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Thursday, December 24,2009

The Boulder Cork has aged well

By Clay Fong

Settings into a venerable locale such as the Boulder Cork restaurant, one can’t but help wonder if the dapper sports coat-clad gentleman at the next table might be a regular who’s come here for decades. Perhaps a younger version of him showed up here in the ’70s, decked out in a turtleneck, bell-bottoms and a sweet Mark Spitz-style ’stache. He’s aged reasonably well, but what about his favored restaurant?

Judging by the size of a recent lunchtime crowd, the Cork is maturing just fine, thank you. Accompanied by friend Kon, I noted that the décor is elegant without being stodgy, with a splash of Southwest vernacular thrown in for good measure. This description could also be applied to the menu, which features classic steak, sandwiches and salads, alongside fish “carnitas” and buffalo burgers. Other selections include crab cakes and Asianinspired salads dressed with ginger and soy.

Kon, seeking something lighter, ordered the $15.95 flounder special. Most of my experience with this mild white fish has been eating it deep-fried in Chinese restaurants, so I was curious to see the Cork’s take on it. This version’s silky but still firm consistency suggested judicious steaming instead of a bath in hot oil. Flounder possesses a delicate flavor akin to sole, and it was complemented rather than overshadowed by a sprinkling of capers and a smooth but not spicy red pepper sauce. This entree’s only fault lay in the side of black rice, which was overcooked to a point of mushiness.

The Cork’s known for its steaks, and I would have been remiss if I didn’t splurge on the $19.45 sevenounce filet mignon — at least that’s what I keep telling myself. This was a simple preparation consisting of meat stacked atop a bed of fresh young greens, sprinkled with toothpick-thin shoestring potatoes. These arrived warm and crisp as potato chips, with the salad’s vinaigrette serving as an understated foil to these tubers’ pleasantly hearty savor. Getting to the meat of the matter, the general knock against filet is that it compromises taste for tenderness. While I wasn’t surprised by the steak’s butter-knife tenderness, I didn’t expect the depth and richness of flavor, which was more pleasingly earthy than typical restaurant beef.

To wind up the meal, Kon and I ordered a brace of $4.50 desserts. Both of these were served in tumblers, and while they wouldn’t take a blue ribbon for visual appeal, they earned top marks for unadulterated decadence. Kon’s 70 percent Belgian chocolate mousse was about as good as dessert gets, distinguished by subtle sweetness and potent chocolate tones that were assertive without being bitter. My $4.50 affogato, a can’t-miss mix of espresso, chocolate gelato and whipped cream, had a more complex flavor than these three ingredients would indicate, with hints of both cannoli and tiramisu.

Some long-running restaurants are content to rest on their laurels with predictably stale menus. This isn’t the case with the Cork. Although its menu undoubtedly draws upon traditional American and steakhouse fare, it’s also not afraid to draw upon a broader palette of regional and ethnic influences with very few missteps. The quality is high, the atmosphere elegantly comfortable, and like some of its longstanding customers, the Cork continues to refine itself over time. You won’t find the culinary equivalent of bell bottoms here.


Clay’s Obscurity Corner: Cocoa content

It used to be that if you wanted some chocolate, you simply chose between milk and dark varieties. Nowadays, many premium chocolates are labeled with a percentage, which refers to the amount of cocoa solids and cocoa butter contained therein. Milk chocolates tend to be on the lower end of the scale, with about 30 percent to 40 percent chocolate content. Dark and semisweet fans tend to find their bliss at about 65 percent and up. As chocolate percentages go up, the amount of sugar goes down, which explains why Kon’s 70 percent mousse possessed assertive flavor without being too sweet.

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