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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Eating Our Way Across Colorado: ITO Japanese Steak House in Florence, Colorado

Yes, our goal here is to eat our way across Colorado and write about it. First on our tour of culinary delights is ITO Japanese Steak House, Sushi And Thai in Florence, Colorado.

OK, ITO's is less than a mile from our house--but it still qualifies as eating our way across Colorado.

ITO's opened in early Dec. of 2014 at 106 W. Main St. From my vantage point (across the street working at various antiques stores) with my binoculars focused on this restaurant or loitering on the streets of Florence because I have nothing better to do, I can honestly say there has hardly been a lull in business since opening day.

My husband and I have a tradition (on birthdays) of attempting to eat out three times on our birthdays. Since we are getting older, the tradition is down to two birthday meals eaten out. Oh, and I wonder why my waistline is just a touch out of control.

Anyway, since it was my husband's birthday we decided to make ITO's the twice-in-one day destination. It was just a few days after opening day, and many restaurants when newly opened have a few glitches to work out. Not so at ITO's. The food and service have been perfect from day one to the present.

After our second trip in one day, most of the staff chuckled and yelled, "See you tomorrow!" They weren't far off. We've been back several times and have never been disappointed.

Full disclosure. Japanese cuisine has never been among my favorites. And after ITO's--Japanese food is one of my favorites.

My husband has always enjoyed Japanese food, as it was part of his childhood. His parents are from the Big Island of Hawaii, where the Japanese culture and cooking is dominant. His mother is a pro at making sushi and other Japanese delicacies.

While I always enjoyed my mother-in-law's cooking (because my husband slipped me a $20 bill and an elbow nudge to the ribs and insisted I act like I adored sushi and other Japanese food his mother cooked) I never did enjoy it in restaurants, until ITO's.

Come on! I had Sicilian food in my childhood and we were the types who giggled if someone made a comment about someone making someone swim with the fishes--and not the types to eat raw fish.

Most of us know, sushi is not all about raw fish. It's about artistry and most of it is delicious.

But we got more hooked (no pun intended) on the bento boxes.

Oh, bento boxes. There's my husband attempting to put some soy sauce on his California roll.

I didn't order the bento box this visit, but I have a half dozen times before--so I snatched a roll and a dumpling (Gyoza) before he could object.

Mmm. Washabi. My husband likes to smear that over everything for a hot kick in the gums--so I had to snatch a few samples away before he did so.

This time around, he ordered the shrimp teriyaki box. Sweet ecstasy. You bet my fork was reaching for one of his shrimp.

On the left of the picture is the vegetable tempura. Years ago, in several of the many Japanese restaurants in California my husband drug, I mean took me to, I had bad experiences with tempura. The batter was thick and spongy. So, I was expecting the same here. Not so. The tempura is light and crunchy and cooked to perfection.

Everything is perfectly seasoned and fresh at ITO's.

The miso soup and salad come with the bento box. Delicious!

You'll notice my husband's shirt is different from the last picture. No, he didn't run to the restroom and make a change. We visit ITO's often and this review is based on many visits.

The tempura shrimp bento boxes are just as good as the teriyaki ones. Even the shrimp and vegetables look perky and artistic.

The fried rice in the bento boxes defies description. It is better than any fried rice I've tried in  any Chinese, Thai or other Japanese restaurants.

On one visit I tried the beef and Soba noodles. Soba is thin buckwheat noodles. The beef was melt-in-the-mouth tender. The noodles were cooked correctly and the sauce and vegetables were excellent.

ITO's also boasts a full-service bar and a huge selection of fresh seafood for the sushi and sashimi.

The menu at this Florence eatery is vast and complex, we have not yet scratched the surface of all the delicious offerings such as their hibachi menu or steak, lobster and other seafood. Hopefully I can get back to ITO's a couple of dozen more times and try all those things before I snap the elastic on my stretch pants.

ITO's has a good selection of ramen and Thai dishes. I tried the Pad Thai, which consisted of noodles stir fried with eggs, bean sprouts, green onions and crushed peanuts. I had the shrimp, but the Pad Thai may also be ordered with beef, chicken, vegetables or tofu.

For the freshness and quality of the food, the prices at ITO's are reasonable. Most lunches fall in the $6.95 to $9.95 range.

Dinners can range up to the high $20-range, but the dinner bento boxes are larger than the lunch offerings and range from $9.95 to $16.95.

ITO's get the True Story Club's highest rating: Four forks up! Or in this case, four chopsticks up!

 The rating system is: One fork up (call the health department). Two forks up (not bad, but my taste buds could be happier). Three forks up (quite delicious). Four forks up (beyond delicious). I wanted to base the rating system on the FORK YOU restaurant review system, but my husband told me I was naughty and this was a family-friendly blog. But recently I read something in a reputable local newspaper where a rubber duck derby was referred to as the CLUSTER DUCK. I immediately asked my husband if that meant what I thought it meant. He said yes. And he dared scoff at my initial FORK YOU system of rating restaurants. The man simply has no vision.

ITO's is open Monday through Thursday from 10:30 to 9 and on Fridays and Saturdays from 10:30 to 9:30. They are closed on Sundays.

The restaurant accepts cash and major credit cards, but no checks.

All restaurant meals that are reviewed are paid for by the blog owner. No restaurant owner or staff is informed that the restaurant will be reviewed or publicized. True Story Club NEVER accepts any type of compensation for writing about a restaurant or any other subject on this blog.

The blog owner is NOT a professional restaurant reviewer or photographer. (Like she needed to tell you that). The Fremont County Foodie is a pen name (among others) for the blog owner, who is a former newspaper reporter and magazine writer. She knows nothing about fine dining or cuisine and her only experience with fine dining was coming in third place when applying for a job as a restaurant reviewer at a major Colorado newspaper and when she slightly ticked off celebrity chef, Lidia Bastianich at her swanky Manhattan eatery, Felidia's. I guess that's what poor Lidia gets for allowing such riff-raff into her restaurant. If you dare, you can read about the Fremont County Foodie's total lack of manners and restaurant review qualifications in this blog post:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fremont County Foodie: The Day I Ticked Off Celebrity Chef, Lidia Bastianich

I plan on eating my way across Colorado. Wait, I've already done that. I've actually ate my way across most of the United States and four other countries. I've just never written about it. I was too busy shoving delicacies down my pie hole to write.

True Story Club will soon feature restaurant reviews by the Fremont County Foodie. Reviews won't just be limited to Fremont County, Colorado. Anytime, the Fremont County Foodie can make a break across county lines and eat--there will be a review.

OK, your new reviewer is really The Queen of Questionable Taste. Questionable taste in antiques, collectibles and a spouse. What's the difference of adding food to the list. So, you can be assured the Queen is also totally unqualified to write restaurant reviews.

Actually the Fremont Foodie has a small, very small resume, of fine dining experience. About a decade ago I decided to apply for a position at a major Colorado newspaper as a...Newspaper delivery person? The editor-in-chief? Ha! Not with my majestic grammar skills. I applied for the lofty position of restaurant reviewer. The editor of the arts and entertainment section emailed back and said he was slightly amused by my gallant, but novice attempt. OK, he didn't say that, but I can read and write between the lines. He did say I was is the top three candidates for the position. Then he never emailed back. I think what he forgot to tell me was that only three people applied and I was in dead last.

            The Queen of Questionable Taste & The Fremont County Foodie's Stunt Double

I couldn't find where one even could attend the University of Restaurant Reviewers. So I gave up my dream of getting paid to be a glutton, I mean a gourmand.

Pictured above is my stunt double. You see, it is imperative that I sneak into restaurants anonymously. I suppose when I whip out my huge, decade-old camera that still uses floppy discs--I will be found out. But maybe not. It seems everyone whips it out--and then posts a review on Yelp or some such site.

Yes, you will be yelping when you read my take on what the eating world has to offer.

My only other brush with real fine dining (outside of venturing off the dollar menu at McDonald's) was the time I slightly ticked off celebrity chef, Lidia Bastianich.

Let me back track. The King of Impeccable Taste and I were in New York many years ago visiting relatives. Why golly! All the tall buildings and that lady holding the torch, really set our country bumpkin hearts a flutter.

I had watched Lidia's cooking show on PBS for years. This was before her son, Joe, became a TV star on such shows as Master Chef and Restaurant Start-up.

My relatives decided to stay home one day, and the King and I set off from Staten Island to Manhattan. We were looking for Lidia's restaurant--Felidia. But we don't know New York City. But we found one of Joe's restaurant's. I can't remember the name of it.

                                                                      Joe Bastianich

Joe wasn't there. And that was fine, since we hadn't seen him on TV and wouldn't have recognized him.

We ate. We died twice. The first time was when we were eating. The food was so good. I remember not what we ate, but we didn't care. Best eats ever. We died the second time when we got the bill. It was $130 for two lunches. And we had mineral water, since the King and I rarely drink wine or other spirits.

This was about a decade ago, when $130 was equivalent to about $200. And way before the King got a decent job. We didn't care if we had to sell our plasma to pay our credit card bill when we got back to Colorado--because we had just stepped into the real world of fine dining.

We went back to my relatives' house and told them we had spent $130 on lunch and didn't care. In my family (yes, Italian--well, sort of--Sicilian, which some people don't consider real Italians) spending over $7 on lunch is high treason. To say that side of my family are thrifty Sicilians is an understatement.

Something is my crazed eyes told my relatives that if we came running back and insisting they go with us to Joe's mother's restaurant, even though it was over $7 per head, it had to be serious.

Since my relatives are thrifty, we offered to pay. But we suggested we just order two lunches for the four of us and split them. They agreed to that. But once they got inside and saw was it was really about--they lost their grip and ordered several lunches.

Even though my relatives are New York born and raised Italians, they had never heard of Lidia Bastianich. 

                                                                  Lidia Bastianich

"Oh, my!" I gushed to my cousin,"I watch Lidia's cooking show on PBS every chance I get, which is odd since I can't cook my way out of a paper bag and don't understand fine dining or cooking. The only words I really understand when she speaks are olive oil, sausage and pasta. There is just something about that lady and her show I like."

My cousin nodded and didn't reply because her face was stuffed with some raspberry-pear ravioli or something. Her eyes were crossing in ecstasy and she made it clear that she still didn't get why I was gushing over Lidia, but agreed the food was the best she'd ever had.

We sat there so long, that all the other diners had pretty much left and it was getting into prep time for dinner. My cousin went to the restroom.

I was looking at the bill, that was close to the price of a small country--but did not care. Yes, that delicious. The King and I and my cousin's husband were chatting when I saw HER out of the corner of my eye.

I have a pretty soft voice and did not mean for my voice to carry. "Oh, my God!" I nudged the King," Look there's Lidia!!!"

She was walking across the dining room, apparently on her way out after a long day. I truly did not mean for her to hear me.

Her body language indicated my screeching had reached her ears and it ticked her off slightly, but she shrugged it off and strode to our table and graciously asked us how everything was. I was mortified, because I had NO intention of her hearing me and coming over. I am rather an introvert.

I couldn't stop gushing, even though I could see she was tired. I told her I watched her on PBS and asked her to sign her newest cookbook for me. She did. What a lady.

The three of us are sitting there in shock after she left. The King was as big a Lidia fan as I was--even before we ate her food. He's usually a little more extroverted and he couldn't say a word, except thank you.

My cousin's husband didn't know who she was, so he just said thanks for the good food.

The door closed as Lidia left her famous Felidia and my cousin returned from the restroom. We told her that she missed Lidia. "Darn!" she yelled. "I always miss everything!" Now, my cousin is the extrovert in the group and would have loved Lidia.

And that is my only brush with fine dining. So, rest assured, I don't know my arse from a souffle. Nor, do I apparently know to use my inside voice when Lidia walks by. So, all that will conspire to get you the most questionable restaurant reviews money can't buy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Setup: Pete Crooks New Book With Forward by Lt. Joe Kenda

I'm a big Lt. Joe Kenda fan and a fan of true crime. So, imagine my delight when I received this email from journalist and author, Peter Crooks.

Hi there,

I came across your blog about Joe Kenda and thought I would let you know about a true crime book I published earlier this year. The story, about a group of con artists who wanted celebrity attention at any cost, is quite a wild tale and has a bizarre intersection with Kenda's show.

I interviewed Kenda for the book, and ended up becoming friends with him, so I asked if he would contribute the forward. He was very generous (and insightful), so he did.

Thanks for your attention!


There's the link to Amazon above, for all true crime and Kenda fans to check out the book.

I lived in Colorado Springs for over two decades and it was in the Springs that Kenda solved nearly 400 homicides. 

I just discovered Kenda on Investigation Discovery TV and am catching up with reruns. Imagine my surprise the other day when I saw my former boss, Howard Black, a former colleague of Kenda's on Lt. Joe Kenda: Homicide Hunter. I worked on a special short-term project as a civilian at the Colorado Springs Police Department, but never met Kenda. But I was  impressed by his former colleague, even though I did not know of Kenda back then.

So, all True Story Club readers--go check out Pete Crooks book, with a forward by Lt. Joe Kenda.

I haven't had a chance to read the book, but if it has the Kenda stamp of approval, I'm certain it's a great read.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Florence, Colorado: The Epicenter of Scary Clowns

The King of Impeccable Taste reminded me today that Florence, Colorado IS the antiques capital of Colorado and that while he enjoys mocking a scary clown or two, that many people actually collect and enjoy clowns.

I told him to prove it and he just stood there with a slack jaw. The King is pretty good at comebacks and came up with this. "Well, they would not have manufactured so many clowns to begin with if there was not a demand."

"Tell that to the Goodwills and thrift stores across the world that are overrun with an abundance of clowns." I smirked.

We'll never win this battle. So, as usual we'll just let the clowns speak for themselves.

All I'm saying is that if Florence is the antiques capital and has the highest amount of antiques stores per capita in the state, then it isn't a far reach that the town just might have the highest capita of scary clowns.

I suppose this clown could be a good learning tool. Perhaps give it to one's young son and tell him: "Why Junior, this clown has a receding hairline just like your dear, old dad. There is such a thing as male pattern balding. So when you grow up, you won't be surprised. And try and get a good education and job, so you can afford some hair plugs."

Oh, my! There's price tags on all of us. Doesn't anyone realize that if you paid people to take us away, we still probably wouldn't get good homes?

Why the little doll dressed up as a bear has a look on her face like she just saw something shocking! Wait, it couldn't be because she just saw a hideous clown stuck in with legit collectibles, could it?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Florence Colorado: FREE, FRIENDLY & FUNky

Remember a couple of blog posts ago, I suggested that Florence should NOT be known as the new Manitou, but instead: The FUNkytown of Fremont County?

I've actually come to the conclusion that one cannot label Florence. This town simply defies such pesky boundaries. Today, it's the freest, friendliest and FUNkiest town. Tomorrow it might be something different.

How did I come to that conclusion today? Well, as you might know, I am married to The King of Impeccable Taste. We've already established he likes to makes folk art and steampunk and other crafts from things he fishes out of the Arkansas River or wherever. But we haven't established that he is also the KING OF THE PACKRATS. No, he's not a hoarder. As The Queen of Questionable Taste, I do run a pretty tight ship and rein (or should I say reign) in his packrat tendencies.

Another thing you might not know about the King is that he's the kind of guy that will hop in the car in a middle of a blizzard or monsoon to get you some ice cream or run any kind of errand just because I might be too lazy to leave the house--or want to trick him, so I can clean up his mounds of packrat stuff when he's gone. So, he's a pretty good all-around guy.

BUT, he KNOWS that the Queen gets a touch irritable when he brings more junk home.

Recently I asked him to run a few errands since the Queen had to do our taxes. The Queen is too cheap (um, thrifty) to hire someone to do taxes and gets a touch irritable around tax time.

The King dutifully gets lost for a few hours, going to the post office, etc. I go to the garage when he returns and catch him in the act. He has a sheepish look on his face as he twitches a bit. "Look what I got."

"Why the heck would we need a paint-stained crappy ladder," I muttered. "We already have good ladders and crappy ladders galore."

"This one was FREE!" He crowed.

I scowled.

I gave him the snake eye. In my Italian family, we used to call it the evil eye. But since I rather like the King at times, when the moon and tides are aligned and he isn't ticking me off--I decided to just do the snake eye and not the evil eye.

"What are you going to do with this beauty?" I asked with just a faint dollop of sarcasm.

The King, who has no nervous tics, did twitch again. He knows NOT to mess with the Queen when she is doing taxes.

"Well, haven't you seen these cool shelves they make out of ladders? In the antique stores?"

I replied, that I had seen no such thing and hoped to never see such a thing.

Then I got up closer to this mess of a ladder and saw something that made me smile.

The King stopped twitching.

"Who made that sign?"

"I don't know. Obviously the person who left it outside for free," he said.

"I'll be darned! That's why I love this town. Who would go through all the trouble to make such a cute sign and cartoon just to get rid of an old ladder," I grinned.

I do believe I am now attached to this crappy, paint-spattered ladder.

Isn't it a beauty? And look at some of the crapola (that's Italian for: Get this crap out of my house and garage before I make you some concrete booties and help you swim with the fishes) in the background. Old light fixtures that the King also got for FREE in Florence at some other person's house that just put a pile of stuff outside with a FREE sign. But that's another story. Oh, heck yeah--I'll tell that story in another blog post, because the King just cannot be stopped and someone needs to start a Fremont County Chapter of Packrats Anonymous.

Oh, I digress. This is why Florence is the free, friendly and FUNkytown this week--because not only do people leave free stuff in their yards for people like the King to delight in--they do it in the friendliest and FUNkiest manner. Oh yeah!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Crystal Emporium: A ROCKing Good Selection

A visit to the Crystal Emporium at 107 E. Main St. in Florence is always fun.

We've stopped by a few times to ask for assistance on rock identification and prices and owner, Faye Roberts is always happy to lend her 40 plus years of knowledge.

Roberts offers free appraisals and is always glad to identify rocks for visitors to the store. She has also co-owned another rock store in Colorado for many years and opened the Crystal Emporium six years ago.

The Crystal Emporium is packed with many fine rock specimens, as well crystals, jewelry, antiques, fossils, gifts items and much more.

Roberts is also joined in the shop by owners David and Mary Roberts.