All Things to All People

Magnolia has something for everyone -- and that includes me.

And Magnolia's loyal customers appreciate that. They appreciate that they can have a sushi restaurant. That they can have a restaurant that doesn't feature as its main draw unlimited salad or free balloons or Riblets. That there's a place that offers everything they could possibly want -- if not right now, then next week -- in comfortable surroundings. There's a fun bar and patio seating and rooftop seating and acres of dining room, not even counting the private rooms. The tables are made of brushed stainless or polished wood, depending on where you sit, and the walls are done in a marzipan palette of pastel shades that defy pigeonholing as Mexican or American or contemporary or classic. Pieces of suitably abstract art are hung on some of them. There are steel railings and accents that bring to mind an urban Chipotle, as well as little wood sculptures of ducks and other knickknackery that give Magnolia a down-homey, Squat-n-Gobble kind of feel. It's multiple specificity -- using many different defining styles of decor to make a room as comfortable as possible to as many different people as possible without ever committing to a single, over-arching theme.

And the menu is the same way, of course, which would drive me crazy if not for the fact that everything I tried on it was done so surprisingly well. Pierce is taking chances in a way that I can't help but respect because of the skill he and his crew bring to the table, and even if this kitchen has no grounding in anything even approaching a singular cuisine, what it does have is a thrust -- an aggressive reaching for interesting combinations that provide customers with a tour d'appétit to keep them coming back again and again.

The whole roast beef tender was deceiving because it wasn't tenderloin and it wasn't really a roast. It was ten ounces of tournedos, cut from the chuck (a good cut -- bloody and flavorful and tender, as promised) and fanned as though it were tenderloin over a mound of creamy mushroom risotto that anywhere else might have been a button-mushroom throwaway but here was intelligently constructed of chanterelles and oysters fully giving up their flavor to the rice. On the side, there was grilled asparagus that looked awful and tasted beautiful -- smoky, green and earthy -- and horseradish freshly shaved off the root. At every step, intelligent choices and inarguable technique.

At Magnolia, Brian Split and Chris Pierce (rear) make 
food with mass appeal.
Mark Manger
At Magnolia, Brian Split and Chris Pierce (rear) make food with mass appeal.

Location Info


Magnolia Restaurant & Sushi Bar

1381 Forest Park Circle
Lafayette, CO 80026

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Boulder


1381 Forest Park Circle, Lafayette, 303- 665-3080. Open at 5 p.m. nightly.

The Flatiron steak was similar in butcher's gimmickry to the tender: a top blade cut, like a ribeye but not a ribeye. Magnolia proudly serves hanger instead of sirloin just because hanger is better -- not as sexy, but twice as tasty. The burgers are made with Coleman Natural beef, and that housemade andouille sausage showed up again in a bowl of sausage and rock-shrimp linguine.

I asked for the seafood presentation du jour, but the server said it was sold out. The last of the crabcakes went as I sat there as well, sign of a house that's turning tables at a rapid clip, serving maybe everyone in Lafayette two or three times a week. So instead, I ordered the salmon, which was squeezed on the menu between the oven-roasted chicken, the enchilada plate and the Caesar salad.

I don't really like salmon. In the culinary world, salmon is the girl with self-esteem issues, the one who'll go home with anyone and try anything once just to get a little love. Salmon can be pickled, poached, grilled, baked or seared. It can be turned into a mousse, a puff, a paste. It can be cured or smoked and paired with just about anything under the sun. You can do things to salmon that no one would consider doing with any other fish in the world, and the next day, salmon will always be there waiting for you, just hoping to be used again, altogether too eager to please.

But when salmon is handled with even the tiniest amount of respect, it can be great. It takes to flavors like a drunk to cheap bourbon and holds them like a dream, a quality that Pierce wisely exploited with the salmon filet on the dinner menu, infusing it with smoke (cedar, maybe, or applewood) and pairing it with artichokes, swiss chard, smoked bacon and a red verjus -- "green juice," as in the juice of unripe wine grapes, which is used to make a sauce taken from some obscure page of the French canon that most chefs probably haven't ever read. And with the exception of the Swiss chard -- which is hard to like under the best circumstances, being all fibrous and tough, but flat-out impossible to enjoy when a little past its peak, as it was here -- all of these disparate elements labored beneath one perfectly cooked piece of salmon to elevate the dish to excellence. The verjus was like a red-wine-vinegar broth but gentler, though still bitter and astringent enough to cut through the smoke and oiliness of the fish like a razor. The brunoise of smoked bacon lent an earthy base to the broth, the artichoke hearts (cut into sticks, but with less precision than I would have liked) a pleasant nuttiness.

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