Culinary Kingdom: Restaurant Revolution in Boulder

Four years ago, when Frasca Food and Wine opened its doors in Boulder — an eclectic college town better known for its hippy philosophies than its epicurean prowess — gastronaughts rejoiced. This, they insisted, was the start of a restaurant revolution.

If two wunderkinds gave up their coveted French Laundry gigs at Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley jewel to be here, surely others would follow. They were right. Since Frasca’s inception in 2004, the town’s dining scene has morphed into a bona fide culinary kingdom spearheaded by a bumper crop of maverick chefs fueled by passion, personal investment and the relentless pursuit of perfection.

When I visited Black Cat(1964 13th St., 303-444-5500, www.blackcatboulder.com), the name conjured up silly superstitions, but easygoing executive chef Eric Skokan struts elemental American fare festooned with global flourishes — sans the

Black Cat chef and owner Eric Skokan worked in restaurants around the country before settling down in Boulder.

slinkiness. Canoodling couples cozied up on black leather loveseats while forging through the market-fresh menu of braised pork belly, fennel flan with wild boar, and roasted Colorado leg of lamb vamped with mustard jus, rapini and mustard spaetzle. Plates even come flecked with fresh herbs plucked from Skokan’s own greenhouse.

Carnivores may fear they’re getting the raw end of the deal at Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant (2010 16th St., 303-442-1485, www.leafvegetarianrestaurant.com), but this serene shrine to Feng Shui trumpets a versatile kitchen with spring in its step. Tour the map-spanning menu emphasizing organic, all-vegetarian ingredients and broaden your horizons with guacamole smashed with fresh artichokes, white bean cake, and red curry coconut cream, fig and apricot somosas sided with a trio of chutneys, and beet gnocchi bolstered with feta, kale, shallots and grape nage. The restaurant also pours eco-friendly wines and martinis concocted with Boulder-made organic vodka.

As the proprietors of The Kitchen (1039 Pearl St., 303-544-5973, www.thekitchencafe.com), Hugo Matheson and Kimbal Musk opened their environmentally-sound setting to a loyal bandwagon instantly applauding the restaurant’s smart eco-practices — wind-powered electricity, recycled and reused paper discards and composted food scraps. Matheson raises his own pigs, and the menu, whose strength is simplicity, defers to local, organic purveyors for the bulk of its sustenance. The end result is vibrantly flavored foodstuffs from all seasons —parsnip puree, Hazel Dell mushrooms, duck confit, and roasted burrata — paired with a 27-page wine list and fetching selection that crows with local microbrews and Belgian pedigrees.

At first blush, Pupusas Sabor Hispano (4550 N. Broadway, 303-444-1729) appears completely devoid of pedigree, but beyond the tiny, Spartan quarters, chef David Guardado, with the assistance of two tightly focused El Salvadoran women, handcraft fresh pupusas from just-made corn tortillas stuffed and steaming with queso blanco, frijoles, pork, Anaheim chiles and fiddlehead ferns, and delivered with curtido, a citrus-laced coleslaw. The scratch-made salsas, all of them scorching, are ideal accompaniments, and the signature chocolate flan makes for a sweet finale. Owners Gary Pierce and Abel Pena envisioned a restaurant with lines out the door. Join the crowds.

Since opening its doors in 2004, Frasca Food and Wine has been enormously popular with Boulder restaurant-goers.

And finally, back to Frasca Food and Wine (1738 Pearl St., 303-442-6966, www.frascafoodandwine.com), a faultless food temple that celebrates the cuisine of Friuli, Italy, seamlessly uniting high-end execution with honest humility. Those who eat here are cultish in their adulation of wine director Bobby Stuckey and kitchen magician Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, both French Laundry alums. House-made, hand-cut pastas, an unassailable salumi plate, locally farmed beef, lamb and pork dishes, and seasonal, swoonworthy soups are served in a small, rustic setting with a harvest table as its centerpiece. Reserve weeks in advance or risk missing the ember that sparked the revolution.

Lori Midson, Colorado AvidGolfer’s restaurant critic (www.coloradoavidgolfer.com), makes a career out of wining and dining her away around the Denver area. 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.

From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.

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