As you enter Emmerson from Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, you’ll find yourself in an enclosed vestibule lined with floor-to-ceiling cabinets. The lacquered black shelves hold all manner of eccentric objects: a silver candelabra, a set of vintage encyclopedias, a rotary phone like your grandma used to have, a taxidermied armadillo.
It’s a fitting entry to the newly opened “neo-bistro” because Emmerson is itself a rather curious place: It’s an all-day cafe in the style of Denver’s Mercantile Dining & Provision, with fast-casual breakfast and lunch service and house-baked pastries; come evening, it transforms into a softly lit, shamelessly upscale venue for artsy cuisine that flirts with the avant-garde; and it’s also home to a world-class cocktail program.
The collection of all-star talent and experience behind Emmerson is more than enough to back up such an ambitious project, as we noted back in June. But what we didn’t know then was that co-owner Ben Kaplan would snag bar manager Nancy Kwon from L.A.; she ranked in the top five on the 2016 “Top 50 American Bartenders” list from Craft Cocktails America. And her cocktail menu is stellar. Each meticulously researched and composed drink—from the smoky-herbal Queen of the South (mezcal, bitters, yellow Chartreuse) to the Guildive (Smith & Cross Navy Strength rum, Clément Creole Shrubb, demerara syrup, orange)—is paired with its own page of comic book-style art (also done by Kwon herself) and a QR code that links to a bespoke playlist. As Kwon says, cocktails should be an “experience for all of your senses.”
There’s news on the food menu, too: The initial concept for the edible fare at Emmerson (whose name is an ode to both emmer wheat and the transcendentalist poet) was intended to be “grain-focused,” but that’s not entirely the case. You may not even notice the pervasive presence of grains in the worldly food and drink menus—grains are more of a loose theme that pulls the whole concept together, from pastries to grain-based spirits to pasta. Kaplan compares it to the ubiquitous use of, well, oak at Oak at Fourteenth.
We haven’t yet sampled the breakfast or lunch fare, but we’re eyeing the duck leg congee and pastrami brisket reuben sandwich. Executive chef Michael Gibney’s dinner menu, however, has a fine-dining polish to it, with cerebral plates like lamb loin with dashi butter-poached daikon, shiso gel, and a burnt eggplant purée. His pastas are slightly more approachable and are a wonderful introduction to Emmerson: the summery squid ink agnolotti served with crab, cauliflower, corn, tomato, and piquillo pepper is one of the best stuffed pastas we’ve tasted this year. A creative sweets list by executive pastry chef Jeb Breakell offers refined sweet-savory desserts not often seen on the Front Range—from malted barley pavlova with buckwheat cream to shiro miso flan with bonito caramel. Neither do we often see restaurants with such lofty ambitions as Emmerson, but we’re looking forward to the ride.
Editor’s Note: Emmerson is currently open only for dinner, but expects to begin full-day service soon. We’ll update this story when it does.
1600 Pearl St., Ste. 100, Boulder, 303-953-9852