Dining notes from (mostly) north Boulder - long
I've had some decent food out around Boulder lately, some of it fabulously cheap, some not so much, and lots of it very good.
We've enjoyed a couple of visits to Radda, where I think the house-named endive salad rocks and I liked my bowl of pasta, sausage, greens, and beans very much indeed. My sweetie had a thing they called ravioli but was a sheet of pasta wrapped around a lump of wild boar meat with some roasted tomatoes strewn around, all a little too deconstructed and tasteless for my liking. Freezing cold air conditioning actually sent me home to retrieve another layer. Once I was warm enough, we enjoyed our food and wine very much, and walked away with a pleasantly surprising under $60 tab for the two of us after we each had two glasses of wine (my sweetie's reasonable Barbera was the star) as well as apps, mains, and dessert. As much as I love Frasca.... Breakfast wasn't great the time I tried it: the first croissant they brought me had a hair baked onto the top and set in the egg glaze; the next one they brought was undercooked and mushy in the middle.
A week after Tom Eldridge's memorial we finally made it to Tom's Tavern for our farewell-to-Tom cheeseburgers and chicken strips for the young 'un, everything as excellent as ever. Our friends, who had grown up in Boulder, too, but never eaten at Tom's, wondered aloud whether anything would change in Tom's wake, but his son is taking over and I'll bet there aren't too many plans to mess with their successful yet simple formula.
Mateo hosted a little post-garden-tour party for a local elementary and served great fries and tapenade and goat cheese toasts. Dish made good (big) sandwiches, and a couple of bakers whose name I missed supplied really good pastries, from cupcakes to lemon tarts to brownie cupcakes.
We tried 4580 on north Broadway and liked it okay, but there's something missing from the whole equation. Decent food but again, chilly air dumping on us, and just a lack of warmth, no sense of who nor where all this chicness and tasty tapas are coming from.
We celebrated Mother's Day early with breakfast at Brasserie Ten Ten, which I'd been avoiding for many reasons. They impressed me, with a menu full of great-sounding food and we had a fabulous breakfast (if way too much food) -- and I think the best croissant you can find in Boulder.
About once a week, I treat mysefl to an apple turnover at Burnt Toast, because I love that place.
Another weekly treat is ice cream -- well, I prefer the gelato -- from Glacier, also on 28th.
I've also enjoyed a couple of fine little meals at a new place, 8 Island Hawaiian BBQ, on 28th, north of Valmont. Great stuff, from fried stuff to teriyakis to this ridiculously smoky, salty, and delicious pork that is available on Fridays. Apparently there's some traditional dish involving eggs but I haven't gone there that hungry yet. They also carry Hawaiian sodas and sweet coffee drinks, all of which are very sweet but good.
We had a good dinner at Pupusas, up on north Broadway, which is tucked into a little strip next to the North Boulder Cafe. Great, simple Mexican (mmmm, horchata), and I hear it's almost always busy in there; there are only a handful of tables and enough people know of its existence.
A little farther north on 28th St. is Kyoto Teriyaki, which has very healthful and delicious sukiyaki. Haven't tried everything else, but I bet that's a good place to get a non-starchy breakfast.
We tried the little Vietnamese-Chinese-Thai hybrid next to Safeway, Five Spice, on Iris west of 28th, but I'll warn you that those grizzled Asian guys in the back aren't washing the bok choy. Grit city -- so unpleasant I wonder whether I should call them and tell them that's why I haven't been back since that first try.
Chez Thuy, one of my usual Asian standbys (for grilled meat/noodle/egg roll bowls and excellent pho), is remodeling. Despite their signage, they seem to be taking their time; I'm guessing Mme. Thuy is enjoying the break from the relentless pace of serving hungry people in Boulder for the past several years.
We had a pretty good meal at Da Gabi, but it's never great -- I never leave there thinking, "I should come back more often!"
For a pizza party, friends ordered from O's (a little organic pizza joint, where the Hatton Creamery still sells a few flavors of ice cream as far as I know, in the shopping center with Lucky's Market and China Gourmet and Da Gabi. I tried some of their gluten-free pizza, too, and it wasn't bad at all. My only complaint about their pizza in general is it's a little bland and always seems a little underdone.
The Bookend Cafe, on the Pearl Street Mall, is a favorite for an afternoon snack break (their pumpkin pie is excellent but the bread pudding has, alas, seems to have vanished).
On the other end of town, the southern clone of the Walnut Cafe, on Broadway south of Table Mesa, still lets the air out of my tires, with greasy crust on a quiche heated in the microwave, gooey banana bread, and bacon that tasted off in the BLT (made with green leaf lettuce instead of iceberg). My six-year-old and I both liked the cup of Hungarian mushroom soup okay, though. But nothing they do ever makes me want to come back. All of this was extra disappointing because I'd been craving a tuna sandwich at the Southern Sun but they're only open for lunch Friday-Sunday.
Thanks for the interesting report, especially on the smaller places that have cropped up lately in Boulder. I've eaten at some, not at others and generally share your sentiments. Pupusas Sabor Hispano is an especially great addition to Boulder.
I'm not sure where you are coming from regarding Retaurant 4580 which has been one of my favorites since they opened. The original chef left earlier this year but the new chef (name escapes me) did a lot of time as a sous chef at the Flagstaff House, among other places, and I love what he has accomplished. You mention tapas, but they don't specialize in tapas, per se, and I don't understand your statement of not knowing from whom or where they come from? The food comes from the kitchen! And, from the collaboration of the chef and Martin & Susan Hammer, the owners. The place is modern but caters to a mostly local, North Boulder crowd and doesn't have an attitude problem like I've sometimes experienced at Mateo which comes off as being just too cool.
I didn't realize that Frasca served breakfast. I've had dinner there a couple of times and although very good, I'm don't think it is the absolute Everest of food in Boulder. And, I'm not up for paying what is probably $25 for an omelette (if they even serve something as pedestrian as an omelette!) But, I'm sure the wine pairing with it would be perfect. :)
Sorry for the confusion in my original post. Radda, not Frasca, was where I got breakfast -- Frasca still does dinner only. And not on Sundays. (It was an unfinished sentence: "As much as I love Frasca...." with the implied part: "I don't usually walk out pleasantly surprised at how little we spent.")
And IslayMan, I'll give 4580 another chance. Maybe it was just a combination of the things we experienced at 4580 that night, but nothing gave me that warm, I've-been-well-cared-for feeling that I treasure when dining out. I felt more of that at Pupusas Sabor Latino, honestly.
We felt well cared for at 4580 (owner Martin was making the rounds at the tables making sure people were happy, and the staffers were friendly), but we just weren't all that excited by the food. I really wanted to love the place, but there didn't seem to be enough of a spark to the dishes to draw us back. Granted, this opinion is based on a visit from several months ago with the original chef. I would be willing to give them another shot if someone can inform as to what the best things are to order from the new chef's menu, as they haven't updated their website (Kelly K. is still listed as being the chef). I am not sure if they still do this, but on our visit, we received a price break on a bottle of wine from the owners' nearby wine shop since we had just dined at their restaurant (a nice touch).
I also prefer the Salvadoran and Mexican specialties at Pupusas Sabor Hispano over anything I had at 4580, and it has merited return trips. There aren't many places where you can feel stuffed AND immensely satisfied after only dropping 10 bucks, but this is one of them.
I wasn't absolutely bowled over by Radda for dinner to the extent that I would be willing to evangelize for them yet (except for the matter of price points, which are indeed very good), but I would be willing to go back. They hadn't been open that long when I visited, so I'd be curious to see how they are settling in. It was packed quite late on a week-night, but I was able to squeeze into a seat at the square-shaped bar that occupies the center of the establishment. I had the ribolitta (not as good as the one Jennifer Jasinski and crew used to make occasionally when she was at the helm at Panzano) and a serviceable spaghetti carbonara.
If Frasca did ever serve brunch/breakfast, (a) I would imagine the prices would be much lower than at dinner as they are at all other restaurants at that time of the day, such as the Big D's outpost of Craft, where their $26 a-la-carte short ribs are available in a potato/egg hash the next morning for only $12, and (b) it would probably blow away everyone else's breakfast in town. Just look to their luscious frico caldo (described by many including the WSJ as "gourmet hash browns") for a glimpse of what they could do in that department.
I don't think you're going to get any dishes featuring costly white truffles when they're in season (as opposed to truffle oil) for only $25, jtc. You'll be lucky if the supplemental charge alone is that. Frasca had fresh ones in hand last fall which they were grating table-side over a simple but sublime pasta with Montasio cheese, and you could get them with a couple of courses on their prix fixe holiday menu, but they didn't come at bargain-basement prices (although I'd be suspicious if they did).
On the subject of price, you may spend more over-all at Frasca than Radda depending on what you order, true, but you'll also spend more cash at the owner's other spot Mateo than at their lower-priced sibling.
I personally don't mind paying for quality food, stellar service, a killer wine list, and swanky stemware (especially if I can get all four under one roof). It's not all about price, as I've heard people grumbling about paying $8-10 for a large sandwich with side at Dish Gourmet in Boulder, for example, but the Sysco-lovin' corporate cafeteria I am occasionally forced to eat at charges more than that for deli items that will fill you up physically but leave you wanting emotionally. I'd even rather eat a two-day-old sandwich from Dish with Long Family pork on it than consume inferior cold cuts wedged between slices of stale, mass-market bread from a company dining hall that commonly dishes up whatever factory-produced dross tumbled off the back of the bulk food service provider truck that week. :-)
Tom's Tavern is one of those Boulder institutions like Juanita's and Turley's that I just don't "get." Are they popular because of the public's fond remembrances of times past? I didn't think their burgers were all that special, but I realize there are more things that go into making a restaurant resonate with the public than food alone.
Any other recs for good, juicy burgers in Boulder?
I agree with your statement about Tom's. OK, but certainly not a destination. I think a great, overlooked burger in Boulder is Mustard's Last Stand. Not much for atmoshere, but they put together a great, juicy mess with any of their available condiments (got to have the grilled onions). Went to Thunderbird Burgers on the hill a few years back when they first opened and thought they had burgers of note. Haven't been in a while, though.
Thanks. I like the 'dogs & fries at Mustard's, but it's never occurred to me to try their burger. I'll have to give it a "go." I usually have to visit places like Mustards and Steve's Snappin' Dogs in Denver when my better half is away on business, since he typically refuses to eat hot dogs (even though he freely consumed mysterious breads stuffed with anonymous meats and such in China and routinely eats frozen pizzas). I'll admit that the average person doesn't want to willingly contemplate what's in a hot dog, but the right places can make ground-up cow discards and a piggy's nether regions marvelously tasty. ;)
Thanks for the recommendation for 8 Island Hawaiian BBQ. I drove by there a while ago and meant to try to remember the name of the place, as I'm always a sucker for Hawaiian BBQ places, and of course I forgot it! If you're talking about a traditional dish with eggs, you must be talking about Loco Moco.
I will have to stop by Brasserie TenTen to try that croissant. Good quality, flaky, buttery croissants that are the real thing (and not frozen dough) seem to be few and far between in the Denver area.