Putting on condiments

Are great tabletop sauces a good enough reason to visit an eatery?

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Susan France

As a former dining critic, I don’t like to admit that there is one restaurant I like to visit for the ketchup. I dine at another place largely because there is a jar of peanut butter on every table. There are many Boulder and Denver eateries I’d visit just for the condiments, not the cuisine.

Admittedly, lines between condiment, side dish and dipping sauce can get blurry, but in this case I’m talking about the “free” tabletop condiments available, from conventional mustard and hot sauces to more exotic ethnic flavor enhancers. I’m especially taken by ones that are house-made.

I like to play with my food but I taste the food first. It’s an insult to the cook if you douse your entrée in hot sauce before the first taste. The exception is when the tabletop is adorned with all manner of marinades, jams and such, signaling that personalizing the fare, bite by bite, is part of the charm at this establishment.

True, condiments are flavor jumper cables, but safe use is essential. I’ve seen some great palates cauterized by egregious abuse of condiments, especially wasabi. It’s a condiment, people, not a side dish.

Some of my favorite restaurant condiments may also be ones you love. At the Boulder-born Lucile’s Creole Café I’m a fan of the housemade ketchup and strawberry rhubarb jam. At Dot’s Diner there’s a squeeze bottle of seedless red raspberry jam on the table for biscuits and at Beau Jo’s Pizza, it’s bottles of honey that turn leftover crust into dessert.

It’s not a restaurant, but who doesn’t slurp up the basil lime sauce on the counter at the Sister’s Kitchen dumpling booth at the Boulder County Farmers Market? And while they are not actually on the table, the bar of salsas, limes, radishes and chilies at Sancho’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant really float my boat on everything from a lengua (beef tongue) taco to a California burrito filled with steak and french fries. The same is true of the raison d’etre for the Chicago-style hot dog at Mustard’s Last Stand: onions, pickle relish, pickle spear, tomato, sport peppers and celery salt.

In Lafayette, a huge bowl of noodle soup at Pho Café is made to be tweaked with a platter of herbs, veggies, bean sprouts, peppers and limes, plus bottles of vinegar, hot chile and sweet hoisin.

Whether they should be considered salads, appetizers or condiments, my taste buds are immensely entertained by the banchan — multiple small dishes of pickles, salads, veggies, kimchi, seaweed and other flavorful treats — served with the Korean tabletop BBQ at Dae Gee Restaurant in Westminster and Denver.

Susan France

Craveable condimental attractions in Denver range from the house-made mustards dished with diverse sausages at Euclid Hall to the Jif Creamy Peanut Butter jar on every table at Annie’s Café. They include the umami-rich tabletop jars of chile oil, chile flakes, sesame seeds and more at Ace Eat Serve, the ping-pong-focused Denver eatery, and the black vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce and chopped garlic available to make dumpling dipping sauce at Lao Wang Noodle House.

And, I will willingly trek to Aurora for the mint, tamarind and coconut chutneys and spicy pickle at Masalaa Indian restaurant and the fermented fish sauce and vinegar with onions to put on lumpia and sisig at the Filipino cafe, the Sunburst Grill.

P.S.: Let’s debunk a condiment myth. Commercial mayonnaise does not need to be refrigerated any more than ketchup, mustard and hot sauce. Of course, you may prefer chilled mayo on your burger.

Got a favorite restaurant condiment? Let me know: nibbles@boulderweekly.com.

Label Conscious

Look for newly introduced symbols from two national organizations with Boulder ties to soon adorn craft ales and certain restaurants.

The Boulder-based Brewers Association recently introduced the new independent craft brewer seal — a beer-bottle shape flipped upside-down — to help you discern whether an IPA is lovingly crafted down the street at an independent brewery or produced by a mega-brewer who bought a larger craft brewery. Small craft brewers represent 99 percent of the 5,300-plus breweries in the U.S., although they brew only 12 percent of the beer consumed.

The nonprofit Good Food Media Network, co-founded by Boulder’s Sara Brito, has launched the Good Food 100 Restaurants, a new annual list of eateries from casual dining to fancy fare, judged on how sustainably chefs run their restaurants. The Good Food 100 assesses food purchasing practices, including the use of locally produced and sustainably grown ingredients.

Boulder is the most represented small city on the inaugural list, which includes Basta, Boulder Valley School District, Frasca, Fresh Thymes Eatery, Julia’s Kitchen, Next Door, River and Woods, Salt, The Kitchen, University of Colorado Boulder and Wild Standard. See the complete list at: goodfood100restaurants.org

Local Food News

A new breakfast and lunch place, The Biscuit Bar, has quietly opened at 579 E. South Boulder Road in Louisville near Alfalfa’s Market. Besides various big breakfast biscuits, the menu features a fried chicken and cheddar biscuit, a pulled pork, cheddar and apple butter biscuit and a Monte Cristo biscuit. The all-important house condiments include bacon jam and jalapeno apricot preserves. … The nation’s premier consumer cheese-tasting opportunity for 2017 is the American Cheese Society’s Festival of Cheese, July 29 at the Colorado Convention Center, with hundreds of artisan cheeses plus crackers, charcuterie, craft cider and a bargain artisan cheese sale. Tickets: cheesesociety.org/conference/cheese-with-altitude. … Frasca, Black Cat, Jill’s, Flagstaff House, Boulder Cork and the Greenbriar Inn are honored for their wine expertise in the Wine Spectator’s 2017 Restaurant Awards. … The Boulder County Fair runs July 28 to Aug. 6 in Longmont. Food events include the Boulder Craft Spirits Festival and competition (4-8 p.m. July 29) and a farm-to-table dinner with Farmer Girl restaurant and Blackbelly Market (6 p.m. July 31). Details under “special events” at bouldercountyfair.org. Be sure to stop by the Boulder County 4-H Dairy Bar for ice cream and milkshakes.

Words to Chew On

“Julia Child used to say that you have to be happy when you cook for the food to be good, and you also have to be happy in the eating and sharing of the food with family and friends. Otherwise the gastric juices will not do their job and you won’t digest the food properly.” — Jacques Pepin

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU, 88.5 FM. Podcasts: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles.