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Thursday, October 24,2013

Classy doesn't have to be pricey

By Cayte Bosler
Photo by Cayte Bosler

You know a restaurant is truly farm-to-table when the menu has to be printed daily. Don’t worry. The paper gets recycled. Chef Eric Skokan and his wife Jill deliver ingredients directly after a harvest from their 130-acre farm to sister restaurants Black Cat and Bramble and Hare. Inventive, seasonal dishes is how the couple seeks to set themselves apart: Salads made with cured salmon and tarragon latke with anise yogurt, and duck served with grapefruit mustard and tempura parsnips make the menu at Black Cat, the more grown-up sister to neighboring piano bar Bramble and Hare. Don’t expect to be able to try a dish a friend recommends. It may be a one-time creation.

Both restaurants open in the evening and close whenever business tapers off. The Bramble and Hare, named for its 1925 farmstead on Bramble Hill, unlatches its doors a tad earlier at 5 p.m. for a $5-plates-and-drinks happy hour. I arrive on a Thursday as the first and only patron. The antique furnishings make me feel like I’m in an entertainment chamber on a ship. Lit with lanterns and dim bulbs, it’s at once nostalgic and kitschy like your favorite grandmother’s house — porcelain bunnies abound.

Cheese is the hot ticket on the menu, appearing in three of the five dishes. It’s too early for the cheesecake made from goat cheese, so I go for two savory plates: ricotta with pesto and tomato and crispy fingerlings dusted with cayenne pepper served with tomato aioli. What makes these standards remarkable is the freshness — I watch through a small window into the close kitchen as the chef prepares the food on order — and the quality of the ingredients. My tomato actually tastes like a tomato, making what might otherwise be a boring french fry with dip refreshing in taste.

At 5 p.m., it’s the fringe period where either a coffee or a cocktail is acceptable. Though the normally $10 cocktails are a steal at $5, I side conservatively with a French-pressed coffee. By the time everything arrives, I am still the only patron. If I had not been here the weekend before in the evening for drinks, I would not believe how boisterous this place can get.

Connected by a skinny corridor and set apart by a marked difference in atmosphere, the Black Cat teeters between lavish and cozy. The weekend prior, I almost ran into the brimming coat rack. The chandeliers reflected light, making the room appear both serene and austere. Cuff links were not out of place. It was a rare situation where any attire fit, Birkenstocks or blouses.

The same goes with the variance in prices. You can get away with spending $20 a person for an entree and drink, or quickly get extravagant with multiple courses and expensive bottles of wine. The menu pleases most palates with rich meat dishes, as well as vegetarian crafted plates; the beet and potato main course was dressed up with ricotta cheese and baked quinoa.

I order dessert after the filling vegetarian main dish and a cocktail. The dessert sampler came with chocolate ganache and sorbet. My specialty cocktail was served with one round, obnoxiously huge ice cube that kept bumping my face (my only real grievance of the night). I settled my bill, which seemed reasonable for the chic meal concepts that the chefs execute with flair. I journeyed over to the Bramble and Hare for the rumored musical late-night entertainment.

An unassuming brown piano sat in the corner of the Bramble and Hare with a dried rose on top. On a Friday night, it was the source of entertainment. The dinner menu expanded from the happy hour menu in the evening to include straightforward, comfort cuisine like mac and cheese and the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve had in my life. What you gain in entertainment and affordable food, you make up for with your wallet by shelling out a minimum of $10 per cocktail. You are paying for innovation right down to the name — Not Really Dumb or More Baby — filled with unusual ingredients like absinthe and whipped egg. Top-shelf liqueur and fresh fruit juice come standard in each specialty drink.

The impressive variety of ingredients and the ingenuity of the chefs is what makes these sister restaurants special. What solidifies it is the satisfying experience of the cozy atmospheres, felt when enjoying happy hour alone or sipping whipped egg over liqueur and munching on grilled cheese on a lively Friday night.

Bramble and Hare is located at 1970 13th St., Boulder. Call 303-444-9110.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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