Well, it’s only been six months since my last restaurant review! Considering the extravagant dining I (we) did in Sydney this past spring, I might hazard to say that June is a little early to be indulging in the good stuff again. But…
I had heard from a director at my old workplace that Frasca had a disappointing Community Night. It was unfortunate that this was the first impression I got of Frasca because that person has neither taste nor sense (nor ethics, as we later discovered – but apparently the board of directors don’t seem to care if their people are unethical). Frasca doesn’t put on a Comm Night like The Kitchen, they have a prix fixe tasting menu on Monday nights paired with wines. Then I read that Frasca was voted best restaurant in Boulder. I’m always a little skeptical of what Boulderites vote “best of” for food just because this is technically the Midwest – on the flats – and you know what I think of mid-western culinary culture. More recently, Tom told me that his friend said he had the best meal of his life at Frasca. My curiosity was piqued!
Frasca is set a few blocks east of the pedestrian mall on Pearl Street. The interior is large and open – jammed packed with as many tables as is politely comfortable. The wine, a central part of the restaurant, blends into the simple and clean lines here. Large windows front the restaurant allowing passersby to get a glimpse of what they are missing out on. There is a strip of charming patio dining out front and a walk-in table near the doors to the kitchen for those lucky enough to grab a precious open seat. We were the third party to arrive just as Frasca opened.
a nice wall of wine inside frasca
Seated by the window with a cheerful view of Pearl Street, we were greeted by our server who gave us a choice of tap or bottled water. Then she offered us each a tajut (half glass) of Anselmi 2005 Tocai Friulano to begin. We received a thorough and knowledgeable run down of the highlights on the menu and were left to peruse on our own. The wine was refreshingly crisp, fruity, and light.
anselmi 2005 tocai
The bread arrived with a quenelle of softened butter. The bread itself was fine, although there wasn’t anything about the quality that struck me as exceptional or special. However, I did observe as the restaurant began to fill with patrons, that the wait staff glided flawlessly in and out of the tables leaving diners wanting for nothing. Each table was its own little private world, attended to by a small personal army of the most professional servers who shared tasks and treated you as if you were the only table in the restaurant. They were attentive, yet they never hovered and were almost invisible at times. The service at Frasca flows seamlessly.
I was excited to order the salumi plate ($16) because our server said it paired well with the Tocai. There were three thinly sliced cured meats: prosciutto (Friulli, Italy), speck (Alto Adige, Italy), and salame (California). These were served with pencil thin grissini dusted in Australian Murray River pink sea salt (my favorite) and a creamy rafano (horseradish) sauce with just the right amount of kick. The prosciutto was my favorite, then a close second was the speck, and the salame was very good for salame, but let me get back to the prosciutto… The smooth melt-in-your mouth balance of salt and fat in the prosciutto played beautifully against the sharp rafano and the crispy grissini. However, taken with a sip of the Tocai, I was transported. The flavors mingled together in a way that brings clarity to the meaning of “perfect”. I could have had this for dinner all night.
After we had ordered our first and second courses, the issue of ordering wine was solved when our server asked if we would like her to pair tajuts with each course. Yes, please. When the salumi plate was removed, she returned with two oversized Riedels and poured my Sartarelli 2004 Verdicchio ($5), and then Jeremy’s Renato Ratti 2005 ($6.50). The white was more floral than the first and just as refreshing. Jeremy’s red tasted fruity, juicy, smooth and easy to drink.
renato ratti 2005 barbera d’alba
Jeremy’s first course was the Žlikrofi ($12), a mushroom and ricotta ravioli served with roasted morel mushrooms in the most delicate beef broth. The pasta was fresh, thin, and satisfyingly al dente with an understated center of cheese and mushroom. The morels were earthy and subtle while simultaneously hinting at a rich texture. The scallions gave a fresh spring feeling to the broth and the entire ensemble sang in harmony. It was a light, homegrown dish that, when paired with the wine, burst forward and full in your mouth.
I ordered the Fritta ($14), a Hawaiian sea bass served with arugula (rocket) and a creamy emulsion of egg, tarragon, and relish, for my first course. The sea bass was batter fried between typical New England seafood and fragile Japanese tempura style. Usually when you get fried food, there is always a lump of pure fry batter, but every tiny bump of crispy (not oily) batter encased a gorgeous, tender, steaming, white, sweet sea bass flesh. The sauce was not overly heavy and had a nice complexity of flavor from the upfront tang of the pickled relish to the tail of the tarragon. This is haute fish and chips. Again, the wine seemed to expand the array of sweet, sour, salt and spice of the plate. The pairings were excellent – first rate.
For his entrée, Jeremy chose the butter-roasted Atlantic halibut ($29) served with sweet carrot purée, sautéed pea shoots, and citrus brown butter. It was topped with a nice pickled julienne of vegetables. I found this to be the better of the two mains on our table. The halibut melted in my mouth like butter. The preparation of the pea shoots was simple: oil and salt, the absolute best way to highlight the freshness of the sweet green. Jeremy’s wine was a tajut of Cantina Terlano 2004 Pinot Bianco ($7.50). I don’t recall much other than it was a slightly fuller bodied white. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, just that my tajut of Roberto Scubla 2004 Tocai Friulano ($9) was amazing.
butter roasted atlantic halibut
My riso superfino carnaroli ($26) was a creamy risotto served with Maine diver scallops, cucumbers, and pickled green tomato gazpacho. This was not the plate I had hoped for. I realize plating risotto doesn’t give the chef much to work with, but as Jeremy pointed out – it wasn’t the most appetizing presentation. The risotto was well cooked and creamy and I actually liked the contrasting tartness of the gazpacho. The texture was correct. Although the scallops were tender and sweet, I felt they were not served in a way that truly showcased diver scallops. The dill was a bit much. It was a good dish, but it wasn’t a great dish. The wine was a medium to full white that made my mouth water – it was rich in fruit, clean, and had the loveliest finish. It elevated the risotto and brought out the scallops. Paired together, the dish was quite good. I wished I had ordered the gnocchi instead, it looked so delicious at the table next to us.
riso superfino carnaroli
I seem to recall hearing that Frasca has a dedicated pastry chef. I tried the Huckleberry torte ($12): a chocolate cake layered with vanilla bean buttercream and huckleberries, topped with cocoa nibs and served alongside a quenelle of Valrhona dark chocolate gelato. The gelato was perfectly undersweet with a hint of salt to bring out the Valrhona in each smooth spoonful. The cake as an ensemble seemed mismatched. I think the berries would have been better served with a vanilla or lemon cake. The fruit was sweet and the buttercream was perfectly light and sweet, but the crumb of the cake felt incredibly ordinary to me as did the flavor. The plating was spartan, almost awkward. I felt it wasn’t worth the price.
Jeremy chose the sampler of house-made chocolates ($13) which included: bittersweet (2), espresso, coconut, and passionfruit caramel molded in tempered dark chocolate with a white chocolate arch and cocoa nibs. The chocolates were good – the interiors soft, almost oozing. It was warm in the restaurant (it was packed on a Tuesday night). I thought the passionfruit caramel was outstanding. It had a big fruity component that slid into the salty caramel flavor. Still, I’ve tasted artisan chocolates that cost far less and were much better in quality than these… so once again, I didn’t feel the desserts were giving us the value we were paying for.
tasting of house-made chocolates
To go with dessert, Jeremy ordered a cappuccino ($3.50) which he declared was the best he had ever had. It was completely even. The quality of the espresso was excellent without any bitterness and perfectly blended with the milk.
We really enjoyed this meal despite my ragging on the risotto and the desserts. I think overall, the food struck a balance of flavors that are understated, delicate, subtle. That is hard to achieve, but I think Frasca does a pretty good job of it. The wines and pairings were exceptional. As for the desserts, I was underwhelmed and left feeling a disconnect between the savory and the sweet courses. The staff… the staff is among the best and they know their food and wine as well as their service – top notch, professional, polite, seamless. Normally, I’d drop a letter grade because of the desserts (dessert is a big deal when you go to a place like this), but the positives here are really exceptional. A.
1738 Pearl St.
Boulder, CO 80302
June 5, 2007
$166.48 including tax (not including tip) for 2 diners
Rating: 95/100 (A)