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Tom and I have had the good fortune to eat in some stellar restaurants over the years, but none better than Q’s Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado in Boulder. I kid you not, Q’s is amazing. My struggle is going to be telling you about it without lapsing into hyperbole. It’s that good. Really. After enjoying the chef’s three-course tasting menu at lunch one afternoon, every tastebud in my mouth–every tastebud–was doing a happy dance and giving high-fives to the tastebuds around it. Our lunch was so flavorful, so well presented and served, and so much fun, Tom and I couldn’t make dinner reservations fast enough for the following evening.

Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

The Historic Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

Q's Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

Q's Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado

John Platt, the executive chef and co-owner, bought Q’s back in 1993 with his wife, Sabrina, and–based on what I’ve learned from from reading up on them (don’t you just love Google?)–they’ve been doing amazing things there ever since. John’s self-described “chef crafted” cuisine relies heavily on seasonal, locally grown, organic ingredients, many of which come from his own garden. In that regard, what he’s doing isn’t all that unusual, I suppose–especially in Boulder–but what is unusual…or unique…or absolutely taste-bud-blowingly amazing is the way he creatively marries those ingredients together in just the right proportions to make them not only play nicely together in your mouth, but to create flavors you’re not expecting. Most well-prepared dishes make at least one part of your mouth happy; John’s dishes make every square millimeter of your mouth stand up and salute.

Moreover, his fabulous food is served by an extremely friendly, well-trained staff who seem to know what you need before you even know you need it, all in the charming elegance of the historic Hotel Boulderado. Perfect.

And now, our meals. Enjoy!

Lunch: The Appetizer
Colorado Peaches
Mixed Greens, Bleu Cheese, Crisp Pancetta
Citrus Vinaigrette

Colorado Peaches

Lunch: The Entree
Blackened Salmon
Summer Melon Relish, Black Bean Cake
Chipotle BBQ Broth

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Lunch: The Dessert
Raspberry Semifreddo
Raspberry Cake, Candied Lemon

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Lunch was served with a Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc which complimented all three courses beautifully. If I had to pick a favorite course of the three–not an easy task–I’d have to go with the blackened salmon. I generally don’t like my food spicy hot, but the spiciness of the black bean cake and the Chipotle BBQ broth was balanced perfectly with the cool fruitiness of the summer melon relish. Yum!

For dinner the following evening, we self-selected a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand to accompany our meal. In hindsight, we should have asked the Cellarmaster for his recommendation. Oh well, even a poorly selected wine couldn’t ruin the meal we were about to enjoy, a meal that started with a summer melon and hot chili amuse bouche the chef sent out for us try.

Dinner: Tom’s Starter
Panseared Dungeness Crabcake
Red Pepper Romesco, Fennel Orange Slaw

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Dinner: My Starter
“Caprese”
House-made Mozzarella, Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, Prosciutto, Basil, Balsamic, Pumpkinseeds
(I also requested–and received–freshly sliced tomatoes from John’s garden in my Caprese)

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Dinner: Tom’s Salad
Organic Mixed Green Salad
Lemon Champagne Vinaigrette, Fennel, Cucumber, Cherry Tomatoes, Lemon Fried Potatoes

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Dinner: My Soup
Sweet Corn Soup
Lobster Hushpuppies

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Dinner: Tom’s Entree
The Chef’s Special – Monk Fish
(I was so busy slobbering over my entree, I forgot to take adequate notes about Tom’s. Whoops!)

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Dinner: My Entree
Smoked Berkshire Pork Tenderloin
Corn and Green Chili Relish, Red Chili Honey, Refried Beans, Grilled Zucchini, Pumpkinseeds

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Our Shared Dessert
Colorado Peach Crisp
Home Spun Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Peach Sauce

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Like our lunch the previous day, every dish was full of fresh flavors and clever combinations that were not only satisfying, but culinarily engaging. Our mouths were happy, our brains were strained, and our bellies were pleasantly stuffed as we left the Boulderado to do a few laps around the Pearl Street Mall before turning in for the night.

We thank John; Deluxe Chef  de Cuisine, Ian Rubenoff; Sous Chef, Cruz Silva; the friendly and attentive wait staff; and Sabrina, who was a fabulous and welcoming hostess for an amazing experience. We will look forward to dining at Q’s again very soon. Until then, I’ll be following the happenings at Q’s on their Facebook page.

In closing, let me say this to you, my readers, if you go to Boulder and don’t go to Q’s, you should…well, you should…dang…this is where I’m really struggling with hyperbole. “Be shot” sounds a bit drastic.

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The historic town of Lyons, Colorado, (incorporated in 1891) sits nestled on the backside of the Front Range roughly halfway between Boulder and Estes Park on Highway 36. The actual population of the town is just under 2,000 people, but the amenities available there make it feel much bigger: a museum, two art galleries, two bike shops, a motorcycle shop, three car repair places, a furniture store, an antique shop, a quilting shop, a veterinary clinic, a medical clinic, a library, two newspapers, a fitness center, a liquor store, a produce market, a store selling all things related to honey, a fabulous little grocery store, an ice cream shop with an old-fashioned soda fountain, eight restaurants, a winery, and…whew, take a breath…Oskar Blues, Lyons’ very own microbrewery. (I’m telling you, Lyons is a great little town!)

Oskar’s, which sits in a strip mall that is wedged between westbound Highway 36 (Main Street) and eastbound Highway 36 (Broadway), is hard to miss. At least from what we could tell, it’s always surrounded by cars. From Main Street, you see the packed parking lot. From Broadway, you see the overflowing outdoor seating space and hear the musical performers who entertain diners nearly every night–weekdays or weekends.

Oskar Blue's - Lyons, CO

Oskar Blues - Lyons, CO

Tom and I got there early one evening and managed to snag a table out on the balcony where we could hear the band playing bluegrass down below in the parking lot and see the sun setting over the mountains to the west. Unfortunately, neither my pictures of the musicians nor of the sunset came out very well, so you’ll have to conjure your own mental images of both. (I need to practice using my camera…sorry.)

Balcony Seating at Oskar Blue's

Balcony Seating at Oskar Blues

Oskar Blues’ claim to fame, of course, is its beers, and they’ve got plenty to choose from. On the night we stopped in, there were eight choices, including Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Deviant Dave’s, One-Nut Brown Ale, and Ten Fidy Imperial Stout. Clever. Tom chose Dale’s Pale Ale and gave it a thumbs-up. Unfortunately, I’ve had to give up beer because of the whole gluten thing…buuuummer…so you’ll have to settle for Tom’s hearty endorsement.

Dave's Pale Ale

Dave's Pale Ale

Oskar’s menu, which features the “Cajun, Creole and Southern-style comfort food that reflect [the] founder’s southern upbringing,” includes New Orleans-style gumbo and fried catfish along with the standard fare found on most bar/brewery menus: pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and Mexican entrees. Whatever you choose, I’m betting you won’t walk away unsatisfied. Tom had the Smoked BBQ Sandwich–a pulled pork sandwich smothered in homemade Bourbon BBQ sauce–with a side of homemade black bean salad (yuuuummmmy), and I had the “bodacious” B.B. King Burger with a side order of sweet potato fries. Brownie points to our waitress, I didn’t get the squonk eye when I asked if they would hold the bacon and add grilled onions to my burger.  Ultimately, the burger was a burger, but the sweet potato fries were gooo…ooood. Sweet, crunchy, and salty all in one bite. Does it get much better?

BBQ Beef Sandwich with Black Bean Salad

Smoked BBQ Sandwich with Black Bean Salad

Modified B.B. King Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

Modified B.B. King Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

After eating at Oskar Blues, Tom and I understood why it’s so popular and why–we assume–it draws diners from beyond Lyons’ city limits…although, I suppose we could be wrong… maybe everyone who lives in Lyons eats at Oskar’s every night…it is lots of fun…but then, who’s eating at the eight other restaurants in Lyons?

I’m telling you, Lyons is a great little town!

Several years ago, when we were in Boulder visiting Tom’s sister, she took us to Tom’s Tavern on the corner of 11th and Pearl for beer and burgers. Quite tasty. So when we were debating our options for dinner on Tuesday night and spied Tom’s, we didn’t hesitate. We headed straight across the street, up the stairs, and presented ourselves at the hostess stand. That should have been our first clue. Tom’s didn’t have a hostess stand.

We were seated immediately near the front of the restaurant and were handed menus…menus that failed to have the words “Tom’s Tavern” printed anywhere on them. Instead, blazoned across the top at a jaunty angle: “SALT.” Hmmmm. We looked around. Sure enough, the room was different. Dramatically different. Tom’s beat-up bar furnishings had been replaced with sleek contemporary tables, chairs, lighting, and artwork. People were dressed up (by Boulder standards). There weren’t beer signs everywhere, and the silverware was real. Ahhhh…you don’t have to draw us a picture. Clearly, we weren’t in Tom’s. Okay, okay. We got it…finally. Actually, we weren’t in anything remotely like Tom’s. We were, in fact, in a brand new restaurant which we learned later had only been opened a few days before.

Our initial disappointment didn’t last long.

For starters, SALT serves brews from local microbreweries and drinks they call Pre-Prohibition Spirituals. Tom ordered a Steamworks Kolsch Ale (Steamworks Brewery is in Durango, CO), and I ordered a Pre-Prohibition Spiritual called Saturn Returns, a drink I can only describe as a peach Bellini with a dark soul. Yummy. I wish I’d taken notes about the whole Pre-Prohibition business at the time so I could tell you about it. Really. I did read about it, but I was having too much fun drinking the darn thing to take good notes then, and now I can’t remember what I read. Sorry.

Libations

Libations

As for the food, the meat and produce served at SALT come from local farms and ranches. In a blurb about SALT, the Downtown Boulder website uses descriptors like “savory slow food,” “fresh local,” and “loving preparation.” I can’t disagree.  Everything we ate was fresh and flavorful. The chef is clearly doing something right with his ingredients. Tom had the Tavern Burger featuring grass-fed beef, and I had the Summer Vegetable Penne. Delish…although I paid for eating pasta the next day. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it was worth it. Big grin.

The Tavern Burger

The Tavern Burger

Summer Vegetable Penne
Summer Vegetable Penne
For dessert–of course there was dessert; we were on vacation!–we shared the Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. The peaches are in season in Colorado, so we had no other option. Really big grin!
Colorado Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Colorado Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I’ll close this post with a picture showing the restaurant from the view we had of it pre-dinner. You can decide if we’re crazy for thinking it was still Tom’s Tavern (the word “Tavern” is behind the tree). Of course, the picture also clearly shows the name “SALT” above the door. Groan.
SALT Craftily Disguised as Tom's Tavern

SALT Craftily Disguised as Tom's Tavern

I’m pleased to report that the Sticky Date Pudding I served to my book club Thursday night once again elicited moans. I have to be honest, not as many as the last few times I’ve served it, but moans nonetheless. It was a tough crowd. Six of my friends were gathered around the table, juggling at least three conversations, their heads swiveling in an attempt hear every word and morsel of gossip. Under the circumstances, the Sticky Date Pudding was a distraction, albeit a notable distraction; still, The Pudding was not the center of attention as it has been on previous occasions. That’s okay. I had fun making it…and eating it. The next time I make it, I may experiment with a variation of the recipe that I found on the Internet–a titillating version that calls for adding rum to the caramel sauce. That can’t be bad!

Friday night, Tom and I went to Cascone’s, one of our favorite Italian restaurants here in Kansas City–favorite because of the food and because of the memories we’ve made there. Unfortunately, it’s on the other side of the metro area. Every time we go, we say we need to go more often, but then, of course, we rarely do because of the drive. Our loss. Their tiramisu may be the best in the city. I say “may” only because I have yet to try all the other contenders in these parts. I can’t imagine that anyone else’s version of tiramisu is any better–maybe as good or nearly as good–but certainly not any better. I’ll continue my research and let you know. While I’m at it, I’ll sample the lasagnas and cheese raviolis along the way. I know. I’m a giver.

Anyway, Cascone’s is where my parents took the two of us and my future in-laws to celebrate shortly after Tom and I got engaged. Tom and I had only dated a couple of weeks before we got engaged, so our parents hadn’t had an opportunity to meet. Shoot, Tom and I barely had an opportunity to meet. From my vantage point today–28 years later–I can see that the evening was ripe for all manner of disaster, but then I was young, dopey, and head-over-heels in love, and that night, all was right in my world. If any of our parents felt differently, we never knew it. From the beginning, the evening was lovely. Frank Sinatra music played in the background, wine was poured, glasses were raised, and the conversation flowed until the waiter started placing food on the table. We fell silent only long enough to savor the pasta and meatballs and sauces and bread and…Everyone smiled and laughed and got along beautifully. No one pointed out the incredible ludicrousness of our pending nuptials. No one suggested Tom and I might want to slow down before jumping into marriage. No one asked us how we were possibly going to survive on our laughable salaries. No one.

It was the Italian food. Seriously, how can anyone not see the world through rosy, marinara-tinted glasses while enjoying the tang of ricotta and the velvety smoothness of melty Parmesan stuffed between ruffly layers of al dente noodles? You can’t. You simply cannot. The combination of tomatoes, basil, garlic, and cheese is magic, so it was a no-brainer deciding where we would take everyone to celebrate our 25th anniversary a couple of years ago. We were not disappointed then, nor were we disappointed Friday night. Cascone’s is guaranteed memorable evening every time.

And, just in case you’re wondering, I’m still dopey, head-over-heels in love which, I suppose, also makes me very lucky.  Even so, I’m grateful my daughter and son-in-law had the good sense to date for a couple of years before getting married. I hope my son will be as level-headed. If he isn’t…if he comes home and tells us he’s marrying a girl he’s only known a few weeks, I’ll…I’ll..I’ll have to head to Cascone’s.