While I have always been quite a social and outgoing person, I have never quite warmed up to those large awkward settings where a ton of people are thrown together to mingle and make small talk whilst anxiously shifting and glancing, not sure of when the best moment to shove that tiny hors d’oeuvre in their mouths is. I have experienced these gatherings more than I’d like over the last several months as I tried to expand my job search network.
I half expected to encounter similar social paranoia after deciding to join the Meetup group, Boulder Food Media. But, my first event this past Tuesday at Jill’s Restaurant in the St. Julien Hotel, hosted by Grace Boyle and Toni Dash, was the exact opposite. Chalk it up to the exceptionally friendly members, the bubbly and accommodating staff, or the totally casual atmosphere of the whole event itself. And if these things weren’t enough to put my mind at ease walking alone into a room full of people I’ve never met, then the eccentric, theatrical, hilariously articulate general manager Philippe Antoine certainly did the trick!
Philippe has a long family lineage in the restaurant business. Antoine’s grandfather worked as a sous chef at the Grand Café du Pavillon inClermont l’Herault in the south of France, and eventually purchased it a few years later, renaming it the Hotel Restaurant Terminus et du Pavilion. The restaurant has since been awarded the red “R” in the Michelin Guide for more than 35 years. Antoine’s father inherited the business, owning and operating the restaurant for more than 50 years. Antoine joined the family business as a server at age 14, and worked holidays and lunch hours. He became adept at multi-tasking, and learned all the aspects of the restaurant business, most notably his flair for fabulous entertainment. And yes, the mustache is real!
Perhaps Jill’s was pulling out all the stops knowing that this particular event consisted of some of Boulder’s most prolific and popular food writers, bloggers, critics, and photographers. Or perhaps they really wanted to get the word out that their’s is a restaurant destination with the goal of, as Philippe puts it, “creating memories.” Whatever the reason, the night was sensational from the service to the ambiance, to the dramatic tableside preparation, and the delicious menu prepared by executive chef Laurent Mechin. Says Mechin of the cuisine, “The style of Jill’s is contemporary American and French cuisine. We draw inspiration for many of the dishes from the harvest of our garden, artisan cheeses, local farmers, sustainably raised products and the flavors and culinary traditions of those ancient countries.”
The evening began with Leopold Blackberry Kir Royal cocktails over tasty potato tots with truffle caviar and aioli, reggiano cheese and chervil. Mechin and Philippe discussed the menu and Jill’s overall vision whilst I hastily devoured the impressive charcuterie board complete with country pâté and more cheese than I knew what to do with!
The dining event entailed samplings of delicious E&J Farm Trout Amandine with roasted fall vegetables, which nicely complimented the pumpkin ravioli prepared tableside with sage brown butter, toasted pepitas, cipollini onions, reggiano, and crumbled amaretto. The baby kale salad was the most tender I’ve ever had, tossed with pine nuts, pears, parsnip chips, amazing pickled red onions, and Tuscan olive oil. The final kicker was of course the bananas foster sautéed center stage by Philippe himself with brown sugar, rum, crème de banane, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream. I’m typically not a fan of this dessert, but there was not a drop left by the time I was finished with it.
Huge thanks to Jill’s for having us and to the Boulder Food Media event organizers for putting together such a fantastic event. I look forward to many more!