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Thursday, April 22,2010

Making culinary connections

By Clay Fong

The Culinary Connectors concept is simple — up to 10 diners pay $99 to tour three restaurants in an afternoon, with each stop lasting approximately one hour. Each visit affords an opportunity to sample menu and wine highlights, as well as converse with chefs. But the aim here is greater than a dining hit-and-run, as Connectors honcho Becky Creighton strives to build community among diners and restaurateurs. I recently joined one of Creighton’s Boulder tours, and it’s clear this endeavor succeeds on all counts.

Many of the participants drove up from Denver, including members of a most convivial book club. The sense of community was reinforced at our first stop, Pearl Street’s Provence-influenced Mateo. Creighton had us introduce ourselves and share a restaurant recommendation. We performed this pleasant task while nibbling on curried nuts, gently cured olives tossed with citrus and cornichon pickles, as well as addictive frites worthy of the South of France.

Culinary Connectors
303-949-0085 www.culinaryconnectors.com

Tyler Nemkov, Mateo’s sous chef and a journalism student, served up a top-flight bouillabaisse, the anglers’ stew of Marseilles. Historically, the ingredients of this dish depended on the day’s catch. However, Mateo’s presentation was more premeditated, expertly composed of sparkling fresh mussels, halibut, tuna and shrimp, tempered by the licorice scent of fennel.

L’Atelier, down the street, was our next stop. Our visit kicked off with a suave starter of smoked salmon garnished with horseradish foam. The dish was further improved by a white wine pairing that enhanced the fish’s buttery qualities. While some found the duck rillettes, slow-cooked waterfowl served over mashed potatoes, too adventurous for their liking, L’Atelier’s signature lobster ravioli was a true showstopper. Topped with a butter-based pink sauce colored by orchids, this pasta possessed pure shellfish flavor. The final course was an opera cake, featuring layers of dark chocolate and angel cake.

Not a bad effort from Chef Radek Cerny, who confessed to us a weakness for KFC’s extra-crispy drumsticks.

Last up was Bombay Bistro, presided over by chef/owner Paul Gill, an exuberant and generous host. Gill revealed he’s also an accomplished motorcyclist planning to represent India in the Motocross of Nations. More important, he shared with us multiple tasty libations, including ginger liqueur blended with cognac and Kentucky whiskey infused in-house with cinnamon sticks and peach. The spice and sweet fruit took the edge off the whiskey, which went down all too easily. The same could be said of the cucumber-infused vodka, perhaps the ultimate warm weather refresher.

The curried baby back beef ribs were meltingly tender with assertive but not unwelcome spicing, serving as a fine foil to the aromatic rice. Equally compelling was a lip-smacking chicken tikka masala, a skillful melding of cream, poultry and heat. But my favorite was the shrimp balti, a seafood curry laid out over thin soft noodles resembling chow mein. This dish possessed real fire, but not enough to cancel out the delicate prawn flavor. I’m likely to return simply on the strength of this dish.

One of the strengths of this tour is how it created a forum for diners to gain a better appreciation of the significant passion and character possessed by local restaurateurs. Personalized interaction with top chefs, magnificent wine pairings with memorable dishes, and Culinary Connectors’ commitment to building a local dining community make this experience a first-rate value.


Clay’s Obscurity Corner Dining Denver

Wile Culinary Connectors outings feature visits to the Kitchen, Bacaro and Colterra, among others, Boulder restaurant tours aren’t their only offering. This enterprise’s focus is primarily on Denver, and outings there hit such hotspots as Fruition, home base of Alex Seidel, recently named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef. Other Denver excursions include Friday afternoon walking tours of South Pearl Street for $39. These drop in on less pricey locales like Kaos Pizza, known for woodfired pies. These short-term treks conclude at a happy hour venue. Creighton notes she may also start touring more inexpensive hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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