What is it about Ball jars, that those of us obsessed with them, makes us so obsessed?
It’s the charm, definitely.
They’re good for the environment – reusable and all.
They’re better for our health – that our food is stored in glass, and not plastic.
But, above even these wonderful benefits, it’s the charm that gets me every time.
I recently hosted a Ball jar party, where everyone brought enough of each thing they made, for the others to take home.
Though I didn’t specify it had to be food, most everyone did bring food.
We had citrus hummus, Oreo cheesecake, black bean and corn salsa, madeleine cookies and vodka sauce.
Everything was truly delicious, and made better by seeing it sitting on the refrigerator shelf in jars.
My refrigerator has never looked so good.
If I’m at a farmer’s market and there’s something packaged in a Ball jar of any size – I’m going to buy it.
If I’m at a food market and there’s something packaged in a Ball jar of any size – I’m going to buy it.
This recently happened to me, when I stumbled on apple butter in Ball jars.
I was not in the market for apple butter.
In fact, I’m not even a real fan of apple butter.
But, the jar pushed me over the edge and I bought not one, but two.
It’s not the most practical approach to buying food, but it is one of the most fun.
I’m a huge supporter of independents, from boutiques to car repair to restaurants.
There’s something vitally important to the community the independent offers, that gets sadly diluted by the chains.
That is heart.
But, sometimes a chain has to be done.
Bonefish Grill has on offer, a traditional New England Lobster Roll that I had to have.
Of all the chains, I have to say, Bonefish is one of the best.
Their food is fresh and the service – at least at the one in my area [Church Ranch; 104th and 36] – is truly excellent.
A friend is a big fan and turned me on to it, despite my having lived in the area for years and never having stepped foot in the place.
Now, it’s a great option when we get together.
They recently started serving lunch, and more recently, the lobster roll.
It’s exciting, in a landlocked state such as ours, to get your hands on [literally], an authentic one.
The bun – an envelope style – a term coined by Courtney O’Rourke, New Englander and local food aficionado – makes the sandwich.
Well, let’s be serious, the lobster makes the sandwich, but perhaps it’s better said the roll makes it authentic.
Buttered, with a slight crispness, lined with fresh lettuce and filled to the brim with lobster meat, mixed with crisp red onion and celery – this is worth a drive to a Bonefish near you.
It’s not heavy with mayonnaise, which is the biggest turn off with a lobster roll, and also overwhelms the incredible lobster flavor.
Here, lobster was the absolute star of the show, and what a wonderful production to experience.
This is the kind of meal that can make your week.
It did mine.
Family-owned and run businesses touch us, because there is something sweet about knowing a family comes together to create a product or service to offer the community.
Cure is owned and run by a husband and wife team, Anne and Paul Cure, who also have two small children.
One is still a baby, but the other, Georgia, sat in on a recent jam making class I attended there, and it was the most natural thing.
Anne was carrying the baby, as she helped in the adjacent Farm Store, now in its third year.
In this age of high tech, it felt soul-stirring to have the family members milling around, while we mixed and mashed fruit from the fields just outside the door.
There’s a small commercial kitchen in the rustic building, which we used to cook our jams – mixed berry, peach lavender, peach blackberry.
On the farm, they produce organic fruit, vegetables and small amounts of meat, with a focus on pork.
There’s a little duck pond.
There are large drying racks under the shade of a huge tree, that while I was there, were filled to overflowing with the most fragrant garlic I’ve ever smelled.
Alongside the fresh fruits and vegetables, were bunches of sweet pea flowers for sale – my bunch they put in one of their honey jars for added charm.
I just love everything about the place.
Farming on any scale is hard work, yet work we tend to glamorize.
Especially in Boulder County.
But the real allure, is the absolutely and delightedly unpretentious nature of a farm’s process and product.
It makes me feel sane, in a world that conspires daily, with its endless demands, to make me feel otherwise.
Cure Organic Farm
7416 Valmont Road
Every once in a while, a restaurant comes along, that you know is of such integrity and quality, that it will be around for a long, long time.
After my first experience at Oak at Fourteenth, I knew this was that kind of restaurant.
I’d heard all the buzz and hype, and still, always take my own firsthand experience as the truth.
This can be disappointing and confusing at times, when I don’t see or experience what others do.
But, that’s the beauty of learning to trust yourself completely.
In this case, I was neither disappointed or confused.
I was delighted and enlightened.
The interior is beautifully simple, with the focal art point of three identically sized canvases of oak leaves on the main wall.
The focal food point, or better said, focal food-potential point, is the wood fired oven you see immediately upon entering.
We’ve been spoiled by Basta’s wood fire cooking, and have high expectations now.
Luckily, Oak knows what they’re doing.
I started with the Brussels sprouts, seared and roasted with garlic chips.
Brown goodness on the outside, tender goodness on the inside.
And the garlic chips, a flavorful element setting these apart from others you find on many restaurant menus now.
Next, I had the salad that has begun an obsessive craze in Boulder and surrounding areas: the Shaved Apple & Kale Salad with parmesan, togarashi and candied almonds*.
Really, I thought, How good could a salad be?
And you feel good eating it.
It’s so good, in fact, it made our Things That Will Change Your Life for the Better list [see link to the right].
For my entrée, I had scallops, which were perfectly prepared – similar to the Brussels sprouts – brown goodness on the outside, but a tender sweetness on the inside.
Service was perfect.
So perfect, we thanked the server for his easy professionalism and told him we’d be back and would ask for him.
What a difference it makes.
If the food had been this stellar, but the service had not, I would have been distracted and put-off by that, and unable to enjoy the full nourishment of the total experience.
Like a big, beautiful oak tree, I look forward to watching this Oak continue to spread its roots deep in Boulder.
*Thanks to the good folks at the Denver Post – in an act of true community spirit and love – here’s the recipe if you want to try it at home.
But I’d go to Oak and experience it there.
At least for the first time.
I went out to lunch recently, to a place whose food I like a lot.
This is the third time I’ve been there in the past couple of months, and each time, the energy has been low and the service, uncaring.
Each time, it’s also been cavernously empty, save for a couple of tables, including ours.
This, as is a picture, is worth a thousand words.
The place gets a good deal of hype and is part of a local chef/restaurateur’s restaurant group.
And yet, no amount of hype, or attachment to a quality name, can save this place from the depressing energy.
Good energy and service has to be created and committed to by the staff, on a daily basis.
We were greeted lacklusterly and given no guidance on what to do next.
It was awkward.
I asked if we should take a table, and was told ok.
We sat ourselves.
After a few long minutes, I finally got up from the table to get us menus.
One gal took our order mechanically, and another gal brought our food mechanically.
We never again saw the first gal.
Both seemed to care less [careless] about engaging their customers.
The food was good, as usual.
When we were brought our bill, there was a sudden upswing in enthusiasm, which I’ve experienced at restaurants before.
This is because the tip is about to be written down.
It’s sad, really, because this shows you have the ability for enthusiasm, but just selectively apply it.
It’s also insulting.
And painfully obvious.
I will not be back.
And it’s a shame, because as I said, I like the food a lot.
But the pattern here is unsettling, and I’d rather spend my time in happier and more caring environments, whose food is equally good or better.
I saw a Twitter exchange between two industry people recently, where the topic of service was on the table [pun intended].
One of them said service was not as important as the food, essentially saying they would overlook bad service if the food was great.
Though I wasn’t a part of this conversation, it is relevant to address here, and I could not disagree more.
Perhaps there’s some room, when you go to a diner, and the crusty gal, Marge, adds to the experience with her rough-around-the-edges style.
This, in an odd way, is part of the charm.
But, when I’m dining anywhere other than a diner – and especially when I’m at a full-service restaurant – the service is a crucial element of the experience.
Of course I want the food to be good.
The food has to be good for me to return.
But, the food can be stunning – and they’re even allowed an off night – yet if the service is poor, I will not be back.
Why would I subject myself to poor treatment?
Especially when I am paying to be there?
I’ve left parties someone else was hosting and paying for, at the first whiff of rudeness.
I just don’t need it in my life, and it’s up to me to draw and hold my own boundaries.
I don’t know what goes through the mind of a person in service, who believes it’s ok to treat their patrons poorly – especially when their livelihood depends on professionalism – but I’m not the Server Whisperer.
I’m not responsible to train them in good service, or hold them directly accountable to it.
Though, I will be holding their employer accountable, by not doing business with them.
We have to hold the line on what’s right.
And being treated poorly while dining [or anytime], is just plain wrong.
We absolutely do vote with our money, our time and our energy.
Sarah Gore, a fixture on the food scene in Denver, and the owner of Stance – a customer experience consulting firm, also in Denver – celebrates 2 years of her brainchild, twEATDrink, tonight at Vesper Lounge. She conceptualized this monthly gathering as a way to get people together to support independent restaurants. It’s a great excuse to newly discover, or rediscover, the cool spots we have in a city we’re all proud to live in – and show support to them – as they strive to create without the big resources and dull repetition of the chains.
When we support independents, we support the beauty of creativity and the exciting distinctiveness that makes a city truly special. She always updates the next date and location via Twitter, so follow her there at @sarah_gore. To learn more about what Sarah’s firm does, visit: http://www.stancecx.com.
I received a last-minute lunch invite from a colleague and friend to meet at Arabesque in Boulder.
I’d never even heard of it.
I found this unsettling.
I pride myself on being in the know about what’s happening culturally in both Denver and Boulder [considering restaurants to be a huge part of this], but how is it I’d never heard of it – a place that turned out to be truly gracious and special?
The idea that I was being introduced to a new place, was thrilling.
Owned and run by a former prima ballerina, whose daughters help her with the daily service, it’s a true family dance [I had to].
The restaurant sits in a sweet little brick house on a stretch of Walnut, that’s filled with residential and commercial buildings.
You have to really look for it on the south side of the street, between 16th and 17th – the bright side patio umbrellas are the giveaway.
We each got a vegetarian platter, which is filled – literally, to the brim – with every Middle Eastern specialty you could hope for.
Baba ganoush [my all-time favorite], hummus, Mediterranean salad, green salad, stuffed grape leaves and puffed pita – it was only missing baklava, which would have been weird to put on a lunch platter, and which, we ordered [of course] with chai for after the meal.
Everything tasted just as you want it to – we crave these classics for a reason – because the tastes are familiar and wonderful.
Drinks were brought to the table on a vintage wood platter [gracious], and my Izze, though a twist-off, was accompanied by a bottle opener, should I have any challenge with the twisting [gracious].
Service was consistent, but not invasive, which is just what we needed, as we sat on the patio enjoying a gorgeous Colorado summer afternoon.
The chai was the best I’ve ever had.
The. best. I’ve. ever. had.
I often find them way too spicy and off-putting; this was perfectly balanced and a treat I will now crave.
I’d go back just for a cup of it and the heartwarming atmosphere.
If you’ve not yet been, go.
You will be glad to have experienced this special spot.