Something for everyone. Coming from your average middlebrow chain, that’s a suspicious boast whose translation generally amounts to a whole lot of nothing for anyone except those who privilege quantity & convenience over quality. Every last item (they’re not really dishes) on that giant menu, from the hoisin-chicken lettuce wraps & Cajun jambalaya pasta to the potato twisters & taco pizza, was green-lighted in a boardroom after market research showed how it would activate the salivary glands in 2.5 of every 4 Americans & then prefabbed offsite—where it bears little resemblance to the legit creation by which an actual chef somewhere had launched an accidental trend.
But there are indie establishments—run by such actual chefs—that inherently appeal to a wide range of diners. They too are mainly mid-priced neighborhood gathering spots, built on solid tradition rather than the shifting sands of culinary pop culture—such that the unadventurous eater is bound to find something familiar even as the rabid chowhound accepts their “authenticity.” Here in the States, they’re likely to be European/American; even now, when large swaths of the population have grown comfortable with Latin & Asian cuisines, there’s still a subset who won’t go near a taqueria or a pho joint—unless, perhaps, it’s Americanized to the point that then the subset who insists on the real deal won’t go near it. But your classic roadhouses & delis, your picture-perfect trattorias & bistros: those almost all of us can agree on, because they speak an honest language we’ve long since incorporated into our own. (In a few decades, the same may therefore be true of those taquerias & pho joints.)
I’ve quibbled elsewhere about the differences between a brasserie & a bistro (here’s a good cheat sheet); despite the name, Brasserie Ten Ten walks a line between the 2. But that’s irrelevant here; what’s important is that it remains true to the spirit of casual French dining, & in so doing, it welcomes your uncle from Cleveland who insists on meat & potatoes (steak frites!) & your connoisseur pal who knows it’s not bouillabaisse unless it includes rouille. Any creative license taken is in keeping with its setting in worldly yet locavore-minded 21st-century Boulder, just as it would be in France. Meanwhile, the warm, bustling space has a timeless aura; the service is crisp & clean; & the bar puts an equal focus on beer (as a brasserie would), wine (as a bistro would), & spirits (there’s your nod to to the cocktail-crazed time & place).
With the memory of a vibrant pesto-chicken & prosciutto salad I had there nearly 2 years ago (it’s no longer on the menu) still lingering,
I’ve been back twice recently—& the impression that Ten Ten has, after a decade, earned its place on Boulder’s short list remains. That’s not to say everything’s perfect—but everything feels right nonetheless. Check out the charming presentation of the brunchtime Bordeaux Scramble—eggs scrambled with local goat cheese, shiitakes, fines herbes & a beet reduction, then topped with a small arugula salad & a scallion biscuit. The latter didn’t seem to have popped straight out of the oven, being a little too cool & crumbly, & the casserole itself needed a touch more salt, but it was the right idea.
Or consider the kitchen’s sly take on huevos rancheros, also a brunch item, with white-bean purée instead of frijoles refritos & avocado pistou instead of guacamole, plus gruyère &, get this, “porc green chilé”!
A raw bar’s essential to the brasserie theme, & Ten Ten does oysters right, with one of the nicest mignonettes I’ve ever tried, the vinegar mellowed a touch by a slew of herbs.
Though it looked a little slapdash—& my vote would be for thinner crostini, for a better fish-to-bread ratio—a plate of marinated white anchovies proved a fair deal for $2.
But the moules marinières (pictured is a full portion; a half-portion’s also available at happy hour) blew my mind.
Traditionally, the simple broth of this Normandy classic is based on white wine, butter, shallots & parsley, but cream, garlic, other types of onion & thyme aren’t unheard of; all appear here, though crème fraîche replaces whipping cream. The addictive result combined an herbal, floral complexity with unexpected lightness of weight, & the accompanying grilled bread was comme il faut—crusty, chewy & built to sop.
Now, there’s a whole dinner menu I’ve yet to explore—but given Ten Ten’s staying power, I know I’ve got time.