The moment chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey opened their new Italian food temple, Frasca, in August of 2004, it became one of the most sought-after reservations in restaurantdom.
As word spread of the duo’s pedigree – they both worked under chef extraordinaire Thomas Keller at Napa Valley’s French Laundry – citified Denver gastronaughts jostled with Boulder’s clanish souls for a seat. A 2×2 spot on the floor, cross-legged under the table salivating for scraps.
Anywhere their butts would fit, as long as it guaranteed just one taste from the 29-year-old Boulder wunderkind, named a Food & Wine magazine 2005 Best New Chef in America.
I have never met Mackinnon-Patterson, but should that day ever come, I’d tell him that his food — inspired by the cuisine of Friuli, a town in the far trenches of northeastern Italy — emerges as some of the most delicious and fascinating fare I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. If you have ever wanted to experience what transpires when a chef at the top of his game takes gutsy chances, this is your golden opportunity.
It is an opportunity that is well worth the incessant wait for a reservation and the unavoidable congestion that results from the clamorous crowds vying for space in the small, sleek bar area while waiting for their table to open. The dining room, formalized with starchy white tablecloths and linens, de-formalized with wooden ceiling beams and pockmarked hardwoods, and befitting a stunning glass-encased wine wall, is glamorously easygoing.
There’s a salumi bar with stools, a small harvest table propped with wine bottles coupled with a towering vase of colorful flowers, and Riedel stemware and Rosenthal white china gracing the tables. The room is gorgeous. And the entire staff is every bit as praiseworthy, orchestrating tables with the scrupulous mastery of a rhapsodic symphony. They simply do not miss a note.
And nor does the kitchen, which boldly experiments with classically prepared, four-star food while successfully avoiding the pomp and circumstance that often goes hand in hand with pushing the culinary envelope.
It gives them an excuse to serve balsamic-glazed speck with a gloriously sweet dollop of kitchen-made ricotta cheese coroneted with a fig spread one night and wilted spinach with fragrant sweet onions puddled in a Parmesan jam on another. Or, if they prefer, to peddle them both on the same evening.
The menu changes so frequently that you never quite know what the kitchen will offer next. On most nights, there are 17 or so dishes, none of them ordinary, and only one that you can be sure will appear on the menu — and that’s the salumi plate, a wonderfully simple antipasti platter teeming with translucent slices of Italian speck unfurled alongside salty prosciutto and cured salami. Straddling the plate are grissini, long, lanky breadsticks that double as wands for wrapping the meats. The catch is not to snap them in half before gliding them through the rafano, a white blot of freshly grated horseradish and crème fraîche.
On the Monday night three-course, prix fixe menu (a bargain at $29 per person), you might discover a stunning tartare of Maine scallops tumbling with braised endive in a lime marmalade. It offers an astonishing contrariety to the subtle lemon-dressed Bibb lettuce salad sided with an extremely seductive “deviled egg”, a molten velvet, mousse-like cloud of egg-y goodness. These dishes have nothing in common with the indelible housemade country duck pate punctuated with a sweet onion relish other than that they are all simply brilliant.
Mackinnon-Patterson has a born tendency to contrast ingredients and make them surge. It’s there in the flavor–leaping mound of lamb, specked with parsley and chives, served both ground and sliced — and deliberately at room temperature — and offset with a buttery potato salad toppled with wafer-thin cucumber slices. It’s the kind of impossible-to-forget food I long for.
So is Mackinnon-Patterson’s heirloom polenta dish vibrant with shockingly green asparagus spears and deeply fueled in a drift of porcini mushroom broth. And Mackinnon-Patterson’s house made gnocchi captivates with its forest of green garlic and
fresh herbs and rich substratum of brown butter.
I also love the lamb and pork meatball stew lavished with a carrot, mint and wilted spinach salad, the tastes of which exude both confidence and passion.
All of which explains why Frasca has been greeted with unyielding enthusiasm. Between Mackinnon-Patterson’s soaring talent, wine guy Bobby Stuckey’s mastery at matching quirky, boutique wines with Mackinnon-Patterson’s flawless food, and a beyond reproach waitstaff, Frasca has bolstered Colorado’s restaurant scene to new summits. Indeed, this is our Mt. Everest.
If You Go
Frasca Food and Wine, 1738 Pearl St. (southwest corner of Pearl and 18th streets) Boulder, CO, (303) 442-6966
Lori Midson, Colorado AvidGolfer’s restaurant critic (www.coloradoavidgolfer.com), makes a career out of wining and dining her away around Denver, where she lives, a city ripe with culinary surprises. She is a frequent contributor to Sunset and CITY, the local editor of numerous Zagat Surveys, and the Denver dining writer for AOL CityGuide. Midson, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism, has also written for other publications including 5280 magazine, Executive Travel and EnCompass.