Arcana is redefining the future of American cuisine — by looking to the past.
Farm-to-table isn’t exactly a new concept to the Front Range, with Colorado a leading influence within the movement over the past several decades. Nor is it a rare one, thanks to our enviable combination of top-notch culinary talent and local abundance. So what sets Arcana, a relatively new arrival to the Boulder food scene, apart from the rest? For Co-owner Elliott Toan, it’s all about viewing seasonal and regional eating practices as part of a larger story, one that is both ambitious and romantic as it journeys towards uncovering true American cuisine.
“The foundation of the concept is that there is an underlying American cuisine and heritage that we have not yet fully realized,” says Toan.
He explains that the seismic changes within the food industry over the last hundred years, while valuable in many ways, were also inherently damaging to the culinary traditions of our young country.
“While technological advancements are an important part of the story, they don’t capture the heart and soul that has been here all along. We wanted to set out to celebrate what American cuisine can be and is deep down,” says Toan.
It all starts with a deep dedication to locally sourced products. For their menu, they’ve worked with “just about every farm on the Front Range,” according to Toan, including Boulder’s own Toohey & Sons. You can see that commitment reflected in the fall menu, which features dishes like Twice-baked Squash, brought to life with chilis from the restaurant’s larder and masa dumplings made with masa from local taqueria T/aco. There’s even a fresh take on pumpkin pie: pumpkin pie fluff served with Carolina gold rice donuts and Loyal Coffee sugar, topped with a housemade rye whiskey infused vanilla ice cream. However, Arcana’s practice of sourcing locally isn’t just limited to what’s on your plate—it even extends to the plate itself. The restaurant works with local ceramic artist Curtis Rindels to supply many of their dishes and service-ware, as well as Arvada-based Black Hound Design Company for their tables and wooden chairs.
“As time has passed, we have often found that one of the quickest ways to touch what we feel is authentically American has a lot to do with geography. What grows here? What used to grow here that someone is bringing back? What were people eating here before preservatives were the norm, and what techniques were they using to make it work in the harsh climate?” explains Toan.
Looking to the past serves as inspiration in more ways than one: The team has also combed old restaurant menus and cookbooks to find inspiration for Executive Chef Kyle Mendenhall.
Mendenhall, a longtime presence on the Colorado culinary scene, came to Arcana as they were still figuring out what it truly means to embody authentic American cuisine, and helped the restaurant to clarify further and build their vision around relationships, heritage, and seasonality/regionality. At the heart of all of these concepts, he says, is preservation.
“It can be as literal as preserving food or as cerebral as preserving the past,” says Mendenhall.
Mendenhall’s considerable contributions to the restaurant are all a part of Arcana’s journey toward that end.
“We are on a journey. We aren’t necessarily much closer to the destination than when we started, but it has been one hell of a ride.”