I happened to reserve a table for 6 at Riff’s Urban Fare on Pearl St. in Boulder because it was in the right location, and the online menu seemed interesting.
The whole experience was way more than interesting. The atmosphere, with unique artistic touches and fascinating light bulb bunches as lighting fixtures, was warm and inviting. It happened to be “First Bite Boulder” from November 9-17, which is a prix fixe menu deal that was taking place in many restaurants throughout Boulder. I’ve had some bad luck with these kind of city-wide restaurant deals. In Denver, 5280 week sometimes means a great deal on great food, but it sometimes translates into smaller portions or less expensive options as part of the 5280 menu. Riff’s First Bite menu was neither small portions (although we were told they were smaller than normal, they seemed average to large), and the options were not less expensive ones at all.
I’ll tell you first about what I had: Crisp Duck Confit and Braised Leeks.
The description of Crisp Duck Confit accurately described the dish: celery confit, slivered pear, good maple syrup, hazelnuts. I love duck, in fact I really love duck. Matched with fresh pears, as they noted “good” maple syrup, which it was, and celery confit, it was beautiful, flavorful, and a really nice sweet/salty melange. The Braised Leeks dish had much more crab than it did leeks, which I was quite happy about, as after duck, crab is my next favorite meat. The mustard brown butter vinaigrette made this dish come together. It was crisp and mustardy enough but didn’t overpower the crab or the leeks. I also got to taste just about everything on the First Bite menu thanks to the other five people with whom I shared a table.
First Course: Denver Bread Company Boule and white bean puree, course sea salt. Simple, very fresh, delicious. Probably really easy to make at home also.
House-made ricotta: slow roasted balsamic tomato, arugula pepita pesto, grilled flatbread. The ricotta was in a little scoop and complimented the pesto and the tomatoes perfectly. Very Italian feeling, very good. Curried Mussels: coconut milk, sweet potato, lime, scallion & coriander. This was pretty spicy for a green curry, and for my French father-in-law. But bursting with flavor including whole cilantro leaves (YUM) and perfectly cooked, not too big and not too small, mussels. Honey Roast Pear: chevre, prosciutto, spinach, cider reduction. Salty sweet goodness with some greens to finish it off. Aesthetically pleasing also.
Roasted Beets: queso de mano, orange, almonds. Roasted beets, cheese and almonds. This was good, but the Flash Cooked Brussel Sprouts with brown butter, hazelnuts and shallots beat out the beets in flavor and texture.
Fourth Course: Gold Potato Gnocchi, hazel dell mushrooms, roast winter squash, sage, Parmesan. I’ve had some good gnocchi before, and these little gems really gave the others a run for their money. (I don’t even like mushrooms.) Cedar Plank Salmon. This was actually served on a cedar plank. Perfectly cooked, light and delicious.
My favorite- “Gyro” seasoned lamb burger, saffron couscous, goat feta, kalamata, harissa sofrito. The lamb burger was surprising, sort of tart, and lamby flavor with lots of cumin, another favorite of mine. The toppings were all piled on top- and it was bunless. I would go back to Riff’s to eat this.
Dessert: Apple pie. A perfect little round tart, but the best part was the mint sauce around the plate that mixed up the sweet flavor with a little bright mint flavor.
Coconut brownie. I didn’t ask if this was house-made, but it sure seemed that it was. A perfectly balanced caramel sea salt ice cream (that I tried but couldn’t eat, sadly) sat on top of a fantastic 1/2 and 1/2 combo of regular brownie with blond coconut brownie top.
The service here was excellent. We laughed a lot, ate a lot, and really enjoyed ourselves. I told our server that the evening and meal had been one of the most memorable for me in a long time. Thanks Riff’s, thanks Boulder, CO.