For as long as I can remember Denver’s food scene has proved to mimic its own dry and arid climate. Here and there decent eateries buzz onto the radar, but so often those glimmers of foodie hope seem to dissipate into the vast banal food scene that defines the Front Range. Slowly but surely Colorado’s largest metro center has begun to find a food identity, and thankfully one with more taste. Perhaps due to the insurgence of more and more young professionals seeking a more laid-back and outdoorsy lifestyle, or a newly thriving art scene that proves humble yet shows promise, Denver has become quite the new “cool” destination.
With the help of a handful of talented, tenacious chefs, the city has also seen the doors of a significant number of distinctive restaurants open. A few favorites include: Sushi Sasha, Fruition, and Frank Bonanno’s Mizuna and Bones. Although not new, nor just hitting the radar, Frasca of Boulder, Colorado has earned and maintained a stake on the podium of Front Range, fine-dining restaurants—Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine in 2005, Best Chef of the Southwest from the James Beard Foundation in 2008, and the restaurant stole the top spot in 5280 magazine for Denver’s top 25 new restaurants in 2008.
After extensive traveling through the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in Italy, owner and chef Mackinnon-Patterson and owner, M.S. and wine director Bobby Stuckey created their restaurant based on the Italian frasca—a small gathering place where family, friends, and the region’s farmers and wine-makers gather to eat and drink the earth’s bounty. Both food and wine menus at Frasca are inspired by both this region’s flavors, as well as the frasca’s inherent expression of the seasons.
Following suite to the feverous “eat local” crowd of Boulder, Frasca does an exceptional job of not only utilizing local farm ingredients, but also magnificently following the flavors of the season. Frasca prepares their food with the utmost attention to the freshness and intrinsic taste of an ingredient—their dishes maintain a sense of innovation without straying too far from how the food is truly supposed to taste. Pure, simple, fresh—perhaps trite words in today’s farm-to-table food trend, but all too honestly appropriate for this mountain town’s diamond in the rough.
Pretention may be what one would assume of a restaurant with as much stature and acclaim as Frasca has obtained, however, the sincerity and genuine friendliness oozing from each staff member relaxes even the most high-strung diner. Bobby greeted us with firm handshakes, complimentary glasses of wine, and a showing of the cellar. While sipping we took in the clean, crisp feeling the atmosphere offered—naked, industrial-style light bulbs stud rusted, metal wheels to create rustic chandeliers that provide warm light to the bright and open dining room. The back wall, entirely clad in floor-to-ceiling wine racks, is the focal point of the room as its diamond-shaped construction, warm backlighting, and glass covering makes the space dazzle.
The meal was opened with a vellutata of roasted red pepper. This chilled soup bore essences of honey and ginger. The sweet pepper, rendered rich with roasting, took on creamy and robust flavors without the compromise of its fervent freshness. The primi dish to follow, a tagliatelle bolognese of veal, pork, and beef showcased the chef’s attention to detail and love put into the making of the fresh pasta. Nothing avant-garde about this dish, not a fragment intruding on the classic perfection of the Italian original.
To pair with these first two courses, Bobby chose a 2006 Clivi Galea. From the Friuli region of Italy, this wine hails from the same region where the frasca originated. This white blend not only had the subtle swish of ripened apricots, but also the bite and texture of its fuzzy skin. It was late summer in a glass, and it was charming.
For the final savory course, day boat cod with heirloom tomato and oregano. The late summer tomato, presented in its purest form, stole the show. The cod, pan-fried to a sublime crispness was unfortunately wanting salt, and sat beneath like a cracker to the perfectly sun-ripened heirloom pieces. The dish lacked a pungent acid; shallot would have zapped the right life into the single-layered, tomato flavor.
For a sweet ending, crostada di mirtilli—a bite-full slice of almond frangipane tart kissed by house-made, huckleberry frozen yogurt. The tart yogurt pierced its buttery partner, while its creaminess soothed the bite of the crostada’s cranberries. These concluding bites proved a continuation of the evening’s consistency—Chef Mackinnon-Patterson and Bobby have beautifully maintained a mission that creating fresh and simplistic foods that stick true to their classic form will never stray far from perfection.
As one of only a handful of exceptional restaurants along Denver’s Front Range, Frasca is one truly distinct establishment that has maintained its acclaim for nearly ten years. It may be hard to improve on perfection, but Frasca is one such example of how a restaurant can sustain faultlessness.