Boulder is a notable town for imbibing… sipping, knocking back, or, er… consuming cocktails. But, who makes the best cocktail? Boulder’s local 303 Vodka Distillery holds an annual Boulder’s Best Mixologist competition to judge just who is out there each year creating the best tail, and we got to sip (or put away) a number of great vodka cocktails at this sold out competition.
Competing this year was-
- Tyler Anderson, The Kitchen [UPSTAIRS]
- Conor McDermott, SALT the Bistro
- Mike Depalo, Aji
- Samantha Gutierrez, Q’s
- Justin Caldwell, Pizzeria Basta
- Jason Etheredge, Riffs
- Adrian Sutevski Task, The Corner Bar
Each bartender brought someone else from their restaurant to help shake up cocktails en masse for the hundreds of people who converged upon the 303 Vodka Distillery for craft cocktails, food, and a great time.
I asked each bartender the following seven questions to get to know them a bit better, and hope this post inspires you to go sit at each of their bars-
1- How long have you been bar tending?
2- What do you enjoy most about being a bar tender?
3- Where do you go when you’re out for a drink?
4- How would you describe 303 Vodka?
5- What’s the name of your cocktail for the Boulder’s Best Mixologist competition?
6- What was the inspiration for your cocktail?
7- How would you describe the Boulder cocktail scene?
And here’s what they said:
Adrian Sutevski Task- 2012 winner
1- 6 years, 3 years in my home town Las Vegas and the last 3 years here in Boulder.
2- The opportunity of providing the patrons with an experience perfected to each individual’s desire, including a person ordering a Pepsi no ice!
3- A comfortable, inviting, fun, and quality driven place.
4- Boulder’s own potato vodka that provides so many benefits to the community and beverage scene.
6- Books, guests, Chef Shawn, Chef Rethe, Chef Alex, crafting a cocktail that utilized components I had never used before and my former mentor Evan Faber.
7- Forever evolving, exciting, and damn glad I moved here and became part of it.
1-I have been tending bar for 8 years.
2- I love to mix and create. In other words, it’s my kitchen.
3- Ha ha! The Pub. But seriously, if I can, I go to any speakeasy I can find.
4- Creamy, a little peppery, definitely a taste of potato.
5- The Black Dragon
6- I don’t really have inspiration for most my cocktails, they just come to me.
7- It’s on its way, I still think it needs some work, but it’s just a little behind places like Chicago, or New York.
Conor McDermott- 2013 winner!
1- I have been bar tending for about 2 1/2 years now.
2- What I enjoy most about being a bar tender is watching a guest that sat at my bar a day/week/month/year ago, return through the doors of Salt and ask me to make them a cocktail.
3- Uniquely textured.
4- It all depends on what kind of night I’m having. If I am just looking to sit down, relax, and enjoy a great cocktail it’s between The Kitchen Upstairs, and The Bitter Bar. If I’m looking to let loose, I’m going to the Walrus.
5- The name of my cocktail is “Until Next Time”
6- My inspiration came from a classic cocktail. I took a silver fizz, and put a spin on it (with a little help from another Salt bar tender Seth Caparelli.)
7- I would describe the Boulder cocktail scene as filled with talent.
1- 8 years
2- Entertaining & meeting new people
3- Aji, of course… I used to work at Tahona & I love tequila so I end up back there a lot!
4- Best Vodka in Colorado! It’s smooth & crisp and mixes well in drinks. Plus gluten-free is really important in Colorado these days!
5- The Ex-Pat, because I’d almost always rather be drinking on the beach in the Caribbean than whatever it is I’m doing.
6- Ernest Hemingway – that’s all we’re saying.
1- I have been behind the bar for 3 years now, the last 2 years have been at the Q bar.
2- I love when a guest comes in with only a flavor or concept in mind and lets me get busy! It is so rewarding to craft a cocktail that is not only pleasing to their palate, but surpasses their expectations. Nothing makes me happier than knowing the guests are leaving satisfied and excited for the next drink I pour them.
3- I still love going to the tiny hole in the wall dive bars. I like going out and getting away from the craziness of mixology, sometimes simplicity is the answer to relaxing. I still have not found THE bar for a drink when I need something special, so there are some pretty big shoes that a bartender needs to fill in my life!
4- A pleasure to work with! I love the significance they have on the community.
5- “The Cats Meow”
6- I’m a lover of classic whiskey cocktails, so “The Cats Meow” was inspired by the traditional Old Fashion, hence the name.
7- Thriving and growing! I can’t wait to see the amazing things that will continue to evolve out of our already amazing abilities!
Justin Caldwell -
1- Total of 8 years
2- The freedom to build and experiment with mixology. It plays to my artistic side.
3- The Kitchen Upstairs
4- Simplistic and to the point.
5- IBA – Imperial Basta Avenue
6- What goes great w pizza ? Beer. So, why not make a beer cocktail?
7- Impressive, competitive, and growing rapidly.
1- Just over seven years.
2- Being able to take care of people in a genuine way is very important to me. Hospitality is hard to come by in our world and I love the fact that I am able to make people happy all day long. It’s a very rewarding profession. I love every day of it.
3- Depends. If I’m with a date then it’s Kitchen Upstairs; incredibly sexy environment, beautiful people all around you and a truly great bar program accompanied by delicious food (their hand soap in the bathrooms is reason enough in and of itself). If I’m out with fellow industry people or close friends then we always go to Bitter Bar. I’ve gotten to know the staff there really well and I always feel welcomed and taken care of (Justin is the most passionate bar tender I’ve met outside of Atlanta). When it comes to a crazy night out on the town we head to the Downer. They have the entire range of Pappy bourbon and it’s DIRT cheap (it can get a bit stinky and crowded but it’s a classic dive bar experience).
4- Versatile, distinct, and mellow. Most vodkas fall flat in the taste department since it’s a neutral spirit. 303 uses potatoes as opposed to grain or wheat so the final product carries a very prevalent earthy, oily, deep flavor that we all love about potatoes. It makes a great dirty Martini, works really well in Bloody Marys, and was a lot of fun to work with for my competition recipe. It’s certainly more challenging from a mixing standpoint because of the imparted flavor but it’s a welcome challenge and truly a nice base for many great cocktail interpretations.
5- I haven’t nailed one down yet, actually. It may end up being a last minute decision. Some qualifiers are ‘hot n happy’, ‘grena-dream’, ‘pomtato’
6- I like spicy cocktails and originally wanted to do a simple black pepper infusion but I decided to dig a bit deeper and see what sort of trouble I could get myself into. I played with shrubs, different syrups, spices, barks, juices, etc and this is what came out of all of that. I love the sweet and savory elements of the final product and that little kick on the end is the happy finish.
7- Eclectic, vibrant, bountiful, and extensive. There are so many great places to go, something for every taste, style, or occasion.
When the word got out a few months ago that ciccerone Ryan Conklin, was going to lead the beer program at a soon-to-open restaurant called Old Major, I knew that this new place must be something special if he were to consider making the move from acclaimed Euclid Hall. After enjoying a private tasting last week, it’s clear to me that Conklin (and a number of other cocktail-rock-stars, such as Brian Melton of Off the Cuff Cocktails, Courtney Wilson, president of the Colorado Bartenders’ Guild, and Melissa Durant, formerly tending bar at The Green Russell) made a great decision. This lineup behind the bar tells me a lot about Old Major- It tells me that they treat their beverage program as equally important as their swine and seafood.
Old Major is the newest place to open in the Highland neighborhood of Denver. It is conveniently located just steps away from Williams & Graham, which means I will always visit both establishments when I’m in the neighborhood. The building had originally been a roller skating rink, and the original wood floors provide a unique foundation upon which a gorgeously repurposed, carefully resourced restaurant has been built. The farm house feel is evident, which I particularly appreciate because Old Major, as you may recall, is the wise pig from George Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm. Old Major stirred a revolution against the farmer, by the way.
I was invited to Old Major for a chef’s tasting, led by chef owner Justin Brunson. Justin passionately described his approach to sourcing the best meat, seafood, and vegetables available while introducing us to plate after plate of soon-to-be signature dishes. An immediate crowd pleaser were the pretzel rolls with mustard butter. We sipped some red and white house blends, served on tap, that are made exclusively for Old Major by Infinite Monkey Theorem, and then explored The Smoked Fishplate.
Next came a Black Truffle and Pistachio Sausage over Potato Puree with an Escargot Vinaigrette, and by this point most of us had finished our wine, which was a perfect time for illustrious Courtney Wilson, formerly of Williams & Graham, to introduce us to the bar with a tasting of The Fair Deal, a Scotch cocktail featuring Pigs Nose Scotch, pear, Drambuie, and Cocchi Americano.
As a cocktail-tour-guide and self proclaimed cocktail-enthusiast (meaning I’ve been known to enjoy a cocktail or five…), I was glad to start sipping some of these new spiritous libations. They were, as I had expected, fantastic.
Chef Brunson followed the sausage with Pan Roasted Colorado Striped Bass on Lemon Risotto with Braised Leeks and Roasted Baby Turnips and Beets. As a diner who overwhelmingly prefers fish to meat, this dish was my favorite and I reluctantly shared it, as each dish presented, with my esteemed media companions..
Despite all of us starting to feel satiated, there was still one more round of food and drinks before dessert. We dug right in to Old Major’s Duck Fat French Fries and Braised Rapini as if our appetites had suddenly rebounded.
Courtney brought us another cocktail to taste- The Three Minute Rule, made with Cognac, Carpano Antica, and Pedro Ximenez Sherry.
The Luxardo cherry at the bottom was the perfect bite after tasting the Pan Seared 10 oz Pork Chop served with Parsnip Puree, Brussel Sprouts, and Guanciale in a pork demi-glace (poured table-side… a presentation which never seems to get old for me).
It was finally time for dessert, which is something Old Major takes very seriously. Dessert is not an afterthought here as it can be in some establishments, and that became clear upon tasting the Maple Bacon Creme Caramel with Maple Bacon Custard and Candied Denver Bacon Co. Bacon. Yes, bacon lovers- there’s a dessert for you at Old Major.
On the lighter side, we also tried the Baked Alaska with a Blood Orange Glacé, Meringue, and Olive Oil Sponge. Both desserts were addictively delicious and not a bite was left on our plates.
By the time we were ready to roll ourselves out of there, all six of us at our table agreed that Old Major was one of the best things to happen to the Denver food scene, ever. It’s so very casual– a de-formalized fine dining experience– Old Major is a restaurant not to be missed.
3316 Tejon Street
Denver, CO 80211
We’ve tasted a lot of great carrot cake in Boulder on our Coffee and Pastry tours when we stop at The Cup. Wendy Ball, owner, baker, and recipe-creator, is really proud of her carrot cake and everyone on tour always agrees it’s fantastic. That led to the question: Who in town makes the best carrot cake? To find out, we decided to throw a Carrot Cake Throwdown.
In just a few days we organized a sweet event at Savory Spice Shop here in Boulder featuring all of the best bakers/bakeries/bake shoppes/bakehouses… I think you get the point. Here’s who jumped in to the throwdown right away:
The Cup, Tee & Cakes, Spruce Confections, Piece Love & Chocolate, Kim & Jake’s Cakes, Shamane’s Bake Shoppe, Lucky’s Bakehouse, and The Tasterie Truck. We asked Chef Hosea Rosenberg to be a judge along with Dan Hayward (owner of the Boulder Savory Spice Shop), and Clay Fong (restaurant reviewer for The Boulder Weekly). The day before the event, SALT the Bistro called and asked to be added to the lineup. That made nine carrot cakes… and that is A LOT of carrot cake, friends.
By 1:00 pm, Savory Spice Shop was packed and we think close to one hundred people came through the doors to taste these creations. Here are some photos of the event-
The judges tasted their way to the following decisions:
- Best Frosting: SALT the Bistro
- Moistest: The Tasterie Truck
- Most Original: Tee & Cakes
- Best Overall Carrot Flavor: Spruce Confections
The public had a voice in this too, and the winners of the popular vote were:
- Best Frosting: Shamane’s Bake Shoppe
- Moistest: The Tasterie Truck
- Most Original: Piece Love & Chocolate
- Best Overall Carrot Flavor: Shamane’s Bake Shoppe
In the end, this was a really fun afternoon at Savory Spice Shop here in Boulder. It was impressive to see how many people came out to taste some of the finest expressions of carrot cake in town. Stay tuned for the next Local Table Tours Throwdown. We’re excited to do it again!
The last time OAK had a Pig Roast dinner I was busy guiding a private tour, so, I can’t say I was totally disappointed to miss it because I was showing some lovely ladies a fantastic night out on the town. But, I did wish I could have been there. When I heard they were having their fourth seasonal pig roast on December 5th, I made sure it was on my calendar. After attending the Milagro Tequila event it was more than clear to me that OAK knows how to hold a feast of an event.
I was dining alone that evening and walked in to the cocktail hour to find a lot of people standing around and chatting, snacking on OAK’s famous fried pickles, and sipping a Blood and Sand. A server immediately brought me one made with Johnnie Walker Red Label, Cherry Liqueur, Punt E Mes, and Orange Juice. This was a great start. I’d only ever had one Blood and Sand and it was on one of my cocktail tours, actually. It was nice to be reintroduced to a cocktail I enjoy very much.
The evening’s pig roast was a four-course Berkshire and Whiskey dinner. Master of Whiskey Robert Sickler selected five whiskeys to be paired with Chef Steve Redzikowski’s pig-centric menu. I looked around, saw my friend Jessica of Mountain Sun, and sat down at her table. I had intended to take photos and write about the meal. That’s all. It turns out I feel like I made new friends with the lovely couple across from me. Alex and Kate were seated at the same table as my friend Jessica. I sat across from them and we quickly got to know each other over a good meal, and conversation really got interesting when they mentioned they own a wooden Chinese pig roasting box called a Chinabox, which I’m assuming looks like THIS.
Soon after being seated our first course arrived. I snapped a photo of the kitchen just before being served Pork Head Terrine, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Rye Toast, Golden Raisin and Apple Jam paired with a taste of Bulleit Rye and a Holiday on the Bayou- Bulleit Rye, All Spice Dram, Apple Juice, Lemon, Honey.
So… it turns out I don’t really like terrine. At least not at this point in my life. After 18 years of vegetarianism, terrine is a little far out there for me. But I did eat at least half of it, so.. baby steps. The gourmands at my table spoke very highly of the terrine, whereas I don’t have a history of terrine tastings to compare, so I’m taking their word for it and saying it was a really nice terrine.
I did, however, love the cocktail (what a surprise:). I’m a big fan of Rye and always keep Bulleit Rye in my home bar because, in my opinion, it is one of the best bangs for your buck when it comes to rye. Especially when you drink as much rye whiskey as I…
But, back to the Berkshire and Whiskey dinner…
Next to our cocktail was placed a tasting of Bulleit Rye. It soon became clear to me what owner Bryan Dayton meant when he greeted us all and told us a substantial amount of alcohol was going to be served to us that evening and that we didn’t need to drink it all. This was, in fact, quite true.
Our second course was fantastic- Housemade Chorizo, Steamed Mania Clams, Pork Belly, Fingerling Potato Salad, Harissa paired with one of OAK’s signature cocktails: a 14th Street Soda of Bushmills Black Bush, Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur of the Alps, and OAK Ginger Beer. OAK makes really interesting, flavorful house made sodas. Some are alcoholic, others not. But, they’re bottled and served like a soda should be served- they pop the top for you like the good old days.
Allow me to introduce you to Alex and Kate- You’ll see them behind the soda.
I really enjoyed this dish. I’ve been experimenting at home with Harissa after my dad suggested it to me, so it was a nice surprise to taste one of my favorite chef’s use of this Saharan spice blend.
Next came a Thanksgiving-sized family-style feast of Bourbon Glazed Pork Ribs, Cheddar Grits, Rancho Gordo Baked Beans, and Sweet Potatoes with Roasted Banana. We got to pass bowls around the table and take seconds if we wanted. That was very cool. Very cool indeed. It was also great that the food was gourmet-homestyle-delicious-fall-seasonal-BBQ. I sure hope that’s enough words to describe this part of the meal.
To quench our BBQ-ribs-thirst we tasted some George Dickel Barrel Select with a cocktail of that whiskey called a Cascading Ribbons, which was made with Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur, Cherry Grand Marnier, Mirto, and Orange Bitters. We were getting drunk, I think…
And then came dessert. Brown Sugar Caramelized Brioche, Avalanche Creamery Blue Cheese, and Pecan Ice Cream paired with Oban 14 Year. Please and Thank You.
Now, there were some bartenders out in Portland Cocktail Week who referred to Oban as a “gateway Scotch.” Oh well- so be it. It’s a really nice Scotch. Pair that with Brioche, (which, by the way, I’ve officially banned from my kitchen due to zero self control), Avalanche blue cheese, and pecan ice cream, and you have a sweet and savory dessert accompanying a fine Scotch.
This particular evening was so deliciously fun at OAK that I’m already looking forward to their next Roast. In 2013, actually, there will be four Roasts at Fourteenth:
- March 26th- Rioja Roast
- July 9th- Bubbles Roast
- October 9th- Beer Roast
- December 4th- Mezcal and Cider Roast
I already have those dates on my calendar.
Superstorm Sandy smashed into the east coast, including my home state of New Jersey, and destroyed many things in her path. Having spent so many summer days on the boardwalks at the Jersey Shore, I felt a huge feeling of disappointment seeing the images online. If you know me, or have even met me just once, you know I make an interesting face and have a certain tone of voice when I tell you I’m originally from NJ. But, this superstorm destroyed so much- it made me feel sentimental for parts of Jersey, and my parents still live there, so I felt quite connected to the storm and its aftermath.
Chef Theo Adley, also from New Jersey, coordinated a benefit dinner at Mateo Restaurant Provencal in Boulder. Chef Adley assembled eight of the best chefs in Denver and Boulder, one of the craftiest creators of all things cocktail, and a uniquely Boulder baker, who, together, performed a nearly perfectly orchestrated culinary symphony. I attended this nine course feast and enjoyed it so much more than I had imagined.
This was a superstar line up: Kyle Mendenhall of The Kitchen Community, Hunter Pritchett of Luca d’Italia, Kelly Whitaker of Pizzeria Basta, Max MacKissock of The Squeaky Bean, Theo Adley, Jen Jasinski of Rioja, Bistro Vendome, and Euclid Hall, Jenna Johansen, Steve Redzikowski of OAK at Fourteenth, and Sean Kenyon of Williams & Graham. Tee & Cakes provided a delectable cupcake to finish up the meal and make for one of the largest dinners I’ve had in quite a while.
I had the honor and privilege to dine with Z Cuisine chef/owner Patrick DuPays and his lovely wife Lynnde, which, besides offering great company, provided me an interesting perspective to dining. I really don’t dine out with chefs- I feature them on my tours. So, as each of the nine courses arrived, it was quite an experience for me to taste them with Patrick and Lynnde.
Each course at the Battle of the Pans was fantastic, so rather than offer a detailed critique or review, here are some photos of the evening. Please note- these were shot in low light (except Chef Redzikowski’s dish because I wandered into the kitchen for a few minutes), and I’m no professional… but, you’ll get the idea.
Thanks so much to all of the chefs for coming out (many on their day off) and providing a fantastic feast, and thanks to all of the guests who, through ticket sales and an auction, raised money for victims of Superstorm Sandy. It’s unfortunate that a major storm brought them all together in one kitchen, but we diners all felt very fortunate to taste a dish from so many acclaimed local chefs.
Anyone who spends time with me knows how very much I love Oak at Fourteenth. The food, libations, owners, and staff make this one of the best places in town for a cocktail, small plate, happy hour, formal sit-down dinner, late night… It’s always great, but somehow, I think it managed to move up a notch.
I attended a Milagro Tequila make-your-own cocktail “class” and dinner, led by Gaston Martinez, a brand ambassador of Milagro Tequila. As a weekly guide of my own cocktail tours, I’ve tried a fair share of tequilas. But, this was my first in-depth experience with Milagro.
When I say the “class” was led by the brand ambassador, that means that a real tequila aficionado came to Oak, set up the Acorn Room with all things Milagro, and spent two hours or so introducing us to the Milagro brand of tequilas. As a note: I paid the $40 to attend this event and was not asked to, nor offered anything free to write a glowing review.
The attendees met at 5:30 in the Acorn Room, Oak’s private dining room, which was all decked out in Milagro Tequila swag.
There were Boston shakers, muddlers, ice buckets, and all the ingredients needed to make three signature tequila cocktails, such as blackberries and sage, pineapple and basil, cucumbers and jalapeños, cilantro, bitters, freshly made sour mix… I hadn’t actually been expecting to be muddling, let alone to be amongst a group of twenty muddlers, so, let’s just say I was stoked upon arrival.
Oak’s esteemed staff started passing their signature Crispy Fried Pickles & Green Goddess Aioli, Key West Shrimp and Grits with Tabasco Butter, and a welcome cocktail called “The Freshest Margarita” made with Milagro silver, lime juice, and agave nectar.
After a couple welcome beverages, we gathered around the table for a nice greeting by Oak owner and crafter-of-all-things-cocktail, Bryan Dayton. Then, Bryan set us loose with Gaston who got us right to work making our first cocktail: The Mercadito (You’ll find all cocktail recipes at the bottom of this post).
Midway through making my Mercadito (a cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro cocktail), I switched settings on my camera… as a side note…
The Mercadito was paired with our first course- Chicken Tacos with Guacamole.
One tip we learned from Gaston about our first cocktail, which had jalapeño, was that a cocktail that is spicy on the lips is too spicy. Apparently, that’s a fact, and it created some great conversation with those around me. By the time we had muddled, measured, poured, shaken, strained, and sipped our first cocktail, it felt like we had gathered around a table with old friends. It was clear the evening was headed in the right direction.
Then it was time to move on to cocktail #2- The Veracruzana. This one was particularly fun because we had to muddle pineapple, which quickly turned into pineapple juice after a few moments muddling. I shared in some giddy-as-a-schoolgirl enthusiasm with the women across the table from me.
We sipped The Veracruzana while enjoying Braised Short Ribs with Jalapeño & Peanut Relish.
Moving on to the third course… it was time once again to get muddling. Blackberries and a pinch of sage turned into a gorgeously fragrant jam-like medley in our glass.
The Carpe Dia was our third and final cocktail, paired with Grilled Chicken Tenders & Shishito Pepper Skewers with Pomegranate Molasses. Yum.
I had the honor and privilege of sitting next to one of Oak’s bartenders, Audrey, and I assure everyone at the table had a similar smile upon seeing Oak’s presentation of the skewers stuck into a log. It’s one of the coolest food presentations I’ve seen and hope to see it again at Oak.
But anyway… back to the booze. We weren’t done drinking our third cocktail (fourth if you count the welcome drink, and I had two of those, so… uh oh…) We were presented a tasting of three award-winning select barrel reserve tequilas- a silver, resposado, and añejo.
Gaston dusted the reposado with cinnamon, the añejo with cocoa, and brought out a plate of fresh mint that we got to slap (or spank) before adding a leaf to the glass of silver tequila.
I had such a good time that evening and look forward to Oak’s next culinary event. You can find out more about special events on the bottom right side of Oak’s website oakatfourteenth.com, or on their Facebook page facebook.com/oakatfourteenth. I’m going to do my best to attend their next event and hope to see you there, too.
THE FRESHEST MARGARITA
2 parts Milagro Silver
3/4 part Milagro Agave Nectar
1 part fresh lime juice
Combine all three ingredients in a Boston shaker glass. Shake vigorously with ice and strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a slice of lime and salt (optional).
2 parts Milagro Silver
3/4 part Milagro Agave Nectar
1 part fresh lime juice
4 cucumber slices
1 pinch cilantro
1 thin jalapeño slice (or 2 if you’d like it spicy)
Muddle lime and cilantro in a Boston shaker glass. Add remaining ingredients, shake vigorously with ice, and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a slice of cucumber and a sprig of cilantro.
2 parts Milagro Reposado
3/4 part Milagro Agave Nectar
1 part fresh lime juice
4 pineapple chunks
2 basil leaves
3 dashes angostura bitters
splash of ginger beer
Muddle pineapple and basil in a Boston shaker glass. Add the remaining ingredients (except the ginger beer), shake vigorously with ice, and strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Top off with ginger beer and garnish with a basil leaf.
2 parts Milagro Añejo
3/4 part Milagro Agave Nectar
1 part fresh lime juice
2 sage leaves
Muddle the fruit and herbs in a Boston shaker glass. Add the other ingredients, shake vigorously with ice, and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish the cocktail with a blackberry and a sage sprig.
Ají is consistently a delicious stop on dining tours in Boulder, but as someone who is frequently guiding tours, I don’t always experience restaurants during peak dinner hours for a sit-down meal. So, my esteemed guide Heather and I decided to indulge in one of their regional monthly meals.
Once per month, Ají offers a prix fixe regional dinner featuring cuisine from a different Latin American region. September’s region was Mexico, and I found myself wanting to speak Spanish as three fantastic plates of food paired with tequila cocktails were served.
- Para Picar
We started with Sopes de Jabali, which was a pinch masa cake, pinto beans, braised wild boar, salsa charra, and queso a mano. This came paired with a Corrido Blanco Margarita made with Corrido Blanco Tequila, lime juice, agave, and triple sec.
These little cornmeal cakes were the perfect vessel for pinto beans and wild boar because you didn’t end up with too much corn cake or too much topping. Heather and I discussed this nearly perfect ratio of corncake to topping and before we knew it, we were done with the first course.
- Algo Leve
Here’s what we found most interesting about this plate of tomato-based noodle soup and chili salad: The chili was stuffed with lettuce. I don’t recall ever having a chili stuffed with lettuce. They’re usually full of all kinds of cheese and high-calorie goodness, so after the initial surprise to find lettuce on the inside, it was quite delightful and light… which it should be if it’s called “Algo Leve” on the menu. “Leve” means “light” en español.
- La Cena
Neither Heather nor I had eaten a roasted quail before, so this was a fun first. The quail kind of tasted like chicken and had a decent amount of meat on those tiny bones. Chef Jaime Martinez’ mole was really flavorful and savory and tied the whole dish together. I will be back for his mole, for sure.
So, Heather and I gave two thumbs up to our dinner. Service was great, the food was great, presentation was great. We’re very proud to feature them on culinary tours and fortunate to have them in town.
A farmhouse kitchen and pub… I dig the sound of that and I loved the food I tried during the industry soft opening on July 1. New restaurants need to ease in to their rhythm, but for a first night of service, you’d be surprised to discover Bramble & Hare hadn’t been around for quite some time. Everything was on point, and our waiter- the esteemed Tyler Nemkov, former executive chef of Mateo Restaurant Provencal and part-time chef of Black Cat Bistro- delectably described all 14 items on the menu in a way that made me want one of everything.
In good company, of course, we started out with the cocktail menu. I ordered A Welcomed Pause.
What’s in A Welcomed Pause? I can’t recall. Bourbon or Rye… I didn’t snap a photo of the cocktail menu, but that’s OK for a couple reasons: 1. The cocktail program, overseen by Dev Ranjan (Sommelier of The Black Cat Bistro and Beverage Director for Black Cat and Bramble & Hare), is clearly one of the best in town. It’s so good, I’m excited to announce Bramble & Hare will be a new stop on my Boulder cocktail tours.
After clinking glasses and saying cheers, we moved on to food. Tyler recommended we order one of everything on the menu. But, we limited it to 5 plates and a dessert.
A quick note on the menu: It’s the coolest menu in town, and definitely one of the coolest I’ve ever seen. You get a mini pencil so you can write the quantity of each plate you desire to explore- it’s a sushi-style-menu. Also, the top is hand perforated so you can tear it off and keep that “portion for your records.”
A plate of seared greens arrived first. I could eat these every day. I have three words that highlight this dish: crispy fried garlic.
Next came a beet stuffed steamed bun and a doughnut with duck liver mousse. I didn’t try the duck liver mousse… Not a big fan of liver… But the steamed bun is quite a unique vegetarian option. I’m hoping they play around with all kinds of steamed buns.
Since I was dining with Molly Browne, my Cheese Tasting Tour guide, we tried Bramble & Hare’s grilled cheese sandwich. Let me just say it was the best grilled cheese ever and I’d go there any day for a grilled cheese rather than make it on my own… It was THAT good. This particular night they used a cheese called Les Freres, a European style farmstead cheese.
We also shared the chilled roasted turnips with were served with broccoli florets.
Dessert was definitely in order, so we indulged in a sour cherry pie.
Chef/Owner/Farmer Eric Skokan has definitely introduced Boulder to a new style of restaurant and we’re very fortunate. On his Black Cat Farm, Eric raises the animals and grows many of the vegetables served at both of his restaurants, so this is definitely farm to table. But, the price point for each plate is really reasonable (in some cases quite low), which encourages ordering multiple small plates and sharing- a style of dining I prefer.
I’m looking forward to returning to Bramble & Hare. Looks like I have a new favorite spot in town.
1970 13th Street, Boulder CO
Open 7 days a week. Lunch. Dinner. Late night (til 2 am).
The newest restaurant in town recently opened, and after hearing a number of positive comments about their pizza and pasta, I decided it was time for Heather (my trusty tour guide) and me to check it out. Pasta Vino now proudly sits in a space once known as Juanita’s- squeezed between Salt and The Kitchen- and is a nice addition to the west end of Pearl Street. While you’ll still hear some folks lament the closing of Juanita’s, I think after enough hungry diners walk in and satiated guests walk out, Pasta Vino will become another esteemed Pearl Street establishment.
Heather and I sat at the funky, lit-up, striped bar and started with cocktails. We were pleased to learn that Pasta Vino features house-made limoncello, so after asking for a taste, I ordered the West End Moustache- a cocktail with limoncello. Heather went for a barrel-aged gin Last Word. Two excellent choices.
Pancetta wrapped scallops came next, followed by house made bread and a salad. We also switched over to house white wine.
There’s something on the menu for everyone just as you’d expect at an Italian restaurant- salads, pizza, antipasti, pasta… and Pasta Vino features different specialty pastas each day. We were there on a Wednesday and had the choice of a spaghetti with prawns, a greens-filled ravioli, or vermicelli pasta with pancetta.
I tried the Bucatini and Heather went with the Ravioli. These were two more excellent choices we made that evening… (Maybe Heather and I are on to something here…) After a little freshly shaved parmesan we got to work on our pasta.
At this point, I must dare to say that the pasta at Pasta Vino was perfectly cooked. My vermicelli dish was so delicious that, despite feeling full by the third bite or so, I finished the entire bowl of pasta. Heather’s ravioli were also very well done. The greens for the filling maintained their identity and weren’t some wet mushy mess, and the chef seemed to have finished the dish in the oven because there was a crispiness to the edges not often found on ravioli. After much talk of bringing home the leftovers, both plates were licked clean.
Overall, I highly recommend Pasta Vino and can’t wait to start featuring them on both cocktail and dining tours. In the meantime, check them out and give their pasta a try. I’m already eager to return for another taste of hand-crafted Italian food.
1043 Pearl Street, Boulder
We’re proud to have been listed in the Yellow Scene 2012 Best of the West list for our Thursday cocktail tours in Boulder. A number of great places in town also won Best of the West titles, like Frasca, Cured, The Tasterie Truck, OAK at Fourteenth, Pizzeria Locale, and Mateo.
Check out the full list here: Yellow Scene Best of the West 2012