Frasca: È Davvero Tutto Quello
Pazzissimo Italophile though I am, I don’t get up to Colorado’s single most celebrated Italian restaurant if not restaurant period—the Fruilian-inspired Frasca—very often. In fact, until last week, I hadn’t been in 2 years. And while both the expense & the drive to Boulder are prohibitive factors, they’re not the primary reasons for my long absence. The truth is, my tastes tend toward the exuberant & quirky, whereas chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson’s style is elegantly subdued. That it extends from the dishes to the descriptions thereof means the ever-changing menu rarely speaks to me personally; at any given time, perusing it doesn’t make my heart go pitter-pat the way a glance at, say, this menu always does.
But to admit that Frasca doesn’t have me at hello is not to deny that it’s got me by goodbye. From the sparklingly clean design to the ultraprofessional yet warm service to master sommelier Bobby Stuckey’s extraordinary wine program to, yes, the stellar cooking, it earns its national rep every night. Being made to feel special is a luxury we humans experience so rarely, but lavish attention is Frasca’s stock in trade. To translate the post title, this place really is all that.
It all starts with a complimentary tajut of the proprietary white, Scarpetta, which Mo & I paired with the house mix of marinated olives & nuts—
cashews, almonds & peanuts tossed with vaguely Indian or Moroccan spices: cumin for sure, maybe some turmeric. From there, whatever wine you request—in this case the slow-building 2001 Grattamacco Bolgheri Rosso Superiore—will be preceded by the arrival of artfully appropriate stemware, like this tulip-shaped glass I feared would shatter if I so much looked at it askance.
By the time you place your food order, the leisurely mood set by the luxe appointments, the hum & clink of others quietly celebrating special occasions, & the solicitous comings & goings of the staff leads you in a 3-or-4 course direction whether you intended to go there or not.
You might not, for instance, have planned on starting with salumi, but suddenly there it is:
a slice each of prosciutto di San Daniele (the most famous along with that of Parma), speck (a smoked variant on prosciutto), & finocchiono (aka finocchiona, a fennel-spiked salame), plus grissini (breadsticks), a smear of crema di rafano (horseradish sauce), a couple of marinated mushrooms, a single Castelvetrano olive (my favorite for being unusually fruity & mild), &, best of all, a single wedge of frico caldo—a sort of cheese-laced hashbrown as compared to the crackerlike frico croccante Frasca also makes (of which more in a moment). The latter doesn’t, I believe, usually come on the platter; it appeared to be a gift, perhaps in advance thanks for the hefty tab my 3 companions & I had just committed to. Because how better to repay a shitload of food than with more food?
In fact, that wasn’t the only thing we received gratis: having heard me hem & haw about the coleslaw & finally opt against it, Rose brought us a surprise bowl anyway.
Sweet & sour with the clear savor of caraway, it may seem out of place here, but didn’t taste it. Again, MacKinnon-Patterson’s light touch ensures an easy rapport among his dishes, whatever the combination.
With all this came an offer of bread which everyone but me reasonably turned down. I just couldn’t, not after catching a glimpse of the butter—
as sigh-inducing as it looks, soft & sweet with just a sprinkling of salt. I’d had 2 pieces by the time we got our 1st “real” course—the 1st of 4.
And what a “start” to the meal it was: the frico croccante with chestnut polenta, speck & ricotta became my most recent Dish of the Week. Having anticipated how rich it would be, I followed my antipasto up not with a primo piatto (traditionally the pasta course) but another antipasto: the steelhead trout crudo.
Spread with horseradish, drizzled with olive oil, dotted with quarters of marinated golden beet & fortuitously adorned with a heart-shaped sliver of scallion, how could I not heart the trout in turn? Yet again, pungency was eschewed in favor of a rainbow of delicately juicy checks & balances, the flavor of the fish almost as peachy as its color.
Of course, I simultaneously ogled with deadly envy Mo’s raviolo della casa—crispy-edged & filled as it was with ricotta & a whole farm egg just waiting to burst through—
& the others’ gnocchi with braised oxtail. But only because I’m shameless & insatiable, not because the trout didn’t wholly satisfy.
In fact, I preferred it to the actual fish course. It’s not that my secondo piatto, the braised golden tilefish with chanterelles, fennel, broccolini & onions wasn’t just as accomplished as everything else,
but as examples of where my tastes diverge with the chef’s go, this is a prime one, being all about subtle complements, mild earthtones, rather than striking contrasts. Still, no legitimate complaints—the fish was flawlessly moist & flaky, the fumet like lemon velvet, & the slices of chanterelle enchantingly meaty.
A swipe at Mo’s incredibly tender grilled veal breast with morels, spinach & “root vegetables”—primarily carrots—was, however, a revelation. Veal is generally prized for its delicacy, but this was especially dark & rich.
I didn’t try Susan’s pan-roasted diver scallops with housemade sausage, chickpeas & chard, but I think we can safely assume it didn’t suck.
Which leaves dessert: going clockwise from 1 o’clock is a trio of coconut gelato, dark chocolate gelato & raspberry sorbet; a chocolate torta with feuilletine, vanilla bean buttercream & banana as well as chocolate pearls & almond-toffee gelato; & bombolini, Italian doughnuts with mascarpone cream & Meyer lemon curd.
Mine was the latter, which I found to be a little on the dry side compared, say, to Panzano’s zeppole (savory or sweet). But the blend of mascarpone & curd was so luscious I wished it came as a bowl of soup. Topped off with the smoothest cappuccino I’ve ever had outside of Italy,
it was the perfect end to an exceptional meal. Well, almost: we were brought complimentary glasses of amaro with the check, to help us digest the shock a little easier.
I kid. Frasca’s truly worth every last dime.