For the chef and the sommelier of Frasca in Boulder, Colorado, a mellow Sunday means an afternoon of snowshoeing and snow cycling with their wives, followed by a phenomenal candlelit dinner cooked outside—yes, outside—on the grill.
Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson, the co-owners of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado, both ride their bikes to work every day, year-round. They’ve even been known to ride their bikes to work during a snowstorm. "You will never see them in a car," says Danette, Bobby’s wife. "Summer, fall, winter, spring—nothing stops them from riding their bikes." Both Lachlan and Bobby seem to relish hard work and raising their heart rates above 150 beats per minute—especially Bobby, a pro cyclist turned master sommelier, who runs over mountain passes where others would need an oxygen tank just for talking.
At Frasca, the two do almost everything in their own particular way. They met six years ago while working at the French Laundry in Napa Valley (Bobby was head sommelier, Lachlan was a line cook), and they started dreaming about building a restaurant the way most people build stamina—slowly and persistently. Neither was interested in founding a restaurant empire. "We wanted to focus on one place and make it a little better each day," says Lachlan, an F&W Best New Chef 2005. Sipping an espresso and looking like a poet with his bedhead, baggy jeans and loose shirt, he adds, "My whole deal is the soul, not the show." Bobby’s approach is a little different, but equally unflagging: "I use my athletic discipline every single day," he says. "The most difficult bike race in the world is the Paris-Roubaix. It’s 160 miles in the wind and rain over cobblestoned roads. My whole approach to the challenges of being a restaurateur is: It’s the Paris-Roubaix every day."
Bobby and Lachlan moved from Napa to Boulder in the fall of 2003 and eventually found a space for Frasca—an old grocery store downtown, which they renovated themselves. They laid the floor using reclaimed freight- train beds; bought the tables for $50 from a closed-down pizza place; and drove a U-Haul to Aspen, where Bobby used to work as a sommelier at the Little Nell, and paid $1,000 for all the kitchen equipment in another defunct restaurant. Frasca opened in August 2004. The showiest thing about the place is the way the picture windows glow pink at sunset.
The restaurant, which serves only dinner, doesn’t open until 5:30 p.m., yet Lachlan and his assistants are in the kitchen early each morning, creating dishes that are nearly all inspired by the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northern Italy. Friuli, a little-known area bordering Slovenia, is an unexpected muse. Besides risotto and pasta, Friulian dishes on the Frasca menu include salted rabbit with pickled green-tomato juice and frico caldo, a potato, cheese and onion dish that tastes like the best possible thing to eat in a mountain hut after a long day of skiing.
Frasca’s white tablecloths and thick wine list, hefty as a coffee-table book, could suggest snobbery, but there is none. Bobby is always out on the floor, discussing wines with customers as intensely as if he were planning a political campaign and asking them questions like "In this Sauvignon Blanc, can you smell the pinecones carried by the wine into Friuli from the Dolomite mountains?" Danette is invariably being charming to everyone who walks in or helping out somewhere in the restaurant, while Allison, Lachlan’s wife, is often perched at the bar, relaxing after a day of making lattes and scones in her laid-back coffee shop, Allison’s Espresso and Pastry Boutique, a few blocks away.
On Sundays, when Frasca is closed, Bobby, Danette, Allison and Lachlan sometimes cook and eat together in a way that reflects Frasca’s do-it-your-own-way spirit: They grill outside all year long, regardless of the weather. "In the winter, I use the grill as much as I use the stove," Lachlan says. "It’s not like, ’Oh, now I’m going to put the grill away for the season.’ " He and Allison, along with the Stuckeys, fire up the grill in their front yard facing the Flatiron Mountains, even in snowstorms. "We sit on our porch in our ski jackets, with beers, and watch the grill," Lachlan continues. "People walk by and they’re like, ’What’s going on? What are you cooking?’ "
Lachlan compares grilling to tap dancing—for him, it’s all about developing a light touch in order to finesse the heat. "If you’re grilling beef and you can master the temperature so it’s not so so so hot, the fat will caramelize and become sweet," he says. "But if the fat is burned or charred, that sweet flavor will never have a chance to come out. You’re never going to get that really sexy grilled taste." Sexy? "Sexy is a term we use around the Frasca kitchen when what’s expected out of a cooking technique is exceeded," he explains.
Recently, the two couples traveled together to the Fetcher Ranch, a cattle ranch outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for a feast of grilled food and Friulian wine. They set up the grill outside the ranch’s prosciutto-colored barn, chilled bottles of wine in the snow and spent the afternoon snowshoeing and snow cycling. Bobby even managed a predinner nine-mile run among drifts of snow so deep they covered the tops of fences. Afterward, he poured glasses of what he describes as a Friulian "superwhite" for everyone as they lounged on hay bales as prickly as hedgehogs and began discussing dinner. "Winter grilling is all about being comfortable," Allison says. "It’s zany. You have to be with people who aren’t too serious." Lachlan adds, "It’s not your typical dinner party where you have to worry about everything being perfect."
Occasionally dodging snowballs, Lachlan wrapped potatoes in tinfoil pouches and let them cook among the coals. Then he began grilling giant cauliflower florets that he would later toss with toasted almonds and raisins for an intriguing sweet-and-sour salad. Next on the grill: capon legs and breasts, already poached in a pot of poultry stock on the grill, over low heat. Lachlan almost always precooks poultry before grilling it. "After poaching the capon, I let the legs and breasts sit briefly on the grill," he says. "You could never get exceptionally tender food just by grilling it. And if you only poached it, you would never get the beautiful flavor of cooking right over a fire."
The two couples, joined by the Fetchers, sat on animal skins in the barn at a table built out of an old door and lit by a candelabra with white candles in its bare metal branches. They dug into a starter of oil-cured tuna, an Italian wintertime staple, laced with chopped olives and tangerine and piled high on grilled bread. Then came juicy meatballs (which, like the capon, had been poached first, then finished on the grill) served on a bed of peppery grilled scallions, and the capon with vibrant salsa verde.
For dessert, the friends did a very sexy thing, according to Lachlan’s definition of the word: They brought their mugs of exceedingly rich hot chocolate topped with coconut cream or marshmallows outside to drink in a snow pit around a bonfire, with yellowy-red firelight bouncing off the white walls. "This is what gets me the most relaxed," says Bobby. "A big workout, then dinner and great wine, just us. Frasca is really a mom-and-pop restaurant. And we are so bound together as friends."
Lois Smith Brady, a writer in Aspen, Colorado, contributes to the Vows and State of the Unions columns in the New York Times.