Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday this year, so there’s really no excuse not to go out. If you’re not sure where to go, we at Local Table Tours compiled a list of some of our favorite date-night dining spots in Boulder and Denver.
These aren’t necessarily ranked in any order. Grab a reservation anywhere you can!
- Frasca Food & Wine- Quite simply the most elegant dining experience you’ll find in Colorado.
- Riffs- With a specials (Riffs) menu that’s always unique, this not-to-be-missed establishment is perfect for date night.
- Black Cat Bistro- Fine farm-to-table dining and an excellent wine selection.
- Bramble & Hare- Casual farm-to-table bistro adjacent to it’s sister restaurant, Black Cat, serving casual fare and strong cocktails.
- PMG- Downtown Boulder’s newest wine bar serves some of the best food in town.
- The Kitchen Upstairs- If you can find the doorway and make your way up the dark stairs, this swanky restaurant and bar will be a place to stay for hours.
- Bru (for the beer lover’s lover)- Great beer, great food, and free parking are three great reasons to leave downtown for dinner.
- The Populist-This intimate eatery is one of the city’s not-to-be-missed dining destinations, and is absolutely perfect for date night.
- Lower 48 Kitchen- Diners are consistently raving about this ballpark neighborhood eatery. One bite there is all it will take to make it one of your all time favorites.
- Coohills- A restaurant that never disappoints, ask about dining at the Chef’s Counter.
- Sushi Den- Denver, and quite possibly Colorado’s, premier sushi restaurant. Try the fresh tofu… seriously.
- Stoic & Genuine- There’s a very good chance this James Beard award-winning chef owned establishment is already booked for Valentine’s Day. Contact them now!
- The Squeaky Bean- There’s never a dull moment at The Bean. If you can’t get in for Valentine’s Day, consider Sunday brunch.
And no Valentine’s Day is complete without chocolate, so we suggest heading over to Colorado’s premier chocolate boutique, Piece Love & Chocolate, for a custom-made gift box. They’ll even ship it to you if you don’t feel like driving into Boulder.
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!
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.
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.
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,
one with carrot puree from their carrots, called Skokan’s Garden,
and a bartender’s choice, which allows Griffin to play around behind the bar.
Next came a beet salad with house made ricotta cheese (and please pardon the lighting, as Bramble & Hare is a very dimly lit establishment).
Then arrived some ridiculously good Mac & Cheese
followed by some of the most tender chicken wings ever. Period.
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.
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.
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.
But, there’s ALWAYS room for dessert, right? There was definitely room for a mini peach bourbon milkshake.
This was an incredible taste of Boulder. Ah… the life of a food tour guide is very tough.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
Just as the World Cup reaches its final days, competitors in another major international sporting event, the Tour de France, begin tearing over mountain passes and through city streets on their bikes. And Cured, Boulder’s premier cheese, charcuterie and wine shop, is helping Tour de France spectators in Colorado celebrate the epic race with food and drink that honors different stages of the race.
The Tour begins this year in Leeds, England, passing through a number of towns – among them, Harrogate, York, Sheffield and Cambridge – before crossing the English Channel for the race’s namesake country. For the English leg of the Tour, Cured offers Montgomery cheddar, the most legendary of English cheddar cheeses, and Robinson’s Old Tom Ale, a classic English ale with just enough power, funk and bitterness to pair gorgeously with the cheese.
“Montgomery’s cheddar and Robinson’s Old Tom Ale are made just down the road from each other, and it turns out when the flavors meet, they embrace,” says Will Frischkorn, a former professional cyclist and Tour de France racer who co-owns Cured with his wife, Coral. “Because there are few things better than a good cheddar with a good beer, we are taking a departure from the wines of France. There is something special about proper cheddar and beer pairings. In this case, maybe it’s that the beer and cheese grew up so close to each other – they share similar flavors and richness in profiles. In addition, the carbonation in beer helps create fantastic pairings. This one is especially wonderful.”
Each summer Cured hosts its own Tour de France, a trip much easier to complete than the 21-day trek around France. Will breaks down the Tour into eight stages, each corresponding to between three or four days of racing. Each stage connects the cheeses and beverages with the region the racers are pedaling across. As the riders make their way clockwise around France, Cured de France “racers” follow along with cheese and wine or beer.
Each stage, available individually or as part of the whole package, comes with a healthy chunk of cheese and a drink to pair. Most beverage pairings are wine, but given the English leg of the trip this year, exceptional beer figures into the Cured de France, too. Prices vary between $25 and $50, depending on the stage; the entire bundled tour costs $295. People who go for the gusto by participating in the entire tour receive the newly released Looney Bin bottle cage from Arundel, designed to hold a bottle of wine, beer, or just about anything else, loaded up with a bottle of Cured’s House wine as a thank you and a congratulations on your effort!
Cured de France boxes are available for pick-up at the store, or for $95 a box gets sent to your doorstep at the start of each stage.
Stage One: July 5-7 (England)
Stage Two: July 8-10 (Northern France)
Stage Three: July 11-14 (Northeastern France)
Stage Four: July 15-18 (Eastern France and Southeastern France)
Stage Five: July 19-21 (Southeastern France and Southcentral France)
Stage Six: July 22-24 (Pyrenees)
Stage Seven: July 25-26 (Bordeaux)
Finale: July 27 (Paris)
“At the finale,” said Frischkorn, “we guiltily enjoy Champagne and a wedge of Fougerus while the riders finally get off their bikes and bid goodbye to the 101st Tour de France.”
Les Dames d’Escoffier of Colorado are a lovely group of ladies, or dames, if we dare declare, who are a women’s philanthropic organization that raises money for women entering the culinary field. Local Table Tours was honored to bring them on a tasting tour to a handful of Boulder’s best establishments.
Our first stop was OAK at Fourteenth for a “healthy” start to our afternoon. OAK has been known for a couple years now for it’s kale and apple salad. Chef Steve Redzikowski started serving this salad well before kale was cool, and it’s been a staple on their menu since they opened. No culinary excursion to Boulder is complete without a taste of OAK, as it continues to be listed among the top restaurants in Colorado.
We enjoyed the kale salad with a taste of a cocktail, as OAK is lauded not just for it’s fantastic food, but for it’s beverage program by co-owner Bryan Dayton as well. We enjoyed a light tail called The Steph, which is named after a frequent customer of Dayton’s bar .
We had a nice table in their private dining room, The Acorn Room, and as with many tours, just as soon as we were comfortable, it was time to move on… to cheese. Cured was our second stop and one of their managers and cheese aficionados, Jessica, offered us some tastes of her absolute favorite cheeses- a Kunik, Dunbarton Blue Cheddar, and Pleasant Ridge Reserve. My personal highlight of this tour was when she told us we were tasting a brand new wheel of Kinsman Ridge that she herself had not yet tasted. This wheel was made by the Landaff Creamery and aged at Jasper Hill, which means a WHOLE LOT to you if you follow artisan cheese. If you don’t, all you need to know is it’s a delicious cheese and you’d like to buy at least a 1/2 pound.
From Cured we went to Zeal- Food for Enthusiasts, for a nice chat with Culinary Director Arik Markus and a taste of a cold-pressed juice cocktail, falafel (which features carrot pulp from the juicer) and hummus. Zeal is Boulder’s newest restaurant, and has quickly become an excitingly popular place for healthy, clean food on the east end of Pearl Street. We could have sat at their community table all afternoon talking about food, but it was yet again time to move on.
By this time we were running a few minutes late, but our next stop, Locale Boulder, was luckily right next door. We arrived to a table of ten Aperol Spritz cocktails, which undoubtedly caused ten smiles. A spritz, arancini, and pizza allowed us a nice time to relax, eat, drink, and talk about the Colorado food scene. It became clear at this point that Local Table Tours’ guides have a VERY difficult job (smile).
Our dining experience at Locale was highlighted by a taste of their Budino, a perfect pudding that you MUST try.
After our first dessert, we were invited to visit the Stefano Ferrara oven, a 1,000 degree wood burning oven that is relatively cool to the touch on the outside. This is always a surprise to tour guests. How could something thats SO HOT be approachable…?
After a tour through the immaculate kitchen of Frasca Food & Wine, an introduction to their glass polishing room, and exiting through the formal dining room, we continued on to our second dessert at Piece Love & Chocolate. Sarah Amorese, owner and chocolate expert, not only introduced us to her chocolate boutique, but offered us tastes of baked goods, truffles, chocolate covered candied bacon, and sipping chocolate.
This was an incredibly fun afternoon, and we at Local Table Tours look forward to doing something like this again soon.
Last year Pizzeria Locale featured guest chef Chris Thompson of San Francisco’s A 16 for two nights here in Boulder. Some friends and I had an exceptional dining experience that I documented on A Bolder Table. This year Caleb Schiff of Pizzicletta in Flagstaff, AZ, came to Boulder to be featured for two nights at Locale. Last year I had the privilege of dining in the Caffe rather than the pizzeria, and it was so much more quiet and intimate, so I requested a six top in the Caffe again, found five special guests, and arrived with an appetite.
Pizzicleta offered a prix fixe menu at $18 per person for three courses. Just as the A 16 dinner last year- this was without a doubt the best deal on dinner in town.
Pizzaiolo Schiff offered a Contorno (veggie side dish), a choice of two pizzas, and a choice of two gelati. Amongst the six of us, we tried everything plus a couple bottles of wine.
Our contorno was Melanzana alla Diavola- tomato, chili, eggplant, ricotta, lemon zest, and basil.
This rolled slice of eggplant stuffed with cheese on top of one of the most delicious tomato sauces I’ve ever had left all of us wanting more as we pretty much devoured every morsel on our plates. We were off to a great start.
Next came le pizze and we had a choice of red or white.
The Amore Oi Marí pizza had marscapone, pecorino romano, prosciutto di parma, arugula,and queen creek meyer lemon olive oil.
As I frequent Locale both on culinary tours and as a hot spot for dining with friends, I’m pretty familiar with the manager and servers. That was a real bonus for my group of friends and me because Dan, the manager, asked guest chef Caleb Schiff to greet us. Caleb didn’t just come and say hello- he introduced each course to us and answered all kinds of questions from my group. It was truly educational and delectable. Caleb explained to us that his dough is a sour dough that he makes with natural yeast. He arrived in Boulder a couple days early to make and proof his dough, and it was such fantastic dough that were money not an issue I’d travel to Flagstaff at least once a month just for a taste of his pizza. I was so completely satiated with his pizza at Locale that it warrants a trip to AZ to taste this pizza made in Pizzicletta’s own oven to experience the blistery “leopard-spotted” crust Caleb is known for.
I could go on to talk about dessert, but at this point I’d like to say the private dining experience in il Caffe is one not to be missed. Frasca and Locale will rent the Caffe for small gatherings, and it’s a very intimate, fun experience. Be careful though- The servers can hear everything, so if your quirky friend Matt starts talking about the whale jerky someone sent him from Japan, the pizzaiolo might come by to hear all about it.
After learning all about this mysterious whale jerky (which I got to try a few days later, by the way) Caleb introduced our final course, Gelati.
I got to try both desserts. I ordered the Roasted Almond Gelato which had a fine texture of almond nibs. My chef companion Sean went for the Olive Oil Gelato.
Pizzicletta features extra virgin olive oil from Casa Pau Hana Olive Oil Farm in Paso Robles, CA. I don’t recall ever tasting olive oil ice cream, and the few bites I had set the bar really high for any future olive oil ice cream. Chef Caleb explained to us that he gets very fresh olive oil (freshly pressed), and he enjoys cooking with it because it imparts a very sweet, fruity taste not necessarily found in olive oils that were bottled months before being opened.
By the end of the meal, we were all full, satiated, and quite happy to have enjoyed each others’ company in the private space offered by il Caffe. I’m already looking forward to Pizzeria Locale’s yet-to-be-announced next pizzaiolo.
There was no plan for dinner. Then, the plan was to order two pies from Pizzeria Locale to go, but I had just stocked up on produce at the Boulder farmers’ market, so ordering pies felt wasteful. And then the lightbulb went off- Why not buy their dough and make pizza at home? I tell almost all of my tour guests who get a taste of Locale that you can buy their dough to make pizza at home, yet I’d never tried it for myself. The results- a successful experiment in home cooking that I highly recommend.
I picked up two perfectly mixed, kneaded, and proofed balls of pizza dough that Locale sells for $2.50 per ball. Each is measured out to make one pie at Locale, so I decided to make two different pies.
Locale provides you with some simple instructions, so even novice pizza makers can make a pie at home. The biggest difference in your pie versus their pie is the oven temp. The Stefano Ferrara oven at Pizzeria Locale burns around 1,000 degrees and cooks each pie in 75-80 seconds. That was NOT happening in my house, so I turned my oven as high as it goes (450) and let it and a pizza stone heat up for an hour.
Meanwhile, I caramelized a yellow onion, crumbled Humboldt Fog cheese, sliced a local pear and apple, grilled an eggplant and garlic, and nibbled non-stop until I was ready to roll out the dough.
And let me tell you something about this dough- It feels amazing in your hands. I used to pride myself on making pizza dough from scratch at least twice per month for years and it never felt like this. Granted, I wasn’t using Caputo brand 00 flour, so if I REALLY want to experiment, I suppose I can pick up a bag of that at il Caffe and start from scratch… but I’ll leave that until another day.
I made two pies- The first was caramelized onion, kale, apple, pear, and Humboldt fog. It baked for close to ten minutes, and though not “wet” in the middle like at Locale, the crispy crust was perfect for slicing.
The second pie had a layer of heirloom tomatoes with grilled eggplant, garlic, and parmesan cheese. I can’t say which I preferred, as they were both really good, simple pies.
This was a fun and easy dinner, and I’ll definitely repeat it. Living around the corner from Locale actually makes it a little too easy on me now that I know I can make a fantastic dinner in a snap.
I was recently invited to a farm dinner at Three Leaf Farm in Lafayette, CO. For those of you familiar with popular stops on my tours, Three Leaf Farm is owned by Lenny and Sara Martinelli of Leaf and Aji in downtown Boulder. As I’ve been featuring both Leaf and Aji since I started Local Table Tours four years ago, I was excited to visit the farm they purchased, which is starting to supply their restaurants (seven in total) with local, organic produce and eggs. The Three Leaf Farm, besides being ground to grow almost every fruit and vegetable possible to harvest in the front range, is home to chickens, goats, pigmy goats, horses, donkeys, and bees. The evening started off with Bellinis and farm animal admiration- especially of the donkeys and goats.
We were invited on a tour of the farm with Chase, the head farmer, and came to understand the gravity of the recent flood: We were asked not to touch, and NOT TO EAT, anything growing in the fields. Three Leaf Farm was entirely under water for some time, and the flood waters had chemicals, oils, and potentially lots of nasty stuff in them. Consequently, the Martinellis have been instructed by authorities to leave all crops to rot in the fields and not practice any farming until the soils have been tested and they receive notification it is safe to start planting. The implications of this are clearly enormous.
Our farm dinner in honor of the tomato by the staff from Zucca was delicious. Sara let us know they brought in veggies from other local farms that weren’t flooded, and as the evening grew dark, we dined al fresco, made new friends, and appreciated our local farms and this year’s harvest more than before. Please enjoy some photos I took before the sun set and we dined by candle light.