Pepper the Noshery, besides having a name reminiscent of a mid-20th century comic strip character, is the retooled version of Boulder chef Bradford Heap’s eatery Wild Standard. The former iteration had been primarily a seafood restaurant, and the recently renamed venue is neighbor to Heap’s other spot, the now appropriately named Salt.
At Pepper, the decor remains much as it had before. It’s a bright and cheerful spot, with a modern sensibility set off by vintage design touches. Similarly, the new menu retains some seafood, including raw bar selections and fish entrees. But there are also steaks, sandwiches — including burgers and a grilled cheese paired with tomato soup — and seasonal vegetable samplers.
As my dining guest and I had arrived prior to 6 p.m. on a bustling Friday night, we took advantage of a happy hour offering, a dozen oysters priced at a reasonable buck apiece. At this price, one shouldn’t expect the petite and sublime kumamotos that are my personal favorite, but these freshly shucked shellfish were a fine choice. Handsomely presented, with an oniony mignonette sauce, these were generally pleasingly briny and fresh, although a couple had stronger and fishier — but not off — flavors. Our conscientious server felt that the shellfish took too long to arrive to the table, and, without prompting, took them off the bill. Frankly, I hadn’t been worried about the meal’s pacing, and the delay wasn’t a problem.
Another pleasing seafood starter was a $13 wild salmon tartare, featuring wild Alaskan fish. The chopped seafood intermingled with a mix of Asian and South American flavors, including avocado, cilantro and scallion, and were accompanied by crispy taro chips. The smooth fish flavor was complemented, but not overwhelmed, by the subtle tones of the herbs and vegetables.
We also sampled the $9 crispy Brussels sprouts, enlivened by fresh apple slices and a tangy cider glaze. True to its billing, the outside leaves possessed a notable crunch. Inside, the dense core was properly cooked, possessing neither the mushy texture that’s made countless folks swear off these cruciferous veggies, nor an off-putting underdone consistency.
My dining companion’s main course was the $17 plant-based green curry, pumped up by the addition of shrimp for $6 dollars. While the shellfish was fine, the seafood portion was a bit skimpy for the price. But otherwise the curry itself, intermingled with short-grain rice, was an impressive course. I’m typically skeptical of Asian-style curries that are served at restaurants that don’t specialize in Thai or other Southeast Asian cuisines, but in this case, the curry adroitly balanced creamy, sour and sweet tones in a way that revealed the kitchen understands the nuances of Asian curry. A load of local produce, including eye-catching slices of watermelon radish, rounded out this satisfying selection.
One high point of many, regarding service, was our server’s management of expectations regarding the miso cod entree as I had first asked if black cod was the foundational ingredient. Intuitively sensing where this was going, this staffer noted that this wasn’t something that emulated the famed Nobu restaurant preparation. His candor happily prevented me from ordering something that would have fallen short.
Having had my cod expectations adjusted, my fallback position was a splurge, namely the $38 Wagyu beef special. While I subscribe to the school that only beef from Japan, raised accordingly, should be considered true Wagyu, I won’t dismiss non-Asian meat out of hand. In this case, the special was a formidable New York steak from New Zealand, grass-fed and finished. The preparation was impeccable, with medium-rare doneness falling on the rare side, and a respectably tender texture. As is the case with most grass-fed beef, there was a mineral-rich flavor which handily beats out grain-fed variants.
On the side was a smattering of traditional steakhouse flavors, including roast potato, sautéed onions and spinach, as well as a touch of blue cheese. True Wagyu or not, this was a fine steak, and I’ve certainly paid more for prime-grade meat and was subsequently far less satisfied at meal’s end.
Dessert was a straightforward $9 creme brûlée, featuring a proper sugar crust, an assortment of fresh fruit, and a mint leaf garnish. It didn’t break any real new ground, and my dining companion thought it should have possessed a less liquid texture.
While there were a few quibbles with some of the courses, my friend and I were quite content with our meal. Straightforward but pleasing preparation, underscored by excellent service in a nicely put together environment made for a simply enjoyable dining experience.
Food 3.5/4 stars
Service 3.5/4 stars
Ambiance 3.5/4 stars
Address: 1043 Pearl St., Boulder
Contact: 720-638-4800, peppernoshery.com
Hours: 11 a.m.–close daily
Fare: Pepper remains true to the New American template, with plenty of seafood choices and sandwiches, including beef and quinoa burgers. There’s also a decent selection of vegan and gluten-free choices, such as a spicy buffalo cauliflower starter with a vegan blue cheese dressing.
Noise Level: Moderate, and relatively comfortable in comparison to a lot of Pearl Street eateries. It was easy enough to carry on a conversation, and I don’t think the noise level ever crossed my mind through most of the meal.