Monday, June 27, 2011

The Kitchen [Next Door], Boulder, Colorado (Review)

Hey, I forgot to take food pictures.
Instead, feast your eyes on the view
yesterday at Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain
National Park.
Spending the week in one of my favorite towns in the world, Boulder, Colorado, always feels like a slice of culinary heaven, and luckily I am privileged enough that a week in Boulder is a frequent occurrence.  Although the vegetarian menu options aren't as diverse as one would expect in a town with Boulder's reputation, the food is often fresh, locally sourced, and organic.  One of my favorite spots for a long time was The Kitchen [Upstairs], but as it became more crowded, more expensive, and less relaxed I'd avoided it in my latest forays onto Pearl Street.

Nevertheless, when news of The Kitchen's newest child, The Kitchen [Next Door] started appearing on Facebook I was curious to try it out.  Touted as more casual, less expensive, and with greater adherence to environmental practices already in place at The Kitchen and The Kitchen [Upstairs], The Kitchen [Next Door] also has a commitment to increasing food awareness at local schools and promoting school and community gardens.  Needless to say, an agenda I can get behind!

So after a lazy day enjoying the views at Rocky Mountain National Park, my partner and I headed into Boulder to try it all out.  The experience began with a rocky start: the awkward entrance leaves incoming and outgoing guests, servers, and the host in an inevitable collision course.

But once we entered the surprisingly open and spacious restaurant, it was all fabulous from there! The walls are a soothing country blue, the tables and high tops arranged so that you can easily select your level of privacy, and the servers projected a cheerful, casual attitude matched by their comfortable clothes and gray-blue t-shirts.

The menu is short and based on local produce availability.  We started things off with $4.95 glasses of the house white and red, quite passable for a $5 wine on Pearl Street (hey, I was serious when I said that my daily experiments are low budget - that includes most of my restaurant forays). As part of the Next Door's commitment to a zero plastic, glass, and aluminum waste policy, the inexpensive wine and beer list is all served from barrels.

From there it was the shared hummus and chickpea appetizer, $6.95.  Simple and delicious!!! The hummus is a more rustic hummus, as I prefer it: nicely spiced but not overpowering, retaining the texture of the chickpeas.  The chickpeas were cooked in a tomato and vegetable sauce; also simple, rustic, and tasty.  I will guiltily confess, however, to being particularly happy about the flatbread served along with the appetizer - with a texture that is much more bread-like than the usual tasteless pita served in US restaurants, the bread had been lightly grilled as well, lending it a nice hint of smoke flavor.

For $6.95 each, we ordered the beet and feta burger as well as the mushroom loaf (which actually is also a burger), both served on whole grain buns.  Both have distinctive flavors quite unlike your usual pub veggie burger.  I was a bit skeptical when I first took a look at the feta and beet burger - it looked, well, beety, and I'm used to a bit of grain and nuts in my burgers.  However, I was sold on the first bite.  Of course the combination of sweet beets and salty cheeses is nothing new, but it worked surprisingly well as a burger.  I loved the mushroom loaf as well - and mind you I'm the first to complain about the overuse of portabella mushrooms as a meat substitute!  This was completely different - chopped, savory mushrooms filling the hearty bread nicely.  A $1.95 side of fresh arugula, and we were set!

I was especially pleased that even though the restaurant has been designed to get food on your table fast - usually under ten minutes - there was no hurry to get you out the door.  The server will make sure you have your check, but happily check on you as long as you wish to linger. A pleasant change from [Upstairs], where I often feel as if the servers hover.  This is the best kind of casual, and a rarity on busy Pearl Street.

I was so surprised that I had to stop by for lunch the next day to check out some more sides.  A dish of cumin carrots and a plate of garlic potato smashers later, I was pleased as punch with my rare $6 Pearl Street lunch.

Apparently, kids love it too - a special kid's menu was tested with and approved by 50 local elementary school students!

The Kitchen [Next Door], located on Pearl Street

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