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Yesterday was our special day. This anniversary (smoochiversary) means more to us than our wedding anniversary. I think we maintain a healthy attitude about our relationship such that none of these dates are anything more than occasional mile markers on a long-distance road trip. It’s not the special dates (birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day) that matter to me so much as the days in between – the ordinary days. Our ordinary days are great such that our special days don’t seem too different. I prefer that to the manic rush our society imposes on people to do/buy “something special” on That Special Day and then those very people behave like jerks to one another the rest of the year. So when I asked Jeremy if there was anything he’d like to do Saturday, he said he wouldn’t mind going to L’Atelier for dinner.

One of the biggest problems I have with Boulder’s finer dining establishments isn’t a problem at all: I cannot name my favorite restaurant in Boulder. I am hard pressed to even name the top 5 because there isn’t enough room for the 10 that I think should be in the top 5. L’Atelier ranks up there with the best of them. We had been there once before in the spring to try their Staff Meal (Monday nights) which we enjoyed thoroughly. We couldn’t wait to go back.

cozy interior

The restaurant is small with enough seating for about 50 people. It was the host at L’Atelier the first time we dined there, who turned me on to Art Culinaire. The staff are friendly and numerous, managing to shimmy between the tables effortlessly while performing their tasks. After we were seated, the host presented us with a stack of menus: the starters menu, the regular menu, the degustation menu, the special starters menu, the specials menu, and the wine list. The selection of specials was almost as large as the selection of regular items. We ordered a half bottle of Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2007 ($25) and nibbled on the mildly tangy and crusty bread they served.

hand cut tuna tartare with orange

I began with the tuna tartare ($14) which was presented as a kaleidoscope of colors and flavors. The tuna was buttery and fresh, mixed with capers, tomatoes, red onions, oil, and light seasonings. None of the components dominated, but they all contributed to the overall flavor. The little flourishes of citrus, greens, wasabi, pickled ginger, and crisp potato strips on the side added not only to the visual artistry, but to the culinary aspect. Everything was perfectly balanced in sweet, salty, tangy, bitter, and texture.

lobster ravioli with beurre blanc

Once we had decided that we were going to L’Atelier for dinner, Jeremy declared, “I am going to order ravioli.” Their ravioli is something else. Not only tender, paper thin pasta, but satisfying fillings adorned with sauces rich in flavor and appearance. We have enjoyed amazing ravioli at Frasca’s before (just across the street), but L’Atelier is quite generous in their servings compared to their similarly (or higher) priced competition. Jeremy chose the lobster ravioli ($12) starter and kept interrupting my reverie in the tuna tartare with “this is sooooo good!” and “do you want to try another bite?”.

special: tasmanian pan roasted salmon with wild mushroom ravioli and asparagus

The service was professional, attentive, and polite. By the time our entrées arrived, the restaurant was packed on a Saturday night and the place was loud (Jeremy thinks sound absorbing ceiling tiles might help). Wait staff were crisscrossing the dining room – not a one standing idle. They saw to any patron’s need and worked the restaurant like a well-oiled machine. I could not help but notice other plates being set down on the tables around us. Each dish was a work of art. Jeremy and I both ordered our entrées from the specials menu. I am pretty sure Jeremy’s motivation for ordering the Tasmanian salmon ($26) was because it came with wild mushroom ravioli. Those ravioli were out of this world amazing. There were some grilled asparagus spears and a dollop of spiced pumpkin purée which gave the whole dish an autumny feel. The salmon was cooked just enough and the outside sear lent a wonderful crispiness to the fish.

special: pan seared day boat diver scallops on black quinoa with sautéed arugula

It is almost ludicrous how fresh the seafood can be in Boulder – over 1000 miles from the ocean. Many of our favorite restaurants here serve up top notch seafood and I am so very grateful for that. For this reason, I don’t hesitate to order pan seared scallops ($26) at a place like L’Atelier. When the first bite hit my tongue, my mouth flooded with juices. Really good seafood tastes sweet and these scallops were sweet, delicate, buttery, juicy, tender – cooked to perfection. The black quinoa had a pleasant crunch and pop with hints of nutty flavor. Mixed into the quinoa were bits of tomatoes, oranges, and pomegranate seeds. I love how these added ingredients brought forth a jewel-like appearance to the salad as well as greater depth of flavor and texture. I also enjoyed several spears of grilled asparagus and some refreshing sautéed arugula dressed in a little vinegar. Everything on the plate played nicely together.

chocolate raspberry miroir

I was curious to see the miroir cake since I had made a lemon mirror cake before. I have been quite disappointed in some pastry chef creations around Boulder. I think this is common among my buddies who do a lot of baking – we want to be wowed for $7, $8, $10 a dessert. Wowed means, “this is better than I could have made.” And so we were wowed by Jeremy’s chocolate raspberry miroir ($8.50) served atop a cloud of soft almond meringue, because it all worked together so beautifully on the plate as well as in your mouth. The cake was not overly sweet, which I think is the best way to serve fine chocolate confections and pastries. The chocolate mousse dissolved in my mouth and the cakes were moist with enough presence to anchor the entire cake. My only (minor) complaint was that the raspberry miroir could have been de-seeded.

Jeremy enjoyed a cup of regular coffee ($3) with his dessert and described it as very dark roast without a hint of bitterness or acid. He said it was one of the two best coffees he has had in a Boulder restaurant (the old Laudisio is the other).

burnt cream angelina

When the dessert menu was presented, I didn’t really want to order dessert for the eating. Our standard practice when reviewing a restaurant is to each order a first and second course, then dessert. Jeremy wound up finishing my plates and he said he would do his best to finish my dessert. I went for the burnt cream angelina ($8.50) which was crème brûlée. For some reason I thought it might be something else. Had I known it was crème brûlée, I would have opted for the chocolate bag (to compare with the one the Flagstaff House serves). My dish was great, but I would not pay that kind of money for something I can make blindfolded for a fraction of the cost. That’s just me. This crème brûlée was wide and shallow to maximize the surface area of caramelized sugar. The berries were amazingly full of flavor considering the late season.

In the end, we were feeling a lot of love for L’Atelier. Each dish set before us was a little masterpiece in itself. You can’t help but marvel at the visual and culinary artistry. It is easy enough to walk in and enjoy a fantastic meal here, but if you *think* about what goes into it for just a second, you start to appreciate the genius behind it all. And while chains like The Cheesecake Factory with their gargantuan servings and overdone mediocrity make me want to vomit, it is nice to see that L’Atelier serves up generous portions worthy of the price paid.

1739 Pearl Street
Boulder, Colorado 80302

November 1, 2008
French, Bistro, Seafood
$133.22 (including tax, not tip) for two diners
Rating: 99/100 (A+)

18 nibbles at “special”

  1. Margie says:

    You and Jeremy know how to do it right….I was wowed from the very first ‘bite’. I admit that Jeremy’s choice for dessert threw me over the edge though, chocolate with berries; always a winner!

    So true that the ordinary days are the most important, without them we would not have our canvas.

  2. Manggy says:

    Whoa, Jeremy REALLY loves his ravioli! I don’t blame him, because that one of the first things to which I gravitate in a menu :) (Oh, that reminds me, I should really be looking into a new pasta machine. Your description sounds incredible, and I realize that my sheets were never as light as they were supposed to be.)

    Since it’s usually far easier and more practical to procure raspberries out of season (or even for standardization purposes) as a commercial frozen puree, I am assuming they deliberately left the seeds in (especially as it’s supposed to be a mirror) to let everyone know that the mirror is prepared from fresh, natural ingredients. (For all you know, they could have been using raspberry Jell-O! Hee!) But the desserts do look very heavenly– the chocolate cake looks very deep, my favorite way to have it, of course :)

    Again, happy smoochiversary and I wish you guys plenty of lovely ordinary days together! :)

  3. Maja says:

    Where can you learn to cook like that? I’m saliviting at the monitor, with these pictures and your words … i wanna learn! And the first thing i want to do is mushroom ravioli!
    Btw, I totally agree with you on the ordering dessert comment.
    Have another love-filled year, guys! :))

  4. Laura @ Hungry and Frozen says:

    “Smoochiversary” – heh! I like it.

    Everything looks gorgeously presented. Being me, I’m zoning in on that lush looking chocolate cake…but the tuna stuff looks incredible too. I wonder what gives the angelina its particular name?

  5. Mrs Ergül says:

    Fantastic review! It sounds great, it looks great and I will be very willing to give it a try should I live around there! The salmon is done to perfection, very much like everything else. Hmmmmm what a treat!

    I second your thoughts on everyday should be as well spent together instead of doing something special on the ‘special’ day and treating each other like jerks all the other days! Congrats again!

  6. Kathy says:

    I totally agree w/you re: the holiday “have to’s”. My Hubby and I make the moments counts, more than the obligatory holidays. It’s so vitally important to be and really BE in the moment with your partner. If not, unfortunately, you’re missing out on something big. I believe as busy as life gets, there should always be time for nourishing the relationship you are in with your partner.

  7. Bridget says:

    Wow, beautiful.

  8. Rosa says:

    Such a beautiful place! Very atmospheric… The food looks really delicious, refined and well-presented!



  9. Bri says:

    The presentation of those dishes is truly beautiful, I would love to dine at L’Atelier sometime. It’s amazing that you can get fresh seafood in Colorado, yay for air travel! Oh, and I went to the Cheesecake factory for the first time a couple weeks ago when I was traveling alone and was too burned out to go out for a real dinner in the city. Holy moly. Mediocre is a very apt description. And why do they feel the need to put enough food on your plate to feed four people?!!? Ok, sorry, that was just ridiculous to me. I actually recoiled and blurted out, “Do people actually eat all this?” when the waitress brought me my meal. She just smiled. I don’t see myself going there ever again.


  10. Adrienne says:

    my new hubby and i are of the same mindset that every day with each other is a special day. and so we recently proceeded to forget our 1 month and 3 month wedding anniversary (we only know we missed it b/c of calls from my mother). but we do little nice things for each other without an impending “special date” looming, so for us, it’s actually more meaningful. it’s nice to know that your loved one thinks of you on days other than the ones designated by general society.

  11. Abby says:

    How cute! And Brad and I are the same way … we just enjoy time together these days with life being so hectic. It’s nice to have someone to share downtime with.

    I’ve always thought seafood is better away from the coast. When we’re at the beach I’m usually less impressed with seafood than I am here at home in the piedmont. Not sure why that is, but I’ve heard other people say the same thing!

  12. Chez US - Denise says:

    Congrats!!!!! We are the same way … everyday should be special!

    Love the photos & the presentation looks fantastic. Love the raviolis in both dishes as well as the tuna – YUM!! Thanks for sharing, part of, your very special night! ;0

  13. Mollie says:

    Looks like a wonderful meal. I would have made lots of similar choices. mmmmm

    But I ALWAYS order the chocolate for dessert. :)

  14. zoe / puku says:

    yum! that is definitely a white linen setting-worthy meal: the tartare looks amazing, and mmmm wild mushroom ravs! lol, not only are you 1000 miles from the ocean, Jeremy’s salmon came from the other end of the earth! but hey, we make the best stuff down here, right? ;) (and I will continue to swap you tasmanian salmon for reeces peanutbuttercups gladly – trade on, importers, trade on!)

  15. Louise says:

    those are amazing pictures. how did you get the lighting so nice? did you bring the flash with you?

  16. Tartelette says:

    Happy belated Anniversary! You have no idea how that makes me happy! Anniversaries always do that to me even if some years we just stay home, listen to some musica and have a good wine. Dinner sounds wonderful!

  17. peabody says:

    Mmm, come to me lobster ravioli. Oh my what a good looking meal you had.

  18. jenyu says:

    Margie – I think we’re just fortunate to have great restaurants to choose from.

    Mark – I don’t have a pasta maker, but I want one… It’s just that it isn’t a necessity ;) The dessert was very nice and I didn’t know that about commercial frozen puree! Thanks!

    Maja – I want to learn to make mushroom ravioli too! thanks :)

    Laura – I have no idea, but it tricked me into ordering something I wouldn’t have otherwise :(

    Mrs. E – thanks dear.

    Kathy – you said it!

    Bridget – thanks.

    Rosa – it was definitely delicious :)

    Bri – Oh, don’t get me started on Cheesecake Factory. What a waste of my money.

    Adrienne – agreed.

    Abby – Oh my, I love the seafood here in Boulder, but I grew up on the water in Virginia and I lived in Los Angeles for 10 years – the seafood on the coast (if you know where to get it) is SOOOO fresh and good. There are some fishes you cannot get inland because they spoil within a day.

    Chez Us – thanks :)

    Mollie – then I should review restaurants with you because I *never* want to order the chocolate ;)

    Zoe – oh, are you a reeses fan? Good to know :)

    Louise – oh yes, my dear. With our return to standard time, it is too dark to shoot dinners especially in a restaurant as dim as L’Atelier. I brought the flash and I asked the host if it would be alright to shoot the food.

    Tartelette – awww, you are so funny and sentimental sometimes. We have to get together and hang out, I already know you will be a riot.

    Peabody – ha ha! I can envision a little lobster ravioli darting furtive looks about, wondering where the jaws of Peabody are…

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