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Nibbles: Taking a Bite Out of the Boulder Valley Empire


Money factored in Louisville’s good weather, family-friendly activities, strong economy and outdoor recreation opportunities when the magazine recently named the best small town in America.

Those are all fine attributes, but in reporting the accolade, CNN spotlighted Louisville’s secret ingredient of civic success. The network footage showed the historic downtown’s array of bakeries, watering holes and restaurants.
In fact, just the sight of the marquee for a true gem, the Empire Lounge and Restaurant, on national TV sent me scurrying to Louisville for a dinner of deviled eggs, crispy calamari salad, mole-spiced ribs with green chile and a dreamy blueberry tart. The Empire may look and feel like a neighborhood bar and grill, but the food tells you that there’s a nationally acclaimed chef, Jim Cohen, making it taste spectacular.

“I just wanted to serve simple, recognizable food,” said Cohen, who has ruled over famed fine dining temples in Vail, Phoenix and Las Vegas but now happily calls Louisville home. “As a chef, focus has gotten simpler, no big whoop-di-do any more. Just find great ingredients, prepare them really well and it doesn’t have to cost so much,” he said.

That integrity and lack of pretentiousness has become the hallmark of the impressive roster of bistros, bakeries, breweries, coffee roasters, farmers, chocolatiers and specialty grocers that now make Boulder County such a phenomenal place to dine and cook.

I’ve been lucky to write about Colorado’s rapid taste evolution for more than 25 years as the food editor and columnist for the Daily Camera and dining critic for the Rocky Mountain News. In the coming months in Yellow Scene, I’m looking forward to finding and reporting on new and familiar culinary destinations. I hope you’ll help by letting me know about your favorites.

Well, enough hype. Let’s eat.

{eatery update}
Even in tough times, a good meal is an affordable luxury. Among the recent openings in Boulder are: The Rib House, 1801 13th St.; Bento Zanmai, 1310 College Ave., serving genuine Japanese ramen dishes; Arugula, a promising Northern Italian eatery, and Full Belly, chef Radek Cerny’s bustling French bistro, both at 28th Street and Iris Ave.; Larkburger, the excellent new quick casual burger joint at 2525 Arapahoe Ave.; and Tangier Moroccan Cuisine, serving North African specialties, at 2070 28th St.

Suki Thai, a new quick casual noodle house opened recently at 675 30th St., in the Williams Village center, owned by Steve Leblang (Chautauqua Dining Hall), his wife, Thai-born Thanyanat LeBlang, and Linda Parenti (Masa Grill). Pick a broth, choose a protein and it’s cooked to order in less than five minutes for less than $6. …The wait hasn’t gotten any shorter at Boulder’s DMV office, but folks in line seem happier now that Café d’Amore has opened across the hall at 2550 Iris Ave. The independent shop serves baked goods along with pizza, panini and espresso drinks.

…Sushi Matsuri opened recently at 432 Main St. in Lyons, former site of the Gateway Café. …There are two candles on the cake for Hanna’s Specialty Foods & Deli, 802 S. Public Rd. in Lafayette while A Grande Finale Patisserie, with shops in Louisville and Lafayette, is celebrating its 10th year and chef Jim Smailer’s Boulder Cork is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
We’ll miss the wonderful artisan crackers made by Longmont’s Little Fig Bakery at 950 Elgin Ave. in Longmont. Also closed: Seven, 1035 Pearl St., Boulder, formerly known as Seven Eurobar when Michel Wahaltare was the chef.

Coming Soon
Terra, Bradford Heap’s new gastro-pub in Tom’s Tavern space in Boulder.

Culinary Calendar
Save the date for autumn’s top events; some sell-out well ahead: 12th Annual Chili Inferno Cook-Off, Boulder, Sept. 7; bceproductions.com/hometown-fair; Colorado Mountain Winefest, Palisade, Sept. 17–20; coloradowinefest.com; Great American Beer Festival, Denver, Sept. 24–26; greatamericanbeerfestival.com; and the Denver International Wine Festival, Denver, Nov. 4–6; denverwinefest.com/order.html
Reader Mail:
Send your 17 percent gratuities and food and dining questions, comments and quibbles (not to mention press releases) to: [email protected].
On the Menu
The first question I’m always asked is: “So what’s the best restaurant in Boulder?” My response is brief but not simple: “Who’s asking?” When it comes to dining, “best” depends on what you like to eat, how much you want to spend and how far you want to drive. I can’t tell you which restaurant you’ll love, but I will detail the dishes I’ve enjoyed the most such as:

• The toasted eggplant Parmesan sub sandwich at the Louisiana-inspired Bagali’s Italian Kitchen in Broomfield.
• The sublime warm flatbread with olive oil, creamy burrata cheese, thin-sliced Iowa prosciutto and fresh mint at The Kitchen in Boulder.
• Chef Ian Kleinman’s awesome grilled sea scallops with “compressed” apple chutney, freeze-dried pumpkin and Kabocha squash powder at O’s in the Westin Westminster.
• And a slice of classic blueberry pie and a real chocolate milkshake with an espresso shot at Two Dog Diner in Longmont’s Prospect neighborhood.

Food for Thought:
“It was beautiful in Longmont. …And after a refreshing sleep filled with cobwebby dreams of my past life in the East I got up, washed in the station men’s room, and strode off, fit and slick as a fiddle, and got me a rich thick milkshake at the roadhouse to put some freeze in my hot, tormented stomach.”
—From On The Road by Jack Kerouac.


emailed aug 12, 2009

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