On January 6 of this year, Samuel McCandless took over as chef de cuisine at the upscale Boulder locale Arcana. The menu has always been inspired by American regional cuisine and has relied upon seasonal — often local — ingredients. Bread is made in-house by sous chef Luke Miller and the menu is constantly updated based on the availability of ingredients and McCandless’ daily inspirations. “Sometimes once a week, sometimes five times a week,” mused the chef, clearly unfazed by the rapidity. Staples have remained across chefs and across menus, but aside from a few crucial items change appears to be the only constant for Arcana.
McCandless got his start years ago at a retirement home in Billings, Montana. Since then he has been a graduate of San Francisco’s Fifth Floor and Laurent Gras’ L20 in Chicago. Perhaps most notably, he helped open Frasca, worked at the Greenbriar Inn, then returned for a second round at the institution he helped to start. During his first stint, he worked alongside Brendan Sodikoff — who went on to run a small empire of acclaimed restaurants in Chicago. McCandless cites Sodikoff as one of the great influences in both his cooking style and personal life.
Since beginning at Arcana, he has refurbished the menu, continuing the commitment to great ingredients, updating it with the kind of expertise you’d expect from a chef with his reputable background.
The menu is nicely broken up for a la carte selecting, but one of the best ways to enjoy the food is with the Taste of Arcana ($75) — a five-course tasting menu designed to include the current menu favorites. Cider and wine can be added for another $40 per person.
If you plan to make your own selections there are a few items not to be missed. The crab hushpuppies ($13) with roasted garlic, chipotle mayo and lemon are essential, as are the al pastor masa corn dumplings ($13) that come laden with braised red chile pork, grilled pineapple, radish and lime yogurt. The grilled chicken ($28) is impressive with its Benton’s ham, piri piri and marjoram chimichurri lending a sturdy but not overpowering blend of flavors. Any one of the house-made ice cream flavors will surely delight, but the mint-chip radiates fresh mint and is as refreshing as it is decadent.
The prodigious bar program nicely supplements the food menu. There is a featured brewery of the month and the wine and cocktail list is frequently updated to interact with the food. Each week the restaurant hosts a guest winemaker. Terroir Tuesday invites vintners from across the world to showcase their product. The casual setup gives patrons an intimate chance to discuss the wines with the producer, without the disruption of a formal presentation. Interested parties can enjoy the knowledge, without it cutting in on standard dinner service.
Continuing McCandless’ love for collaboration, on Friday, June 21 and Saturday, June 22 Arcana will host a Mexican pop-up dinner entitled “La Arcana.” The event will feature Aron Pobereskin, an alum of New York’s Benno and Empellón restaurants and NOMA Mexico and Malcolm Simkoff, an alum of the equally illustrious Boka Restaurant Group and Rick Bayless’ Leña Brava. The four-course dinner will make use of locally sourced ingredients, with each course to feature several dishes. Reservations are available each night from 4 to 11 p.m. at $65 per person excluding beverages, tax and tip.
Arcana has already benefitted considerably from McCandless’ dynamic style. Seasonal dining necessarily evolves, but under the new chef’s stewardship ingredients are elevated to unexpected heights, revealing just what can be done when nature’s bounty is treated with the respect it deserves.
Arcana is located at 909 Walnut St., Boulder. It is open Tuesday – Friday 4 – 10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. and 4 – 10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. and 4 – 9 p.m., and Sunday 4 – 9 p.m.
Editor’s Note: The article incorrectly stated that Malcolm Simkoff worked at Arca Tulum, instead of Leña Brava. It has been updated accordingly.
All photography by Colin Wrenn and Alden Bonecutter.