Straight up, L’Atelier in Boulder isn’t really my tasse de thé. Though I know what I’m about to say is positively gauche for a food writer to admit, French cookery in the Escoffier vein tends to kind of bore me. However rich & beautiful, it’s so cooked—it lacks rawness & soul. (Unlike the generally more rustic cuisine of the regions surrounding the nation’s capital, & with the exception of stuff like steak tartare, whose origins are murky but probably not Gallic anyway.) And though I’m sure Radek R. Cerny is every bit the culinary artiste the restaurant’s tagline or subtitle or whatever you’d call it claims him to be, & further recognize that his repertoire isn’t devoid of contemporary flair, it hews closely enough to the classic model, especially at lunch (pâté, coq au vin, steak au poivre), that I just can’t get into it—not least considering the rather dainty, linen-&-porcelain environs, in which a klutz like me feels on constant guard.
All that said, L’Atelier’s Niçoise salad does the trick. Granted, Nice is not Paris; it’s in Provence, where the food is Mediterranean in character. For that matter, this is not even a classic Niçoise, which contains neither seared tuna (it’s either canned or absent in favor of anchovies) nor potatoes (but rather bell peppers); I believe there are some quibbles over artichoke hearts versus green beans as well, though they’re minor. What this is, except for the choice of arugula over Bibb lettuce, is the version Julia Child popularized—& besides being pretty & precisely prepared & dressed in a fresh, simple vinaigrette, it’s perfect for the diet-minded individual insofar as the ingredients aren’t bite-sized. Instead of mindless shoveling, you have to cut them up, & spear a little bit of everything onto each forkful, & consciously experience how well they work together.
Slowing down & savoring, they say, is the key to better eating habits; my own mantra, however poorly practiced, has long been: “Appreciate, don’t anticipate.” I’ll keep this New Year’s mini-series going for the nonce in hopes of finally abiding by it, while offering a glimpse at local restaurant dishes that don’t break the scale for my fellow resolution makers.