By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Two, please. For dinner. If it's okay, we'll just sit at the bar."
Twice before, I've eaten at Frasca, drunk at Frasca, allowed myself to be folded into the perfect ballet of service at Frasca, dining once alone, once with my wife. Neither time have I made it to a table, choosing instead to arrive with the rush at 5:30 p.m. -- the minute the doors open -- for the first-come, first-served seats at the bar. But both times my meals have been a dream, the culmination of a remarkable cash-and-carry culinary fantasy of "What would happen if...."
What would happen if a young chef -- one of those freak-of-nature genius nobodies, meticulously French-trained, apprenticed through some of the best houses in the world, yet flying below the big-money celebrity radar -- brushed up against one of the better-known, award-winning sommeliers working in the United States? What would happen if they became friends while working together in a legendary house, a sort of culinary genetics laboratory where the essential DNA of American cuisine and the dominant traits of the best cooks in the world are being constantly split and recombined? And what would happen if these two -- after being tempered by the fire and pressure of working under the microscopes and Heisenberg glare of every foodie, every restaurant cultist, every critic and fellow traveler in the food universe -- decided to move on and open a restaurant of their own in Boulder, of all places?
Salumi plate: $14
Nuts and olives: $6
Tuna with eggs: $15
Pork belly: $22
Frasca is what would happen. Owned and operated by chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey -- who met at the French Laundry while working front-and-back shifts for three years under Thomas Keller -- this restaurant is the answer to those hypothetical questions, the brick-and-mortar solution to that most pipe-dreamy equation.
In the food world, Keller has transcended mere stardom and reached the level of kitchen saint -- beatified and powerful, capable of bestowing upon his most devoted acolytes a mystical gleam of brilliance. And while those who work forhim (as short-time stagiaires, mostly, because at this point in the evolution of American cuisine, Keller could staff his kitchen entirely with up-and-comers willing to work for free just for the opportunity to put his name on their resumés) may learn a trick or two, those who work with him (as did both Mackinnon-Patterson, as the French Laundry's chef de partie, and Stuckey, as wine director) come away changed. Rather than narrow-minded disciples, Keller produces partisans of cuisine, servants in the truest sense of the word, who understand the nobility of striving for perfection even while knowing that perfection is impossible to attain.
But Mackinnon-Patterson and Stuckey come very, very close with Frasca. At this point in culinary history, their eight-month-old restaurant -- dedicated to the cuisine and wine of Friuli in northeastern Italy -- is peerless.
And it's ours.
The room is smallish, with maybe twenty full tables, some booth-back seating, a wine wall (almost de rigueur in restaurant design these days) and a false-beam ceiling. The table settings are plain (if you can call Riedel stemware and heavy silver plain) but classic: starched white tablecloths, crisp linen napkins, everything gleaming, nothing overdone. The space is twice as comfortable and ten times less snooty than it has every right to be, staffed by a floor crew a thousand times more competent than any other in metro Denver -- even when the place is full, as it is every night, for every seating, with reservations stretching weeks in advance.
Still, in the midst of all this -- in the scrum of tables coming, going and turning, where those lucky few with reservations look like they're holding the foodie equivalent of one of Willy Wonka's golden tickets; with the crowds stacking at the host's station, being shunted to the bar and, when the bar fills, to the salumi bar, where the antipasto meats are carved and, when that fills, to an extra bar against the wall -- Frasca has an elegant calm. And when even all of the bar seating is gone (as it is by 6:30 almost every night), the host sends everyone else to the street with thanks, an apology from the house, and exhortations to please, please, try again another night.
In the midst of all this, there are servers pouring tajuts, half-glasses of decanted wine, kicking out freebies like they were trying to get someone elected, plus Stuckey floating through it all -- a single point of unruffled calm, exuding a palpable cool that settles every table he brushes past.
And somehow, in the midst of all this, every party is treated as though it's the only one there. Every woman is a princess, every man her witty, handsome and loaded consort. Doesn't matter if you're a shmuck in the real world, in the world outside Frasca's front door. Doesn't matter if you're possessed of all the wit of the doorknob on that door. Doesn't matter if you know nothing about food. This staff is here to serve you, in particular. Make a joke, and someone will laugh. Drop a napkin, and someone will be there to catch it before it hits the floor, a second someone placing a new one before you, a third someone appearing at your elbow to explain the forces of gravity and to apologize on behalf of the house that they haven't (yet) figured out how to overcome them.