Replacing an iconic restaurant is no easy task, but River + Woods is living up to its popular predecessor.
River & Woods restaurant, the relatively new occupant of the iconic John’s cottage on East Pearl, should come with a warning: you will not want to leave. Not that this is a bad thing, but this is a neighborhood eatery that does just about everything right – the food, the drinks, the service, and the cozy atmosphere that John’s Restaurant nurtured over their 40-year tenure.
To be honest, I thought that the ghost of John’s – such a longtime Boulder favorite – would prove too much for the building’s next resident to overcome, but R&W doesn’t so much overcome that legacy as pick off where John’s left off.
This makes sense given that R&W was hand-chosen by the Bizzarro family to be their successors. They were set on an independent, family-owned restaurant taking over the space. The Bizzarro kids grew up in that kitchen, and now the children of owners Kate and Josh Dinar and chef Daniel Asher (formerly of Root Down and Linger) will do the same.
Keeping with that family theme, R&W’s prices are accessible: entrees top out at $28, but the majority of plates are in the $13-$16 range. Cocktails are $9, and single-digit glasses of wine are plentiful.
“We wanted a neighborhood restaurant worthy of a destination,” Josh says about keeping prices reasonable and quality high.
Asher has been a longtime favorite on the Denver restaurant scene, and now Boulder residents get to see why. His menu is dubbed as Colorado comfort cuisine, or refined takes on American classics. His Montreal Duck Wings ($14) are a meatier, more garlicky version of traditional hot wings, while Aunt Penny’s Mac & Cheese ($14) coats orecchiette pasta and Hazel Dell mushrooms with cult favorite Cougar Gold cheddar. (And the Boulder jalapeño and cheddar potato chip crunch on top is kind of genius.)
A note on that mac – it’s a community inspired recipe, which means that it came from a restaurant guest and was then polished by Asher. R&W invites diners to donate their favorite family recipes and winners make it onto the menu (or appear as specials).
Other favorites include the “In the Moment” Caprese Salad ($14) thanks to its amazing hand-pulled-to-order mozzarella and – shhh – the short rib-topped Poutine off the ‘secret’ menu. The salty/spicy/creamy flavors of the poutine definitely warrant permanent menu status, but until it makes its way into print, be sure to beg your server for some.
The cocktail menu reads very floral and fruity, with hibiscus featured in the tap cocktail Watership Down, elderflower liqueur in the Debonair, and cherry bitters in the Sloe Hare. They’re well-balanced and generous with the liquor for the price tag.
By now you’re probably stuffed, but as I mentioned earlier, you just don’t want to leave quite yet. So, of course, you’re going to order dessert, and you should probably make it the Tableside S’mores ($8). Not only is it fun to roast your own ginormous vanilla bean marshmallow, but the house-made cinnamon black pepper graham crackers are good enough to eat on their own.
At some point you will either completely exhaust the menu – secret and otherwise – or, more likely, you won’t have any more room in your stomach for Asher’s awesome food. When this occurs, you’re going to have to go home. But don’t worry, like John’s before it, we think River & Woods will stick around for many return trips.