The bite is back

Be a taste tourist during Restaurant Week and find new favorite Boulder dining spots

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Japango is among the restaurants participating in First Bite Boulder
Susan France

Raise your hand if you only eat or order regularly from the same six eateries. Be honest. Has that preferred restaurant list gotten shorter? Raise your other hand if you haven’t eaten in a new Boulder restaurant in the past two years. Just nod your head if your palate is more than a little bored with the usual suspects. 

Don’t shrug sheepishly; your food columnist did the same thing during the pandemic, just going with a few safe and familiar favorites. Now it’s time for some novel tastes and scenes, and that’s just one reason why I can’t wait for First Bite. The other is that Boulder’s most popular, longest-running food event had to be cancelled in 2020, leaving a culinary and emotional void. 

First Bite Boulder Restaurant Week, October 8-17, offers multi-course dinner deals at three price points—$29, $39, and $49—at 32 restaurants. Participating eateries range from places serving since the beginning like the Boulder Cork and Greenbriar Inn to First Bite first-timers such as Ash’Kara, Corrida, Dry Storage, Ska Street Brewstillery, Brasserie Boulder, and Chimera.

 “COVID has shown us that we have to choose to support local independent restaurants or we face losing them,” says Jessica Benjamin, owner and producer of First Bite. In 2020, First Bite published a cookbook, A Bite of Boulder: Cooking at Home with Boulder’s Best Restaurants, as a way to encourage community support for eateries. Since then, three contributors to the tome—Zolo Grill, West Flanders Brewing and Shine—have been shuttered.

Changing times required a 2021 First Bite reboot, including shifting the event from winter to fall to facilitate outdoor dining.

“There’s still a lot of people who want to dine outdoors, and most of the restaurants have well-established patio setups,” Benjamin says.

In the past, First Bite focused on multi-course sit-down dining, often with wine pairings. “This year we’re offering different kinds of meal experiences for different diners. We didn’t want this to be an elitist fine dining event,” Benjamin says. The ten days of First Bite lets diners choose between three-, four- and five-course feasts, all-you-can-eat feeds, and family-style dinners. The wide range of cuisines and dietary persuasions runs from West End Tavern’s meat-laden barbecue platter to Sugarbeet’s bison skewers with corn cakes plus roasted corn soup, Arctic char with pearled couscous and, for the grand finale, warm bittersweet chocolate truffle cake with espresso ice cream and a chocolate cookie. 

For the first time, First Bite includes brunch October 8-10 at The Post, Centro, Brasserie Boulder and the new Waffle Lab. 

Whether you dine indoors or outside, get takeout or delivery, First Bite allows community members to show support for the independent restaurants that have struggled for 18 months and give the few hard-pressed servers a financial shot in the arm. 

Boulder’s 22-year-old Japango jumped at the chance to participate again. “We’ve done First Bite for at least eight years. Our sushi chefs get excited because it lets them get creative with ingredients and flavors and go outside the regular menu,” says Erin Banis, co-owner of Japango.  

“I love First Bite because I always try new places and we get customers who come into Japango for the first time,” Banis says. 

For some diners, the appeal of First Bite is not having to decide what to order. Japango’s First Bite deal is a $29 Chefs’ Trio—cool dishes each created by one of their three chefs:

  • Tuna sashimi is presented with aji amarillo yuzu sauce and bayberry plus hearts of palm, bee pollen, cilantro oil, yuzu tobiko and a squid ink tuile
  • A seared petite wagyu steak arrives with garlic soy, garlic chips and creamy miso edamame puree. 
  • A memorable salad is crowned with lots of real crab and infused with heat. 

Japango’s $49 local upgrade adds a pumpkin spice cocktail made with Boulder Spirits Sherry Cask Bourbon and a dessert.  

First Bite is also partnering with Longmont’s Table Mountain Farm, makers of award-winning goat milk caramel sauces featured in desserts at the Greenbriar Inn, Dagabi Cucina, Empire Lounge and Restaurant, as well as Japango. 

Those unable to dine in-person at the 32 participating eateries can order delivery. Nosh—Boulder’s eatery-owned food delivery service—will donate 10 percent of all First Bite delivery orders to Emergency Family Assistance. 

When you decide to be part of First Bite, please follow this dining directive: Wear a mask when asked, be patient, be kind to the servers, and tip generously. 

Other First Bite eateries include Avery Brewing Co., Bohemian Biergarten, Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, Café Aion, Chautauqua Dining Hall, Izakya Amu, Jill’s, Leaf, OAK at Fourteenth, River & Woods, Salt, Sforno, Sushi Zanmai, T|aco, and Zucca. (Find menus and book tables at firstbiteboulder.com)

Local food news

Bella La Crema, the celebrated cultured butter maker and butter-centric cafe, has closed its original location and will reopen in a new spot in Lyons in 2022. The sweet and savory cultured butters are still available online and at Solace, 437 Main St., Lyons . . . Lucky’s Bakehouse Cafe has reopened at 3980 Broadway with a new menu from chef Jennifer Messinger . . . Pie alert! Tip Top pie shops in Lafayette and Gunbarrel are briefly featuring a truly rare, exotic and delicious variety: fresh pineapple pie.

Words to chew on

“Dine (verb): to eat a good dinner in good company, and eat it slow. In dining, as distinguished from mere feeding, the palate and stomach never ask the hand, ‘What are you giving us?'”—Writer Ambrose Bierce, (1842-1914)

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:20 a.m. Thursday on KGNU (88.5 FM, online at kgnu.org). Comments: nibbles@boulderweekly.com