Comfort food with flair.
Back for more...at Sunflower:
Boulder's Sunflower eatery gets another taste.
By Carol W. Maybach
(out of 4)
1313 E. Sixth Ave.
The Draw: Spectacular technique, innovation, and precision define this dining destination that is destined to become a superstar in the metro area.
The Drawback: Quarters are cramped, with tables very close together. There is little room for the service staff to maneuver.
Don't Miss: Braised rabbit chasseur; Maple Leaf Farms duck breast; prime beef culotte steak; vanilla bean pudding.
Vegetarian Options: A two-course "grazing vegetarians" entrée; the signature watercress salad with asparagus tips, avocado, and crispy shallots.
Entertainer Eddie Cantor once said, "It took me 20 years to become an overnight success." The co-owners of the new Fruition restaurant could easily say the same. Chef Alex Seidel has been in the business 20 years; his partner and maitre d', Paul Attardi, for nearly 30, but it is their work at Fruition that may become their finest. Fruition is hands-down the most exciting venue to open in the Denver area in the past year.
This diminutive restaurant that stands on Sixth Avenue where Sean Kelly's Clair de Lune and Somethin' Else once held food court, is making big waves. Seidel and Attardi's combined experience helped them waltz into their new digs, transforming the space into a more refined scene that breathes life into their North Cherry Creek neighborhood.
Both partners were ready for a restaurant to call their own. Seidel, coming off a four-and-a-half-year stint with Frank Bonanno as Mizuna's top chef, found it was finally time for him to take the leap into ownership.
This good fortune came only after Seidel spent many years paying his dues at some of the finest establishments across the country. After attending culinary school at Portland's Western Culinary Institute, Seidel worked at several renowned restaurants in Carmel and Monterey, including Pebble Beach and the Carmel Valley Ranch. The owners at the Ranch eventually wanted to transfer him to Telluride, but en route to his interview, Seidel was captivated by Sweet Basil in Vail. He joined the team and never looked back. With a commitment to longevity that's both rare and enviable in the food business, Seidel stayed for three years, absorbing everything from presentation and style to the infusion of Asian ingredients into classical recipes.
However, it was his move to Mizuna in Denver to work with Frank Bonanno that changed Seidel's career. "Frank gave me the opportunities to become the chef I am today. We had a great relationship. He always gave me leeway to experiment, and he would push me to think outside of the box. Throughout my career I picked up a lot of things, but Frank's really the one that gave me the confidence to do all this on my own."
Co-owner Paul Attardi came to Fruition with stellar credentials and an enormous following. Attardi spent seven years as Sean Kelly's head waiter at Kelly's beloved restaurant Aubergine Café and three years as maitre d' at Mizuna. His effortless grace, attention to detail, and smooth demeanor have endeared him to diners all over the metro area.
On a recent visit to Fruition, we arrived half an hour early for our reservation, thanks to an exceptionally eager babysitter. Paul graciously informed us "our" table was not quite available and added, "Would you mind accepting a complimentary glass of champagne while you wait for a few minutes?" Would we mind? We were being coddled because we had arrived much too early.
That said, it is much better to arrive at Fruition on time, as there is little room inside to congregate without looming over someone's dinner plate. (Fruition is plagued by the same crunch for space that existed at Clair de Lune and Somethin' Else.) The Fruition team remodeled the space before moving in, however, making the best of the interior space. Fresh coats of Cabernet and cream paint cover walls, with botanical paintings by head waiter Geoff Ridge. Two new banquettes in the narrow east corridor improve the flow from room to room. Single votive candles flicker on the bare alder tables, and new sound-absorbing ceiling tiles soften the room's acoustics. The straight-backed chairs in the larger dining room are comfortable but still tightly arranged, making it difficult for servers to move. Although personal space is elbow-to-elbow, Seidel likes the closeness it creates. "I don't get out to the front very often," he says, "but when I do, I see guests really connecting with each other. It gives the evening real energy and spark."
With both chef Seidel and sous chef Drew Inman coming from Mizuna, I was curious to see how Fruition's food differed from their previous menus. Mizuna's fare is elegant, laden with luxury ingredients in ever-changing menus that flaunt innovations.
The food at Fruition is decidedly different, but the tenets of Seidel's kitchen remain the same. He still maintains his absolute commitment to precision and consistency. He continues to pursue the freshest seasonal ingredients that he can secure from small, hands-on producers. But at Fruition, his food is simpler, more comforting, and, as Seidel puts it, "more me." "At Mizuna," he explains, "the food was more about me trying to cook. Here the food is really my own. I'm interested in flavors that are approachable. I want classic combinations that build on tastes that people understand and remember—then I give them my own spin."
That spin comes naturally to Seidel; after years of experience, his ability to ad lib on a plate seems as effortless as breathing. For example, the deeply flavorful culotte steak ($24) evolved on the menu when Seidel identified a better source for prime beef; he then changed the side dishes to bring out the best in the meat. Yukon Gold potato gratin was changed to a stockpile of crispy, salty duck-fat French fries, whose characteristics bring out the savory umami quality in the beef. Instead of button mushrooms prepared on the side, he incorporated oyster mushrooms into the luxurious veal jus and added a crumble of farmhouse chevre, Fourme d' Ambert, to play off the juices. The resulting dish is a tightly knit entrée of flavors, textures, and aromas that work well independently as well as across the plate.
The starters also embody the chef's talent, in this case exemplifying Seidel's commitment to perfect, simple comfort food. One is the braised rabbit chasseur ($11; seasonal menu item) that comes served in its own little cast-iron cassolette. The rich flavor of juicy, fork-tender rabbit permeates the tiny pot, the meat enveloped in a savory broth with brunoised mirepoix, caramelized onions, and a wild mushroom pan jus. A crusty batard, blackened with grill marks, adds a touch of smokiness and a robust crunch.
The oven-roasted beet carpaccio (seasonal) is another winner. Golden-brown goat cheese fritters top paper-thin slices of red and golden beets that are roasted until tender. The fritters themselves contain a world of contrasts that play perfectly off the earthy vegetables: crispy and buttery on the outside, smooth and slightly sour on the inside. A toasted almond vinaigrette adds the final bridge of flavors, tying the spectrum of tastes together with a delicate, nutty richness.
The pasta carbonara ($10) is not to be missed. House-cured pork belly arrives with a heady aroma of the tender meat, reduced natural juices, and cracked black pepper. Handmade cavatelli noodles add a substantial texture that holds up well to the deeply flavorful pork.
Fruition's signature salad ($8) pairs baby watercress with grilled asparagus tips, diced onion, and avocado. Sliced shallots are battered and fried until they resemble miniature onion rings and placed on top for a final crunchy, salty accent.
Even following such excellent small plates, the main courses do not disappoint. Although the pork shoulder confit is in a constant state of evolution, each revision gets a little bit tighter and simpler on the plate. Originally a cider-brined pork, the flavor profile switched to barbeque in the spring, with the latter version accented by a savory ham hock and a slowly baked bean ragout and brightened with a celery root slaw.
The Maple Leaf Farms duck breast ($23) is a true standout. The poultry is tender with ample salty overtones in the crispy skin. The perfectly cooked Carnaroli risotto that accompanies the entrée is topped with a tangle of lightly wilted arugula and slices of house-cured duck prosciutto that add a slight smokiness. A dollop of red onion marmalade adds a welcome sweet-sour accent.
Deanna Scimio, a pastry chef recruited from Frasca, provides Fruition's sweet finales. Her vanilla bean pudding ($8) tops the list. A delicate orange Chantilly cream arrives almost floating in the bowl, with fresh macerated blackberries perched on top and a velvety, pure vanilla pudding underneath. Buttery shortbread cookies cap off the creation.
Although the chocolate cupcake tasting ($8) sounded enticing, the frostings were a bit cloying, with the exception of the toffee crunch. The Spanish cow's-milk Urgelia ($8) for dessert, however, is a delightful quartet of flavors: pungent Urgelia cheese paired with salty Marcona almonds, macerated red grape, and house-made lomo—a pork loin that is cured in Fruition's basement for four to six weeks. During the curing process, the flavors of salt, sugar, garlic, oregano, Spanish paprika, herbs, olive oil, and dry Oloroso sherry are infused into the meat, resulting in a savory, tender delicacy.
The wine list, though extremely brief, emphasizes both North America and the Mediterranean. Boutique wines, a few with nice "wow" appeal (such as the Spanish 2004 Artazuni Garnacha do Navarra at $9 a glass), couple nicely with the entrées, but reserves are few. Fruition is in the process of building its cellar, but with such limited storage space the challenge is considerable. I hope, over time, the wine will reach the caliber of the cuisine.
With exquisite professional service and an outstanding array of inventive, comforting foods that sparkle with meticulous technique, Fruition is showing all the signs of a masterful beginning.
Sunflower Fine Organic Cuisine
By Laurel miller
(out of 4)
1701 Pearl St., Boulder
Must-Try New Dishes: Huevos rancheros; pepper-seared ahi salad; chocolate peanut butter tart.
Old Favorites: Tempeh scallopini; grilled elk tenderloin; seafood grille.