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Happy Hour at Brasserie Ten Ten

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Photo courtesy of Brasserie Ten Ten

At the hostess stand at Brasserie Ten Ten, a charming French restaurant on Walnut in downtown Boulder, I was informed, quite cheerfully, that the wait for a table would be an hour to an hour and a half. I was hoping for a quick snack, not a sugar-coated informant intimating that my snack was not to be had here. There was one seat at the first-come, first-served bar, however, so I quickly claimed the property and had barely ascended my chair—Brasserie’s bar stools are the type that make you feel regally elevated—when a fresh glass of water was poured for me and I was asked if I’d like anything to drink besides. I ordered the Ten Ten Red—a decent Merlot with a full bouquet and pleasantly, though not-too-sweet, fruity flavor, and a steal at $3.75 a glass.

I’d come for the frites, although next time I’m trying the bone marrow…it just sounds too French and too interesting not to. The frites at Brasserie are matchstick-cut fresh potatoes served with an elegant truffle aioli and ketchup. Not house-created, hand-caressed tomato-vinegar-and-seasonings as I expected, but ketchup, as in Heinz or a similar variety, splorted out of its bottle and into an elegant little silver dipping dish next to the heaven-sent aioli. The two shouldn’t share the same universe, much less the same plate…commercial ketchup has no place in a world where truffle oil is melded into a delectably thickened aioli containing hints of lemon, cream, and, I’m pretty sure, some form of magic. The frites were delicious, perfectly crisped on the outside, tender and fluffy on the inside, and seasoned by a gentle hand.

Along with my frites I ordered a French dip slider, composed of beautifully shaved, flavorfully seasoned roast beef, a kiss of melted gruyere and delicate horseradish crème, which would have been perfect had there been more of it. It could definitely have benefited from another slight smearing of that perfectly spiced, kicky crème.

As I started on the slider, I realized that there was one serious problem with my meal: the restaurant had apparently never learned to properly contain some of their best items. The frites come in a metal container reminiscent of a martini shaker or tin pint glass, so the first few tastes are delicious, and then you’re cramming your hand into this hot metal canister for more. The au jus served with the slider had perfect viscosity and flavor; unfortunately, it was served in a container the same size of the aioli and ketchup containers and therefore, it was entirely impossible to actually dip the sandwich into it. This reduced me to shredding the sandwich, caveman-style, with my provided butter knife and fork, while attempting to hold up the menu to shield the rest of the bar from my barbarism as I funneled the food into my mouth. It was still hot, crispy, melty, tender, and delicious, but it should be served with either a proper knife for cutting meat or a proper container for dipping the sandwich (preferably the latter).

The glasses of wine accompanied the meal perfectly, and the service was absolutely impeccable. I’d barely taken down notes about ordering the slider and frites before they arrived. The truly shining force behind the bar, however, was my server, Matt, who managed to be at my beck and call as well as everyone else’s. By the time I left my single seat next to the hostess stand was being eyed with envy by at least a dozen others crowded around the bar holding their drinks aloft, and Matt and his colleague kept the place running incredibly smoothly without sacrificing service or panache. A truly gifted and skillful server and bartender, Matt was helpful, informative, pleasantly chatty and appreciative, maintaining the acute professionalism of a server at a busy, high-end Boulder French bistro while also conveying a friendliness and ease that made me feel comfortable asking him questions and appreciative of his incredibly attentive service. My water was never less than half full and my wine glass was always inquired about once there was about an ounce and a half left: I swear, the man has a calibrated eye for knowing when a drink will soon need refreshing. And he did this constantly, easily and charmingly with every patron at the bar.

The televisions framing the bar and the light techno house music pulsating beneath the current of conversation in the crowded restaurant seemed a bit odd to me, but I prefer my dining without the benefit of ESPN or whatever was on, and pop electronica just didn’t seem right for the atmosphere. Perhaps they were going for a more modern “vibe”, but it didn’t serve the dignity of the food, the servers, the bartenders, or the charming, easy elegance of the environment. The atmosphere is warm and caressing, with sumptuous seats—and even barstools!—you can just sink into and a small outside patio seating area complementing the restaurant nicely.  The place manages to convey comfort without sacrificing elegance…though I’d get rid of the televisions and perhaps go with a light classical selection of music for the undercurrent.

Brasserie opened in Boulder in July of 2003 and has been delighting patrons ever since. If they get the container issue figured out and do something about the music (the TVs I will forgive…for now), five stars won’t be enough to rate this restaurant’s excellent service, fare and ambiance.

For more information: www.brasserietenten.com or 303.998.1010.

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