King of the Hill

Published on: March 17th, 2011

Call me old, but the Hill in Boulder is not the first place I would look for cutting-edge foodie fare. Don’t get me wrong: The Sink’s got great burgers, but I wouldn’t call it haute cuisine. Now, there’s a new kid in town: Café Aion might single-handedly change the food landscape of the iconic college neighborhood.

The three gents who started Café Aion all hailed from The Kitchen at one time or another, so that they know good food is pretty much a given.  But whether they could take the former Burnt Toast space (formerly, still, the Aion bookstore, hence the name) and turn it into a chic, pseudo-industrial loft-type space and succeed on the Hill wasn’t at all certain when they started. Luckily, these guys have the chops to back up a venture like this and a menu to prove it.

The dinner menu focuses on Spanish and Mediterranean-influenced tapas small plates, with a few larger courses “to share” thrown in for good measure. Meals aren’t served so much in courses as in waves, so be wary of ordering too many dishes at once; pick a few, then pick a few more (and maybe even a few more).

We started out with the bocadillo with house-cured copa, aioli, pickled onions and greens. Notice the “house-cured” before the copa? They’re being modest, as just about everything in this dish is house made: the bread, the aioli, the pickles and the meat. (I guess they just couldn’t see their way to growing their own arugula on the patio, but give them time…) These tasty little sandwiches elevated the very idea of sandwich from a lowbrow lunch item to a delectable finger food. We also tried the roast beets with feta, mint and almonds, which were a perfect example of how the chef takes pure flavors in their simplest state and combines them into something amazing.

The braised octopus overflowed with Spanish flavors: a hearty tomato sauce, chickpeas and briney olives to round out the palate. Because everything is in small portions, our server explained, people are more likely to try foods they wouldn’t otherwise order. The fried cauliflower was another big hit; an under-loved vegetable reaching new heights is always welcome in my book.

The real surprise for me at Café Aion, though, was breakfast, which they have just begun offering seven days a week. We headed in on an early Sunday morning and found ourselves plied with pots of rich French press coffee and excellent house-made (of course) pastries. My bagel with smoked salmon, pickled onions and scrambled eggs was exactly what I was craving, and better than many delis I’ve tried. My companions’ eggs Benedict and scrambled eggs with braised spare ribs were hearty meals full of flavor. And the fact that we could get all these on an average Tuesday made me feel a little giddy.
Go in for the tapas, go in for breakfast, or go in for a burger at lunch (and then tell me how it was); the point is, you should definitely make the trek up the hill and go in to Café Aion.

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