Actually, the Boulder County Farmers’ Market kicked off its 2007 season last Saturday, but A) the weather was icky, and B) I was on the road back from Telluride and couldn’t be there anyway. Therefore, today was my my first famer’s of the year and, judging from the crowds and the overheard comments, the first for many other people too.
Vasa Bar & Grill, a name that sounds to me as if it should be a Viking ship or Scandinavian flatbread (and in fact is both), is a Japanese-style eatery that finally opened on the prominent corner of 15th Street and the Pearl Street Mall. And when I write “finally,” I mean it, because the place has been under construction since early last summer. Some weeks ago, Vasa opened with discretion bordering on secrecy. In the first days (or maybe weeks) of operations, they kept the bamboo shades lowered outside of serving hours, which made it look like a construction site even after every tasteful object was in place and the “Now Hiring” sign was off the fence. Vasa is still a tad hard to spot, because their own sign is small and tasteful white-on-black, while above a corner of Vasa’s storefront (on the Pearl Street side), the plastic sign for the Subway nextdoor glares. Why did the Downtown Management Commission or other permitting agency even allow that? I haven’t eaten at Vasa yet. I don’t know exactly what they serve nor even their phone number. They don’t seem to have a website either. But remember that you read it here first, even if without details.
In the 1521 Pearl Street space vacated by Allison Espresso and Pastry Boutique, the newspapers have come off the windows and The Cup is now taking shape. Gone are the shabby-chic mismatched tables and chairs. In their place are stylish ash and chrome furniture. The counter is being rebuilt, and the chalkboard propped up in the window promises pastries, bagels, paninis and all sorts of espresso drinks and other beverages. No phone number or opening date yet, but again, remember that you read it here first.
The New York Times Travel Section today contained a short article on Boulder dining titled “Fine Dining With a Hippie Past.” Writer Michelle Auerbach rounded up the usual recent suspects: Frasca Food & Wine, The Kitchen and Mateo. She observed, “The new kitchens are refining the town’s hippie past, with an almost obsessive focus on organic ingredients, brand-name boutique farms and eco-friendly practices, like composting, recycling and renewable energy.” True enough. However, I think that she falls into a “stereotrap” when harking back to Boulder’s hippie days, which were ascendant a long time ago. I’ve lived in Boulder for nearly 18 1/2 years, and that hippie heyday had already waned by the time I got here. Now, you have to look hard to find what’s left of that ’60s and ’70s counterculture in Boulder itself, though it is alive and well living up the hill in Ward.
Fabulous as the “new kitchens” are, there’s also a lot to be said for some of the “old kitchens” — John’s Restaurant (established in 1969), the Flagstaff House (1971), Laudisio’s (1986), L’Atelier (owner/chef Radek Czerny opened his first Boulder restaurant in 1988). I know that there were space constaints to this assignment, but it always pains me when the media — especially the New York- and California-based media — are so fixated on the newest, hippest, trendiest restaurants that they ignore those that have been carefully preparing and graciously serving fine, sophisticated food for a long time.
I received a message directly from fairly new Boulderite, and since I presume that my correspondent is not the only one around who likes this classic French specialty, I’ll answer here. The question is: “Since moving to the Boulder area a year ago I’ve not found a bakery who makes real Brioche. Any suggestions?”
The first flip answer is, you came too late to enjoy the Continental baked goods at Le Francais and from the Belgian Bakery, respectively at the BaseMar Shopping Center and on 28th Street, south of Iris. I seem to recall having had a wonderful brioche at each at least once, and I’m glad that I did because both, alas, are gone.
Other than those two dearly departed bakeries, the only local place I know about is Breadworks at 2644 North Broadway (the same strip mall with the Boulder Wine Merchant, Moe’s Bagels, etc.; 303-444-5667). when I called to inquire, they told me that they bake brioches daily. When my husband made a Breadworks run, I asked him to pick one up for me. It turns out that they bake brioche bread, not individual brioches like that shown above. When he said that we wanted the smaller individual brioches, the woman behind the counter said, “Oh, you want a popover.” And that’s what he came home with. It’s a good popover, but it’s not a brioche.
You might have more luck elsewhere if you are willing to commute to find the brioche of your dreams. There are other French bakeries around to try. Calling in advance seems to make sense before undertaking an expedition, even if you have another errand in the general vicinity.
I have heard (or perhaps read) really good things about Daniel’s of Paris at 12253 East Iliffe (303-751-6084) in Aurora, especially about their croissants (my particular favorite when they are flakey rather than bread-y), but I don’t specifically know whether they do brioches. Another place is Katherine’s French Bakery (303-695-5000) at 2832 South Havana near Yale, also in Aurora. I’ve never been to either.
In Denver, Cook’s French Market, which recently relocated to 1600 Glenarm Place on the 16th Street Mall (303-893-2277), bakes brioches. I haven’t had them, because I’m never in downtown Denver in the morning, but I’ll bet they are good. Also, Denver’s Trompeau Bakery at 1717 East East Evans (303-698-9682) and Les Delices de Paris at 5303 Leetsdale (303-320-7596) are worth trying. The Denver Post just wrote of Tompeau, “As close as it comes to a neighborhood French bakery in Denver, Trompeau has an ever-present aroma of yeast and flour, and baguettes constantly coming out of the oven.” I wouldn’t be surprised if they both make brioches — and probably good ones too. Both have excellent word-of-mouth reps, but I haven’t been to either. Emogene Patisserie and Cafe at 2415 East Second Avenue in Cherry Creek North (303-388- 7900) is a also possibility. They make to-die-for pastries, but I don’t know about their breakfast goods, although I know that they do serve breakfast.
Babette’s Feast, a lovely little French bakery and cafe in Fort Collins, recently closed their original location, and according to their website, is taking catering orders until it reopens on April 1 at 1200 South College. I am not sure whether there will be a cafe, but you can call 970-223-0172 and ask.
Breadworks is evidently not alone in baking bread with brioche dough. I’ve seen brioche French toast and sandwiches on bread made of brioche dough on the menus of several area restaurants. However, for no reason at all, I assume that you are looking for indvidual breakfast brioches — the kind that resemble cupcakes or muffins in shape but a jaunty topnot. Good luck. Let us know what you discover — and what you thought when you tasted them.
The new Boulder Weekly (January 11-17 edition)– the one with Jimmy Carter Photoshopped as if wearing Palestinian headgear on the front page — debuts an expansion of its dining coverage. In the wake of the departure of long-time restaurant reviewer Jessica Hersh, Clay Fong recently began reviewing restaurants. Judging from his first few weeks on the beat, he seems to favor economical and moderately priced places.
In this issue, a second writer, David Miller, debuted with a lengthy write-up of L’s, the new incarnation of Laudisio’s in the 29th Street development. Fong is more of a reviewer, commenting extensively on the food. Miller is more of a feature writer, having been toured around L’s by Antonio Laudisio himself and quoting the veteran restaurateur, the kitchen manager, a sous-chef, a manager and a hostess. Neither is better or worse than the other; they are just different approaches to writing about restaurants.
What I do miss is the useful nuts-and-bolts information that Jessica Hersh, herself a chef, used add to her reviews until near the end of her tenure: days and hours of operation, whether a place is vegetarian-friendly, whether it is wheelchair-accesible, the upside and downside of the place, and what is noteworthy (a weekly wine tasting, for instance). Neither Fong nor Miller bothers with that. Is it too much work? Do they (or the editors) think that readers don’t care?
The new section, called ‘Cuisine,’ also includes some shorter writeups. For the first issue, which included Fong’s review of a Japanese restaurant called Ichi Ban, there is a bit of background of sushi and sashimi. As a side note, I have observed that when sushi is suggested, many people say, “I don’t like raw fish.” Clarification between sushi and sashimi is therefore welcome.
Other short items include a brewpub review (Southern Sun), a ‘News Bites’ section with brief items of interest to local foodies and a short profile of a wine buyer (John Balliet of North Boulder Liquors) and his recommendations of three sparkling wines.
I welcome more food coverage in the Boulder media.
There is not much I like about chain eating places — most of which don’t deserve the name “restaurant.” But yesterday evening, despite my skepticism and principles, I ate at the rare Colorado-spawned and -owned, healthy, reasonably priced example of the species. A shopping area called The Village distributes a coupon book that included a two-entrees-for-the-price-of-one voucher for Tokyo Joe’s — and there is a Tokyo Joe’s just a few blocks from the theater where my husband and I were planning to see a movie.
I ordered a small salad and a noodle bowl that came piping hot and filled with chicken breast and a load of vegetables in a just-right spicy sauce atop well-cooked noodles. I didn’t know that there would be so many vegetables, which is the reason I had ordered a small salad to start. My husband asked for yakitori chicken with rice. Including a big iced tea, with the two-fer coupon dicount and Joe’s no-tipping policy, we spent less than 10 bucks on fast, tasty dinner for two. It’s no substitute for home-cooked and especially not for chef-prepared, but I had no complaints.
When we sat down a little before 6:00, only three tables were occupied. When we left, 15 were taken, and there was a fast-moving line. The service was efficient. We put in our order, paid, took a number to our table and waited just a little bit for a freshly prepared meal to be brought to us. We even got to the theater early, and that rarely happens. I won’t pretend that this positive experience has converted me to the chain way of eating, but this one brand is far superior to most — those that I’ve forced myself to try, anyway.
I did a little research about Tokyo Joe’s and found that it was started a decade ago by a man named Larry Leith. Although he launched the first one in ultra-suburban Centennial, Leith is a Boulder-type guy, who was convinced that cyclists, mountain bikers and skiers like himself would be receptive to a place serving fast, healthy food inspired by Japanese dishes. He was right.
Aji’s special menu offered a choice of three appetizers, three entrees and two desserts, while Mateo gave no choice at all. Black Cat Bistro owner/chef Eric Skokan provided the most attractive deal of all that I tried. Diners were able to order from the regular menu, with a choice of any one of the six small-plate first courses ($4-$7), any of the seven entrees ($17-$22) and any one of the five desserts (I don’t know their individual cost because prices weren’t printed on the dessert menu). To read what my party and I ordered and what we thought, please go to my website and click on ‘Dining Diary.’ But I’ll tell you here that everything was beautifully presented, well prepared and served with care and elan. The photo above of Black Cat’s molten chocolate cake, for instance, shows a signature presentation of several desserts: warm sauce poured from a small pitcher at the table.
First Bite Boulder is winding down. Many/most top Boulder restaurants have participated — and it seems to have been an outstanding success. Mild November weather certainly encouraged people to leave the house and eat out, but I believe that the fine values were the main incentive for people to try different Boulder restaurants this past week.
Another terrific value this week has been the fifth anniversary promotion at Solera Restaurant & Wine Bar at 5410 East Colfax Avenue in Denver. Solera’s owner/chef Goose Sorensen is offering a three-course dinner for two for $54.10 and “select” wines for $5.41 per glass and $54.10 per bottle. I wish I’d been able to alert you to it before it was almost over.