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Thursday, January 17,2013

Basta’s brunch among the best

By Clay Fong

Once known as Pizzeria Basta, the Boulder eatery now simply known as Basta still serves savory wood oven pies. But this name change more accurately reflects a menu offering much more than just pizza, which is a smart move. Because while I’ve always felt the pies here are fine, they may not be the best medium to fully showcase Chef Kelly Whitaker’s skills.

My suspicion was confirmed during a recent special Sunday brunch, which is not a regular event — this particular celebratory repast commemorated this eatery’s third anniversary. Staff noted that brunch may become a regular event if demand warrants, and it’s worth mentioning that Basta also serves lunch, but only on Fridays. Nevertheless, this brunch afforded an opportunity to sample the wood-fired oven technique that’s a hallmark of most Basta meals.

Astonished delight crossed friend Mara’s face as she bit into a first course of $5 beignets, the best I’ve had locally. On the side was a ramekin of thick and luxurious chantilly cream, perfumed with vanilla. The custardy insides of this donut cousin delightfully contrasted with the hot and crisp exterior lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

West Coast oysters baked in the wood oven were offered for $3 apiece, and we finagled some that were tempura-fried with impossibly delicate breading. While most oysters would come with a tartar sauce variant, this preparation was boldly paired with prosciutto-laced gravy. The experiment was successful, as the low-key smoky cured pork tones accentuated the shellfish’s fresh brininess.

Mara’s $12 entree was the “bird’s nest,” which she described as a most elegant version of toad-in-the-hole. The centerpiece was melt-in-your-mouth tender and perfectly seasoned duck that had undergone sous vide water bath slow-cooking. Next the fowl had been prepared confit-style, preserved in its fat. Strips of bird lay scattered in a hole in toasted brioche, enlivened by creamy yet earthy strips of Japanese mushroom and a baked duck egg.

My similarly priced main course was a fresh interpretation on that comforting classic, humble biscuits and gravy. Spicy sausage in an exceptionally clean-tasting white gravy was flavorful, but not overpowering the ideally textured buttermilk cheddar biscuit’s gentle dairy-based tang and silky baked egg. The sausage’s quality was second to none, and the sauce didn’t suffer from floury muddiness like others.

Mara paused in mid-sentence as she sampled a complimentary taste of smoked vanilla ice cream. After taking in flavors both complex and familiar she said the taste reminded her of a campfire-toasted marshmallow. Intriguingly, the initial shock of smoke flavor yielded to an undeniable creaminess and pure vanilla bean flavor.

The year is still young, and it may be premature to start praising meals as “the best of the year.” But I’d feel somewhat derelict in not awarding front-runner status to this brunch. At their most basic, meals provide sustenance, and hopefully, some degree of gustatory pleasure. Our meal went well beyond that, leaving me at a loss to identify what could have been improved upon.

Basta’s out-of-the-way location in the Peloton residences has likely prevented this spot from receiving its full due. But one thing is unequivocally clear: Chef Kelly Whitaker’s craft warrants him a well-deserved place among the very top Boulder culinary professionals.

Basta is located at 3601 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, inside the Peloton. Call 303-997-8775 or visit its website.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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