Tuesday, December 21, 2004
And they can meet friends without having to agree on one type of cuisine.
More and more visitors to Steamboat Springs are following locals to Azteca/Gobi like skiers to a secret powder stash. They're discovering the best fish tacos in town and Asian stir fry they can customize with 21 vegetable selections and nine exotic sauces. And they're dining, most times, within 11 minutes of walking in the door.
Azteca has been open for just five years, but its great value and rustic setting make it feel like one of those fixtures that define Colorado mountain towns.
The ambience is definitely Steamboat unpretentious -- one of the owners goes so far as calling it haphazard. Rough pine plank flooring and peeled log posts set the tone. The walls are adorned with a gallery of snowboard photos. There is a collection of images of young freestyle skier Katerina Mader, who fuels up at Gobi on her way to the Olympics.
Partners Jim Ruggiero, John Bitume and Jonas Gabriel have a simple philosophy -- offer customers multiple casual dining options under one roof, serve only fresh foods and hold the line on prices.
The price of the $4.65 grilled chicken burrito at Azteca has not changed since the restaurant opened in 1999.
"We're holding the line on prices," Ruggiero said with a satisfied smile. You can still buy a battered fish taco with chipotle sauce for $2.25.
The concept at Azteca allows customers to customize their burritos, enchiladas and chimichangas with a variety of meats, salsas, rice and beans.
"We don't pretend to be authentic Mexican food," Ruggiero emphasized. "We just give people what they want."
The commitment to fresh ingredients means the kitchen crew at Azteca begins preparing frijoles negros from scratch each day with a 50-pound bag of dried black beans, simmering them until they're just the right consistency.
The red salsa starts with hand-chopped, fresh tomatoes. The cilantro lime rice and Spanish rice are never over-cooked because the starch turns over so often. You get the picture.
When the partners discovered that the Gomez family in nearby Craig was making fresh tortillas from scratch, they quickly incorporated them into the menu.
They even added the Gomezes' hand-wrapped tamales twice a week on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The dedication to fresh ingredients on the other side of the building at Gobi Mongolian Grill is just as strong, and guests take an even more active role in designing their stir-fry dishes.
Initially, guests have several primary questions to answer. Do they want shrimp, ($6.95), beef ($5.95), chicken ($5.95) tofu ($5.25) or veggies only ($4.85), and do they want jasmine rice, brown rice or Udon noodles. That's not so hard.
Diners help themselves to an empty bowl and select their vegetables from a bar where they'll find everything from zucchini to baby corn and Thai chili peppers.
The selection that really distinguishes one stir-fry from another at Gobi is the choice among nine exotic sauces. Depending upon the sauce, one could be dining on Thai food, Japanese or Chinese.
The curry is prepared with coconut milk and green curry paste that won't light your lips on fire the way some Thai food does. It goes particularly well with chicken, shrimp and tofu. The other sauces include a mildly spicy chili-ginger, sesame, fruity Tamarind, spicy peanut, teriyaki, Szechwan, sweet-sour and wine-ginger.
When all the choices have been made, diners hand their bowls over to a cook who needs just 3 to 5 minutes to stir-fry the ingredients on a sizzling hot flat grill.
All items are available for takeout.
Azteca and Gobi offer a wide selection of bottled juices and natural teas, as well as margaritas and numerous beers.