When I headed up to Boulder recently to meet a friend for lunch at The Med, I realized it had been 14 years since my last meal there. How could it not have changed? In that time I’ve moved to Boston for a decade & come back; implemented & discarded countless schemes for writerly success; fallen in & out of everlasting love at least thrice (to be clear, the Director’s the charm); traveled all over Italy & seen Chile, Egypt, Spain & the Czech Republic, among others, along the way; etc. Surely this Walnut Street fixture has undergone a few transformations of its own—but aside from the expansion into a side room off the patio, damned if I can put my finger on them.
It’s still sprawling & vibrant, all wrought-iron & majolica accents & hues of sun-warmed sand & sea. It’s still bustling with Boulderites (read: beautiful people whose taste in dress suggests what my friend called outdoors Asperger’s). And it’s still, after all these years, pretty good—no better, no worse. At least that was my impression based on a number of tapas, The Med’s stock-in-trade at least a couple of years before Spain’s culinary signature began to trend nationwide.
Clockwise from top left: champiñones al ajillo (mushrooms in garlic sauce); trio of Thai curry, black bean–cilantro, & red pepper–harissa hummuses? hummi?; lamb albóndigas (meatballs) in sherried tomato sauce; ajo (roasted garlic).
As litmus tests for tapas bars go, anything in garlic sauce is telltale (as are croquetas, pan con tomate, patatas bravas, & tortilla española. As the name indicates, The Med isn’t strictly Spanish, but the tapas themselves logically tend to be. For more on that score, check out my reviews of Ondo’s & The 9th Door). The mushrooms passed—simple, juicy, meaty, &, yes, garlicky (though most recipes call only for olive oil, there are a couple that also include butter, & I got the impression these might have a touch). So did the meatballs, the tangy brightness of the chunky sauce complementing the dark funk of the lamb—is there any meat with quite the depth of flavor lamb has? Goat, but that’s about it.
The ice-cream-like scoops of hummus looked suspiciously dry—I like mine, at least the traditional chickpea-tahini blend, to be very creamy & lemony—but only the red pepper flavor leaned that way. The smooth black bean & airy curried kinds, meanwhile, tingled with warm, earthy spice.
Modest, easily won successes all—unlike the roasted garlic dish. Clumsily executed, it consisted of a disproportionate mound of balasmic-roasted onion jam, overwhelming both the buried cloves & the crumbled blue cheese, itself not of the greatest quality. Ditto the stale toasts. Quick to fix, really—less jam; better cheese; toast bread just before serving; serve on a plate rather than in a bowl so that the 3 pungent components can be mixed & matched to the diner’s taste on the spot rather than forcibly clashed. Done & done.
Needless to say, even if The Med hasn’t changed much in 14 years—which is generally to its credit; reliability’s a comfort—the Boulder dining scene certainly has, like that scene in Dr. Seuss where a whole city builds up around the stubborn North-Going Zax & South-Going Zax. Likely in order to claim some of that locavore mojo, The Med’s chef Anthony Hessel (who looks startlingly like the love child of Aaron Eckhart & Jeff Bridges as The Dude) is now hosting a weekly 12-person Chef’s Table—& the sample multicourse menus I’ve seen appeal greatly: think zucchini ribbons with torn basil, toasted pine nuts, tomatoes, breakfast radishes, lemon & olive oil, or whole-wheat pasta with prosciutto, goat cheese, wild arugula, & a poached farm egg. Still, The Med’s bread & butter is its pan-Mediterranean mishmash, from pizza to paella to kabobs—& the sprinkle of sea salt atop that butter is its ever-boisterous happy hour. It doesn’t have to do anything but stay the course to please the easy-breezy legions—& I’m not sure it *can* do anything to lure the farm-to-fork jet set from Frasca & Meadow Lark. Nothing wrong with being the weeknight default, the place to go when you can’t agree on a place to go, the place you leave reasonably satisfied if not especially stimulated.