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Tapas the Rockies

Creative combinations and intense flavors make Triana the area's best new restaurant.

Following chef James Mazzio through various restaurants over the past six years has been like flipping through the portfolio of a photographer who's captured a rose from bud to blossom. Each exquisite frame echoes what's gone before and hints at what beauty is yet to come.

Right now, Mazzio is in full bloom.

His father was a caretaker for the Campbell's Soup estate in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and Mazzio was raised eating the fruits and vegetables that grow in abundance in that humid climate. "That was amazing, because I could cook with foods that had literally been pulled right out of the ground and went right into the pot," he says. "Cooking here can be a little dicier, not so much because I can't get stuff, but because of the quality. So I have to be pickier, pick and choose more what I can really use. But that's only for three or four months. Now we're starting to get better again, because Southern California's growing season has started. So when the skiing is done, the food gets better."

The reign of Spain: With its cool interior and hot food, Triana is the top new restaurant.
Q Crutchfield
The reign of Spain: With its cool interior and hot food, Triana is the top new restaurant.

Location Info

Map

Triana

1039 Pearl St
Boulder, CO 80302-5110

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Boulder

Details

303-449-1022
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday
5:30-10 p.m. Sunday

Shoestrings & romesco: $4
Crispy clam strip cone: $7
Salmon margarita: $8
Baked eggplant: $5.50
Shrimp wrapped in bacon: $7
Gazpacho: $8
Lobster bisque: $10
Crispy red snapper: $19
Broiled Atlantic cod: $22
Soufflés: $9
Chocolate cake: $9

Closed location

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And this from a guy who left Pennsylvania -- after stints as a fish cleaner and managing a seafood company outside of Philadelphia -- to be a ski bum here. Mazzio settled in Aspen and got an off-the-slopes job at Mezzaluna, starting as a busboy and working his way up to line cook and sous chef. He started getting serious about cooking in 1991, when Charles Dale took him on as an intern at Renaissance; Mazzio's talents soon earned him a spot as the esteemed Aspen eatery's chef de cuisine. And by the time he'd moved on to his first role as top toque, at Boulder's 15 Degrees, Mazzio rated recognition from Food & Wineas one of America's top ten best new chefs.

That was in 1999. Now Mazzio is a partner in the six-month-old Triana, along with Doug Clayton, who's managed Miami and Napa restaurants as well as Aspen's Caribou Club; Scott Lockwood, a former NFL running back whose travel in Spain provided the impetus for the restaurant; and Adam DeVito, who helped open revered cooking instructor Madeleine Kamman's school. The group brought in Adue Interiors to implement a sumptuous decor that combines stark bullfighting art with serene stone walls and is warmed by lighting that flickers almost cavelike in the dining room. Gauzy curtains hang over the over-the-head-high booths for surprisingly intimate dining, even though all of the booths face the room. The adjacent bar is fabulous looking, with polished chrome reflecting the bold colors all around. And the beautiful people: On weekends, both the dining room and the bar are packed. They aren't there just to be seen in Boulder's hippest scene, either. They're there to eat some of the area's best food, creative combinations full of intense flavors.

Rather than offer a sampling of Mediterranean foods, Triana concentrates on one cuisine, that of Spain. It's a cooking style noted for its simplicity, created by a people noted for their dedication to ingredients: the more expensive and luxurious, the better. The restaurant's name refers to the barrio in Seville that's often credited with the invention of tapas, and in keeping with that, Triana offers many snacking options. Never before has an order of French fries been so slyly presented, stuffed into a cardboard cone set in a decorative metal holder. But these shoestring-style spuds sprinkled with sugar and salt were worthy of their presentation: Addictive doesn't begin to describe the allure of the crispy edges, soft centers and little bits of salty caramelized sweetness that came with every bite. The fries didn't even need the romesco dipping sauce, although we did find that the traditional Spanish red-pepper concoction went well with Triana's homemade baguette slices.

Another cone arrived overflowing with clam strips, oh-so-tender shreds that had been lightly breaded and deep-fried, and paired with a lemon aioli dipping sauce. The salmon margarita boasted another innovative presentation: Papery slips of delectable fish had been cured, ceviche-style, in a tequila-spiked lime liquid augmented with onion, then served in a margarita glass rimmed with pepper. Although other tapas offerings were more straightforward in appearance, they were no less impressive: thin slices of eggplant layered with aged goat cheese (for a sharp, rather than rich flavor), a roasted-tomato vinaigrette that was like a sassy version of grandma's marinara and flawlessly grilled shrimp wrapped in sweet smoked bacon and served with a creamy emulsion made from crushed almonds.

For grazers, the urge is almost overwhelming to head straight to the bar and snack there all night -- pairing the foods, in true Spanish style, with a few glasses from Triana's intriguing list of Spanish wines and sparkling cavas.But while Triana heartily encourages such activity, no one should miss the experience of dinner in the dining room, nestling into one of the cozy booths and surrendering to Mazzio's headier, more involved dishes. If there is anything more intensely flavorful than his gazpacho, I haven't tasted it: Ripe tomatoes, peppers -- we have Spain to thank for those, by the way -- and cucumbers had been puréed into an absolutely fresh soup, with a few grilled shrimp added for contrast and some avocado for extra vegetal richness and color. The lobster bisque with corn cakes and poached lobster had that same essential freshness, with just enough cream and a touch of fennel to underscore the sweet lobster meat.

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