What: Eighth annual First Bite Boulder
When: Nov. 15-23
Where: Throughout Boulder County at more than 40 participating restaurants
Cost: $26 per person for a three-course prix fixe menu, which does not include beverages or other items outside the First Bite menu
Info: firstbiteboulder.com or contact participating restaurants
Aji Latin American Restaurant
Bacaro Venetian Taverna
The Bitter Bar
The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse
Bramble & Hare
Brasserie Ten Ten
BRU Handbuilt Ales
Chautauqua Dining Hall
Colterra Food & Wine
Fate Brewing Co.
Fawn Brook Inn
Fresh Thymes Eatery
The Greenbriar Inn
The Kitchen (Upstairs)
Pizzeria da Lupo
Riffs Urban Fare
Roma Cucina e Piazza
Trattoria on Pearl
Volta Mediterranean Restaurant
West Flanders Brewing Co.
The plans are already in motion, says Christine Ruch, whose friends go to First Bite Boulder's website to "stalk" participating restaurants' menus every year.
"They're already emailing back and forth, saying reserve your calendar, and planning to hop from restaurant to restaurant that week," says Ruch, chef at Fresh Thymes Eatery, one of 48 Boulder County restaurants participating in the eighth First Bite event, Nov. 15-23. "It's the idea of, 'Oh, I don't usually go there to eat, but I would for First Bite."
"Many people use First Bite Boulder to really go out and dine more than they normally would and try new places," agrees event co-founder Kate Lacroix, who chalks up that adventurous spirit to the low cost of admission: Each restaurant puts together a three-course prix fixe menu for $26 a person.
"It's a week-long celebration of Boulder's best dining," Lacroix says, "and it's an opportunity for people to have a wide variety of great meals at a really reasonable price."
Lacroix points out that the number of participating restaurants has consistently surpassed 40 and this year includes three first-timers: Fresh Thymes Eatery, Volta Mediterranean Restaurant and BRU Handbuilt Ales.
"That's a testament to how much people enjoy this event and how necessary this event has become, how much a part of fall it's become," she says.
And expect fall and its harvest bounty to be a powerful force, as participating restaurants are offering creative menus, many of them seasonally focused on harvest-time ingredients. However, the intent of the fall timing was to give restaurants a boost during a slower season, as well as to allow diners to treat themselves before the flurry of the holidays.
"It's not just having a quick meal and being fed an entree," says Jessica Lynch, manager of Zucca Italian Ristorante, where last year's First Bite numbers exceeded expectations. "It became a special event for people on days that don't always seem special. Having the option of doing a couple courses that you usually skip, you're able to experience a well-paced meal and feel the cadence of the meal."
The fixed-price multiple-course aspect of the event also makes upscale dining feel accessible and encourages more casual restaurants to amp up their creativity.
"(People) get to taste more than they might normally order," says Ian Clark, who has been a part of First Bite throughout his career with Centro, Jax Fish House and, now, as founder and chef of BRU. "My favorite part about the event is that it's another opportunity to share our love of food and beer with a coursed-out menu."
It's a menu with which BRU plans to offer beer pairings as an add-on to take the experience to another level.
Certainly the financial incentive is a win for both customers and restaurants, but Lacroix says First Bite also brings together and vitalizes restaurant and dining contingents.
"It doesn't stray that far from restaurant weeks around the country, but we're a smaller town, obviously, so there's a much more personal feel," she says. "And restaurants say they do see a number of larger parties, so people are using it as an opportunity to get together with friends, which is great.
"Who doesn't love a good week of eating?"
And, more important, who doesn't love a good reason to indulge in a delicacy in which many diners don't often partake?
On most evenings out, we demure. We look at our friends around the table, and we perhaps say things like, "No, I really shouldn't."
Then we watch in disappointment as the luscious dessert menu is whisked away by the server.
Because First Bite Boulder's $26 price tag includes multiple courses, however, dessert is part of the package, so not only are you having one -- no questions asked -- you don't even have to share.
"This is definitely a Super Bowl for the pastry chef, because it's de rigueur that people get dessert when they wouldn't always otherwise," Lacroix says. "I think it's impossible to turn down dessert when it's all-inclusive, and I personally love the desserts from Mateo and Greenbriar (Inn)."
Plus, sweets are often representative of their restaurant, personifying their concept on a small, sweet scale.
Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant, for example, often caters to vegetarians, vegans and other speciality diets, and its First Bite dessert is therefore a raw turtle brownie constructed of layered cocao-date cake, raw caramel and walnuts. While the brownie allows raw foodies to indulge, chef Rachel Best says, "I hope to satisfy anyone, from someone on a raw diet to someone with dietary restrictions to your average meat eater."
Similarly, BRU tends to bring desserts back to its beer.
"We have two this year: The one I'm most excited about is the Chocolate Pretzel Bread Pudding," says BRU chef Ian Clark. The pudding is topped with sea-salt almond brittle and Sasquash Roasted Pumpkin Porter caramel.
"It is going to be delicious, the combination of sweet and salty. It's rich and decadent, and perfect for colder weather."
In the case of Zucca, manager Jessica Lynch explains their dessert represents how their food is made from scratch in house whenever possible.
"The chef just started experimenting making marshmallows, and he got inspired to take it to a different level using pumpkin," Lynch says of Zucca's S'more e Semifreddo, which includes pumpkin marshmallow, spiced graham cracker and Puglian chocolate semifreddo, a homemade semi-frozen custard.
"It's deconstructing and reconstructing the classic s'more in a more refined, elegant way."
At Brasserie Ten Ten, pastry chef John Parkinson is sticking with something classic.
"It's a creme brulee, because it's a French restaurant and nothing is more French that," he says. "We added a little touch of seasonal fruit with pear and then caramel, which I love with my brulee, personally."
Other unique desserts abound, including Chautauqua Dining Hall's cinnamon toast crunch fried ice cream; West Flanders Brewing Co.'s candied padron pepper, pickled strawberries and griddled brioche with von Trapp Farmstead's Oma cheese; Fresh Thyme Eatery's pumpkin cheesecake or vegan Earl Grey Pot de Creme, and The Mediterranean's brown butter and heirloom squash mousse.