I have been meaning to get to Frasca in Boulder ever since it opened in 2004. Bobby Stuckey is a great Sommelier and I have heard wonderful things about Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson's food. For reasons irrelevant to this Chowhound post, I actually ended up at The Kitchen on my one night in Boulder. As it turned out, I think I met more current and former Frasca employees both working and dining at The Kitchen that night than I would have had I actually dined at the original. It was a very jovial atmosphere with good wine, good food and a number of old stories flying around the bar. I was quite pleased with my detour.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I should give you a little background on the restaurant, the chef and the decor. The Kitchen opened just a few months before Frasca right on Pearl Street in Downtown Boulder. The owners describe The Kitchen as a "community bistro" and Sunset Magazine calls it the "greenest restaurant in the West." Housed in a historically preserved space, the restaurant is very light with clean lines, bright woods and a simple aesthetic.
Hugo Matheson is the Executive Chef and Co-Owner of The Kitchen. Born in England, Matheson began his career at The River Café, one of London’s landmark restaurants. Moving between the dining room and the kitchen, he worked with such cooking greats as Ruth Rodgers, Rose Gray, and Jamie Oliver. The Kitchen's limited menu evolves seasonally and reflects the simple and straightforward preparation of comfortable classics with a focus on local, sustainable products.
Now, almost every truly great meal starts off with a proper cocktail. I was hoping for something with bourbon, but the cocktail list was entirely made up of drinks with clear spirits. Even more disappointing was the fact that the list was heavy on the commercial vodka options (5 of the 8 drinks had a vodka base). Given the time and effort that Chef Matheson puts into the sourcing of his ingredients, I was surprised to see a house cocktail created around Absolut Raspberri, which is flavored with chemical compounds. I could understand if there were no alternatives, but Hangar One makes a flavored vodka infused with fresh picked Meeker raspberries from the Fraser River valley in Washington. As I said, it was a little disappointing.
Nevertheless, The Kitchen partly redeemed itself with the "Pacific Gin" - a well balanced mix of Miller's Gin, lychee juice and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice shaken and served on the rocks with a lychee for garnish.
For my first course, I ordered the "Munson Farm" squash soup with roasted green chile salsa ($9). Bob Munson has been farming in Boulder since 1975. He was one of the vendors at the very first Farmers’ Market on July 25th, 1975, selling green beans out of the back of a car with his two sons. He also began supplying some of the first health food stores in the area with his fresh local produce. He and his sons now farm 120 acres of rolling farmland dedicated to a broad array of vegetables from spinach in May to jack-o-lanterns in October. They also have one of the liveliest farm stands around - you can even go into the field and pick your own flowers.
With that kind of pedigree, it was easy to see why the soup was delicious. It was very rich - not in terms of an overuse of cream, but rather that it had a real depth of flavor. The chef was really able to concentrate the sugars and the flavor of the squash. The roasted chiles added a touch of heat and a nice earthiness that helped round out any inherent sweetness.
The hand-rolled gnocchi with braised short rib, cavolo nero and gremolata was next. The Kitchen turns out a nice version of the seemingly ubiquitous potato pasta. Admittedly, I am not the best judge of gnocchi. I rarely order it in restaurants (I ridiculously think I can make lighter gnocchi at home). But I am a sucker for short ribs and I just wasn't feeling the beet ravioli. The individual dumplings were nice and light with just a touch of caramelization from a flash in the pan saute after coming out of the water. They were tossed with a little bit of the braising liquid and plated with the short rib and a sprinkling of cheese. The addition of the bitter cavolo nero helped to cut through what would have otherwise been a very rich dish. The appetizer portion, which I ordered, was more than generous and definitely worth the money ($12).
I order the rabbit for my main because it isn't something that is offered on very many restaurant menus. As listed, the rabbit was prepared two ways (a larded, sauteed loin and a braised leg with mixed bean ragout) and served with a delicious parsley spätzle and whole grain mustard jus. To be honest, I was a little worried about this dish. It is so easy to over cook rabbit to the point that it tastes like cardboard. But if the first two dishes were any indication of the quality of cooking going on in the kitchen, I thought I could be in for a treat.
The loin was perfectly cooked - a nice medium rare. Of course there was still the larding to deal with. The loin had been wrapped in prosciutto before being sauteed. All too often cooked prosciutto becomes chewy, with a stick to your teeth consistency. Impressively, the prosciutto came out just right. It was so good, it made me wonder if more people would eat rabbit if it always came wrapped in a perfect cracklin' of fatty, aged Italian pork deliciousness. Oh, and the spätzle was incredible. I need to figure out how to make that at home.
To match the rabbit, the Chef suggested a glass of Loring Wine Company's 2007 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir from Oregon. Shea Vineyard was first planted to wine grapes in the late 1980s. Today it is a 200-acre property with 140 planted acres. 135 of these acres are planted to Pinot vines and the balance is planted to Chardonnay.
From Gregory Walter's Pinot Report: Brian Loring is a former software contractor from Southern California who turned a 15-year dream into reality and began making his own Pinot Noir. Brian’s journey from Pinot fanatic to Pinot winemaker began after he met and later befriended Norm Beko of Cottonwood Canyon Winery. He convinced Norm to let him help out at the winery during the 1997 harvest and ended up making two barrels of his own Pinot Noir. At that point, the die was cast and the Loring Wine Company was born. Right out of the chute, Brian went straight to some of the finest Pinot vineyards in California—-Clos Pepe in Santa Rita Hills and Garys’ Vineyard in Santa Lucia Highlands among them. He quickly expanded his operation to include to Oregon grapes and has made killer wines ever since.
My trip to The Kitchen was entirely unexpected but thoroughly enjoyed. There is a simple calm to the service, the decor, the atmosphere and the cooking at this restaurant. There seems to be a singular focus on providing the customer with good sustainable food. I will certainly look to go back next time I am in Boulder.
Check out photos of the food here: http://www.blogger.com/posts.g?blogID...
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