Arcana co-Owner Annie Toan shared with us her vision behind the new Boulder hot spot. Exploring America’s culinary history, one dish at a time.
I walked into Arcana just as owners Annie and Elliott Toan were preparing their staff for the night ahead. Taking my seat quietly, I listened as the bartenders, waitstaff and hosts were not only brought up to speed on the night’s food specials, but assured of their integral part in Arcana’s operation. “We’re all humans,” Elliott states in his address, going on to describe how he and Annie are behind their staff both in and out of work. From the time I walked in, to sitting down with Annie for dinner, to the time I left, it was more than evident how much heart she and Elliott have for their new restaurant.
Passion. It’s hard to think of another word to describe Annie Toan’s attitude toward Arcana.
Boulder is home to countless farm-to-table restaurants, which speaks quite grandly to our city’s culture. Annie’s vision goes beyond that to include not just relationships with local farmers, but friendships. “Farm-to-table should be inherent now. We wanted to take that one step further,” she says.
“What I love about food is how it brings culture together,” remarks Annie as we wrap up our pre-dinner chat. The chefs are preparing our meals, and as we get ready to enjoy the evening’s fare, I am feeling like part of the Arcana family.
Perhaps the only thing better than the hospitality of the Arcana circle of kindred spirits is the food. Actually, we’ll call it a tie.
Here’s part of our conversation that evening with Annie Toan.
ARCANA is an interesting name for a restaurant. What does it mean, and how does it tie into the restaurants’ overall concept?
ARCANA, as a name, came to us from a dear friend and restaurant consultant that we have known for years, Evan Faber. He is an idea guy, a true creative. Evan presented us with a bunch of names and a lot of them made the short list along with many others we had been mulling over for months, then we heard him say: “ARCANA”. Everyone in the room immediately perked up and asked him; what does that mean? ARCANA has a few meanings, the one we most relate to is “the mysteries and secrets found in nature and the natural world”. For us, it is about the surprising magic found in every memorable meal we have ever had, every time a meal has made us laugh, gasp, cry. Adding to that, we just like the ring and symmetry of it, we look forward to imparting our own meaning to the word with the Boulder community.
This question originally appeared on JenniferEgbert.com
Would you care to share a bit about your chef, as well?
Chef Matthew Lackey is a force of nature. Oddly enough, we linked up with him via a Craigslist post. Matt responded to our post a few weeks after we put it up. We saw his resume come and we had a feeling Matt Lackey would be a good fit. Matt grew up outside of Nashville, TN and has farm culture in his blood. Matt trained at both the CIA (Culinary Institutes of America) in NYC and Le Cordon Bleu in Arizona. Chef Matt ended up working for Sean Brock on the farm and then in the kitchen at McCrady’s in Charleston, SC before moving to Husk Charleston. After some time at Husk, Matt was called home to run his Grandfather’s farm in Tennessee. Turns out he couldn’t stay out of the kitchen so he applied for a line cook position at Flyte, Nashville. Sooner rather than later, Matt was promoted to Executive Chef of Flyte and was named one of Eater’s Young Gun’s Class of 2013 along the way. The rest is basically history.
This question originally appeared on JenniferEgbert.com
Tell us about the design of the restaurant? What was the process with deciding the aesthetic and overall vibe?
Like the food, it was important to us that the interior design of Arcana has a very unique, noticeable, interesting and cohesive voice and personality. Another tid-bit of wisdom we have picked up along this journey is to look at the metaphorical “pendulum” in restaurant trends, and look to move, at least slightly, in the other direction. So, while so many great restaurants are trending towards slick, clean, and minimal design, we felt empowered to spread our wings and embrace a sense of whimsy and sparkle. We have worked for quite some time with Sara Blette, our wonderful interior designer to curate this space.
We wanted the restaurant to feel like a beautiful home that someone spent years decorating, while remaining uncluttered and slightly tongue-in-cheek. That was a thin line to walk.
We committed to a vibrant and varied color pallet. Guests are treated to bold wall coverings ranging from sexy black and gold wallpaper, to a hand crafted book instillation, to a pickled oak wall. Once again, we love these elements on their own, when you put them in the same restaurant they sing, offering different aesthetic experiences which leads to a different vibe. Our bar has become the welcoming heartbeat of the restaurant, filling up at five and staying busy until close.
Lastly, the tables and chairs speak for our desire for the guest’s comfort. Our bar stools make you want to never leave, our community table begs friends to gather and linger over food and cocktail in a very mellow way. Arcana’s booths are built to feel comfortable and able to focus on the meal in front of you and the guests whose company you are enjoying.
What inspired your menu? It’s “True-American” but you seem to take a different approach with defining “American” cuisine.
When we talk about “true-American” we are talking about understanding the history of American cuisine, the “true” history. For us, that means beginning at the beginning, looking as far back as we can into the recorded history. For that reason we use the line “Food Migrations and Inspirations” to describe our thought process. Right now, in the beginning, we will be using inspiration from Native peoples. This influence can be found in cooking techniques, ingredients like wild forage and regional spices and seasonings, and then expanded upon by the inspiration of Chef Lackey and his team. As we move into the spring and summer we will be focusing much more on showcasing the regional, small producer, agricultural systems found in the region.
What are you most excited about with ARCANA’s first year in business?
We have already thoroughly enjoyed serving our friends and family along with new faces and the community as a whole. That has always been the goal and one of the things we have been the most excited about. I would say that one of the most exciting and fulfilling aspects of this process and the thing that we are looking forward to the most in the next year is continuing to build our team, our restaurant family. We have the pleasure of working with the best, kindest, hardest working, and simply fun staff Elliott or I have ever known.
909 Walnut St.