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Frasca Hype (Boulder)

Went to Frasca a week or so ago and while it was very good, I had a hard time believing all the hype this restaurant has received. I do consider myself a foodie, and I have been to the French Laundry, so I think I know good food. Maybe it is just me?

Things I noticed:
* the tables are stacked up along the back wall like a celeb haunt in LA or BH. Everyone in my party was fairly slender, but I had been a bigger person, the poor diner at the table next to me would have had my hiney in his face or plate when I got up to use the restroom. We hard a hard time concentrating on our conversation as there were 2 tables packed right next to us and we had to talk over their din. The servers also seemed to have a hard time getting food to the tables and pouring wine and water while squeezing between the tables.
* the food was overpriced for what you get. Like I said, it was good, but it certainly wasn't amazing. There were no specials on a Saturday night - I look for the specials to see what the chef is showcasing (either ingrediants or talent). Maybe Frasca can rest on the laurels of its chef and doesn't do specials, but IMO, the chef has the most opportunity to shine with off-the-menu offerings.
* I ordered the fish dish (pretty much the only thing that was GF on the secondi menu) and I asked for it without mushrooms. It still came with mushrooms. Normally that wouldn't be f a big deal for me, but for a restaurant with the reputation of Frasca, I would have hoped for my meal to come out properly prepared. I didn't feel like I could send it back because they were so busy that I would have received my non-mushroom meal after all my dining companions had finished.

The things that I loved were the gelato (good-sized portions for a good price) and the beautiful wine glasses. Other than that, I just don't get the hype. Am I missing something?

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  1. I think Jason Sheehan had an excellent response to this very question in Westword earlier this year so I'll link to it here:
    http://www.westword.com/2007-04-19/di...

    I would add that they are a small, neighborhood-style, family-owned restaurant. Boulder real estate is expensive whether you're leasing or buying, so yes, they don't have an enormous amount of space in the dining area or the kitchen. However, neither does Z Cuisine in Denver or Nob Hill Cafe or Canteen in SF or a million other good places to eat, but in my opinion, that's part of the charm and appeal. Not everyone wants to eat in a giant barn like Macaroni Grill and stretch out comfortably over boring food, and not everyone has the wallet or the appetite for a Per Se-type experience on a weekly basis. Frasca is obviously a different style of place than either of those two.

    I think Boulder is fortunate that the owners chose to put their own money and reputations on the line to open a white tablecloth establishment in a town publicized as being populated solely with tofu-and-wheatgrass-loving “trust-a-farians.” It would have been safer and probably more lucrative for them to open in a place where they already had connections like the Bay Area or Aspen, but luckily for us, they landed in Boulder.

    As for the daily specials bit, they make changes to their menu and re-print them every day depending on what is fresh and available from local farmers and artisanal purveyors, so it doesn’t make sense for them to have the traditional restaurant gimmick of announcing an “off menu” special each night.

    They will make things right if you will only speak up and let them know. They are very hospitable, but they’re not mind readers. They are also very accommodating to the dietary needs of their customers, particularly if you let them know when you book the table. I could say this is true of most places in the metro area, as none of them truly want ill customers or lawsuits.

    I don’t think the food is overpriced for a fine dining spot, particularly factoring in steadily rising food costs due to petroleum prices. I’ve spent $40-50 on mains in other cities for practically inedible food, so $19-30 for your typical entrée at Frasca and other fine dining spots in the metro area is a downright bargain. No, you’re not getting Cheesecake Factory-style portions, but is that really a good idea?

    8 Replies
    1. re: rlm

      I have to ask, is this a Saturday night problem for most really good places. I know here in the Eagle River (Vail) Valley, when its really busy, I've learned to stay home. The cooks and chef are harassed, the wait staff can't take the time to guide you and the "hordes" at the door are trying to stare you into leaving.

      1. re: BlueOx

        I think it's certainly more of a challenge for restaurants on the weekends when it's busier, but a person dining on a Saturday night and spending their hard-earned money deserves the best from the kitchen and the front of house staff just like a person dining on a Wednesday. I must express a general preference for dining out during the week as it seems to be more relaxed at most places and the service is more attentive, but I've eaten at Frasca and Dish and many other places on the weekends too when they've been slammed and have had great experiences.

        I would also like to add that it pays off to return and sample more of the menu at places to get a feel for the food and whether it registers with you or not. I used to frequent Panzano when Jennifer Jasinski was at the helm and Kevin Taylor's long-defunct Zenith when I worked downtown and found that some dishes at both locations were truly amazing and others were merely good. Even at my favorite places, I'll occasionally be served something that just doesn't do it for me, but that doesn't mean the exact same dish served in the same timeframe in the same manner by the same staff isn't "amazing" to another diner. In fact, my husband and I will sometimes order the same dish at Frasca and disagree about it.

        1. re: rlm

          Here's the thing about taking their staff to Italy for a mere few days (NOT two weeks) every year: that staff appreciates it! Most of their people have been at Frasca for years now. They provide outstanding service and know both the restaurant inside and out and the patrons who return time and time again. If Bobby was bragging about some month long safari he went on with his wife, well, that would be an indulgence. Taking their staff to Italy, the place that provides the inspiration for Frasca's food, is merely putting money back into the business.

      2. re: rlm

        To be honest, rlm, I don't think the boys at Frasca are hurting in terms of their pocket books with their Boulder venture. With all the national press for both Lachlan and Bobby, this has become a destination restaurant for foodies across the country.

        While I myself haven't made the treck from Dallas, I can't say that after meeting Bobby Stuckey, I am all that eager to fatten his wallet any further. While Bobby is a seemingly nice enough guy and he has forgotten more about wine than 99.9% of wine afficiandos know, I was definately put off by a comment he made at the F&W classic this year in Aspen. At the sommelier challenge, which he won, he made some comment to the effect that he was very thankful that Colorado as a state forbids corkage at restaurants (hence likely contributing to his motiviation to stay away from Cali with his restaurant). He indicated that because of this law, he has the ability to take his entire restaurant staff to Italy for a couple of weeks a year. Now, I am all for a restaurant making a fair profit, but I take issue at essentially boasting how the restaurant's inflated wine prices fund such an extravagant indulgance.

        1. re: Bhutani

          First, restaurants need to make money or they will cease to exist and we will no longer be able to enjoy them. None of the rest of us in other industries stroll into work and say, “No, thanks, boss, but I don’t need a paycheck, as I’m working for free today. It’s arrogant and wrong for me to want to make money off of my hard work.”

          Breakable Riedel and Bottega del Vino crystal stems and decanters cost money. Wine storage costs money. Buying meat and produce from small, higher-quality producers can cost more than getting dreck shipped in from corporate giants like Tyson. So does hiring and retaining a great, well-trained and educated staff that you take to Italy every year. Most people into food don’t mind paying a little more for quality and attention to detail like this. I’ve actually spent more money on bottles at other places in the metro area (as well as in your city) and received horrendous wine service for the extra bucks.

          Second, Bobby is actually a nice guy. His quotes in this article in the SF Chronicle about corkage will give you more of an idea on his opinions than his sound-bite that offended you at the F&W Classic did:
          http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

          Third, while demographics are important for anyone opening a business (does anyone open a business hoping to fail and not make money?), access to great local farmers also played a role in their opening in Boulder (as did the fact that Bobby’s wife is from the area and he used to live in Colorado as well).

          1. re: Bhutani

            Check the (online, complete with prices) vast Frasca winelist and then let us all know if you think it is "inflated." Also let us know what you are comparing the list to if you feel that way.

            As to whether it's an "indulgence" to take the staff to the region of Italy that the food is based on, well that depends on your definition of "indulgence." Could just be a savvy way to get the staff to both understand and be passionate about the food. As well as reducing turnover and thus improving the quality of service. FYI, see "Keller, Thomas - French Laundry, staff trips" for further info on this topic.

            And by the way, virtually any definition of the word indulgence would apply to attending the Aspen F&W classic so, unless you were there busing tables, you might want to check on the construction material of your house. Could be Reidel crystal...

            1. re: the_next_meal

              I will be honest with you, I was only one of a few that were put off by Bobby's comments. I have not taken a look at Frasca's wine prices nor do I really care to. While the F&W classic is most certainly indulgence, I don't think I would ever tell my patients or potential patients that it is because of what I charge them, I can fund such a vacation. It may be true but making such a comment is off-putting.

              1. re: Bhutani

                The F&W Classic is an industry event. It’s a place where restaurateurs can “talk shop.” Yes, they let in the general public, but those able to plunk down over $1K to sip wine for the weekend typically wouldn’t/shouldn’t be so easily offended by a businessman giving his colleagues tips for how he’s able to run a world-class restaurant successfully and still afford to reward his hard-working staff with an educational trip to Italy every year. This is no different than a doctor attending a medical convention, where physicians discuss not only the latest scientific advances with their colleagues, but also monetary concerns such as malpractice insurance and how to run a successful practice.

        2. Well, without being (too) snarky, yes, you are missing something. One is being "GF." Sorry, I know this isn't your fault, but that starts you off with one foot in the hole. Then you don't want the mushrooms that are part of the dish. While I agree they should have been able to remove them from your dish (though I'd bet money it wouldn't have been easy, or perhaps complete, as they were probably used in a broth or reduction, knowing how they conceive a dish there) frankly that's not the way to eat at a place like Frasca. When you ate at TFL did you also suggest to Keller that you'd like your lobster poached in canola oil rather than butter?

          You've gotten the "no specials" answer: In effect, outside of a few basics (salumi, olives, etc.) the entire menu is specials.

          Overpriced? Sorry, anyone who eats out a lot (at, obviously, good places) knows you are just wrong on that one.

          The one thing I'm with you on is the space. It does remind me of LA, and not in a good way, but that's minor in the scale of things.

          Oh, and yes, they do have great wine glasses, and the gelato, the fine product of the heroic Pacojet, is fantastic.

          1. Clearly, the overwhelming positive responses to your post backup the general feeling that "Frasca is worth the hype".

            While not cheap, I think Frasca is one of the better values in restaurants. Considering the quality, and the overall experience, I think it is an outright bargain.

            I also don't like the tables along the wall, because it feels like you are dining with 12 other people, but they will seat you at other tables if tpossible (we ask specifically when we make our reservation, and they keep track of which tables we like in their computer).

            Me and my wife absolutely adore everything about Frasca. We always have very high expectations for our meals there, and it has never, ever let us down.

            1. The first time I ate at Frasca (the night before they were first reviewed by the Denver Post), I actually did not like my main very much. There was nothing wrong with it, but it was not what I was expecting or what I was in the mood for. The way they handled this was so extremely gracious that they totally won me over (that and the fact that everything else was great). You really should have said something about the mushrooms, which they would have dealt with quickly and efficiently. I would also bet money that, if you told them you were GF at the front of the meal, they could have made suggestions on how to modify other dishes to fit your restrictions.

              It is also a restaurant that completely opens itself up to you on subsequent visits. We do not go frequently, maybe once or twice a year, and every time we are greeted by name, Bobby comes over to say hi and remembers what my husband and I do, where we work. Last time he even commented that friends of ours had been in a few nights before. (I think they must keep notes on dinners because it is really uncanny). The service has always been personal and impeccable. I've lived in NYC and eaten at all the best places there (at least those that were open during the time I lived there), and would put the service at Frasca up against a Le Bernadin or a Jean Georges any day of the week. It's a more casual style of service, but still perfectly executed.

              I also don't think that bringing your staff to Italy should be seen as some sort of selfish extravagant indulgence. They are bankrolling a trip for their cooks and waiters (who do better than at most restaurants in town, but are not rolling in it) to learn more about the food and wine that they serve. I think it is an incredibly generous gesture, and does really improve the experience in the restaurant. If Bobby said that he used the extra money made on wine to buy a palazzo on Lake Como, that's another thing, but using it to educate and reward your employees is a fantastic thing.

              14 Replies
              1. re: Megiac

                I agree whole-heartedly with all of these well-written comments from the_next_meal, booger, and megiac. I’m happy to see a local place take off and win the affections of foodies all over the world, and we should all want them to make enough money so they’ll keep at it and we can selfishly continue to enjoy their expertise and talents. Does anyone like seeing a great place they love half-empty on a Friday night with dejected staffers hanging their heads wondering if they’re going to make rent this month? I’d much rather see independent places buzzing with activity and life and vibrant conversations and clinking glasses like Frasca is.

                Sure, opening Frasca looks like a great business decision now due to the national so-called “hype” that has subsequently been generated, but I imagine even some of Stuckey’s friends must have thought he was a little nuts to leave a high-profile position at arguably one of the best restaurants in the world to move to what is stereotyped as Hippie-ville, USA, with a then-unknown chef and open a small restaurant (in an industry notorious for slim profit margins and a high failure rate) focusing on the cuisine from a less-known area of Italy where the dishes are not just familiar Americanized variations on pastas with a red sauce or white sauce. It takes cojones, talent, and lots of work hours per week to do what Lachlan, Bobby, Danette, and all of their kitchen crews and FOH staffers past and present have pulled off with Frasca.

                I am in agreement that their staff trips and the training they provide such as blind tastings enhance the dining experience and help attract quality employees. It is always great to have a staffer pour you a glass of wine from a winery they have visited or bring you a dish and relate a personal anecdote about it from their trip or be able to passionately and knowledgeably answer any questions you ask. It’s even better when winery owners they’ve connected with on their trips come to Boulder on one of their three-course $35 Monday night tasting menu events to pour and speak about their wines. I can happily say I’ve eaten in little Boulder, America, and had food and wine at Frasca prepared and presented by outstanding guest chefs and sommeliers like David Lynch from Babbo in NYC, Michelle Bernstein of Michy’s in FL, Marc Vetri of Vetri in Philly, Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren of A16 in SF, Suzanne Goin of Lucques and AOC in LA and many others without having to pay for a plane ticket.

                1. re: rlm

                  On more than one occasion, the guest Sommelier at the Monday night dinner has given me their card and told me to look them up if I am ever in their part of the world. There is something uncanny, and "Family" about that place. (BTW, Monday nights are a great, cheap way to eat at Frasca - highly recommended).

                  I agree that Bobby keeps notes about his guests, which I think is remarkable. Obviously, he couldn't remember that 3 months ago he gave us recommendations for restaurants in Phoenix (which by the way is where he grew up, if I am not mistaken), but the fact that he has it together enough to ask us if we enjoyed Cibo the next time he sees us is really good hosting. Always earns more points with us. I also like that they take the time to note our preferences (including which tables we like, etc.).

                  Frequently, the wait staff, will relate a recommendation to their recent trip to Italy. This kind of knowledge is indispensable (and adds quite a bit to my experience). Other restaurants in Denver have similar trips (Borolo Grill comes to mind).

                  On occasion, I have had meals that weren't spectacular, but never anything less than wonderful. Every time I leave there, I start counting the days until I can return.

                  1. re: Booger

                    Even when I haven't been crazy about my main on a couple of occasions at Frasca, the high quality of everything from the tajut of wine and the olives to the syrupy espresso at the end of the meal, as well as the stellar, attentive service, has always won me over. I got to watch as they hunted for a space that they demolished and remodeled (as much as they could possibly do) themselves and proceeded to turn into the best restaurant that has ever opened within a mile of my house. (The Flying Saucer, in the Mission District in SF, used to occupy that page of honor in my book). In conversations with them, I have always been impressed with Bobby and Lachlan's attitudes toward their staff and their community of producers and diners -- they seem to want to do the best thing for everyone. I've seen good and bad sides of Frasca but love that we sometimes have the same server we had on our first visit, the second day they were open. I'm sure they keep notes on their diners, too. I have other GF friends who dined there recently, and they felt like the restaurant did a great job of accommodating their needs. I have been there on nights when I wasn't bowled over by absolutely everything, but there's always enough greatness to keep me longing for our next splurge there. And the couple of times when I was bowled over by everything are still bright and soul-nourishing in my memory. I feel Frasca is among the few restaurants where they truly know how to treat people and food all at the same time.

                      1. re: tatamagouche

                        It's a "cut," or a taste of wine, according to Frasca's web site.

                        1. re: vanillagrrl

                          Huh. Never heard that word in my life. Thanks.

                          I've had only 2 experiences at Frasca thus far, but as I've said, I think it's the equal of restaurants in Boston (where I just arrived from) with that price point/level of service. Doesn't mean I've been transported by every single dish, but the concern for detail/desire to deliver a capital-e Experience is obvious and admirable.

                      2. re: vanillagrrl

                        Keep in mind the software available to restaurants now provides the ability to make notations on customers. Like Open Table for example.

                        I am not saying this is the case at Frasca. Just that in general personal preferences and details have more to do with technology then natural memory ability.

                        1. re: oysterspearls

                          Still, only restaurateurs who care enough to do so avail themselves of said technology.

                          1. re: tatamagouche

                            Very true! And a staff on top of their game enough to keep the database updated. Not always a easy task.

                      3. re: Booger

                        I'm glad that you agree on the notes. My husband is convinced that he's just special and that's why Bobby remembers him. Regardless of how he does it, it's a terrific touch.

                        1. re: Megiac

                          Bobby’s wife (who is often there herself charming customers and working hard) will tell you that he does have an extraordinary memory (and there’s no arguing against his remarkable facility for dealing with all kinds of guests and situations), but like most places of their caliber, they do keep notes about guests’ preferences and such, as there is no way they could remember such minute details for so many people. I recall this was mentioned in a Daily Camera article around their first year anniversary where the scribe was present for one of their pre-service meetings as they went over details like a couple dining that evening with a preference to be seated side-by-side rather than across from each other. If I can dig up the link to the article and it’s still on their site, I’ll post it. That said, my husband and I often walk in and sit at the bar and they have no idea we're coming, yet staffers still remember our preferences (and I see this happening with other walk-in regulars too).

                    1. re: Megiac

                      Re "...using it [money] to educate and reward your employees is a fantastic thing." Frank Bonano of Denver's Mizuna and Lucca d'Italia has also done this for a number of years, and it has kept staff loyal and well as knowledgeable. Considering that the dollar is now in the toilet (historic low against other currencies), such professional development travel is increasingly expensive.

                      Frasca remains wonderful, but IMHO, it must be difficult to keep one's feet on the ground and one's head clear when there has been so much acclaim and attention. The most recent to "discover" Frasca was a writer from SUNSET -- circulation 2 or 3 million.

                      1. re: ClaireWalter

                        It would be easy to make that assumption, Claire, but I’m not seeing it. They seem well-grounded, and I haven’t seen any evidence that this has changed just because their media attention has increased. Driven and successful people aren’t typically lacking in the self-esteem department to start with, but the Frascans’ haven’t gone all “diva” on us. Lachlan hasn’t morphed into Rocco. I’ve seen him popping away from the restaurant in jeans on his bicycle, not calling for a stretch limo to ferry him around town. Besides, Stuckey was already used to this kind of national attention working the cellar and floor for Keller and even prior to that uncorking wines for celebs and billionaires at the Little Nell. If their collective feet are no longer on the ground just because of some ink in Food & Wine and Gourmet, they’re not doing a very good job convincing their guests of it.

                        Speaking of their wonderful staffers past and present, a scholarship fund for aspiring chefs and sommeliers has been set up in honor of former assistant bar manager Danan Schufman's memory. http://www.dananschufmanfund.com/

                        1. re: rlm

                          rlm, my post was a response to some of the preceding comments, not on personal experience, which has been wonderful every time I've been there. Of course, I don't know the Chowhounds personally and don't know, if we were together at Frasca or any place else, whether we would view our shared experience the same way.

                    2. Here's another vote for my favorite restaurant in Colorado and one of my favorites in the U.S. (ok, probably the world, but I haven't been to many places other than Europe).

                      On the table placement, I guess you're correct that some of the tables are a bit tight, but I equate Frasca with European restaurants, and compared to those, Frasca's tables are spacious.

                      I really enjoy the menus at Frasca. There are certain items that are always there, like 21 Orders and gnocchi, but each time we eat at Frasca, they're a bit different. I don't feel like it's always the same menu, merely enlivened by some specials.

                      We feel the prices are a great value for what you get. I feel the food and service at Frasca are on par with the best restaurants in the U.S., yet the prices are better than several other high-end restaurants in Denver that don't touch Frasca's experience.

                      While we haven't ever asked for anything special (other than making sure there's a piece of tart for me at the end of the meal), I've seen many tables with special dishes due to allergies or religious needs.

                      My husband and I go back and forth on how much of the ESP at Frasca is due to Bobby's incredible memory, and others, and how much is due to their computer. The third time we visited, one of the other sommeliers took our wine order, then came back several minutes later to remind my husband that he'd ordered that wine on our second visit, and did he want to repeat. I doubt our wine order was in their computer, but then again, maybe it was!

                      Another great feature of Frasca that I've noticed is the attention that the staff provides to anybody, whether or not they're regulars. On our most recent visit, I watched a table of four near us, obviously new to the restaurant, based on the lengthy descriptions of the food items and the snippets of conversations that I heard from the table about the restaurant. Not only did they get several visits from Bobby, but from other staff members (other than their waiter) as well. It was nice to see.