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.

 

Coffee and Chocolate Tasting Tours with Local Table Tours

Saturday mornings are great for casually sipping coffee, learning about beans, roasting methods, proper grinding, brewing at altitude, and picking up flavor profiles and nuances. Add snow to the mix, and it’s a perfect November day in Boulder, Colorado. Thank you Briana May for your beautiful photos.

Pizzicletta- Quite possibly my favorite place ever…

It’s been well over a month since Sean and I visited Flagstaff, AZ, for a taste of Pizzicletta, and writing this article has been on the top of my “to do” list for weeks now. My paying jobs have kept me busy, so every day I look at my list and reminisce on quite possibly one of my favorite places I’ve ever dined.

Caleb Schiff, owner and pizzaiolo of Pizzicletta, came to Boulder in the fall of 2013 to be a guest chef at the original Pizzeria Locale. We got some great friends together in the caffe space (which has now been renovated into a private dining room), and had a private room to drink fun wines, enjoy one of the best meals of the year, and meet Caleb. You can read all about that fine meal on my business site, Local Table Tours.  As much as I’d love to relive that meal, I have another story to tell here… And so, we were so impressed by this chef and his food that Sean decided to surprise me for my birthday with a trip to Flagstaff to dine at Pizzicletta and ski the Arizona Snowbowl. Greatest birthday present ever! He’s a total keeper.

Pizzicletta

Pizzicletta is a really small, triangular shaped restaurant, in the same building as Mother Road Brewing, which we visited, of course. The Stefano Ferrara oven, a staple for chefs who are serious about wood-fired cooking, is the centerpiece of the kitchen.

Pizzicletta Oven

We entered that evening to find more than one familiar face. Our server had also been our server earlier that day at Diablo Burger (a place Caleb suggested we experience), so it felt like walking into our neighborhood pizzeria on the first night we arrived in town.

Sean and I ordered the formaggi with focaccia to start the evening and a bottle of Verdicchio. The cheeses, as expected, were delightful. But, the green hue to the freshly pressed olive oil drizzled over the mozzarella was most impressive to me. Green-grass-fresh-pressed olive oil… You’ve got to love that!

Formaggi with Focaccia

Caleb is an artisan, and the featured olive oils from Casa Pau Hana Olive Farm in Paso Robles is just one of his carefully selected ingredients that help make Pizzicletta the finely put together casual dining establishment that it is. But more on our respect for this chef later. Back to our meal…

Our next plate was a salad of greens, toasted pine nuts, and chevre. And, here’s a fun fact: Pizzicletta only has itsy bitsy saucers or large pizza plates, so our salad was served on a rather substantial piece of ceramic. But, the veggie lover in me couldn’t resist something green, so I made sure to lick this platter clean (Jack Sprat, anyone? ), which was not challenging at all despite it’s large size.

Insalate

We ordered two pizzas that evening- The SS145- a Bianca with roasted almonds, charred kale, gorgonzola, olive oil, and lemon juice, which, by the way, completely blew our minds! We also ordered a special of the evening that had Caleb’s special touch- Calabrian Chilis, and broccoli rabe, a personal favorite of mine in Italian cooking. Both pizzas, with their “leopard-spotted” crust of wild sour dough yeast were next to impossible to put down, despite our full bellies telling us otherwise. Caleb’s pizza, quite simply, is something you must try, as it’s incredibly difficult to explain perfection to someone who hasn’t tasted it before.

Pizzicletta Pizza

Despite the fact that we were literally stuffing ourselves at this point, we both thought Caleb’s house made gelatto was a good idea… and it WAS! There was no olive oil gelatto offered that evening as we had enjoyed at his guest event at Locale, but the chocolate and vanilla were, like all other dishes at Pizzicletta, perfect.

Pizzicletta Ice Cream

Talking to Caleb made it abundantly clear that he’s not just some guy who likes to cook, or likes pizza, so he opened a pizzeria. He is a man (geologist, actually), who rode a bike around Italy, found inspiration to open a pizzeria, and pays attention to every single detail. The olive oil is one example. Another is the wood he burns in his artisanal oven that comes from southern AZ and is dried for years before reaching Pizzicletta. This particularly dry wood allows his oven to reach a very high temperature that creates the well known leopard spots on his crust. Caleb’s dough, by the way, doesn’t even make it into the oven until the wild yeast sour dough ferments for days, sometimes upwards of a week. He hand crafts every pie to order topping them with very few ingredients.

And, I must admit the notice on the menu of “No Substitutions Please” was very much appreciated, coming from the substitution or ingredient exclusion capital of the world, Boulder CO.

So, if you’re on  a food quest of some kind, please add Pizzicletta to your list. And if you’re even just passing by Flagstaff, perhaps on Route 66, I suggest a brief detour to enjoy some of Americas best pizza.

Pizzicletta

203 W Phoenix Ave, Flagstaff, AZ

928.774.3242

An Irish Whiskey Dinner with Bushmills at Q’s

As a big fan of whiskey, I had some pretty negative thoughts of Irish Whiskey. I’m not completely sure why, but I was under the impression that Irish Whiskey, unlike American Bourbons or Scotch Whiskies, were like the wild wild west of whiskies and you weren’t going to be certain what they were made of (barley, rye, corn, wheat, potato…). After an evening at Q’s with Robert Sickler, Master of Whiskey, I’ve completely changed my mind.

On Saturday, March 16th, I had the privilege of attending an Irish Whiskey dinner with an expert in whiskey who guided us through a whiskey sample and a play on a classic cocktail for every whiskey-inspired dish. Beverage Director of both Q’s and The Corner Bar Adrian Sutevski used the Bushmills family of whiskies in a number of updated classic cocktails, and Chef Shawn Murrell married each whiskey’s unique flavors with five courses of finely prepared food. At $65 per person, this was clearly one of the best deals (and meals) in town.

We started the evening with a Sazerac made with Bushmills 21 year.

It just so happens that I’m a Sazerac fan. Not just a fan- a super-fan. So, I was very curious to take my first sip, and, I declare: I really enjoyed this Sazerac with Bushmills 21 yr. After the first sip or so, esteemed Mr. Sickler explained to us that the 21 yr is made of a blend of whiskey that aged for 19 years in bourbon casks, 19 years in sherry casks, and then two years in Madeira casks. That essentially means the Bushmills 21 year whiskey is an incredibly flavorful whiskey and happens to work well in a Sazerac, which is traditionally made with Rye or Cognac.

Our first course was Black Bush Cured Salmon and Orange Fennel Slaw on a Soda Bread Crostini.

I had never had soda bread as a crisp crostini, and now I want to see this presentation on menus. The Salmon and slaw were light, delicious, and went well with our next take on a classic cocktail: A Mint Julep with Black Bush.

The Salmon was followed by Whiskey Seared Shrimp on Organic Seared Greens with Potato Frites and and Irish Sausage Vinaigrette.

Everyone at the community table commented that the shrimp was cooked perfectly, which it was. We also wanted to have a bowl full of those potato frites to nibble on with our next cocktail- an updated Negroni.

There was definitely no shortage of great food and drinks, as we moved on to Whiskey Molasses Glazed Pork Belly on a Parsnip Apple Hash with Arugula and Dried Cherries paired with a Manhattan made with Bushmills Single Malt 16 year.

Robert Sickler explained to us that the Bushmills Single Malt 16 year is made of barley, water, and yeast that is distilled and aged for sixteen years in Bourbon casks, sixteen years in Sherry casks, and then married in Port barrels. It definitely made a nice Manhattan…

Our final savory dish was Smoked Angus Beef on a Gold Potato Cake with Caraway Braised Cabbage, Crispy Leeks, and a Guinness Reduction.

This was served with a Sidecar made with Bushmills Single Malt 10 year.

I could hardly eat anymore by the time our final course, dessert, arrived. But, as we all know, there’s always room for dessert.

We finished with Honey Bread Pudding with Creme Fraiche Ice Cream, Candied Orange Zest, Whiskey Caramel Sauce, and a Bushmills Irish Honey Coffee.

This was the first dinner like this I had attended at Q’s and I’m looking forward to enjoying another. Sampling each whiskey on its own and then in a cocktail while being guided through each whiskey’s unique flavor by a whiskey master brought a great understanding and appreciation to Irish Whiskey. The entire meal was well orchestrated and I’d suggest signing up to the Q’s newsletter so you have a chance to attend their next event.

Cheers!

 

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