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Thursday, January 19,2012

A solid addition in Lafayette

By Clay Fong

When I first moved to Boulder in the mid-90s, I often felt the need to trek down to Denver for serious eats. But now that our fair city is gaining a well-earned reputation for fine dining, the need to travel has dwindled considerably. Consistent with the old saw that a rising tide lifts all boats, eateries in every town in the county have also raised their game. Nowadays, it’s mostly unnecessary for county residents to venture beyond their particular city limits for a more than decent meal.

Case in point is Lafayette’s 95a Bistro and Sushi, located on Arapahoe, at the former site of the Magnolia Steakhouse. This contemporary and comfortable eatery features affordable lunches, including $9 burgers with shoestring fries, $12 lamb shank tortellini and a $10 squash agnolotti pasta plate. Dinner choices include some of the lighter lunch choices as well as an affordable $16 aged ribeye steak and a $15 red snapper garnished with brown butter, caramelized onions and roasted peppers.

There’s also a sushi bar, but on a recent chilly evening, friends Kon, Kathy and I decided to focus on the small plates, none of which cost more than $7. When we arrived at around 5:30 p.m., a lively crowd had already filled the bar and dining room, perhaps speaking to 95a’s increasing popularity as a Lafayette gathering spot.

Craving guilty pleasures, Kathy expressed interest in the onion rings and frites, each available for $3. While the onion rings’ breading was a bit heavy, the fries were thin, hot and crisp — in other words, just the way I like them. Potatoes also put in an appealing appearance as the creamy foundation of a $7 braised pork dish. The only flaw with this home cooking style preparation was that I would have preferred more of this succulently tender meat.

I’ll admit to a hint of skepticism when our server recommended the $6 tempura, consisting of fried green chile peppers and avocado. Although I would have preferred a lighter batter, there was something compelling about the fried avocado that reminded me of combining a crisp chip and guacamole in one easy bite. The peppers didn’t register too much heat, which made for a compellingly savory but not tongue-burning nosh.

Clams and chorizo in broth comprised a $7 interpretation of a Portuguese favorite. The clams had a sensual texture without a hint of rubberiness, and there was no question these were fresh specimens. The chorizo sausage slices packed a peppery punch that complemented the vanilla smoothness of the seafood. Similarly priced pan-seared scallops were another oceanic winner, with clean flavor and just the right amount of searing to draw out sweetness and create a whisper of crust.

The $5 bacon-wrapped dates were compact numbers reminding me of the version served at Boulder’s defunct Triana. While these seemed smaller than the examples of my memory, these were conveniently pitted, and they nicely balanced sweet, salt and smoke.

95a Bistro and Sushi’s rising popularity is hardly surprising, as it effectively delivers on price and quality in a hospitable atmosphere. It provides an opportunity for a reasonably priced lunch prepared with care, an intriguing small plate meal, or a dinner combining comforting home cooking with gourmet flair. Unquestionably, 95a is a worthwhile addition to the East County dining scene.

95a Bistro and Sushi 1381 Forest Park Circle, Lafayette 303-665-3080

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