Thursday, October 19, 2006

My dinner at Frasca

Between dealing with work and preparing for my upcoming trip to the Far East, I have not had much time to think about a new post. However, I thought that I would share an experience about which I originally posted on the Good Eats Message Board. While the original post has vaporized into the ether of the Internet, I am happy to share it with you here:

(From August 2005)

Last week, my girlfriend and I decided to book a weekend trip to Boulder, Colorado for a little R&R. While we mostly wanted to get away from work, we also thought that it would be fun to see if we could find some way to have dinner one evening at Frasca Food and Wine. Both of us had wanted to check out the restaurant after reading that Executive Chef and co-owner Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson had been named one of the 10 best new chefs in the country by Food and Wine Magazine. We were hoping to get a reservation for the Monday night prix fixe dinner though we weren’t too optimistic as we only booked our tickets on Wednesday, which didn’t get us a lot of lead time. I called to see if there were any available tables on Monday. As it turned out, they had one available, though it was a table for six. I decided to take the table, as I figured that we could round up four of my friends to join us for dinner that evening.

Unfortunately, I figured incorrectly; as Monday rolled around, it was looking like it was just going to be the two of us. As we made the drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park Monday morning for a day of hiking, I saw that Frasca had called my cell phone and left a voice mail asking me to confirm our dinner reservations. Before I lost cell phone coverage, I called the restaurant and left them a message saying that we would have to cancel our reservation. I apologized for the late cancellation but added that we were still interested in coming if we could just get a table for two. By this point, I had pretty much eliminated the possibility of visiting Frasca on this visit (as we were flying out the following afternoon) and went off to enjoy the trails of the park.

After a good afternoon of hiking, we got back in the car and started making our way back to Boulder. When I got back into cell phone range, I saw that I had a voice mail waiting for me. One of the hosts had called us back saying that they were sorry that we had to cancel our reservations and, surprisingly, while he wasn’t sure what he could do, he also said that if we still interested in getting a table for two, we should give them a call back. Though it didn’t sound too promising, I figured that it was worth a shot. I called back and someone named Bobby took my call. I explained that we would take anything that they had available that evening and, to my surprise, he said that he’d definitely be able to work something out for us if we didn’t mind coming by a bit later in the evening. After this fortuitous change of events, my girlfriend and I made a beeline back to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothing so that we could make our 9pm reservation.

We arrived right on time and the place was quite busy, which is unusual for a Monday evening in Boulder. As we waited for the hostess to get our seating ready, a gentleman walked up and introduced himself to us, “Hi, I’m Bobby. We spoke on the phone earlier today.” It turned out that Bobby was Bobby Stuckey, co-owner of Frasca and Master Sommelier. He shook our hands and warmly welcomed us to his restaurant. He told us that it was really nice that we could work something out that night. He said that while he wasn’t able to arrange a table for us, he got us seats, front and center, at the dessert bar. Of course, we didn’t mind this at all. As he led us to our seats, he asked us where we were from. When we told him that we had flown in from the Bay Area for the weekend, he got excited and told us that both he and Lachlan had moved to Boulder last year from the French Laundry. He asked us about our favorite dining spots in the Bay Area and gave us some of his personal recommendations. He told us a little bit about himself and his background and talked about the inspiration for the food. The cuisine at Frasca is based on the cuisine of the alpine region of Italy, located near the Slovenia border. The cuisine is based on using fresh ingredients and balancing the individual flavors of the each ingredient in simple and rustic dishes.

The Monday night prix fixe menu consists of three courses: a starter, an entrée, and dessert. The menu changes weekly based on what happens to be in season. Both the starter and entrée course had two selections. Since we wanted to try as many different things as we could, we decided to get different starters and entrées and split them. At the dessert bar, we watched as the pastry chef behind the counter also prepared scrumptious plates of cured meats using a hand-cranked slicer, so we decided to start off with the salumi platter on top of the appetizers that we ordered with the dinner. We also went with the wine flight that was suggested for this evening. Being wine neophytes, we figured that we would play it safe and just go with the Master Sommelier’s selections. Because these wines were paired with the prix fixe menu, we also asked our server for a wine (her choice) to go with the salumi platter.

The salumi plate came with paper-thin slices of three different types of cured meat: prosciutto, Italian speck, and coppa from New York. We wrapped the meat around house-made grissini, which are thin Italian breadsticks, and dipped it into rafano, a horseradish sauce made with crème fraiche. It was a perfect way to start our meal; it wasn’t too heavy, but was packed with flavor. The wine that the server selected (a white wine – I can’t remember which varietal it was though) was crisp and went very well with the saltiness of the cured meats and the slight kick of the rafano.

Next came the starters. On this evening, the starters were a chilled melon soup and an heirloom tomato caprese salad. The soup was bursting with the flavor of ripe cantaloupe and was a great accompaniment for a warm summer evening. The caprese was made with house-made mozzarella cheese and was a wonderful mix of tomatoes, cheese, basil, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. They went very well with the paired viognier from the wine flight.

For our main courses, we had a bowl of house-made tagliatelle with corn and oregano. The noodles were unbelievably buttery and each bite was bursting with sweetness from the corn. The other entrée was a roast pork loin with mashed dates and bacon. Normally, I hate ordering pork out at restaurants because it always seems to be overcooked, but the loin was cooked to a perfect medium doneness and was moist and succulent. The entrées were paired with the two wines, a Shiraz and a zinfandel. Surprisingly, these wines were from a vineyard in Southern California (near Santa Barbara, I believe), but went very well with these hearty dishes. On the night of our visit, the owner of the vineyard was at the Frasca and he actually served us for this course.

Dessert was house-made peach ice cream with vanilla mousse and almond crunch, which was a great way to end our meal. Throughout our dinner, we watched the pastry chef put together the desserts on the other side of the bar and we eagerly awaited our turn. The ice cream alone was very rich, but paired with the heavy mousse, the dessert was decadent.

The service at Frasca was nothing short of spectacular. The service was prompt and attentive without being obtrusive. Our server made sure that our glasses were filled as necessary and that we had everything that we needed on the table before we actually needed it. She took the time to answer our silly questions about the wine and food. The pacing of the food was perfect; we never felt like we were being rushed through a course nor did we feel like we were waiting around for the next course to show up. In addition to our server, Bobby dropped by our table every so often to check in us and to pass along some personal anecdotes about his experiences in the Bay Area, which we clearly enjoyed hearing. At the end of the evening, he came by and gave us a list of places in SF that he liked and asked us to say hello to some of the people there if we chose to pay them a visit. After the last of the entrées had left the kitchen, Lachlan came out and went around the restaurant, checking at each table to see how things were. Basically, they made us feel like the evening and dining experience was really about us and meeting our needs. The amazing thing was that, looking around the dining room, it seemed that everyone in the restaurant was getting the same level of attention and service that we were getting.

After a three hour gastronomic experience, we stumbled out of the restaurant, a little tipsy, comfortably full, and very happy. As we were leaving, I heard my name being called from across the dining room. One of bartenders was an old student of mine back when I taught at CU and thought that he recognized me from across the room. Bobby confirmed that I was who he thought that I was and got us together for an impromptu reunion.

The Denver Post food critic said that from now on, his life will be divided into two parts: before he ate at Frasca and after he ate at Frasca. Now, I won’t go that far, but I would say that this was one of the best dining experiences that I’ve ever had, if not the best. Not only was the food fantastic, the service was out of this world. This is one of the few times that I felt that dining experience was as important as the food itself. We will definitely go back to Frasca the next time we’re back in the Denver/Boulder area. For those of you who live on the Front Range, we cannot recommend it highly enough.