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Thursday, April 28,2011

Frasca's little brother shines

By Clay Fong

 

A couple of years back, Fiat, Ferrari’s parent company, introduced a diminutive vehicle, the Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari. Poised to couple compete with the Mini Cooper, this subcompact isn’t a Ferrari per se (auto enthusiasts can insert the Fiat joke of their choice here), although it comes decked out in Italian racing red, and runs a paddle shifting system similar to a Formula One race car. According to Fiat, the target customer for this car is the Ferrari owner who needs a second, more practical and affordable vehicle for errands around town.

Caffè, the newest pony in the Frasca stable, shares more than a few positive attributes with this downsized sports car. First, both act as stylish standard bearers for longstanding Italian traditions, be they automotive or culinary. Secondly, they are both physically diminutive. It’s not an exaggeration to say there may be as many staff at Caffè behind the counter as there are seats for customers up front.

The conscientious staff here explain that Caffè is a place for meals rather than a coffee shop, especially after customers ask about the relatively late 9:30 a.m. opening time. The non-coffee emphasis is underscored by how the coffee drinks, ranging from $2 espressos and Americanos to $3 mochas, come in paper cups instead of proper mugs. But the “not a coffee shop” argument is undermined by the remarkably smooth yet robust flavor of the locally roasted Boxcar beans used in their brews.

For lunch, friend Cami and I shared a premade portion of $4 potato salad, a decadent continental interpretation of this picnic standby. The secret weapons in this side were rich and salty pancetta, bacon’s Italian cousin, and tangy mustard, contributing a measure of heat. The spuds’ texture was above reproach, with nearly al dente qualities.

Cami’s $8.50 sandwich, the Italiano, was a hot panini on pressed foccacia-style bread. The fillings were the classic mix of prosciutto, salami, mortadella, provolone and pickled vegetables. Cami was particularly impressed by the pickled carrot, which contributed contrasting zing to the salt of the cured meats. I was enamored with my $7.65 Crudo sandwich, a cold selection with ingredients reflecting the Italian tricolor flag. These included my beloved prosciutto atop a bright bed of arugula, accented with the milky tang of parmigiano cheese. This was a simple sandwich, with a darn near perfect balance of flavor and textures and color, set off by appealing heirloom tomatoes.

We ended with a pair of winning pastries. The $2.75 almond croissant is the finest I’ve had outside of Europe, with subtle marzipan flavoring, flaky texture and relentlessly buttery texture. Like the croissant, Cami’s $2.50 Gubana, a sticky bun with walnuts and raisins, appealed by not being overly sugary. Instead, a delicate wafting of maple enhanced the flavor profile.

Ferrari’s been accused of watering down its brand by sticking its legendary name on everything from bicycles to, um, Fiats. Happily, Caffè doesn’t suffer from this problem. Of course, the prices and menu scope are an order of magnitude less than that of Frasca, but the service is top-notch for a spot where one orders at the counter. Food quality is also top-tier, although instead of a pricey and complex entrée, diners here can enjoy a sandwich, soup, salad or pastry prepared in a first-rate and reasonably priced manner.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

Clay’s Obscurity Corner Horses and bulls

During the late fifties and early sixties, a wealthy Ferrariowning Italian tractor company owner started getting fed up with his cars’ constant need for service, lousy clutches and other concerns. The legend goes that the tractor executive shared his concerns with the notoriously prickly Enzo Ferrari, who essentially told him to bug off. In response, the tractor executive decided to start his own sports car company. In case anyone missed the point, his logo would be a raging bull, a much more potent symbol than Ferrari’s prancing horse. What was this tractor executive’s name? Ferruccio Elio Arturo Lamborghini, of course.

Caffè 1720 Pearl St. Boulder 303-442-9464

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