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Thursday, February 10,2011

Old favorites at the new Pinyon

By Clay Fong

When they see a name like The Pinyon, Pearl Street passersby might mistake this newly opened venue for a place that serves Southwestern cuisine or, if one is a language scholar, a place to transcribe Chinese characters. Neither of these descriptions is entirely accurate, as this inviting and airy venue specializes in new takes on old classics, ranging from catfish po’ boys to hot fudge sundaes. But there’s more than a whiff of culinary sophistication here, as demonstrated by such offerings as cola-braised kobe beef and wild prawns with grits.

Fellow foodie Kuvy and I started lunch here by sharing a seemingly expensive $12 roasted root vegetable salad.

Even when split, this intriguing blend of taste and texture divided into decently sized portions for each of us. A study in contrasts, this salad juxtaposed the veggies’ earthiness with a bright tarragon and mint-scented vinaigrette. But it was the farmer’s cheese that stole the show in this dish. A house-made cousin to cottage cheese, this creamy delight had the silky texture of chevre, albeit with milder flavor. The mellower tones of this dairy product were a welcome alternative to goat cheese, which is often overused in salads.

We were more ambivalent about the $13 entrée of mac and cheese. This isn’t as much a criticism of Pinyon’s preparation, but an acknowledgment that you can only do so much with this dish. The macaroni itself had an ideal al dente texture, and mushroom and tomato contributed color and respite from creaminess. While the cheese-enhanced white sauce nicely balanced cream and tang, the dish would have benefited from arriving at the table a few degrees hotter.

I was heartened to see that Pinyon has the stones to go all in on the comfort food front by offering a classic rarely seen at nicer restaurants, fried chicken. Pinyon’s $15 take is inspired by traditional chicken-and-waffle platters, down to the glorious cornmeal griddle cake, essentially a coarsely textured pancake, sided with molasses-scented syrup. But the high point was the half chicken itself, coated with an impossibly delicate gluten-free potato flour batter dusted with piquant spices, including Old Bay Seasoning. The poultry itself was moist and meltingly tender all the way through, something that I’ve seldom experienced. As a matter of fact, this may be the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.

The meal ended with a pair of desserts, a $6 chocolate peanut butter opera, and an $8 lemon lime chiffon. The opera would be a fine choice for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups fans, consisting of layers of almond cake, chocolate fudge and peanut butter, with a sprinkling of candied peanuts. It’s a solid choice, tasting pretty much how you would expect it to. However, it paled in comparison to the opulent chiffon. This dessert was a citrusy mousse that was delightfully fluffy, and had its mildly astringent qualities perfectly balanced by peppy candied ginger.

By the end of our meal, any ambiguity about the Pinyon’s focus was laid to rest. This isn’t a place to experience the flavors of Santa Fe or Beijing, although flavors from those locales may factor into the offerings. Instead, this Pinyon firmly stakes its claim to offering comfort food beyond cliché. Exhibit A is the fried chicken, a prime example of superior preparation making an old favorite new again.

The Pinyon 1710 Pearl St., Boulder, 720-306-8248

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