October 26, 2009 | 7:04am
I learned many pointless things in culinary school. The knowledge of how to do tableside crepes suzette is now part of my culinary arsenal, for example, taking up space in my brain that could be used to know more about bacon.
But I did take something away from culinary school that I'll hang on to forever -- and it didn't originate in the labs. My classmates and I ducked class one day and headed up the street for the Three T's: Tecate, tacos and tequila. After we finished our gorge, I reached for my wallet, but my friend had already picked up the bill. "It'll come around," he shrugged as we walked out.
This doesn't apply to just the scrilla, it applies to the 9 to 5 as well. I got a few days off to see my girlfriend, but as we are no more I had something on my hands that I haven't had in a very long time: a free Saturday! As if that weren't enough, I'd been asked to join a group heading to Boulder's best: Frasca
We got there around 9:15 p.m. Saturday. At around 12:30, five giggling, giddy people left the restaurant, and what easily ranked in my top three dining experiences ever. And the weirdest thing: It wasn't really about the food. At least, not all about the food.
When the only negative thing I can say about the entire night is that the basket in the bathroom that held the warm towels had a broken handle, you know it was an incredible dining experience. Servers surrounded the table, yet weren't noticeable unless we wanted them to be. The staff was laid-back, yet the longest time a glass sat empty on the table was sixteen seconds (the shortest was three)! And that was a good thing, because this night was also the first time I had an "ah-ha" moment with wine, which had always seemed like calculus to me: important, but vague. "Sure it tastes like blueberries," I'd say while thinking, "This tastes like wine! It's wine!"
But when my nose was buried deep into the stem of whatever the hell we were drinking at Frasca, I just kinda got it. I don't have any clue what grapes or year or producer it was, and that is no jab at owner/sommelier Bobby Stuckey --- he explained things in a way that was both casual and overwhelmingly intelligent at the same time. But the particular vintage of this wine was unimportant to me, because the flavor and smells were that
good. I could distinctly smell cinnamon, then blackberries, then dirt, then mushrooms. It was miraculous, and now every glass I drink will pale in comparison.
With wine this good, the food almost served as its complement, rather than the other way around. The meal was executed flawlessly, in a way someone at the table called "rustically elegant." Both of Frasca's owners are from the French Laundry, where a lentil in the wrong place can get a chef scorned. But while in the bathroom, where I noticed the broken handle, I also saw a framed article that said Frasca was intended to be the "best neighborhood restaurant in the world." And that showed in our dinner, which lived up to every high expectation I'd had going in.
And when one of the other diners picked up the bill, I was incredibly gratified -- but didn't feel guilty. Because as I walked back to my restaurant to make sure everything was closed up, I knew that it would all come around.