Downtown Boulder Rocks the Annual Taste of Pearl

On a snowy, 27-degree April day last week, my fellow EDB blogger Allan Parr and I took part in the annual Taste of Pearl event produced by Downtown Boulder (this year’s presenting sponsor was Audi of Boulder). The Taste of Pearl sells out nearly every year, and offers attendees the chance to meander to 15+ retail establishments to sample gourmet food made by some of Boulder’s best restaurants. Food samples are prepared by restaurant staff and are carefully paired with Colorado wines poured by the vintners & their staff.

Allan and I started off at 2:30pm (the event is 2pm-6pm) with complimentary wine glasses, compostable bamboo plates, and a map. Knowing there were 15 locations to sip and nosh, we should have known to pace ourselves. After five tastings, I was almost full! My big mistake was in getting carried away at Oliverde’s olive oil and balsamic tasting with the soft, yummy bread samples, and the lemon cookies dipped in lemon-infused olive oil.  I was like a kid in a candy store, with balsamics flavored with espresso, dark chocolate, berry, coconut, and other intoxicating flavors.

Notes on the lists below: Though I’ve lived in Europe and the Bay Area and am a relative food snob, I’m a pescatarian who on this type of occasion will try some meat dishes; therefore I couldn’t appreciate Frasca’s cotechino sausage or Centro’s ribs, but Allan was especially thrilled with Aji Restaurant’s pork tenderloin (see pic), which explains why he kept getting back in line with a host of clever disguises. Also, because two samples each from 15 wineries is a lot, we had to stop drinking wine at the last 3-4 locations, so missed a few. Apologies for those who aren’t mentioned.

Downtown Boulder (DBI) staff and volunteers were fantastic, the composting stations plentiful (participating restaurants were required to use compostable products), and our fellow foodies patient in the very short to non-existent lines. We determined that some attendees might like to see two food samples from each restaurant, so they really feel they get a varied “taste” of a place’s offerings. We’d also have liked to see at least four or five of the fifteen offer something sweet (thanks to Oliverde for providing the delicious brownie bites!)

It was a fantastic experience and is well worth the $75 fee, which includes the wine glass and unlimited food and wine samples. For busy Boulderites who don’t get downtown as much as they’d like, it’s also a good opportunity to step into local shops and see what’s new (many offered discounts that day or into the future).

Our “Best Of” List:

  • The MED: Roasted golden beets marinated for two days in a honey thyme vinaigrette, with fried capers, pickled onions, and chevre. Accompanied by a focaccia topped with fontina. TDF.
  • Flagstaff House: Sublimely tender, juicy stewed lamb shank served over a dollup of white truffled heirloom Italian polenta. They also served a delicious bite-sized hamachi carpaccio with gingered couscous and celery chips.
  • Riff’s: Oil-poached tuna atop a bed of carrot-quinoa salad with lemon-tahini dressing.
  • Salt Bistro: Honey crisp apple & tenderbelly bacon soup, with kaffir lime powder and bacon powder. Absolutely sublime.

Special Mention:

  • OAK at fourteenth: Chilled Spring Pea soup, and a Speck Ham & Ricotta Cheese Crostini.
  • Bitter Bar:  A sublime Melon and Cucumber ‘Gazpacho’ soup.  Please put this on your menu!
  • Q’s Restaurant served a light, refreshing Cucumber ‘Caprese’ with basil whipped goat cheese, prosciutto di Parma, & cherry tomato jam.

A bit disappointing:

  • From Brasserie TenTen, an uninspiring crostini with a small piece of gouda cheese and a semi-firm jelly square w/an arugula sprig. Compared to the significant effort other chefs went to, this oneleft us wondering why such a good restaurant missed its chance to make our eyes roll back into our heads.
  • Roasted cauliflower from Leaf Restaurant had a nice touch with toasted pistachios, but the veggie was cold and kinda limp.
  • From the always-amazing Pizzeria Locale, no pizza! Most likely because the crust has to be eaten right outta the oven, but we felt they also missed their chance to shine with a food item (how about some prosciutto cut with their gorgeous machine?) All that said, they served the only dessert on the tour, a butterscotch budino pudding (on their happy hour menu) which was insanely good…wheew!!!

Favorite wines:

Eat, drink, repeat.