It may have surprised some last week when Daniel Asher, culinary director of Edible Beets, Justin Cucci’s restaurant group that owns Root Down, Linger, Ophelia’s, and the pending L5 and Vital Root, stepped back from his post. But that decision was put into motion more than a year ago.
As much as Asher loved Edible Beets he was burned out by the intensity of it all. As he put it to Cucci, “I love the band, I love that music that we play together, but I have an opportunity to do a really cool solo album and I need to go into the studio and record it.” Asher was craving something smaller, something quieter, and so he started looking at spaces. When he found one for the historic cottage that once housed the iconic John’s Restaurant in Boulder. He called the listing agent—only to find out that someone had beaten him. But, the agent noted that party might be interested in a partner. Come to find out that interested party was Josh Dinar, of T/aco and publisher of DiningOut Magazine, and a longtime friend of Asher.
Now, the two have banded together to open River and Woods this summer. It’s become cliché to call a restaurant “community-focused” but River and Woods will be all about community with none of the cliché. In fact, one-third of the locally focused menu will be generated by the surrounding residents and diners. The idea is that people will submit recipes that tie to a favorite food memory (think grandmother’s special-occasion cobbler or mom’s comforting meatloaf). Asher and Dinar will file through the submissions and select a rotating few to land on the menu with a sentence or two about the dish’s origin. As part of this process, the duo will invite the recipe submitter into the kitchen for a tasting. “We want to have people tell their story through our story,” Asher says.
And part of that story will be the “come one, come all” feel of River and Woods. The backyard will become a central part of the restaurant with lights strewn above, a grassy open space for kids to run around and play, a mobile bar for the adults, and an outdoor kitchen with a rotisserie grill. “This isn’t the expected patio space,” Asher says. “It’s like the backyard of someone’s house.” The outdoor oasis is such an important element that Asher and Dinar are launching an Indiegogo campaign today to raise $30,000 to cover a portion of the landscaping, the lighting, and the equipment that this community gathering space needs to get up and running.
Few know it, but cooking in Boulder will be something of a homecoming for Asher. When he fled Chicago and his executive chef position in the city’s financial district eight years ago, he packed what he could into a car and headed to the town on the edge of the Flatirons. “Landing [here] was the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” Asher says. “When you live in an environment that’s all man-made it does something to your ego. But when you’re reminded that we’re really tiny in nature, it’s a more positive state of mind.”
Eight years later, Asher was again seeking balance after overseeing the culinary programs for some of Denver’s busiest restaurants. For Asher, who will continue to live in Littleton, opening the 65-seat River and Woods feels like the closing of a circle that was first drawn when he arrived on Colorado soil. “For me to be able to cook here and cook for Boulder is very important to me. There’s a rhythm of my soul that needs this community.”