Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Buff

I grew up in Boulder, and yet every time I return I'm amazed at just how many Boulder institutions I've never actually made it to. Like the Sink or the original Old Chicago or until very recently, the Buff.

I was in town to visit a friend from a million years ago who was in town for just a few short days. She suggested the Buff, which, somehow after 18 years in Boulder I had never actually been to (how did Man v. Food get there first??).

The Buff is at 28th and Canyon, oddly situated in the parking lot of a Best Western that is in dire need of an update. Parking was very scarce on the day we arrived and I'm sure it's like that on most weekend mornings.

We showed up sometime around 10:00 am on a Saturday, to what I understand is a typically busy weekend service at the Buff.  We were promised a 10-15 minute wait, which surprised me with the number of people mulling around outside. We were seated on time and I suppose the vast number of tables inside helps them keep the line moving.

The Buff is actually kind of an unusual restaurant for Boulder in that they just serve regular ol' good food. There's no guarantees of your eggs being freshly retrieved from a local farmer, no fancy seasonal menus and no promises of everything required to operate the place being eco-friendly. The food is cheap, the portions are huge, and I can't imagine a place more appealing to a poor college student.

My friend started the morning off with an enormous latte ($3.25):

Followed by an enormous portion of Eggs Benedict ($10):
Eggs Benedict

Is that Eggs Benedict or is that soup? Who knew there was such thing as too much hollandaise sauce? I didn't try any of the benedict but my friend felt the sauce was too greasy and way too generously applied.

I ordered the California Omelet ($10), which came with red potatoes and wheat toast.
California Omelette

My omelet contained avocado, bacon, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, sour cream and green onions. With that combination of ingredients, it's hard to go wrong, and the giant omelet was basically pretty good. The potatoes were fresh and well seasoned. Like the latte and the eggs benedict, the portion size of this plate was way too big.

Service at the Buff was good, but like Snooze was a bit rushed for the sake of managing the wait outside. I loved the lively atmosphere, but the food was below average for Boulder.

Everyday Dining

  (6 of 10)

Pros: Cheap, "normal" food in Boulder, lively atmosphere
Cons: Portions too large, Eggs Benedict drowning in hollandaise

The Buff Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Euclid Hall

For those who can't resist the allure of fried pig ears washed down with freshly brewed ale, there is Euclid Hall.  Apparently, I am precisely one of those people. 

Euclid Hall has all the elements for success in Denver: a historic downtown location, unusual and cholesterol-laden pub-style food, an extensive beer menu, and a well-known chef/owner. 

We arrived with a couple of friends for a very early (4pm-ish) Saturday night dinner. The restaurant was relatively busy for the early hour. We were seated upstairs and quickly got started with a round of drinks. Euclid Hall has an extensive beer menu, including my husband's beloved Lost Abbey, which is a bit of a rare find. He was instantly happy.

We began with a couple of starters: Buffalo Style Pig Ears and Seared Scallops.

First, the Buffalo Style Pig Ears:

Buffalo Style Pig Ears

These weren't what I was expecting. I thought the ears would look, you know, a lot more like ears than generously breaded, sliced-up ear slivers. They were also much softer than I had anticipated and had a very mild flavor. In fact, I mostly just tasted the fried exterior, which was very well seasoned but seemed to overwhelm whatever cartilage flavor may have existed.

Next were the seared scallops:

Seared Scallops with Peaches and Mustard

This was a much more traditional appetizer, and also much lighter than our pig ears. The scallops tasted lovely and were cooked perfectly. They were served with fresh peaches and Euclid Hall's traditional mustard, which I could have lived without in this dish.

Euclid Hall is known for its sausages and mustards, so we knew we had to try at least one. In an attempt to be adventurous (since eating pig ears wasn't enough), we settled on the Boudin Noir, a blood sausage.

Boudin Noir (Blood Sausage)

That ominous-looking sausage was my first blood sausage ever, and it certainly wasn't as scary as the name made it sound. It had a crumbly texture and a sweet flavor that was complimented by the addition of golden raisins to the sausage. Even not being much of a sausage fan, I really enjoyed the taste. It came with the grainy mustard assortment below, each with a unique flavor that nicely complimented the sausage (much better than it had with the scallops).


Even after the blood sausage and pig ears, I had another journey into uncharted food territory ahead of me: poutine, the French Canadian grease-bomb staple, is prominent on the Euclid Hall menu. I've never seen this dish at any Colorado establishment, but Euclid Hall bravely serves it up in several varieties.

My husband and I split the lamb poutine, which came with braised and grilled lamb, goat cheese, and espagnole sauce.

Lamb Poutine

The lamb was tasty and well cooked, the goat cheese was as delicious as goat cheese always is, the sauce was too salty for my taste. Overall a decent pile of food, but not as good as its more ambitious counterpart, the cleverly titled Duck Duck Goose poutine:

Duck Duck Goose Poutine

This impressive pile of saturated fat-laden deliciousness included duck gravy, black pepper, cheese curds, a sunny-side up duck egg, and goose foie gras. I loved the combination of ingredients, particularly the more traditional poutine toppings of gravy and cheese curds. I always feel that fois gras should be the center of attention on any dish it's served, so I struggled with the thought of having that tiny piece be a compliment to a giant dish of French fries. 

One last note about the food at Euclid Hall: besides the intense cholesterol punch, it is very heavy on the salt. I needed quite a bit of water to counteract all the sodium as I ate.

After all that delicious and heavy food, it was time for dessert.

We settled on splitting a Red Velvet Cupcake and the Sourdough Waffle Ice Cream Sandwich.

First, the Red Velvet Cupcake:

Red Velvet Cupcake
The frosting on this little guy was incredible. It was soft and airy, almost like marshmallow fluff atop the moist, deep-red cupcake.

 And the Sourdough Waffle Ice Cream Sandwich, served with salted butterscotch ice cream with a praline topping:

Sourdough Waffle Ice Cream Sandwich

These sourdough waffles are the same carby staples that make up Euclid Hall's intriguing Chicken and Waffles dish. I didn't care for the sour flavor coupled with the sweet ice cream, but the ice cream itself - and its crunchy praline topping - was outstanding.  

We had an excellent waitress looking after us all night, and she suggested we attend Euclid Hall's Great American Beer Festival Midnight Breakfast on September 29. The menu offerings looked delicious, but the thought of packing my stomach with so much grease and beer at midnight on a Thursday night and then trying to wake up at the crack of dawn the next morning for work sounded a bit like torture. Oh well. 

Even after all the food we ingested, we didn't get a chance to try many many dishes that sounded fantastic, including bruleed bone marrow, a brat burger, or funnel cake fried bananas. Definitely need another visit.

Casual Dining
 (8 of 10)

Pros: Great beer selection, great service, unique dishes
Cons: Very fatty and salty food, restaurant can be loud


Euclid Hall on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 15, 2011


It seems that all of America is clamoring for people to cut their sodium intake, and Salt in Boulder is serving it up to customers in generously filled little trays.

My husband, my mother and I showed up at Salt looking for brunch at noon on Sunday of Labor Day weekend. The outdoor seating was filled but the inside was maybe only a third occupied. I was surprised at how much busier Salt's next door neighbor, The Kitchen, appeared.

We were soon seated indoors and presented with the salt selection shown above, which consisted of a pink Bolivian salt and a white Sicilian salt.

The brunch menu at Salt offers a variety of sweet and savory dishes, and we couldn't resist the allure of the Glazed & Cinnamon Doughnuts ($6) as an "appetizer".

Glazed and Cinnamon Doughnuts
These were incredible. They were served with a tangy lemon curd and a spiced chocolate sauce that had just a slight hint of heat. The warm doughnuts tasted freshly fried and had a perfectly soft and light texture.

For our main dishes, I ordered the Chilaquiles Negro ($12). Chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican dish, and I believe chilaquiles roughly translates into something like "intentionally soggy egg-covered nachos that are delicious and you eat them for breakfast".

Chilaquiles Negro
This came smothered in refried black beans, salsa verde, onions, roasted chicken, cilantro, two eggs over easy, and crème fraiche. I never really figured out how I was supposed to it eat (is it really messy finger food or really tricky fork food?), although it was served in its authentic form. The combination of ingredients was outstanding, especially the very fresh and perfectly cooked eggs. I ate as much as I could and then let my husband dig in to finish it off.

Speaking of my husband, he ordered the Roasted Long Farm Pork Loin Sandwich ($15).

Roasted Long Farm Pork Loin Sandwich

This monster of a sandwich included spinach, fontina mornay, bacon, scallion scrambled eggs, and polenta fries on the side. It amounted to an awful lot of protein in every bite.  The sandwich was good but very filling and lacked a punch of flavor. My husband only ate half of it before throwing in the towel (but he was then able to finish off my chilaquiles).

The polenta fries were well cooked and win novelty points, but I realized I wasn't enough of a polenta lover to eat more than just a few.

And for my mother, the House Smoked Wild Alaskan Salmon Melt ($15):

House Smoked Wild Alaskan Salmon Melt

The salmon came smothered in fontina cheese on a locally made Udi's bagel. I enjoyed the smoked salmon but the salmon coupled with the cheese made for a very salty meal.

Speaking of salty, considering the name of the restaurant and the copious amount of it sitting in front of us during our meal, I expected the food to be very lightly salted, thereby allowing customers to use the fancy foreign sodium chloride to their heart's desire on their meal. This was not the case. The food seemed to have typical restaurant sodium amounts in it, and I felt no need to add any additional salt. I tried a tiny bit of the two varieties just to see what they tasted like; I'm no gourmet but it was just normal salt to me.

The food was very good but generally didn't blow me away (ok, the doughnuts were awesome). Great service and atmosphere. I would definitely visit again, especially to try Salt for dinner.

Casual Dining

 (7 of 10)

Pros: Great food, local ingredients
Cons: Portions too large


SALT on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 9, 2011


Opus is proof that fine dining can exist in the suburbs. We've been interested in making the trek to old town Littleton for a night at Opus, so when my husband saw a Groupon deal for half off the chef's tasting menu for two, we knew the time had come.

Our reservations were at 6:15 pm on Friday of Labor Day weekend. Taking advantage of free valet parking, we found ourselves entering Opus through a back entrance and meandering toward the front to locate the hostess.

The interior at Opus is one very large, expansive room, with widely spaced tables and concrete floors. It was about two-thirds occupied on the Friday night of our visit. The restaurant faces Littleton's historic Main Street, which is a lively area full of bars and restaurants.

The Chef's tasting menu included five courses and normally cost $75 per person, but thanks to our Groupon was only $75 for both of us. My husband opted for the wine pairings, which cost an extra $25.

After starting with an amuse bouche and a variety of fresh breads, we received our first course, Asparagus Flan:

Asparagus Flan
The flan dish was served with tempura asparagus and a balsamic drizzle. I loved the crisp tempura asparagus. The flan was ok; I generally don't enjoy flan and I thought the flavor was flat. Overall the portion felt a little large for a first course.

Our second course was Summer Melon Salad:

Summer Melon Salad

This was a lovely, light dish containing three large watermelon spheres accompanied by cantaloupe slivers, very thin slices of Spanish sheep's milk cheese, and shaved fennel. It was a perfect follow up - and a more appropriate portion size - after the more decadent fried asparagus of our last plate. 

Our third course was Butter Poached Salmon:
Butter Poached Salmon

The salmon sat on a bed of ratatouille risotto. The salmon was perfectly cooked and had a lovely soft texture. The risotto, however, was the star of the show. It was creamy, pleasantly salty and filled with a colorful array of fresh vegetables.

Next was Sous Vide Redbird Chicken:

Sous Vide Redbird Chicken

I don't believe I've ever had anything cooked "Sous Vide" before, and this was just as tender and juicy as I imagined it would be. Each cylindrical piece of chicken was comprised of a curious blend of white and dark meats surrounded by a skin wrapper. It came with tomatoes and cheese-filled raviolis that were also excellent.

One gripe: I was disappointed that the two proteins on the tasting menu were chicken and salmon. How boring (and cheap?). I would have much preferred more exciting meat and seafood selections.

The dessert planned for the five course menu was a creme brulee, which I was wary of as I usually dislike the eggy taste of many creme brulees. I was able to change my dessert to the Chocolate Duet in its place. My husband, however, stuck with the creme brulee.

First, my Chocolate Duet:

Chocolate Duet

The chocolate duet contained a flourless chocolate cake covered in toffee pieces, with a chocolate cylinder filled with a whipped mousse. The plate was decorated with a syrup swirl. I loved the different textures and levels of chocolate, but it was just a bit too sweet for me, especially with the syrup garnish.

And the creme brulee:

Creme Brulee

The brulee came with a mint oil and berry swirl, fresh strawberries, and a sugared basil leaf. It had a runnier texture than a standard creme brulee (which was fine), and I was very impressed with how well it was cooked in such a boxy shape. And it tasted fantastic. Creamy and rich, with none of the eggy taste that I feared. The berries and basil leaf complimented the vanilla flavor perfectly. My husband declared this to be one of his favorite desserts ever.

And I had to sit there and stare at the dreaded smug look on my husband's face, as he relished the fact that his dessert was better than mine.

Due to my overwhelming ignorance of all things wine-related, I can't comment on the wine pairings other than to say the waiter did an outstanding job of describing each one and my husband enjoyed them.

The service at Opus was outstanding, and the timing and flow of the different courses was perfect. Overall execution of dishes was very good, and I appreciated some of the inventive twists that were thrown in. We preferred the overall experience at Opus over our previous fine dining dinners at Kevin Taylor and Mizuna. We'd return in a heartbeat with another Groupon or other deal; otherwise it's just for special occasions.

Fine Dining

(8 of 10)

Pros: Excellent, unique food. Outstanding service.
Cons: Expensive (look for online deals), boring proteins in tasting menu


Opus on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 5, 2011

Row 14

Row 14 has only been open for a few short months, and has already become a sufficiently big deal that my husband and I dragged ourselves up there on a Tuesday night for a fancy dinner with some wonderful friends.

The restaurant is located in downtown Denver at 14th and Champa just next to the convention center. We valeted our vehicle for $8 and headed inside.

Row 14 describes itself as "sophisticated yet approachable" on their website, which I suppose accurately sums up the swanky interior filled with nicely dressed happy hour business types.

The four of us were seated at a large table next to floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out onto their patio seating and 14th Street.

After getting situated and ordering a round of drinks, we proceeded to order literally almost half the menu. We were fortunate that our friends included Ms. Sizzling Cupcake; we finally had a dining companion who understood our annoying habit of photographing everything we ate.

We shared five different starters, many of which seemed designed for our four-person party.

First off were the Row 14 Sliders ($10), which came with bacon, garlic aioli, and togarashi parmesan fries.

Row 14 Sliders

Fantastic. I loved the rich bacon slice on my slider, and the fries were wonderfully spiced.

Next were the Ahi & Salmon Rangoons ($6):

Ahi & Salmon Rangoons. After we ate the first 3. The original presentation was
much more beautiful and I'm sorry we destroyed it before snapping a picture.

Well, we really screwed up the food blogging thing right out of the gate by inhaling three of the four rangoons before remembering we needed a picture. But they were perfect. Each one was generously stuffed with a mixture of tuna, salmon, and cream cheese.

Row 14 seems to have an unusual fascination with duck confit, so I decided to try the Duck Confit Pancakes ($8):

Duck Confit Pancakes

Let's get one thing straight: these are not pancakes. They are crackers topped with duck confit and cabbage. Despite the misnomer, I loved every bite. The confit was balanced by the crisp cracker base and fresh cabbage slaw.

Next was Ahi Tartare ($10):

Ahi Tartare

The tuna was fresh, high quality and perfectly seasoned. However, I wish it had been accompanied with a more interesting scooping food; the wonton chips were boring and greasy and bland.

And the Sweet Corn Soup ($7):

Sweet Corn Soup

This was our least favorite of the many starters. The soup had a wonderful sweet corn flavor, but it was way too watery and thin. One redeeming factor was that the soup came with crispy duck cracklings that we all loved.

As if that wasn't enough food, we ordered the following entrees:

Wild Florida Ono ($24):

Wild Florida Ono
This came with, quoting from the menu: black beans, olathe corn, avocado, pickled papaya, espelette chile oil.  All of the Row 14 entrees were outstanding, and this was no exception. The Ono was perfectly cooked and complimented by the accompanying flavors.

I didn't try the following entrees, but some very reliable sources told me they were fantastic:

Alamosa Striped Bass

Wagyu Flank Steak Frites

And for dessert:


Strawberry Cream Cheese Gyoza:
Strawberry Cream Cheese Gyoza

I consider myself pretty easy to please when it comes to desserts, but I didn't care for either of these. The Strawberry Cream Cheese Gyoza was definitely the better of the two, containing wonton-type wrappers filled with a rich strawberry cream cheese filling. Everyone at the table enjoyed the dessert, except me, because my wonton was apparently filled with far less filling than everyone else's, and I mostly just tasted the wonton wrapper.

And the tiramisu was just disappointing. It had a bottom layer of cake-like stuff which maybe was supposed to be equivalent to ladyfingers, topped by a thick "cream" layer. The cream was almost like ice cream but with a very icy texture, and had a very strong coffee flavor. The dessert wasn't what I was expecting, and it certainly wasn't a traditional tiramisu.

We loved the atmosphere at Row 14 and the service was very good. The entrees were outstanding, the small plates were decent, and the desserts...have some room for improvement (at least the two we tried). Worth a second visit.

Casual Dining

(7 of 10)

Pros: Great decor, seating and atmosphere. Outstanding entree plates.
Cons: Didn't care for either of the desserts we had. Typical downtown parking headaches.


Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 1, 2011


There are so many hamburger spots in Denver that Larkburger never really made its way to my radar, despite the nonstop blogging hype and the weed-like proliferation of its restaurants across Colorado. That was, until a location opened up in the Denver Tech Center that was just way too convenient to pass up.

Larkburger labels their burgers as "gourmet" at every opportunity, and that's probably a result of their fine dining roots at Vail's Larkspur restaurant. That's also why you see truffle flavor permeating so much of the menu.

My husband, my mother-in-law and I arrived at Larkburger for lunch on a Saturday. Their Greenwood Village location is right at the heart of the Tech Center, in a fancy-ish strip mall that's packed to the brim all workweek long but is eerily quiet on weekends. As expected, Larkburger only had a few other customers during our Saturday visit.

The menu at Larkburger is very, very simple. You have a choice between various types of burgers (beef, tuna, turkey, mushroom) in a couple of different sizes, but that's where your options taper off.  The restaurant encourages a medium cooked burger, Tillamook cheddar is the only cheese option, and your toppings will be lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and sauce. Some people might find that constricting, I thought it was easy and perfect.

My husband selected the Larkburger with cheese ($6.5), I ordered the Little Lark with cheese ($4), and my mother-in-law ordered the Turkey Burger ($6.25). We also got an order of their Truffle and Parmesan Fries ($3).

Just a few minutes later, out came our food:

Left to Right: Larkburger, Little Lark, Turkey Burger  
Background: Truffle & Parmesan Fries 

One bite into my burger, and I completely understood what all the fuss was about. So good. Maybe it was the quality of the meat, or the fact that it was cooked so perfectly, or the buttery sauce or fresh toppings, but this an insanely good hamburger. I didn't even feel the need to add ketchup.

My husband loved his Larkburger equally. He made fun of the miniature size of my Little Lark, but I thought it was the perfect portion. I didn't try my mother-in-law's turkey burger but she loved it.

The fries were just ok. I prefer thick, steak-type fries, and these were very skinny and lacked the punch I was hoping for.

Overall, an outstanding hamburger for cheap. I'll be back.

Everyday Dining

(8 of 10)

Pros: Amazing hamburgers, great service, cheap
Cons: Some people may not like lack of menu options, fries were average


Larkburger on Urbanspoon