicity that, at first bite, coddled our tongues into submission.
(Brenda and Theo are fundamentally locavores, who work with Palisade and Western Slope growers to source the finest ingredients. Most of the restaurant’s herbs are raised in gardens on the outdoor patio.)
In 2011, Trip Advisor named 626 On Rood the #1 local restaurant in Grand Junction. Opentable listed it among the Top Ten Colorado restaurants and more recently, in 2012, as the top pick for late-night dining. And for good reason. A successful restaurant is, at base, a well choreographed pas de deux between a chef and his clientele. 626 On Rood is an example of what happens when everything about that intimate collaboration goes right.