Boulder’s highly anticipated Arcana restaurant threw open its doors yesterday. The concept, described by chef Matthew Lackey as “Old American,” takes diners through an evolving journey that explores the foundations of America’s cuisine—from the earliest migrations across the Bering Strait in the north to the roots of the Mayan Empire to the south. The result is a more thorough understanding of “who we are as Americans when it comes to dining,” says Lackey. It’s an ambitious endeavor, and one that Lackey hopes will ultimately result “in a more thoughtful definition of Colorado cuisine.”

According to owner Elliot and Annie Toan, the name Arcana refers to the “almost indescribable magic you experience when you savor an amazing meal.” Achieving that sort of dining magic demands a talented team, and Arcana’s is top notch. As a Tennessee native, Lackey’s roots are in the South, and the refined techniques he learned there (from his stints cooking with celebrity chef Sean Brock at Husk Restaurant and McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston, as well as in his own kitchen at Flyte World Dining & Wine in Nashville) are the gifts he brings with him to Boulder.

Lackey also spent time working as a farmer in Tennessee, which imbues him with reverent respect for honest, local food. Expect to see plenty of Colorado ingredients on the historically inspired menu: corn, chiles, heirloom grains, produce, wild game, trout, as well as foraged wild hog plums, mushrooms, sumac, and lambs quarters. Many of Arcana’s dishes will be cooked over wood fire in a special smoker, infusing them with the smoky aromas of mulberry, pecan, and oak woods.

Bar director Jonathan Watsky brings quite the résumé to the table himself. He was chef de partie at the French Laundry, worked at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon and Ad Hoc, and spent time as a sous chef at Frasca Food and Wine and behind the bar at Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder. The focal point of his bar is a cider program that honors the role of the apple in American cuisine. Eighteen ciders, which run the gamut from dry to sweet, are paired with entrées, mixed into cocktails, and infused into memorable desserts. Pastry chef Tesa Butkus (also a Frasca alum and pastry chef at Table Fifty-Two) delivers exceptional finales like the unforgettable apple cider doughnut. This warm confection is plated with roasted hazelnuts, compressed apple, a quenelle of sour cream ice cream, a drizzle of reduced apple cider vinegar, and a tiny sprinkling of sea salt. Much like the restaurant itself, the dessert inspires the sort of lingering memories that will bring you back time and time again.

909 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-444-3885