A Riff on Riffs

Riffs Urban Fare an appealing replacement for beloved Book End Cafe

For years and years, some of my Boulder Media Women friends and I would meet every Friday morning for coffee and conversation at Boulder’s Book End Cafe, next to the Boulder Book Store. The cafe got grubby, but we loved it anyway for its good coffee, better house-baked goods, south-facing patio, even the leaky bi-fold front windows but mostly just because it was our once-a-week cafe. Tom Christopher, one of the regulars who always arrived earlier than the BMW group, would save the front center table for us until we had a “quorum,” which meant just two women. It was what German-speakers would call our Stammtisch.

We regulars were sad when the Book End closed and have been semi-homeless, trying to find an equally congenial replacement, but Riffs Urban Fare, the restaurant that now occupies the space, has retained a few treasured artifacts, notably the big ball of string and the architectural cornice high on an exposed brick wall. It’s a nice nostalgic touch.

Dramatic lighting on architectural salvage that Riffs retained from the old Book End Cafe.

The scene on a recent Friday evening with an impending C.U. home game was energetic, both at the bar and at the tables. It already seems to be a new Boulder hotspot. Opened recently by the talented John Platt of Q’s at the Boulderado, Riffs on the Pearl Street Mall calls itself a “foodbar” and serves attractive and well-conceived small and semi-small plates.  (Apologies for photographing my own shadow. The lighting tended to trick the camera — or at least the photographer).

Avocado Mash with chipotle-black bean relish and corn tortilla "spoons" is a contemporary take on guacamole with chips and salsa.


Riff's take on chicken satay has one piece of grilled boneless chicken per skewer atop a nest of soba noodles with not-really spicy peanut sauce and minted chopped cucumber.


Gold potato gnocchi with similar-sized kabocha squash, chanterelles, sage and Parmesan foam. A few more gnocchi and several fewer cubes of squash would have been a better balance. And I guess that foam is back!
Wonderful salad of flash-cooked Brussels sprouts with leaves off peeled off the heads and served in a soup bowl with brown butter, hazelnuts and crisp shallots.

Price check: In the evening, small plates, $6-$11 plus Denver Bread Co. boule with white bean purée and sea salt, $2; salads and soups, $5-$11 plus antipasto plate, $15; vegetables, $4-$5; “Pasta & Such,” $10-$15; sandwiches, $8-$10 including fries or salad; “Other Fun Stuff,” $13-$15 (fun including steak and duck confit; desserts, $8.

Riffs Urban Fare on Urbanspoon

7 thoughts on “A Riff on Riffs”

  1. We LOVE Riffs! It’s our new favorite place. We know the wine director, Sarah, from Q’s, and have long been a fan of Chef John Platt. It has the great food and wine that Q’s has but at lower prices, and a very cool, hip ambiance. And the service is wonderful. We’re in the process of eating our way through the menu (highly recommend the salmon!) and drinking our way through the wine list. ;-D

  2. I visited Riffs yesterday for the first time (it’s been open for two weeks). I had the avocado mash (avocado on top of black beans with about 5 large tortilla crisps) and duck confit with roasted yams and apples. The first was mediocre, but the second was delicious. FYI – the portions are quite small for the money. Oh, and the pumpkin flan is super yummy, too! Great cappuccino!

  3. We HAVE eaten our way through the menu, and so now we just order the numerous daily specials. And not going anywhere else, Riffs rocks! And to review Claire’s review: Why spend more words talking about your friends and what used to be in the space instead of talking about the food? And get a real camera if you’re going to do justice to this beautiful food. And people, even if you THINK you don’t like Brussels Sprouts: Order them! It’s not a salad, it’s a hot side-dish, BTW.

    1. Ray – Sorry my intro bugged you. Many of this blog’s readers are local friends with whom I shared years of coffee and converation at the old Book End. I never purported to be a food photographer, merely a writer/blogger who takes record shots as I go along. Atmospheric lighting presents the greatest challenge. I prefer to shoot quickly and unobtrusively using available light. A “real” camera with a “real” flash would reallly intrude on fellow diners. Finally, on that very busy night, none of the dishes that were desgned to be served hot came out that way — not the Brussels sprouts, not the chicken satay nor even the gnocchi/squash dish. I didn’t hold the overall lukewarm-ness of our food against the kitchen or the servers, who were doing the best they could. I’ll be back — maybe for lunch next time. Closer to the window. Using available light. Stay tuned.

  4. A friend just sent me an Email message about Riff’s. She didn’t post it here as a comment, but I wanted to share it with readers: “We wanted to like it, and visited shortly after Riff’s opened. We found it a cute place, but the food was mostly inedible; either too salty or too spicy. Hope they have adjusted their seasonings!” Anyone have a more recent food experience? I was there this evening with friends, but I’d been doing restaurant visits in Denver all afternoon so just had a glass of wine. No food.

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