"Why not?" deadpans Eric Skokan when I ask him about opening Bramble & Hare, the new restaurant he'll unveil to the public on Monday, directly adjacent to Black Cat, the gospel of seasonality that Skokan introduced to Boulder in 2006 just off the Pearl Street Mall.
"The truth," continues Skokan, who owns his own multi-acre farm and homestead near Niwot, is "that we have just enough extra production after we've sold our produce at the Boulder farmers' market and served people at Black Cat to do a 24-seat cafe," and, more important, he notes, "being farm-to-table is idealistic and wonderful, but it's hard to do it for people who can only afford it on special occasions." Ultimately, he says, "we want this to be a restaurant that's accessible to everyone, a great everyday restaurant that people can come back to on a regular basis."
The rusticated space, bedecked with a vintage bar, art-deco corners, original hardwoods, walls hued tobacco, cashmere and taupe, an upright piano from the early 1900s, vintage industrial accents and an exhibition kitchen that also trumpets a walk-up window, will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week, and include late-night kitchen hours.
And the main menu, a focused yet playful composition of small plates executed by Black Cat sous chef Josh Monopoli, who grew up in Savannah, Georgia, loves pigs and most recently did time as the sous chef at Holeman and Finch Public House, in Atlanta, will be sidekicked by a nightly $29 per person prix fixe dinner that includes an appetizer, main dish and choice of dessert. And Monopoli, who will cook out of both kitchens, designed the board with Skokan's farm, where he raises pigs, sheep and chickens and grows organic produce, firmly in mind. "My whole idea was to do interesting flavors and textures, which is important to me, but what really turned me on to this job -- and to Eric's restaurants -- is his commitment to farm-to-table," says Monopoli. "The fact that Eric has his own farm and utilizes everything on it is what really sealed the deal for me."
Skokan, who's spent the past several months stripping down the space -- he was painting the kitchen last week -- notes that while Bramble & Hare, which also boasts a discreetly placed booth tucked into a corner, a private dining room and savvy wine list and boozy cocktail roster, is certainly more casual than Black Cat, it'll still embrace his unwavering fidelity to making sure that guests eat well. "I love feeding people, and we want to be a great restaurant with great food that people can come back to again and again," says Skokan.
I spent some time with Skokan, Monopoli and the rest of the staff last week, touring my way through the menu, and as a precursor to Tuesday's opening, snapped some shots of the kitchen crew's artful dishes that stir with bold flavors and seasonal sensibilities.
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Paprika-spiced Hungarian salami plate with olive-brined cauliflower and braised mustard seed. Mizuna greens, fresh apricots and toasted quinoa spritzed with a smoked orange vinaigrette. Sous chef Josh Monopoli. Coffee-cured brisket with a brûléed cipollini onion salad and sugar beet puree. The scene stealer: a sourdough doughnut swelled with duck liver mousse, glazed with grapefruit marmalade and topped with arugula. Ricotta salata plated with charred pistachios, salt-and-vinegared mizuna and dusts of paprika. The open kitchen, which overlooks the dining room. Charcuterie and the garden bounty from Skokan's farm. Greens with pickled spring onions and fresh chevre dressed with a toasted coriander vinaigrette. Salted caramel ice cream and bourbon milkshake. "We'll have lots of adult milkshakes," promises Monopoli, adding that "Eric insisted." Sour cherry pie.