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Thursday, April 18,2013

The newest Sun shines

By Clay Fong

South Boulder’s Southern Sun, cousin to downtown’s Mountain Sun, has been a local’s destination for beers, burgers and other relaxed fare. Now, another related eatery, Under the Sun, has recently opened beneath this landmark getaway. This new venue creates more of a fully realized dining, rather than a pub, experience.

The bustling atmosphere and casual neighborhood hangout feel carry over from its upstairs sibling. The most apparent difference is in the menu, which has a more sophisticated touch. It’s certainly possible to enjoy a sandwich and small-batch brews in the tradition of this eatery’s sister restaurants, but that’s only part of the picture. One can sample a variety of wood-fired flatbreads, like the happy hour special topped with arugula pesto, organic heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella. Entrees going a step beyond mere bar fare include wood-roasted chicken and lamb short ribs.

Arriving at 5 p.m. for an early Saturday dinner, friend Mara and I noted the space was already starting to fill up. Another benefit of a late afternoon arrival is that we were able to enjoy a pair of bargain-priced happy hour snacks.

First up was an addictive bowl of $3.95 fried Brussels sprouts, breaded in a delicate Annapurna Amber beer coating. These diminutive cruciferous veggies were correctly crisp and tender, with just the right crunch quotient on the batter. While a condiment of subtle lemon aioli came on the side, it was nearly rendered superfluous by the balanced taste and texture of these spherical sprouts.

Our other shared starter was a skillet of $4.95 wood-roasted mussels seasoned with the usual suspects of white wine and tomato. There was a touch of inconsistency regarding the flavor and texture of the shellfish itself, but these bivalves left a generally favorable impression. More unexpected additions included cilantro and spicy chorizo sausage, which gave this dish a potent kick.

To draw a cinematic parallel, where the classic white wine mariniere preparation might be the suave equivalent of Cary Grant, Under the Sun’s aggressive preparation is pure Lee Marvin. Regardless of your taste in retro male leads, Mara pointed out that this selection, coupled with accompanying bread dunked in the peppy broth, is an ideal light supper.

From the flatbread selection, Mara chose a $7.95 caprese mushroom number. This choice came topped with earthy duxelles, or chopped sautéed fungi, roast tomato, balsamic vinegar, arugula and both mozzarella and ricotta. Hot, thin, crust split the difference between cracker and bread, and had an endearingly irregular rustic appearance. My first bite of an edge piece tasted unbalanced, but once I sampled a section that had a more even distribution of cheese, the flavors truly melded and came alive.

Never one to turn down a dish of fried chicken, I couldn’t resist the $10.95 three-piece offering. Arriving piping hot, crisply breaded and wonderfully moist inside, perhaps due to brining, this was a true Southern-style charmer. Sides of chard and sweet glazed carrots rounded out the home spun savor of this dish.

Under the Sun is a more than worthy addition to this solar family of eateries. It retains the comfortable trappings and uniformly amiable service of its older relatives, while upping the ante on the menu. What makes this accomplishment even more remarkable is that the prices are only marginally more than its antecedents.

Under the Sun is located at 627 A Broadway, Boulder. Call 303-927-6921.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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