A Pearl Street culinary tour of Mateo, Black Cat and SALT
Culinary Connectors, the brainchild of Becky Creighton who traded in her position in the high-tech industry to pursue her food and wine passions, premiered just last year with tours to unique food retailers and top chef-driven restaurants in Denver, initially with van transport between them but now with walking itineraries as well.
Creighton’s company has grown like Topsy, expanding first to Boulder and next month to Aspen with tours led by Rob Seideman He is a well-known in the Roaring Fork Valley, having created and sold the Cooking School of Aspen (now gone). Creighton is also organizing two chef-led culinary tours (July 23-26 to Portland, Oregon, with Fruition’s Alex Seidel and August 8-14 with Tambien’s Sean Yontz). And the latest offshoot, Dishing Duo, which launched just yesterday, is a video podcast series by and for area foodies. I don’t have a link for it yet.
Back to Saturday, when I joined a congenial group of foodies on the Boulder tour that Becky personally led. On a beautiful May day, we visited three restaurants, ambling from one to another. The food was fab. The folks (most from the Front Range, plus a couple from Tulsa celebrating his 40th birthday) were without exception pleasant and friendly. Some were serious foodies, while some were mildly interested, which made for a good mix. Unlike spme other culinary experiences, there was no one-upmanship, which made for a relaxed and enjoyable afternoon.
Each portion of food and each pour of wine was modest, but cumulatively, there was more than enough to eat and drink in three hours and a bit. There were some deviations from the website’s description — no demonstrations at all and significantly more interaction with front-of-the-house people than with chefs. I point this out more as a comment than as criticism. In fact, it is totally understandable, since the kitchen at each place was busy prepping for Saturday dinner service. In fact, two of the restaurants (Mateo and Black Cat) are not really open for Saturday lunch, so accommodating Culinary Collectors was exclusive. It is also possible that there are more demonstrations and kitchen visits on other itineraries.
This tour costs $99 for three-plus hours of food and wine samplings in very congenial company. To book, go to the website, click on “Tours,” select what tempts you and then click on “Add to Cart.” For questions, contact 303-495-5487 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mateo, an atmospheric East Pearl restaurant specializing in sunny Provençal cuisine, has been redecorated since the last time I was there. Pale celery paint now covers the walls that aren’t brick, pendant lights hang from the ceiling and it seems a bit more space has been added between the tables. In short, the original rustic look has been made just a bit more sophisticated — a dress-up more than a make-over. Considering that the restaurant opened in 2001 (how could it have been so long ago?), the time was right for a facelift.
When this intimate restaurant just off the Pearl Street Mall opened in late 2006, owner/chef Eric Skokan called it Black Cat Metropolitan Bistro. Since then, he has also become a farmer and a recognized pioneer in Colorado’s farm-to-restaurant-table movement. It is fitting that he tweaked the restaurant’s name to Black Cat Farm Table Bistro. His thriving Black Cat Organic Farm in Niwot supplies his downtown restaurant as well as a new retail stand at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market just a couple of blocks to the south. If Black Cat were not in the middle of Boulder, Skokan would probably be farming right outside the door. As it is, just about everything other than seafood and Maple Leaf duck comes from Colorado, and since Skokan has just bought some ducks (as well as sheep, pigs and chickens), that might eventually change. The open kitchen is separated from the dining area just by glass. Because Black Cat does not serve lunch, prep work was in high gear when we Culinary Connectors gathered there.
The first of two dishes was foie gras tourchon with white truffles from Oregon, fig jam and crackers. The wine was Grüner Veltliner from the Austrian state of Burgenland.
A morsel of house-made duck prosciutto on a skewer with caramelized onion and parsley coulis and farm-fresh arugula was accompanied by a Greek wine made from the Agiorgitiko grape that has been likened to a Merlot or Côtes du Rhône.
SALT is not new culinary territory for me, because of the three restaurants on the Culinary Connectors itinerary, it is the closest to my home and therefore the one I wander into most often. Opened last summer, it has quickly become a downtown Boulder hotspot. SALT doesn’t call itself a gastropub in so many words, but IM(very)HO, it really is.Well-thought-out and well-prepared fare served in a casual, fancy-put setting. Owner/chef Bradford Heap created an inviting restaurant/pub/lounge that is more casual than Colterra, his Niwot fine-dining restaurant, but just as good in its type. Previous visits have been marred by erratic service. This time, it was attentive — perhaps because we were a VIG (very important group), or hopefully, because the service kinks have been straightened.
Communal plates of crisp fries with house-made ketchup started us off, and even though we had been eating for a couple of hours by then, we did them justice.
Our visit to SALT — and the Culinary Connectors tour — finished with a brief visit to the kitchen and also a peak at the SALT Cellar, the restaurant’s intimate and atmospheric downstairs lounge and adjacent wine cellar.