Pi Day in Boulder, CO

I celebrate both Pie Day (January 23rd) and Pi Day (March 14th), not that I ever have needed an excuse for more pie.  And while there are nerdier ways to celebrate the latter, I usually just stick with eating pie.  So that’s what I did last week when I was visiting the University of Colorado at Boulder.  This is what Boulder looks like, really beautiful, pretty much all the time:

mountains

I had one whole day to myself in Boulder before the events at the University started, and I took that time to go on a six mile walkabout which covered what the internet told me were the pie options in Boulder.  I went to the downtown location of the Walnut Cafe, Shamane’s Bake Shoppe Cafe, and Breadworks Bakery and Cafe.  After the University visit, I was in dire need of some quiet alone-time and took myself to dinner at Amu Sake Bar.

Walnut Cafe

double crusted cherry pie and a cup of coffee

walnut cafe pie

Thank goodness for the coffee.  The coffee was really good.  Maybe I should just stop there.  Especially because the menu says something like: “Don’t leave here without trying some of our famous pie.”

I tried it.  I didn’t like the crust.  I didn’t like the filling.  Both seemed like the mass produced, over processed stuff one would find at a grocery store.  And not like a Lund’s grocery store with a nice bakery department, but a more generic Rainbow or Cub Foods.  The coffee was really good and I’ll leave it at that.

Shamane’s Bake Shoppe

apple cranberry galette

shamanes galette

I didn’t call ahead and as a result, by the time I made it to Shamane’s, they were sold out of pie.  I was sad and disappointed but had secretly been fearing that I would be forced to buy a whole pie from the small bakery, so was rescued from that fate.  Not that it would have been the worst thing…  Anyway, Shamane’s did still have two flavors of galettes left, though I inquired and was informed that the crust for the galettes is not the same as the crust for the pies.

My galette was quite tasty.  The filling had good texture and flavor, strong on the fruit.  The crust was firmer and sweeter than usual pie crust and had a liberal sprinkling of large granule sugar on it, but it made a good base for the galette and allowed for utensil free eating – I cut the thing up like a pizza and ate it with my hands in slices.  Definitely the highlight of my pie walkabout.

I wanted to talk to the baker more about her pies, and it might have been possible if a large group of people hadn’t squeezed their way into the bakery right as I was leaving, swamping the counter.  From her website and the variety on the menu, I projected that pies were not her specialty and might not been on par with the other offerings, but after the galette, I take it all back.  I’m guessing the pies are pretty good and I hope I’ll get back to try them someday!

Breadworks

double crusted peach pie

breakworks pie

Why?  Why do people insist on sticking pies in the refrigerator case?  The crust almost had potential that was made tough and soggy by a refrigerator case.  And then I didn’t like the filling at all.  Although the overall flavor seemed really mild, something about how it was spiced made it feel almost astringent to my palate.  It was a rough conclusion to my walkabout which I didn’t even finish, but it was obvious that pie was not the focus.  There were so many different breads and baked sweets and a wood pizza oven and hot lunch options and homemade granola that all looked really good, I think pie might have just been a thrown in addition, something a bakery should have.  If only they hadn’t stuck it in the refrigerator case.

Amu Sake Bar and Restaurant

natto, marinated sliced vegetable salad, agedashi tofu, yaki onigiri, cherry blossom ice cream mochi

I was first introduced to Amu years ago when I was in Boulder to see my younger brother, Big Bad Max, graduate from college.  He worked at Hapa Sushi as a sushi chef for most of his college years and had developed quite a sophisticated palate for Japanese food.  So he took us to Amu when he graduated to introduce us to izakaya long before izakaya became a popular food trend.  And it was delicious.

So when I had one free dinner and a list of restaurants featured on food television shows and a belly full of mediocre American food as provided on my University visit, I decided to go to Amu.  It was quiet, peaceful, beautiful, and vegetarian and low-gluten friendly, as Japanese things usually are.  I was so struck by the art on the walls, I almost took a bunch of pictures to send to Pretty Boy, but then I restrained myself and turned my focus to food.

My waitress was super cute when I ordered natto and she looked at me and asked, “Are you sure?”  Natto, or fermented soy beans, can be intimating, but I’ve developed a taste for them and was excited they were on the menu.  Everything was excellent: clean, crisp flavors and textures that left me feeling refreshed after all the other food I’d been eating.  And it was the perfect place to sit and be quiet and enjoy food and watch the chef behind the counter as she mesmerizingly prepared small dishes and cuts of raw fish.  I wish we had someplace like it in the Twin Cities.  I think the closest would probably be Tanpopo in St Paul, but their focus in on noodles, not izakaya.

It was an exhausting trip to Boulder.  More traveling after already too much traveling, early flights, forced extreme socializing when I was already socialized out.  But I got to try some pie and have a wonderful dinner at Amu, and seeing the University, which is very different from all the other schools I’m considering, helped me realize some things which will ultimately help me make the decision of where to go for my PhD.  And that decision is going to need all the help I can get.

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