Balancing act

Riffs Urban Fare puts a spin on classics without losing what makes it classic

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Riffs’ applewood smoked red trout
Caitlin Rockett | Boulder Weekly

Chef John Platt likes to fish. When asked to describe his perfect day for a brochure called Boulder Sliced and Diced: A Chef’s Guide for Visitors, the chef and proprietor of Riffs Urban Fare said he loved to make the “40-minute drive to the Big Thompson River for a day of matching wits and reflexes with wily rainbows and browns.” He also, for the record, mentions a passion for gardening and drinking craft beer. These are things you want a chef to be interested in.

It stands to reason that any chef who loves to fish also knows how to craft an exquisite fish-based dish, a theory easily tested at Platt’s Pearl Street eatery.

Riffs defines itself through the very definition of the word: “riff (n): a memorable refrain, variation on a theme, a fresh version of an established thought or action; (v): improvise, create a new version, modify, stylize, blend, personalize, participate, make one’s own.”

The physical space at Riffs strikes a balance between contemporary and traditional styles, offering clean lines and spaciousness without forsaking warmth.

As for the food, expect more of this delicate balancing act. With Riffs, Platt builds on the reputation he made at Q’s (the restaurant that once resided in the Hotel Boulderado) for visually stunning cuisine that incorporates clever ingredient combinations for inspired results.

Those new to Riffs should go in search of fare that explores the space between tried-and-true classics and innovative, “nouvelle” creations.

And with a chef who loves to fish for tout, what better dish to try than Riffs’ applewood smoked red trout?

The menu offers more of an outline of the dish than a fully fleshed out narrative: the trout comes with fennel slaw, pickled mustard seeds, mustard oil, vinegar chips and chives… but in what configuration?

The resulting dish is far from a slab of fish paired with a scoop of slaw and a handful of crisps (though that wouldn’t have been disappointing either, and Riffs offers a more traditional grilled trout lunch plate with gold potato hash, greens and bacon and lemon caper butter).

The applewood smoked trout arrives as an artful pile of fish, skin removed and sliced thinly like lox, set atop a bed of crunchy, tart slaw with a couple of hand-cut waffle crisps crowning the tower. The mustard — both the pickled seeds and the oil, which delivers a sweet taste reminiscent of a light honey Dijon — are used to stimulate both gustatory and visual perceptions. It is a work of art that, much like the physical atmosphere of Riffs, does not sacrifice flavor for style.

This dish is more of a nosh than a meal, something to be used as a bridge between lunch and dinner, a perfect choice for folks gathering together to gab on a Sunday afternoon over glasses of wine or finely crafted cocktails. It’s great to share with friends along with some of Riffs’ other small plate offerings such as flash-cooked Brussels sprouts, warmed burrata or poke style ahi tartare.

Platt’s zeal for life is evident in every aspect of Riffs, from the atmosphere to the food. This is a chef who loves to comfort his guests as much as he loves to dazzle them. So don’t be afraid to let him guide you through that space between classic and creative — you won’t be disappointed.

Riffs Urban Fare. 1115 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-440-6699.