Word of Mouth

Bon Appetit names Boulder foodiest town, but misses the point

The second the story broke that Bon Appetit had named Boulder its foodiest town of 2010, the local Twitter-sphere was a swirl of self-congratulations. And in the past 24 hours, the link has been reposted thousands of times, accompanied by commentary from the CEOs and graphic designers and tech wizards who all call this town home: We're fervent diners, and a national publication took notice -- just more validation that we live in a great town the best town ever.

We're used to awards here in Boulder. We're healthy. We're smart. We're entrepreneurial. And we're happy, though some cynics tie that to the notion that we're all sitting around stroking each other's backs while puffing the magic dragon and talking about peace, love and understanding.

I'm guilty of the same annoying pride as the rest of the residents of the Peoples' Republic, and despite the comments cropping up on Andrew Knowlton's article suggesting that he chose the wrong Colorado municipality to shower with food-related compliments, I wholeheartedly agree with his selection. I grew up in Denver and love many of the restaurants in the city, but when I decided to make a career change, pursuing dining as a livelihood instead of a lifestyle, there was only one town in this state that I wanted to call home, and that was Boulder.

I can feel it, Denver. You're ready to bite my head off and suggest I get out of the business. Did I even read the New York Times article that gave accolades to prominent Denver restaurants without so much as a whispered mention of Boulder? Do I know that Alex Seidel, Food & Wine's best new chef, is running Fruition, a restaurant in Denver? Do I realize that Federal Boulevard is teeming with global cuisines that may have just one, if any, mediocre representative in Boulder?

Well, yes, yes and yes. But good restaurants alone do not a foodie city make. Incidentally, neither does overzealous exercise, which Knowlton weirdly hints is why food tastes better in this town. Obviously, we all like to eat because we spend our mornings biking 1,000 miles, followed by an afternoon of running up rocky trails. Because, you know, every athletic city in the country is a good place to find a wealth of places to dine. Up next, Leadville. And then Moab.

Curiously, though, I found myself raising an eyebrow of disappointment as I read Knowlton's story, and not just because of its strange focus on physical activity, or because the word "foodie" inherently annoys me. Regardless of my personal opinion of the spots he chose to include (uh, Leaf? The declining Sushi Tora? But no Pupusas? Or Amu? Or even the Dushanbe Tea House, which is, at the very least, more "Boulder" than the vegetarian restaurant off Pearl?), I found his descriptions of the eateries he visited rather uninspired.

But the true source of my dissatisfaction is that Knowlton missed the mark in defining WHY we're the foodiest city in the country. Because what sets Boulder apart from Denver (or any other town in the country, for that matter) isn't the restaurants themselves. It's the town's collective attitude toward eating and drinking.

This is a community that's engaged in its dinner. I've never lived in another town, New York and Los Angeles included, in which the residents anticipate the first weekend of the farmers' market with the zeal of junkies looking for their next hit. Nowhere else have I been part of a group of diners so knowledgeable about where food comes from that they spend dinner engaging their servers in an information-off, trying to outsmart the restaurant staff with their immense culinary knowledge. Nowhere else have I had the immense joy of walking down the street into very full restaurants and running into people from all walks of life and professions, drinking the weirdest thing they can find on the wine list and happily ordering the beef tongue, the pickled turnips, the head cheese -- as long as it's sustainable and local, of course. And nowhere else have I seen people who so love restaurants, spending their evenings out in eateries of all different types, price points and quality levels.

Do we have more great restaurants per capita than any other place in the country? Probably not. More rising stars? More inventive chefs? More attention to detail? Doubtful. Do we have the most discriminating palates? Hell, no. This is Boulder, remember? Everyone is special.

But that's the key. This is not to discredit Frasca, or The Kitchen, or the Bitter Bar, or any of the other restaurants that Knowlton profiled. I love them as much as anyone living in this town does. But what's really special about Boulder is the way it embraces restaurants -- and sometimes even conceptually crazy restaurants. It's like no town I've ever seen. Dining out here is more than dining out; it's a full-on social event that binds our community together. And for a girl looking to integrate into a restaurant scene and learn the business, there was no better community in which to do it.

So while some will chalk up this accolade to our voracious appetites because of all the pot we smoke, our hippie-dippy lifestyles or the altitude, the real reason we're the foodiest city is because we love our restaurants, our chefs and our food providers just a little bit more.