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Thursday, April 24,2014

Aged in the old country

The Cheese Course knows its Basque

By Josh Gross

The first thing you need to know about The Cheese Course is that it’s almost absurdly pleasant. Outside, the sun roasts the asphalt of the parking lot as the traffic roars through the intersection of Folsom and Arapahoe, but inside you are hit with a blast of Tommy Dorsey on the stereo, a whiff of gouda in the noseholes and the clean, simple and naturally-lit design of a European country market, complete with a long hardwood table and a broad selection of cheeses and snacking accoutrements as a feast for the eyes. It’s almost a two-day spa vacation just to step in the front door.

But just hanging around in the doorway breathing deep is a great way to creep people out. So you’ll probably want to order something once you’re in. Lucky for you, the menu is a bit of terrific as well.

Keeping to the European theme, the menu has a Basque region emphasis, with simple sandwiches, soups and salads, many of their flavors built around their various cheeses.

The Spanish serrano ham sandwich ($10.99) I ordered came on a baguette, an olive tapenade, with balsamic vinegar and greens delicately layered atop ham, and a fine manchego cheese (a rich, hard cheese similar to parmesan, but better for slicing). The balance of the olives and the manchego was just the right level of tart and salty.

Obviously, the menu has a variety of different grilled cheese sandwiches. Choose from an aged English cheddar, asiago and fontina, jalapeņo Monterey Jack or brie. Get the most out of that sandwich by pairing it with a soup. The menu recommends the tomato bisque, which is the obvious choice.

Slightly less obvious is the Buffalo-style soup ($3.99 for a cup, $5.99 for a bowl), a lightly spicy cream soup with chunks of chicken and garnished with a fine blue cheese. It’s sweet and tart and perfect for dipping.

To get a little roughage in there, I ordered the roasted beet salad ($6.99 for a half and $9.99 for a whole), which consisted of spring mix dusted with goat cheese, sliced oranges, strawberries, pine-nuts and came with a ramekin of honey-tarragon vinaigrette. Its fresh zest was as perfectly balanced as the saltiness of the sandwich. I could have eaten that salad in that seat listening to that version of “Chatanooga Choo Choo” all day long. But sadly, I had to get back to the office to write this review.

But I’m fairly sure I’ll be back for one of The Cheese Course’s cheese sampler platters, which come with a series of regionally-grouped cheese served with your choice of sides for $15.90. If you don’t like the existing platters, you can make your own. There are over 100 cheeses and a dozen side dishes to choose from.

Normally I’d pity a restaurant that opened up directly in between Rincon Argentino and Yellowbelly, two of my local favorites. That restaurant would be fated to be nothing more than the place I walked past as I went into those other restaurants for lunch. But given its pleasant atmosphere, affordable lunch combos and fresh, Basque flavor palettes, walking past would be an exercise in restraint.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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