Emilia Rickey originally envisioned Emiliana's as a dessert house, a place where Boulderites could go after dinner or the theater for coffee, a cheese plate, an elegant dessert. Although she ultimately expanded the theme to include a full menu, Rickey still offers the most extensive selection of desserts in town. There are fruit desserts, including a skillet caramel-apple pie, English trifle, a classic bananas Foster that had one of my tablemates moaning with pleasure, and a delicate frozen lemon soufflé. And there's a full page of chocolate creations, from molten German chocolate cake with a caramel-coconut center to a crème brûlée served floating inside dark chocolate mousse to the torte Alexandra, named for Rickey's sister. No Baker's chocolate here: Depending on the texture and presentation she wants, Rickey uses several kinds of premium chocolate, from Scharffen Berger to Callebaut.
"Anywhere you go in Boulder, you find the same five desserts," Rickey says. "Everyone's serving fallen chocolate cake with raspberry coulis. We didn't want to do the same things, but we do use some of the same flavor combinations." So, of course, there's a truffle cake with raspberry-mousse filling and a surprise center of fresh raspberries.
Rickey grew up in Boulder and had dreamed of opening a restaurant there for a decade. She began her restaurant career right after high school, as one of the roller-skating servers at the fondly remembered Last American Diner. Although she originally entered college as a theater major, she moved to Eastern Illinois University and earned a bachelor's degree in hospitality management. She followed that with work in several restaurants in Illinois and New York, eventually entering the Culinary Institute of America and earning an associate's degree in culinary arts. She stayed for an extra year to study baking and pastry, then completed a long externship at a country club in Syracuse. "Little pieces were fitting together," she says.
Rickey returned to Boulder and began building a business plan for her own place. She bought software and a book, talked to a local restaurant consultant and took a course offered by the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. She also began scouting out the right location. Boulder's Pearl Street has turned into a kind of restaurant row, boasting everything from Rhumba's exuberantly original Caribbean cuisine to the Cheesecake Factory, and a location opened up where an Italian restaurant had once stood. It was on the slightly cheaper and less densely colonized east end of the mall, which is rapidly creating a feel and an ambience of its own. "It was perfect," says Rickey. "Perfect location. Perfect size."
After spending a couple of months raising money, Rickey closed on the building early last January. She and her husband, Dan Scheftic, spent 75 frenetic days remodeling, and Emiliana's opened in March. "I've committed my life to doing this," Rickey says simply.
Emiliana's has a tiny patio -- now closed for the winter -- a bar by the door, and a small, two-tiered dining room with a black grand piano on the higher level. Each table is set with immaculate white linen; in the ladies' room, a single rose floats in a glass bowl.
The menu displays this same attention to detail, as well as a judicious balance between selectivity and variety. For a first course, diners may choose a caramelized-onion and feta-cheese tart with white truffle oil; spinach, walnut and duck ravioli; a flaky pastry strudel filled with wild mushrooms and smoked Gouda; or seared foie gras on a grilled apple with caramelized shallots and port syrup. True to her first inclinations, Rickey has gone to town with her cheese course, which consists of several generous wedges of such cheeses as drunken goat, Morbier, Gorgonzola and Stilton served with a side of tart lime marmalade.
The main courses include a gorgeous Chateaubriand topped with white truffle butter; pheasant served with a piquant raspberry /green peppercorn sauce; a couple of fish specials, including an Asian-inspired Ahi tuna; and -- crucial for any Boulder dining establishment -- two vegetable dishes, a platter and a fondue.
"I just picked ingredients I enjoyed working with," says Rickey. "Flavor combinations that were accessible but interesting. I see a lot of cooks who start with garlic and build out from there. As much as I love garlic, I think you should be able to taste the food you're eating. I use herbs, wine, vinegars -- things that let the food item speak for itself instead of being overpowered."
Like the course offerings, the wine list is highly selective. "We're a family-owned restaurant that relies on community support," Rickey says. "We want to support other similar businesses. We get our wines from small, quality distributors, not the big-name labels. We have about three Italian wines. The rest are from France, Spain, Australia, California. We're gradually building the list, and eventually we hope to have about 75 wines. We also have the most comprehensive dessert wine list in town." The menu suggests wines to go with each dessert, offered in one-ounce tasting portions.
Although Emiliana's sees a reasonable amount of weekend traffic, it ends early. All of those Boulderites who've been complaining for years that there's nowhere to go after 10 p.m. don't seem to have caught on to the pleasures of a leisurely after-concert or -movie graze. When they do, Emiliana's snowy tablecloths and gleaming cutlery will be ready.
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