Boulder's at an interesting juncture when it comes to it's restaurant offerings. If you adhere to the notion that opening a restaurant takes at least 12 months of planning, our new crop of joints are the brainchildren of plans concocted prior to the economic disaster that unwound over the past year. What follows is some speculation around the new spots in town, and some perspective on some of the staples.
The New Guys
Two major components have shifted since the inception of Happy Noodle House, Terra, Full Belly, and Arugula; the small/mid-tier banks that lend to small businesses (e.g. these restaurants) have stopped lending, and diners aren't as fast and loose as they were a year ago.
Happy Noodle House
I'm loving Happy Noodle House these days, though the nearly 100% "community table" (aka "European seating") is taking some community adjustment (both on the part of the staff, as well as the customers). Their price point, quality, location, the fact that they're fully operational, and connection to Dave Query (nearly bulletproof), have me bullish on their longevity.
I'm highly skeptical of Terra's plan. The location is choice, the chef's got promise, but the build out is expensive, and the price point is likely to be mid-to-upper tier as well. They'll get pit against the ever successful Kitchen which ought to be an interesting battle. I don't think Boulder can support two "Kitchens" effectively adjacent to one another. That said, Kitchen's offering became overly consistent a couple of years ago for me. Every time I go, I know what my food's going to taste like, which leads me to believe the consistency in low-level flavors (be it the olive oil or butter used in *everything*) which contributed to their success, is making the experience too predictable anymore. Terra may be able to siphon off bored Kitchen customers.
Full Belly + Arugula
As for Full Belly and Arugula, they're so far off the beaten path for me (my tiny world is confined to downtown) that I still haven't eaten at either. Assuming they're both delicious, Laudisio proved the location doesn't work, especially with two upstarts being adjacent. One will fail, the other will limp along.
As for Jax Fishhouse. I'm stoked for Hosea for the Top Chef win. We've religiously gone to Jax every Thursday night for over a decade, but... the Top Chef status stuff has since ruined the experience for us. Dishes are bigger (see my post on trying to get dishes to be smaller), crowds (tourists) swamp the joint now, and the soul in the food is gone. We've stopped going, and will pick it back up in 6-12 months, when hype has died down, to see if things get back to normal.
Frasca gets its own section. The food remains impeccable and the staff remains committed and top notch. The location remains unfortunate. I'm hopeful they find a new location soon. I'm bearish on the 9th & Pearl development actually happening which would leave them at 18th & Pearl for the foreseeable future. I can live with that however. I go to Frasca to be surrounded by people (staff & patrons) who care about food and wine, and to have the best of both served by professionals.
This is the ringer in the bunch. They've nailed it! Brunch, lunch, dinner, happy hour... you name it. The restaurant acclimates to the time of day, and day of the week, incredibly well. Food is consistent and flavorful, and the wine list is broad and deep. A few years ago Ten-Ten was highly suspect to me, but now I can bank on it anytime for a good experience. The build-out is quality as well.
There you have it. My insomnia fueled blog post on my view of restaurants in Boulder at the moment.