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Chef Samuel McCandless’ favorite person to cook for is his 10-year-old daughter. She’s a fan of dumplings, so he fashioned a “dumpling station” in his old apartment and made fresh ones as she stood next to him, waiting to dig in.
Dumplings were certainly different than the food he was cooking at Arcana, a top Boulder restaurant focused on American heritage cuisine. For months, McCandless and Arcana co-owner Elliott Toan had been toying with the idea of a new concept, something that captured the cooking that makes them happy as well as the joy and youthfulness parenthood has brought out in both of them. Then the pandemic hit. They realized it was the right time to close one chapter and open another, so in January, Arcana closed its doors. When the restaurant on Walnut Street reopens in May it will be entirely new and called: Supermoon.
“This is absolutely inspired by what’s happened right now—not so much that it’s about a pandemic, but it’s about us wanting to live our lives through our work in a way that we feel like we’re doing exactly what we want to do,” Toan says. “We’re channeling the things that make us the most joyful.”
Supermoon will serve Asian-inspired food, with a mix of shareable dishes and larger entrées. McCandless has divided the menu into seven sections: hand rolls, fried foods, salads, vegetable sides, noodles (including ramen), and larger plates. And, of course, dumplings. There will be plenty of vegetarian and vegan options and adaptations (McCandless was vegan for a short period).
“We have a fun menu that’s stuff that my friends and I want to eat,” McCandless says. “I like people to feel included when they come.”
Though tastes of McCandless’ Supermoon menu are still to come, intriguing sounding dishes include the seaweed salad (a mix of red and green seaweeds, marinated daikon, and cherry blossoms), Korean-style fried chicken with gochujang dipping sauce, and spicy rice cakes with coconut golden curry, bok choy, maitake mushrooms, tatsoi, and jalapeños.
There will be Asian-inspired desserts, too, from chocolate cake made with black sesame paste to various flavors of mochi. McCandless is also planning a twist on a sticky toffee pudding made with mochi cake, miso caramel, and Japanese whiskey ice cream.
Notes Toan: “We are drawn to Asian food not because we consider ourselves experts or representatives of the food or cultures, but because it inspires us… We aren’t aiming for ‘traditional,’ and we don’t expect to be better than anyone else at this food, but we will put ourselves into it and have fun with it.”
Expect the price range to be lower than Arcana’s, with a more approachable dining style in opposition to the previous fine dining atmosphere. Happy hour and late night options will likely come once pandemic restrictions ease. Jake Novotny, beverage director at sister bar Jungle, is overseeing the drinks program, which will have a cocktail focus.
The space is getting an update along with the menu. “Arcana was a pretty strong statement about fine dining—a luxe, opulent look, very polished. This will have more personality,” Toan says. “The design ties into one of my inspirations, which is that I have this three-year-old son and my inner child has awoken through him….We want to touch that playful, fun, hopeful, creative part that really lives in all of us.” In practice, that translates to plenty of plants, a warmer, darker color palette with pops of brightness, and a more comfortable aesthetic. “We’re trying to design the space so that it feels right at 50 percent [occupancy] rather than just having tons of negative space,” Toan adds.
The Arcana team has been busy throughout the pandemic—pivoting, as it’s called these days. First, Toan implemented an employee support program that saw a significant portion of tips going directly to laid-off staff, totaling about $20,000 in financial aid. Then the restaurant launched a pay-what-you-can meal service so anyone could access food and those with means could offset costs and donate additional funds to workers. The kitchen also partnered with Conscious Alliance to cook and deliver meals to local students, which eventually grew into preparing about 1,000 meals per week through World Central Kitchen. “It saved us,” Toan says. Most recently, Arcana was hosting a series of pop-ups, the last of which was timed with Arcana’s closure.
The focus has now entirely shifted to introducing Supermoon to the community.
Well, almost entirely. The Arcana team also recently launched In-House Alliance (IHA), a hospitality-focused delivery service for local, independent restaurants that are not well-served by bigger, mainstream delivery apps. Currently, hungry diners can order from Jungle, Blackbelly, and Santo; more restaurants are expected to come online soon, including Supermoon. IHA employs its own drivers, all of whom are former or current industry folks and who receive guaranteed hours and a minimum pay of $16 per hour.
At the basis of all of this work is the concept of community. Toan envisions Supermoon as a gathering place, not just for food, but for events, including family-focused programming on Sundays and live music (when it’s safe to host). “We want to start bringing people back together, even if that means coming back together with your pod outside the home,” he says. “[It’s about] bringing community together, bringing art into the space. Creating an opportunity for people to have fun in a very safe way.”
909 Walnut St., Boulder