At the Top of Their Game

Impeccable service and rhapsodic dishes make Boulder’s Frasca the stuff dreams are made of.

Photo by Annette Slade

I nearly canceled my reservation. Not because of inclement weather, infuriating traffic, a PTA powwow or the fact that I was just one episode shy of the conclusion of “Stranger Things”—none of those hypothetical mitigations had anything to do with the urge to punch in the digits of Frasca Food and Wine’s phone number and relinquish our table. The hesitancy was all about another trepidation, namely a doctor’s appointment the next morning that would involve things like a check of my cholesterol levels, the very real possibility of shattering the scale and an inevitable lecture on controlling my carb addiction. Have you ever had Frasca’s house-baked bread? If so, you might agree that you’d be quite happy if it was the last thing you ate before you expired.

My husband, who had just celebrated a birthday, didn’t share my concerns. “If you cancel that reservation,” he warned, “I’m leaving you.” I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of his sentiments. I protested, noting that this would constitute my second dinner at Frasca in as many weeks. No sympathy. I put down my phone in defeat.

We had just taken our first sip of a tajut of “Frico” Bianco—a vibrant, acidic, minerally splash of cuvée that Bobby Stuckey, co-owner of Frasca, ensures that every guest, whether perched at a linen-draped table or the casual bar, receives upon settling in—when Danette, his wife, stopped at our table. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Bobby and Danette since Frasca opened in 2004.) She inquired, as is customary at Frasca, if we were celebrating a special occasion. As a matter of fact, yes, I said: both the marking of my husband’s day of birth and my impending physical, which, I explained, would be celebratory in that I’d have a very, very good excuse to counteract the diatribe from my doctor.

What transpired next personifies why Frasca, a restaurant whose culinary roots are dedicated to the cuisine and wine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a culturally rich region tucked away in northeast Italy, is still, after more than a dozen years, the embodiment of remarkable hospitality. Danette returned to our table with a crisp envelope, inside of which was a note, hand-written on Frasca-stamped stationery, that began “Dear Doctor.” It went on to implore my physician to forgive my transgressions: the bread (and the butter); the seemingly endless sips of wine that made my cheeks blush scarlet; the diabolically gratifying potato pancakes that are even more intoxicating than the wine. Mainly, it stated the truth: I was eating and drinking like it was the last time I’d ever do so. Forgive the sinner. Her words were eloquent, her cursive flawless. My doctor was impressed. My test results? Who cares?

The service at Frasca is effectually synonymous with perfection. Engaging, genuine, connected, strikingly studied but informal, effortlessly friendly, the staff, up and down the totem pole, represents flawless execution. And you take for granted that the impeccability behind the bar and in the dining room will extend to the kitchen, commanded from day one by chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson. And even on an evening when the kitchen doesn’t deliver a peak performance, Frasca is still better than most restaurants, even on their best nights.

There are faults—over-salting, for example— that I suspect are the result of cooks suffering from palate fatigue. Still, when the tasting menu—a parade of six courses—is $105 per person, $200 with paired wines, you should fall in love with every flavor and taste the purity of every ingredient, especially when those ingredients have impeccable pedigrees that deserve transparency. And while it wasn’t mined with a charge of salt, the tender agnolotti, freshly made, pooled in brown butter and offset by braised greens, was so astringent from an overdose of lemon-vinegar that I winced, a little worried that my palate wouldn’t recover from the puckering sourness. But when the kitchen is focused, Frasca turns out some of the best food in Colorado.

Over a series of wonderfully leisurely dinners here, I went wild for the frico caldo, crisped, bronzed triangles of mashed Yukon Gold potatoes laced with onions and Montasio, a mild, aged and creamy cow’s milk cheese whose origins lie in the foothills of the Italian Alps. In someone else’s hands, this would be your pedestrian potato cake; at Frasca, the starter, crowned with dots of vibrantly seasoned herb-forward vinaigrette, is a sensation.

So, too, is a beautifully composed salad of multi-shaped heirloom cucumbers— pickled, lemon and English—served with pickled red onions, freshly grated horseradish, crème fraîche and sprigs of dill, every mouthful a compelling eulogy to the last call of summer.

For days afterward, I thought about the fazzoletti, handcrafted sheets of rectanglefigured pasta floating in an ethereal, butter-rich sauce flush with fleshy clams, summer squash sliced into thin spheres, wisps of fresh chives and an edible flower garden of violet-hued blossoms. Spectacular. I love Frasca’s risotto, too, which, in most kitchens, is a dish that all but guarantees unpredictability. Faultless risotto requires complete dedication, an unwavering attention span and an absolute refusal to resort to shortcuts. At Frasca, the wizard who makes the risotto is the patron saint of rice. Whether ambrosial with fennel and the juices of stewed heirloom tomatoes, or crossbred with minced shrimp, scallops, mussels and clams, the risottos evoke the kind of yearning that’s normally reserved for fantasies that might involve heavy breathing.

At the moment, Frasca’s board also includes a rhapsodic Wagyu teres major, seared medallions of crimson beef, carved from the shoulder blade of the steer, amplified with an eggplant and tomato terrine, pops of crunchiness from roasted pine nuts and a sludge of smoky eggplant purée. The texture and pronounced beefiness of a teres major—a favorite cut of butchers—is far superior to the primal cuts that you’re probably used to, which is to say that it beats a dull filet mignon every time.

If it’s your birthday, you will probably want dessert, but even if it isn’t—and you don’t—it’s unlikely that the staff will allow you to forfeit a happy ending, which, for me, is the sublime panna cotta with pecans, honey and nectarines. Desserts, like Frasca’s bewitching hospitality, exemplify pure pleasure.

Frasca
1738 Pearl St., Boulder
303.442.6966