Restaurant week is a chance to find your next favorite eatery

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Osaka's is one of 42 participating restaurants in First Bite.
Susan France

A quick quiz: How many local restaurants do you dine at regularly? Honestly, like more than once a year? If you are normal, you can count those places on one hand and when you go, you order the same bunch of dishes. We are creatures of culinary comfort, and I’m as guilty as anybody else of getting stuck in a rut. But a good deal can tempt me out of it.

First Bite, Boulder County’s annual restaurant week, is designed to overcome your objections and get you to try a new eatery or a classic restaurant that’s been around forever. 

From November 8-16, more than 50 eateries in Louisville, Lafayette, Boulder, Lyons, Lafayette and Longmont offer multi-course prix-fixe menus for either $29 or $49 per-person. You know exactly what you are going to spend — be sure to add a 20% tip — and you can see the menus online: firstbiteboulder.com/restaurants. 

There are multiple choices for each course. If I was dining at Cafe Aion during First Bite I know exactly what I’d order. I’d start with pumpkin and chorizo croquettas with romesco sauce and slaw. For an entrée, I’d love me some lamb shoulder with couscous and roasted root vegetables. I’d top off the evening with apple cider churros and dipping chocolate.

At Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant, my first course would be roasted beet and goat cheese arancini — crunchy rice balls. I’m intrigued by huitlacoche-portobello enchiladas with roasted asparagus puree and black rice as an entrée, and tiramisu with espresso-infused pound cake, almond “mascarpone” and cocoa as a finale. 

Jax Fish House adds a fourth course so my lineup card would have to feature Emersum oysters, Caesar salad, blackened catfish with fried collard greens, poblano cheddar grits and flourless chocolate cake.

Louisville’s Via Toscana ups the ante with five courses. I could enjoy an amuse-bouche, sip some zuppa ribollita and tuck into gnocchi tossed in brown butter, sage, gorgonzola and almonds. My main event would be a New York strip with gremolata, roasted cauliflower with arugula, prosciutto and truffled aioli. Finally, cannoli with chocolate chip-ricotta filling. 

The range of choices (including gluten-free and vegetarian options) and cuisines is wide at 740 Front, Arcana, Basta, Boulder Cork, Greenbriar Inn, Jill’s Restaurant, River and Woods, Sugarbeet, Vero Wood Fired Pizza and Zolo Grill. It’s an opportunity to try newer places that have a buzz such as Osaka’s, Teocalli Cocina, Steakhouse No. 316, Pepper and the revamped Empire Lounge in Louisville. 

In its 14th year, First Bite has tweaked the familiar prix multi-course format to also include special dining events. Longmont’s Bin 46 is staging cocktail parties that include passed appetizers with bubbly and unlimited tastes of two dozen dishes with a cocktail.

Chef Eric Lee has put together a cool-sounding interactive experience at Acreage Ciderhouse in Lafayette. First Bite guests get a cellar tour, a full family-style dinner with cider pairings in the barrel room, and a warm dessert around a bonfire in the garden. 

Husbands and other partners should plan on babysitting on Nov. 11 for First Bite’s debut Mom’s Night Out. Parma Trattoria & Mozzarella Bar, OAK at fourteenth, Under the Sun, North End at 4580 and other eateries will host unique maternal meetups featuring food and conversation. 

My advice is don’t wait to make reservations. The hot spots tend to sell out quickly. 

Taste the State’s Stellar Wines

If you only attend one wine event this fall, I’d choose Colorado Uncorked. The gathering Nov. 15 at Denver’s History Colorado Center is a one-time chance to taste all the wines in the 2019 Colorado Governor’s Cup Collection. These 14 wines made from Colorado grapes (or other fruits) were blind-judged as the best the state has produced this year. Colorado Uncorked pairs the wines with small plates prepared by notable local chefs. 

If you don’t attend, consider saving this list to use when you are facing shelves of local wine but don’t know which ones are good. Two wines on the list are from Boulder’s BookCliff Vineyards, the 2016 Graciano and 2016 Ensemble Red Blend. Other winners from the judging include Bonacquisti 2018 Tempranillo, Colterris 2017 Petit Verdot, Plum Creek 2016 Cabernet Franc, Qutori Wines 2017 Syrah, Red Fox Cellars 2017 Nebbiolo and The Storm Cellar’s 2018 Dry Riesling and 2018 Riesling. Change-of-pace vintages are Carlson Cherry Wine, Vino Salida Vino Vermouth di Salida Rosso and Whitewater Hill 2018 Moscato. 

Tickets: historycolorado.org

Local food news

Ska Street Brewstillery will open in the former Fate Brewing location, 1600 38th St. in Boulder, next year. The collaboration between Durango’s Ska Brewing and Palisade’s equally award-winning Peach Street Distillers features a Caribbean eatery, brewery, micro-distillery and live music spot. … If you love the band The Roots, you’ll applaud the four-course local root vegetable-centric menu Acorn is serving before the band’s Denver show. The menu features bacon cornbread with rutabaga butter, yam dumplings, baby carrots with trout roe, sunchokes with green farro, beet pot au feu and for dessert, parsnip with sabayon, caramelized white chocolate and almond meringue. Questlove would approve. … Make a cash donation or fill a bag with peanut butter, tuna and non-perishable food at King Soopers stores in Boulder and Louisville during Community Food Share’s Thanksgiving Let’s Bag Hunger food drive. 

Taste of the Week

Forget all your Beyond Impossible fake meat burgers and sausages and sample a singularly wonderful vegetarian entrée, the mushroom and ale pie at Lafayette’s Tip Top Pies shack. The bakery’s rich buttery, flaky pastry is wrapped around a thick, toothsome stack of mushroom slices simmered in an ale-enhanced gravy. It’s got a ton of umami-rich appeal that makes for a satisfying meal in a New Zealand-style crust. 

Words to Chew On

“It drives me nuts that our food specialists insist on giving us the same number of chocolate, vanilla and butterscotch puddings, when the laws of physics dictate that chocolate will disappear much faster. No one gets a vanilla craving in space (or on Earth).” ― Astronaut Scott Kelly    

John Lehndorff is the former dining critic of the Rocky Mountain News. He hosts Radio Nibbles 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (streaming at kgnu.org).