Arugula Ristorante- Fresh, Local, Seasonal Fine Dining

A few years ago an extremely successful Boulder businessman entered into a conversation with me about my then-nascent culinary tourism business Local Table Tours. He told me that successful businesses re-evaluate and re-invent themselves in seven year cycles. Over the years I held on to that insight as my third, fourth, fifth and sixth years of business came and went. I was eager to fast-forward to see what happens around year seven. Well, I’m now in my seventh year of owning and operating Local Table Tours, and there are undeniable changes that started with coordinating large group corporate events in year number six. I think it’s time I meet up with this man again over some wine to discuss the second seven-year cycle… but this blog post isn’t about me. It’s about Arugula, a seven year old Boulder restaurant that’s NOT located downtown and that is relaunching itself this year and doing extraordinary things for our local food and beverage scene.

I mention my discussion of seven year business cycles because the owner of Arugula, Alec Schuler, invited a dining room full of food writers to taste some new spring creations and to see his recently remodeled space. Course after delicious course came out with a bit of a description of what was on the plate, what it was paired with, and why. Shortly before the last course he mentioned this was his seventh year owning Arugula and he had decided to freshen up the dining room and re-vamp the menu. My ears perked. Seven years sounds like just about the right time to do that.

Chef Alec is undoubtedly passionate about his craft. Tangerine, his breakfast/brunch spot right next door, is one of the busiest places in town and folks line up to wait for his food. Arugula, open for dinner at 5 and serving lunch Wednesdays through Fridays, provides a fine dining experience that is fresh, local, and seasonal. This is one worth driving to, folks. It’s sometimes worth leaving downtown Boulder and I assure you, the corner of 28th and Iris offers free parking in addition to excellent food.

I’m including some photos I shot at our dinner, but I’m not inspired to write a typical food blog post where I tell you how great each thing was. Know this: everything I ate was worth eating again, but the twice-weekly changing menu means that’s not likely to happen any time soon. I’d more prefer to suggest straying from Pearl Street every now and then and discover a taste of Boulder not explored by tourists or the majority of locals. There are some fantastic chefs and restauranteurs in North, South, and East Boulder, but many are over-looked or ignored because the draw of Pearl Street and downtown Boulder is sometimes a force to be reckoned with. I for one know the next time I decide where to go for dinner it will be Arugula.

 

Zoës Kitchen Brings a Taste of the Mediterranean to Colorado

I had the honor and privilege to be invited to a Zoës Kitchen pop-up dinner at Black Eye Coffee in the LoHi neighborhood of Denver to introduce some local media to incredibly delicious food that is about to be served throughout the front range of Colorado. I’d never heard of Zoës Kitchen before, but it’s now a restaurant name I’ll never forget.

Zoës Kitchen is a wildly popular, healthy, fast-casual concept from the south, and is just starting to open a handful of establishments here in Colorado. As someone who seldom visits “chain” restaurants, I arrived at the pop-up dinner with an assumption it would be OK at best. I was completely wrong. This was one of the best dinners I’d enjoyed in a long time.

Zoës Kitchen threw a pop-up dinner party for us in the carefully curated space that is Black Eye Coffee LoHi. A reclaimed wood table that could easily have been set for forty was decorated with a table runner of fresh herbs and candles. It was stunning. We were greeted with cocktails and wine and some small passed plates. Among the hosts was their lead chef, Antonio Iocchi, who led us through a guided olive oil tasting before serving dinner.

Olive Oil Tasting

Our dinner that night was delicious and delightful. The company was very welcoming, with food bloggers and food writers in the mix, the food was fantastic, and the wine was freely poured. To me, that’s the setting for a great dinner party.

We were introduced to the Lupini bean, and I’m pleased to know that when Zoës Kitchen opens in Boulder later this year, I’ll have a place to enjoy my newly found protein-rich snack. Good bye edamame, hello lupini.

Lupini Beans

Upon taking our seats, the Mediterranean Baked Feta and the Hummus Trio were served on large platters to share, family style. These beautiful dishes were fresh, delicious, and memorable. The baked feta was a creamy yet still slightly firm presentation of feta that I’d never tasted before. I helped myself to seconds.

Mediterranean Baked FetaHummus Trio

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next came a demonstration by chef Iocchio on his Live Med Salad, with zucchini ribbons and spinach, topped with farro and lupini beans. It was a perfect salad, in my opinion. I replicated it at home the next night.

Live Med Salad

Entrées came next, and I was starting to fill up, so I didn’t taste everything that was served. I did have a Rosemary Ham and Mozzarella Piadina. I’d never heard of a piadina before, and I’m glad that’s now changed. I can only describe it as a quesadilla-style sandwich with a savory pastry-like dough.  I also had a chicken kabob, and had to then call it quits.

Rosemary Ham and Mozzarella Piadina

Chicken, Salmon, and Veggie Kabobs

 

 

 

 

 

 

…Until dessert came. I ate the whole thing- Ya Ya’s Chocolate Cake- a family recipe that apparently is never quite the same from batch to batch, yet always a favorite.

Ya Ya's Chocolate Cake

Throughout the evening we heard inspiring stories from the Zoës Kitchen team, telling us their philosophy on fresh foods and what it means to live the Zoë lifestyle. Zoës Kitchen is run by a group of people who genuinely love their jobs, love the food, and are excited to share fresh, healthy, convenient, and fairly priced cuisine with the front range of Colorado. They’re a welcomed addition to our burgeoning food scene.

Move over Pop Corn- Lotus Seeds are in Town.

There’s a new snack food in town, and since my town is Boulder, CO, you know that snack food is healthy, or healthier, than most choices.

Popped Lotus is a new company making popped lotus seed snacks. I received a small sample in the mail and said if I enjoyed the product, I’d write about it. Well, I enjoyed it so much I devoured a bag and a half before stopping to take a photo.

Popped Lotus

I had no idea that you could pop lotus seeds like popcorn, toss them in butter, salt, and spices, and create somewhat healthy snack. The puffy balls have a thin, crunchy exterior, a light, pillowy interior, and just enough salt to have you reaching for another handful. A quick calorie check and your mind is at ease… you can have the whole bag!

Popped Lotus provides a writeup of the benefits of eating lotus seeds, which you can read here.  They currently offer two varieties- Sea Salt and Spicy Mango. I honestly enjoyed them both, but would suggest picking up a bag of the Spicy Mango if you like things with a kick.

I hope Popped Lotus does well. They have a great concept and are in the perfect town for this dare I say gluten free snack. So, put down that processed Pirate Booty and treat yourself to a less processed alternative: The Lotus Seed.

Thanksgiving 2015

We had the honor and pleasure of cooking Thanksgiving again this year for a really great family.

I bought a local turkey as I did last year from Long Shadow Farm in Berthoud, CO. Unlike last year when I arrived at the farm to find a woman seated at a desk in the garage near a large refrigerator distributing chilled birds to anyone who had pre-ordered, this year I walked into a slaughtering/de-feathering/cleaning of turkeys small-scale processing line that I was not expecting at all. Our bird hadn’t even been chilled as she had been slaughtered just a few hours prior to pickup. Talk about having a real understanding of where our food comes from! I have that image seared into my memory… and will spare you the few photos I took.

We’re very fortunate to purchase such a quality turkey, so it’s extra important to me to serve it with all made from scratch accompaniments and sides.

I made the caramelized onion gravy base on Tuesday night. I’ve been making this gravy for more than ten years now, and each year I think it tastes better than the last. The butter and onions cooked low and slow for six hours. Six. Hours.

caramelized onion gravy

I started with a full pot and snapped a photo every couple of hours…

caramelized onion gravycaramelized onion gravy

 

 

 

 

 

 

…until I couldn’t resist spooning it into my mouth.

caramelized onion gravy

Wednesday I made my pumpkin pie, but failed to snap a photo. I also made a cranberry sauce with roasted shallots and mandarin zest.

Cranberry Sauce

Thursday, Chef and I cooked the rest of the meal on site in their Boulder home. The beautiful bird went into the 325 degree oven after being rubbed with butter and herbs. She amazingly and somewhat surprisingly appeared done after just under two hours. That was a fast cooker!

Longshadow Farm TurkeyRoasted Longshadow Farm Turkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I put together a wild rice stuffing while Sean made a sweet potato and chevre gratin, which has now become a Thanksgiving tradition for this family.

sweet potato chevre gratinSweet Potato Chevre Gratin

The ingredients in this dish are simply sinful- The health benefits of sweet potatoes are far outnumbered by the cheese and heavy cream combo. But, that’s what makes it so GOOD too!

While the gratin baked, Sean worked on maple glazed carrots in a cast iron skillet.

maple glazed carrots

Next, he assembled green beans in shallot butter topped with fried shallots.

green beans with fried shallots

We added the pan juices to the gravy base, carved the bird,

caramelized onion gravyRoasted Local Turkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And set up a small buffet for them.

Thanksgiving 2015

We can’t wait until next year!

 

Spice Club

The first rule of Spice Club? Talk about Spice Club!

That’s the first thing I read when opening one of my envelopes containing three months of seasonings and recipes as a sample of the new Savory Spice Shop Spice Club.

What is Spice Club? It’s a monthly spice subscription service that delivers you a different handcrafted seasoning and an herb or spice with a recipe featuring the selected seasonings and spices. Found yourself in a recipe funk and don’t know what to make? Try out something new that was just delivered to your door. I like this idea!

Southern Spain Pinchito Spice

Above is a photo of one month’s Spice Club delivery. It’s a bag of Southern Spain Pinchito Spice, which I’ve never tried but have always been curious about trying, and a bag of Crushed Aleppo Pepper, which I always keep in my pantry and welcome the refill. The recipe card is for Grilled Pinchitos with Yogurt Lime Dipping Sauce. One side of the card explains the spices, and the other has a recipe that can be made with beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or as a vegetarian fare.

We’re really looking forward to exploring these new spices, so stay tuned to see what we make here at home.

In the meantime, check it our for yourself on Savory Spice Shop’s Website. I think my holiday shopping just got a little easier this year!

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