First Bite Boulder- a Vegetarian’s Week-Long Culinary Quest

At age 13, on a ski trip to Steamboat with my family, I declared one night while out to dinner at a steakhouse that I was going to be a vegetarian. At first my parents laughed it off, but over a few months, then years, it was clear I was vegetarian. And I must say, looking back to 1993 all the way up until 2000 when I started eating fish and seafood, my choices on restaurant menus were quite dismal. Pasta Primavera seemed like the only “vegetarian dish” chefs knew how to make.

Fast forward now to me dedicating myself to becoming a great home cook and food blogger, starting a restaurant tour business, and marrying a chef who is a devoted vegetarian of twenty years, and my standards for vegetarian food that I’d spend money on in a restaurant are very high. As a team, my chef and I make some pretty amazing dinners seven nights per week, and we search for the best vegetarian restaurants in every city we visit. So, I feel confident saying I know my way around a vegetarian menu.

Vegetables and vegetarian dishes, in my opinion, are great additions to menus. Meat, though often easy to prepare, doesn’t always do it for me. Vegetables, on the other hand, often need a little more finessing to make them the star of the show, and Boulder diners are going to have a chance to taste a number of new vegetarian dishes during this year’s First Bite Boulder Restaurant Week, November 14-22.

You can see most participating restaurants’ menus online, and almost all offer at least one vegetarian option. But, I found seven places that I’d personally want to try that offer vegetarian diners something more unique than gnocchi or risotto. These are listed alphabetically.

  • Arugula, for example, has six veggie appetizer options as well as a quinoa stuffed pepper with root veggie hash, brussel sprouts, and canellini bean winter squash hash in a pine nut tarragon pesto.
  • Bru, one of my all time favorite spots in town, is offering a roasted vegetable udon noodle bowl. Chef Ian Clark is one of Boulder’s most talented chefs/brewers, so I’d love to try his noodle bowl with at least a couple of his beers.
  • Cafe Aion is offering a winter squash and cauliflower tagine. I love tagines! And, incase you haven’t heard, cauliflower is the new kale, so this is a must try dish in my book.
  • The Greenbriar Inn is also thinking outside the box and serving a roasted vegetable terrine with grilled portobello, roasted bell peppers, smoked zucchini, charred tofu, pickled onion, and a green olive and tomato salsa.
  • Leaf, Boulder’s only all vegetarian formal dining establishment, has an entire menu for vegetarians, but I think their sweet potato au gratin sounds the most inviting with black bean puree, sautéed kale, and crispy parsnips.
  • Shine‘s menu offers a mushroom and goat cheese house-stuffed (grain free) ravioli. Their recent Great American Beer Fest win is reason enough to celebrate with a cheers to Boulder’s favorite triplets.
  • Volta is also incredibly tempting this year as they’re serving a vegetarian moussaka with potato, eggplant, butternut squash, béchamel, spicy pumpkin purée, and pepitas. Please and thank you!

Where to find a local turkey this year…

Thanksgiving is upon us and I was hired to prepare a feast for one of my client’s family this year. The first thing I decided was I’d prefer a local bird to a Whole Foods bird. As I’ve never purchased a local bird here in Boulder, I asked Lynne Eppel of Edible Front Range for her thoughts. She suggested I ask Eric Skokan of Black Cat Farm, which I did at the Saturday Farmers’ Market. Eric told me that he didn’t sell his turkeys, but across from his farm stand was Jodar Farms, and they sold turkeys. Easy.

I asked at Jodar Farms and they sell free range turkeys at $4 per pound. They anticipate all of their birds being between 18-30 pounds. Jodar is apparently one of the only farms selling turkeys as many farmers have given up raising them because the profit margin is very low. I found this very surprising. Also surprising is the following info I received from Jodar: They feed their birds conventional feed, so they’re likely fed GMO feed. Also, being located in Fort Collins, they work closely with breweries and feed their birds a lot of spent grain, so their diet is not just corn by any means, but again, possibly contains a lot of GMO feed. Finally, the birds will have to be frozen as their facility is too small to store the birds in refrigeration. I had expected a local bird to be one I could pick up a day or two before Thanksgiving and not have to defrost it, but that is not the case.

So, I’m on the fence about this one… I need to ask my clients what they prefer, but being that they eat a 100% organic diet, I have a feeling the Whole Foods bird is going to on the table this year.

Thumbs Down: Zeal Food for Enthusiasts

Zeal- Food for Enthusiasts, a not-quite one year old establishment, has just fired their second executive chef in ten months. First time restauranteur Wayde Jester has, according to comment from his staff, refused to listen to advice from veterans in the industry and has preferred to run a place where people are fired for not fitting in with the “love will see us through” front of the house philosophy that has formed a cult of sorts in the management.

Front of the house issues have been apparent from the start, which is expected when one has no experience and tries to play restauranteur without listening to and following the advice of industry professionals who have worked hard and done this all before. But, the back of the house was originally staffed with professional chefs with experience at OAK at Fourteenth, L’atelier, Frasca, and Jax, to name a few successful restaurant models here in town.

The most recent shift has brought A Bolder Table to the decision to boycott Zeal. Their executive chef, Sean Smith, had poured everything he had into running that kitchen and was called in for a meeting on his day off to be blind-sided and fired, effective immediately, with no severance, for doing a great job and working incredibly hard, but not leaving the kitchen to socialize with Zeal’s guests. I’m sorry folks, but chefs usually don’t socialize- they run the kitchen and make your dining experience possible with the help of the front of the house staff being there to touch tables and mingle with diners. Wayde Jester fired a chef with no one next in line to be trained in Sean’s duties. Staff moral is very low and each and every employee has reached out to Sean in tears, outrage, or just plain disbelief.

The “love is all we need” facade will only last so long. Showing zero love to one of the most hard working and important employees of their establishment is the antithesis to who they say they are.

*Disclaimer- Sean Smith is connected to A Bolder Table, so we are not just passionate about the issue, but know all of the dirty details.

Summer Tasting Tour

Local Table Tours was recently asked by the Boulder Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to bring a travel writer around town to some of our favorite spots for an evening dining tour. Sounds like fun!

As it was a Tuesday, we started at Cured to enjoy their weekly Tuesday evening wine tasting, and followed that with a delicious cheese and charcuterie platter prepared by their esteemed manager, Jessica.

Cured Cheese Plate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jessica knows her way around cheese and gave us a great taste of old world and new world cheeses and meats. We could have sat there nibbling and learning about cheese all evening, but we were heading over to Bramble & Hare for a few cocktails and local farm bites.

Bar manager Griffin Farro, widely acclaimed as one of the best bartenders in town, created three different libations for us to try: A beet cocktail with juice from Black Cat Farm’s beets,

Beet Cocktail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

one with carrot puree from their carrots, called Skokan’s Garden,

Skokan's Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and a bartender’s choice, which allows Griffin to play around behind the bar.

Bartender's Choice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next came a beet salad with house made ricotta cheese (and please pardon the lighting, as Bramble & Hare is a very dimly lit establishment).

Beet Salad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then arrived some ridiculously good Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

followed by some of the most tender chicken wings ever. Period.

Chicken Wings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chef/owner/farmer Eric Skokan came to greet us at this point and wouldn’t reveal a single secret about the mac & cheese nor the wings. It was worth asking, but didn’t get us anywhere close to figuring out his finger-licking-good secret.

And then it was time to walk a block away to Boulder’s highly acclaimed OAK at Fourteenth for our entree, or so I thought. OAK spoiled us with four courses of seasonal food and drink pairings. Sous Chef Bill Espiricueta started us off with a deconstructed gazpacho, served by pouring the tomato broth table side.

Deconstructed Gazpacho

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The light and perfectly prepared gazpacho was appropriately paired with a Monk’s Garden, a tail of basil and tarragon infused vodka, Green Chartreuse, cucumber, lavender, and lime (which can barely be seen in the photo above, just behind the spout of tomato broth being poured into the bowl).

Next, we enjoyed some corn and ricotta stuffed ravioli and a rose from Provence. Perfect. Simply perfect, except for the fact that licking our platters clean would have been frowned upon.

corn and ricotta ravioli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our ravioli was followed by wood-fired oven roasted chicken on a fresh corn slaw and a corn cake, paired with a Firestone Walker beer.

roasted chicken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, there’s ALWAYS room for dessert, right? There was definitely room for a mini peach bourbon milkshake.

Peach Bourbon milkshake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was an incredible taste of Boulder. Ah… the life of a food tour guide is very tough.

 

Zeal- Food for Enthusiasts. Three Farms in Three Courses

Zeal has been a great addition to the east end of Pearl Street. Executive Chef Sean Smith, formerly of OAK at Fourteenth, runs a very busy kitchen serving diners who are looking for a healthier dining experience. The organic, non-GMO eatery also partners with Conscious Cleanse by offering daily dishes that are cleanse friendly and periodic three course meals so cleanse participants can enjoy dining out while not breaking the rules of their two week plan.

The August three course farm to table Conscious Cleanse dinner featured freshly picked produce from three great farms: Toohey, Red Wagon, and Munson Farms. Our first bite, or amuse, was deconstructed Toohey Farms Armenian cucumber and dill soup with avocado, dill flowers, and Himalayan pink salt.

Amuse at Zeal

This was a pretty, perfect bite.

Our appetizer was Red Wagon Farm chard wrapped around sautéed Hazel Dell mushrooms with either curried green lentils, the vegan option (left) or a chard wrap stuffed with duck confit (right).

chard wrap

duck confit chard wrap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two entree options were Munson Farms summer squash “pasta” with either roasted seasonal veggies and herbed shitakes (left), or squash “pasta” topped with bison meatballs and roasted carrots (right).

veggie summer squash pasta

bison meatballs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, the dessert course offered two options as well: avocado and carob mousse (a strange concoction for vegans) or a Colorado peach and wildflower honey granita.

avocado carob mousse

Peach Granita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was a really good, healthy dinner, especially when you consider Chef Smith had to abide by the highly restrictive cleanse guidelines that don’t allow gluten or many of the summer’s bountiful harvest, such as nightshades. And for non-cleanse diners, our only critique is we wanted more of that Himalayan pink salt on our plates.

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